England – France
England missed last Euro and I am sure they will want to answer to the criticism they got for that. On my research for them I found one interesting fact; they have never managed to win their first opponent since the introduction of 16 teams in the competition. To be more specific:
1996: England – Switzerland: 1-1 (they were hosting the competition)
2000: Portugal – England: 3-2
2004: France – England: 2-1 (two goals by Zidane in 90+1’ and 90+3’ for those who might not remember)
If there is a team that recent history should be considered the most, that is England. I find it very interesting they will have to face France again in their first match. This is the sixth consecutive appearance of France in this competition. Here are their results in the opening days for the same period of time:
1996: Romania – France: 0-1
2000: France – Denmark: 0-0
2004: France – England: 2-1
2008: Romania – France: 0-0
For the record, in 1992 they were in the same group with England again. Back then, they started with a draw against Sweden (1-1), they continued with a draw against England (0-0) and they finished a defeat against Denmark (1-2). England lost against Sweden (1-0) and had a draw against Denmark (0-0). Both teams failed to continue in the next stage.
England has persuaded me that no matter what their roster and their talent, they will finally manage to lose the matches where they are supposed to show strength and character. Both teams have had a lot of criticism by the press in the past and they must have that in mind as well. A draw seems convenient for both of them to avoid a negative start but their recent results in their friendly matches make me think that France @ 2.50 is a descent bet.
Ukraine – Sweden
Ukraine was qualified in the competition as a co-host and it is their first appearance since their independence in 1991. I know that it is common for the host countries to be a little pushed by their crowd and sometimes by the referees. They surely have their chances but they will have to get positive results against three teams that are better and more experienced in this competition. I took a look in both team’s rosters and I was amazed by their differences. The vast majority (21 out of 23) of Ukraine’s players participate in the domestic championship while 20 out of 23 Swedish players play for foreign teams most of them in stronger championships.
It surely is a balanced match but the most inconvenient result would be the draw for both teams. Ukraine maybe inexperienced but they will have their crowd against the team that they are most likely to win from Group D. I expect both teams to go after the win like maniacs so they can have chances to leave out England or France. If one of them will concede a goal early, the match will open some more and we ‘ll be on the right track for an over 2.5 goals @ 2.35.