An interesting weekend in qualification for the 2012 European Championships. Normal service resumed for Holland but for France, well, normal service appears to have resumed there too. John Dobson reports.
Ask my bookie for confirmation, but I’m not a betting man. Following the first set of Euro 2012 qualifiers though, two absolute locks for the second stand out. France to lose in Bosnia and Switzerland to gain a score draw from England.
France were miserably bad on Friday against Belarus. After losing to Norway without any of the 23-man World Cup party, most were back in the side for this one barring those suspended by the FFF – Jeremy Toulalan, Franck Ribery, Patrice Evra and Nicolas Anelka who has since confirmed his international retirement, even though the 18 games he’s been banned for would take him past his 34th birthday anyway. Added to that, Karim Benzema was injured and his replacement, Loic Remy, limped out after half an hour in St Denis. With nothing happening up front, Laurent Blanc sent on Louis Saha, but he lasted barely ten minutes before also pulling up injured and suddenly Les Bleus looked a spent attacking force. Worse, Saha replaced one of the few bright sparks, Jeremy Menez who had a fine game in midfield on his full debut. Remy’s replacement, Mathieu Valbuena, is another that caught the eye, but a side packed with that amount of talent and experience were woefully disjointed against a hard-working but limited Belarus.
For Tuesday, France move on to Sarajevo. Benzema is likely to return, but in Bosnia they face a far more difficult prospect than Belarus. Bosnia are a coming force, led by Wolfsburg striker Edin Dzeko who is as complete a striker at the age of 24 that there’s been since Marco van Basten was that age. He has Vedad Ibisevic alongside him who has put a cruciate knee ligament injury behind him and is again firing Hoffenheim up the Bundesliga table while behind them are a trio of exceptional midfielders. Zvjezdan Misimovic was the supplier of most of Dzeko’s goals at club level before Wolfsburg brought Diego back to Germany and now finds himself at Galatasaray. He’s one hell of a player though and has the combative Sejad Salihovic alongside him while Lyon’s tyro Miralem Pjanic is one of the outstanding young talents in European football. Montpellier fought off Arsenal to retain Emir Spahic who leads the defensive line as coach Safet Susic takes ‘the project’ on to the next phase after that wily old stager Miroslav Blazevic did the groundwork. They came so close to qualifying for the World Cup. Don’t bet against them making it to the Euros. They are the strongest team in this group for as long as France stumble about fouling it all up for themselves.
England’s 4-0 win over Bulgaria had the tabloids all but declaring the Euros to be there for the taking, but Tuesday sees them head to Basel to take on the Swiss under the shrewd stewardship of Ottmar Hitzfeld. This will be Switzerland’s first game of the campaign in the five-team group following a goalless friendly draw with Australia last weekend. That tells you a lot, as do their performances from the World Cup. The only side to beat Spain remember, they proved impossibly difficult to break down. Among their most impressive performers was goalkeeper Diego Benaglio, but he’s endured a torrid opening to the Bundesliga season and it’s easy to see England scoring against them. However, despite the retirement of Blaise N’Kufo, they still look more than capable going forward. Tranquillo Barnetta is the main supply line for Alexander Frei and Eren Derdiyok, Gokhan Inler is pure quality in central midfield and watch out for the young Kosovo-born winger Xherdan Shaqiri who is getting rave reviews at FC Basel. At just 5’7” and not even ten stone wet through, he’s built like a jockey’s whip, but the boy can play. Inler and Benjamin Huggel will be detailed to look after him and few will have seen what he can do, the Swiss league inexplicably still without a broadcast deal to English shores. Switzerland will score, but will most likely concede. It’s got 1-1 written all over it.
Elsewhere, the Dutch got off to a thoroughly expected flier against San Marino and are at De Kuip against Finland this week. There’s every chance the Oranje could do what they did in World Cup qualifying and run through the group without dropping a point. They really are outstanding.
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