Euro 2012 - Group Stages

Might as well kick this off with Zonalmarking preview of the tournament

Euro 2012 previews: general themes

[left]Team-by-team previews are on their way later today. But, to save repetition in many articles, here are some general themes based upon recent international tournaments:[/left][left]
1. For underdogs, being defensive and organised, then playing on the break is the best bet
Fans of outsiders in this competition have often complained that they’re not passing the ball well enough and that they want to see a more expansive game. That might be personal preference in terms of aesthetics, but the current success as Spain shouldn’t be seen as the template for more minor football nations in this competition.
Recent underdogs who have proved successful have generally been very defensive, have allowed themselves to be dominated, then relied on counter-attacking and set-pieces. Continental champions Greece in 2004[/url] and [url=“”]Zambia in 2012[/url] had the lowest pass completion rate of any side in the tournament. Uruguay weren’t quite so extreme in World cup 2010 and [url=“”]Copa America 2011, but were very reactive. For the likes of Ireland, Czech Republic and Ukraine, playing ‘good football’ is not on the agenda.
Being a knockout tournament, you can get far simply by being hard to beat – Paraguay reached last year’s Copa America final with five consecutive draws.

2. Strikers don’t need to be prolific to be part of a winning side
In 1998 Stephane Guivarc’h spearheaded the victorious French side despite not scoring in the entire tournament, in 2006 Luca Toni did something similar, only scoring in one game. Even Spain in 2010 didn’t see their starting striker score in any matches – David Villa only scored in games where he’d started on the left, and Fernando Torres didn’t score.
In international football the striker is often a target man and a hold-up player rather than a brilliant poacher, and the Golden Boot might be won with as few as four goals.

3. The schedule will be important
This has been touched on before – the draw was important not just because of who each team was drawn against, but because some sides will have a serious advantage in terms of preparation time.

4. Club connections are vital
Spain depended a lot on Barcelona at the last World Cup, Italy had good club connections (Pirlo-Gattuso, Cannavaro-Zambrotta, Totti-Perrotta) thoughout the side too. Football is, more than ever, based around familiarity and cohesion when it comes to passing moves. Club football has never been so superior to international football, and it’s now obvious that international sides suffer by not having enough time to work on attacking moves as club sides.
Therefore, it’s clear to see that Russia have built upon Zenit and CSKA players and the Czechs have built on (ex-)Plzen players, for example. There are many more instances.

5. Lesser nations don’t have stars
With the exception of Zlatan Ibrahimovic (and a couple of younger players like Christian Eriksen who haven’t yet proved themselves on the international stage) the outsiders in this competition don’t have a single world-class figure to build the side around.
That, to a certain extent, has always been the case. But there is no Gheorghe Hagi, no Hristo Stoichkov, no Pavel Nedved, no Zlatko Zahovic, no Marc Wilmots – players who, around ten years ago, utterly dominated their side and played a huge part in their success or failure. This time around, coaches of outsiders have stressed the importance of playing as a team to maximise ability, having acknowledged the lack of top-class players.

6. Various sides are atypical of their nationality
Holland aren’t very Dutch, Germany aren’t very German, Italy aren’t very Italian, Sweden aren’t very Swedish – the list goes on.

7. The major contenders have made few changes from 2010
Germany, Holland and Spain were the only three European sides to make the World Cup quarter-finals two years ago. Then, there was no talk of a ‘last chance’ for any particular generation of players, and these three nations have broadly kept the same side. Spain have called 19 of the same 23 players, for example (it would have been 21 had David Villa and Carles Puyol been fit) while the German and Dutch sides will be familiar to anyone who hasn’t watched them in the last two years, though each side has been forced to evolve slightly to prevent becoming predictable.
Coincidentally, left-back has been the position each of these three sides has either changed, or struggled to fill.

8. Little variety in shape
Tactical interest at the World Cup came from non-European sides: Brazil’s lopsided shape[/url], [url=“”]Chile’s 3-3-1-3[/url], [url=“”]North Korea’s 5-1-2-1-1[/url], [url=“”]New Zealand’s 3-4-3[/url], [url=“”]Uruguay’s various systems[/url], the [url=“”]USA’s 4-2-2-2[/url], [url=“”]Mexico’s 3-4-3 / 4-3-3.
Unless Italy spring a surprise, there probably won’t be any three-man defences. We’re also looking to Italy for the only real chance of a 4-3-1-2. Every other country will play a back four, a central striker, two wide players and a combination of three central midfielders, in some format. It’s 4-4-2, 4-4-1-1, 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1. Any side that is brave enough to try something different may prosper[/left]

Ireland won’t have 3 central midfielders.

