By Rob McDonald
Having qualified via being hosts, the Ukrainians are just happy to be there having only attended one major tournament since the Soviet Union became, well, less of a union. Dependant, still, on Andriy Shevchenko and the ghost of Sergei Rebrov.
Player Match Of The Day pundits have heard of: Andriy Shevchenko
Let’s not beat about the bush here: one bad spell at Chelsea doesn’t detract from the fact that Shevchenko was one of the greatest forwards the modern game has seen. Sadly, however, the most pertinent word in that sentence is “was”.
Player Match Of The Day pundits won’t have heard of (but should have): Andriy Yarmalenko
The 22-year-old Dynamo Kiev player is the ‘New Andriy Shevchenko’ by virtue of being good, Ukrainian and playing for Dynamo Kiev all at the same time. He is the potential bright spot of what threatens to be a very dour tournament for Ukraine, however. He scored 12 in 20 for Dynamo in the league last year, has eight in 20 for Ukraine despite often playing as a winger, is quick and has a strong shot on him.
Liverpool connection: This man. Brilliant.
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Player Match Of The Day pundits have heard of: RFH
Player Match Of The Day pundits won’t have heard of (but should have): RFH
Liverpool connection: RFH.
Support if you like: RFH
Returning to the major international stage after not qualifying for World Cup 2010, Sweden will at least be good for a point against England as ever. It will be interesting to see what Ibrahimovic does in a more withdrawn role behind Elmander, however. Even if this thought is based on the notion that Zlatan doesn’t just do what he wants anyway.
Player Match Of The Day pundits have heard of: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
He can’t do it in England. This means that if he annihilates England in the group stage, it’s OK. Interesting aside: Sweden’s record is actually better without the walking ego than it is with him in the side.
Player Match Of The Day pundits won’t have heard of (but should have): Kim Kallstrom
The backing cast to The Zlatan Show is a lot better than is readily accepted. Kallstrom has only been a moderate success at Lyon, but with Sweden playing a more attacking brand of football under coach Erik Hamren, he may be one of the players to come out of the tournament with his reputation improved. And if Kallstrom fails, AZ Alkmaar’s talented Rasmus Elm is primed to step into the breach.
Liverpool connection: The club was consistently linked with Elm during the last few months of Kenny Dalglish’s reign, but whether that interest will be retained under Brendan Rodgers remains to be seen.
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Thanks to the stewardship of Laurent Blanc, France are no longer the joke they were at South Africa 2010. With the renaissance of French football over the last 12-24 months, Les Blues are in contention to return to their halcyon days of 1998-2000.
Player Match Of The Day pundits have heard of: Samir Nasri
The Manchester City midfielder had an inconsistent campaign domestically and hasn’t found a settled role with France either. Likely to start in the middle of the triumvirate behind lone centre forward Karim Benzema, a lot of creative onus will be placed on Nasri and Franck Ribery. It will be interesting to see what he can provide beyond his exceptional pouting ability.
Player Match Of The Day pundits won’t have heard of (but should have): Yann M’Vila
Linked with Arsenal and the object of Damien Comolli’s lusty statistical gaze, the young Stade Rennais midfielder is a big bag of potential and his agent and club will be watching the tournament in the hope that M’Vila can add some £££s to his price tag.
Liverpool connection: Alou Diarra, initially Blanc’s choice as captain and now stand-in for M’Vila, was signed by Gerard Houllier on a free from Bayern Munich in 2002 but, bizarrely, only appeared in a single pre-season game in the three years he was contracted to the Reds. Although no longer captain of Les Bleus, the 30-year-old Marseille midfielder has 41 caps, which is 40 more appearances than he made for Liverpool. Go figure.
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