Home advantage usually counts for plenty in major tournaments but seemingly less so at the European Championships, none of the last four hosts have won their first match, and it will be interesting to see how Ukraine begin their campaign on Monday.
In the last of eight opening group matches we arguably have the toughest to call of the lot with the co-hosts taking on Sweden, Ukraine are narrow favourites, but we saw how hard Poland found it on Friday night when lucky to escape with a point against Greece and a similar fate could await their neighbours.
Against any other side in the tournament Poland would have almost certainly tasted defeat in Warsaw, Greece wasted plenty of opportunities, and Ukraine could also struggle to make an impact after over two years without a competitive match.
Sweden are a hard-working, talented side and I’m convinced they’ll expose any weaknesses in Oleg Blokhin’s team.
Ukraine suffered back-to-back defeats in their two final warm-up matches ahead of the finals to Austria and Turkey respectively, conceding five goals in the process, and it is less than 12 months since four consecutive friendly losses were experience also.
Reversals at the hands of France, Uruguay, Czech Republic and Monday’s opponents, 1-0, last Autumn underlined Ukraine’s limitations and their stay in the tournament could be short-lived if they don’t get off to the best possible start with France and England still to come in Group D.
The same could be said of Sweden but they appear a pretty unflappable bunch and have won each of their last four matches, scoring 10 times in the process.
Unlike Ukraine, with Andriy Shevchenko’s best days well behind him, Sweden do possess plenty of individual quality and their leading man, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, will be hoping to finally take a major tournament by storm.
It has never quite happened for the AC Milan man in the yellow of his country but there is no doubting his talent and the striker has plenty of able support around him, too.
The second half of Friday’s opening match turned into a pretty open affair and with both of these two teams better on the front foot it could be one of the more exciting contests of the first week.
It is one in which I expect Sweden to prevail however and the 3.00 on offer will do nicely. They have won 19 of their last 25 matches and that is an impressive strike rate.
2pts Back Sweden (vs. Ukraine) @ 3.00 (various)