Ireland don’t have 1 central midfielder

Zonalmarking’s take on Ireland

Euro 2012 preview: Ireland

It is a decade since Ireland last qualified for a major international tournament, and the three biggest stars from the 2002 World Cup will represent Ireland again here – Shay Given in goal, Damien Duff on the wing and Robbie Keane upfront.
They’re probably still the three biggest stars, which rather sums up Ireland’s situation – they don’t have any world class footballers, and that has been foremost in Giovanni Trapattoni’s mind since he took charge of Ireland.
Trapattoni has focused upon creating a solid, reliable unit. Everything he says is about the system, about discipline. “I have given them balance, an equilibrium, and I have underlined that all 11 players attack and defend, without necessarily expecting to play well,” he once said. His quotes are celebrated, his playing style is not. Ireland are ultra-defensive. “In the past [the Irish team] had ships with sails and they had to go wherever it was the wind took them,” Trapattoni says. ”Now, you can set a course and that is what I have done with this team. But if you depart from the course, then you end up on the rocks.”
Conservative selection
Because of his focus upon shape and discipline, Trapattoni has been remarkably consistent with his team and squad selection. This has been controversial in Ireland – talented players like Wes Hoolahan and Seamus Coleman have been ignored, and it seemed as if exciting winger James McClean was also set to be omitted, although he’s made the squad despite little international experience. However, the point remains – Trapattoni wants tried, tested and most importantly trusted players, and this team is overwhelmingly about systems rather than individuals. His template is Greece 2004.
Trapattoni was a man of many formations as (a rather unsuccessful) coach of Italy, but with Ireland he doesn’t stray from a traditional 4-4-2, with two defensive-minded midfielders, two wingers breaking down the flanks, one forward dropping off and a big target man upfront. Ireland don’t hoof the ball towards the number nine as quickly as possible, but they’re hardly playing out of their comfort zone: they’ll spend long periods without the ball, then be direct when they win possession.
At the back, Ireland’s key man is Richard Dunne, a defender who has a remarkably basic skillset for a Premier League and international player, yet he is in his element in this system, where his job is to sit on the edge of the box, make headed clearances and get last-ditch blocks in. The fact that Ireland’s midfield stays so deep means he shouldn’t have to move forward and follow forwards out, as he is slow on the turn. His partner is Sean St Ledger – a fairly ordinary centre-back, yet a consistent performer at international level.
At full-back Trapattoni’s first-choices are Stephen Ward and John O’Shea. They full-backs are defensive-minded, and with Ireland attacking directly there are few opportunities to overlap – they generally don’t venture into the final third.
Central midfield is the area that has prompted the most debate. Trapattoni’s favoured men throughout qualification were Keith Andrews and Glenn Whelan – again, unspectacular footballers but capable of doing the scrappy things in front of the defence, as well as playing simple square balls out to the flanks. Those two seemed untouchable in Trapattoni’s mind, but recently the Italian has been spending a lot of one-on-one time with Darron Gibson in training, and has declared that he will be an ‘important player’ for Ireland, suggesting there could be a last-minute change in the centre of the pitch. Gibson can spread play with more ambitious passes than either Whelan or Andrews, so he is a more proactive option, but Gibson’s good performance in the friendly against Bosnia, Trapattoni returned to Whelan-Andrews for the final pre-tournament friendly against Hungary.
However, having previously looked the most inflexible of the 16 coaches in terms of formation, Trapattoni hinted this week that he’d consider playing a 4-5-1[/url]. “If we have another situation like this [an inability to retain possession in the friendly against Hungary], we need another approach,” he said. “When we have another player in midfield, we can make it more difficult.” That was a shock admission, and for Ireland to change system now would surely be a mistake. They’re unlikely to outpass the opposition – and [url=“”]the 3-2 defeat to Russia showed how clearly a two-man midfield can be overcome by a three-man midfield, but that was when Ireland conceded an early goal and were forced to chase the game for a long period. Prevent an early concession, and Ireland should be OK, although Keane offers the flexibility to help out in midfield.
