It is never easy being the opponents in a host nation’s opening game. Not only are you against a side buoyed by confidence and expectation, but a dominant home crowd takes over the stadium to give the hosts a firm advantage.
Sweden are the unlucky ones in the Ukrainian side of the draw for Euro 2012, with Erik Hamrén’s side set to face a somewhat unknown opposition in Kiev. They will encounter a Ukraine outfit untested in competitive action for over 24 months, and with two losses in their last two games haven’t prepared as hoped for Monday’s game.
Nevertheless, one can expect Ukraine to come out firing in front of 70,000 blue and yellow shirts at the Olimpiyskiy Stadium. Sweden may well be treated as a side plot, washed away by delirious celebrations for over seven years hard work to get the nation ready for these Championships.
But Ukraine should be aware of the Swedes’ capacity to upset. Hamrén has already received good news: Johan Elmander back in full training with the squad after the striker injured his foot last month. Elmander may have scored just two in qualifying for this summer’s championships, but his link-up play with Zlatan Ibrahimovic helped the latter bag five more.
Sweden’s attacking wingers Kim Kallstrom and Seb Larsson have further boosted the side to four wins in their last four friendlies, meaning the Scandinavians are in fine form heading into Monday’s game. Their two goals in last week’s 2-1 win over Serbia came from inside the penalty area, and Sweden will look to exploit the physical capacity of Elmander and Ibrahimovic up top.
Much like Greece’s scalp over Portugal in Euro 2004 and Mexico’s draw with South Africa in 2010, Sweden may well turn up to spoil the party in Kiev.
Ahead of Euro 2012’s big kick-off on Friday, Betfair have confirmed that Harry Redknapp will be their guest columnist for the tournament. Don’t forget to head over to http://betting.betfair.com/football/harry-redknapp/ regularly for all the latest Betfair Harry Redknapp Tips.