On the flanks there’s another debate. Two clear first-choices throughout the qualification campaign (Duff and Aiden McGeady) and then a young challenger in McClean, who also performed well against Bosnia – though this seemed to bring the best out of McGeady when he came on as a substitute. Again, Trapattoni has the ability to switch these players. They are all traditional wingers – they look to take on full-backs before crossing to the two forwards.
Robbie Keane is the number ten, asked to play, in Trapattoni’s words, “the Francesco Totti role” – although he also makes the occasional run in behind the defence.
Upfront, Trapattoni has options. Kevin Doyle is the first choice but had a poor season for Wolves, and two West Brom forwards, Simon Cox and Shane Long are able deputies. Jon Walters is another option, and is adaptable and has played a deeper role for Stoke this year. Though all are slightly different players, Trapattoni’s decision will probably be about form, fitness and confidence levels rather than tactical reasons.
That said, the strikers play a key part in the defensive phase of play. “Did you ever wonder why certain strikers no longer form part of the squad set-up? Because they would lose the ball and then stand around and watch. But you’ve got to chase back,” Trapattoni says. “Sometimes, your best defenders are your forwards,” he reiterated this week. “If a striker lets his defender go down the pitch and cross for a goal, he has not helped the team. He is like Pontius Pilate. Instead, I want them to run back with the defender and stop him crossing for the goal.”
System over individuals
It’s not harsh to say that Ireland are probably the most technically-limited side in the competition, but Trapattoni is aware of their limitations and has constructed a solid unit that should thrive as the underdog. More importantly, the players sitck to the plan and have a great team spirit (which seems a patronising thing to say, but after England’s complains of boredom at the World Cup, can be an important factor).
Ireland are nicely prepared for this tournament. Each of the other 15 sides would play the same way against Spain, but while for some that would mean a huge departure from their natural gameplan, Ireland are used to being defensive, organised and reactive.
This is very much a game-by-game campaign, and Trapattoni is looking at the weaknesses of his opponents rather than his own side’s strengths. “I spend all my time watching DVDs of Spain, Croatia and Italy, looking at the tactical approach and what I can do. I have seen all of the games – home and away – of the teams we will play. Every little detail – free-kicks, corner kicks, throw-ins, how they start the game – is important for us and will be important in the games in June,” he says.
Ireland’s most winnable game is the opening fixture against Croatia. From those DVDs, Trapattoni will have seen how poor Croatia were when defending set-pieces in the 2-0 qualification defeat to Greece, and this should play into Ireland’s hands beautifully. A 0-0 will be the target against Spain, and then the final game against Italy will be crucial. If Ireland have pinched four points from the first two games – the dream scenario – another goalless draw should be enough.
This is a very reactive side, but if there’s one thing Ireland have been good at in past international tournaments, it’s squeezing through the group despite scoring few goals. They stand a good chance of frustrating superior opposition.
Quick guide:
Coach – Giovanni Trapattoni
Formation – 4-4-1-1 / 4-4-2
Key players – the wingers, who must turn defence into attack swiftly
Strength – excellent shape without the ball
Weakness – ball retention and creativity
Key tactical question – does Trapattoni abandon the shape that has taken him this far?
Key coach quote – “I have underlined that all 11 players attack and defend, without necessarily expecting to play well.”
Betfair odds – 110.0 (109/1)
Recommended bet – Ireland to finish 2nd behind Spain at 9.6
Further reading – Paul Little’s top ten moments in Irish Euro history[/url], [url=“”]Miguel Delaney on Ireland being hard to beat, but not winning much[/url], [url=“”]James Richardson on Giovanni Trapattoni[center]

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Related articles on Zonal Marking:
[]Ireland: defensive, and no reason to change Nov 2011
]Euro 2012 preview: Spain Jun 2012
[]Euro 2012 preview: Italy Jun 2012
]Euro 2012 preview: Portugal Jun 2012
[*]Euro 2012 preview: Holland Jun 2012
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Good reception for the English team from some Irish fans today:!