France and Sweden are set to meet in their Group D finale in a match that involves two teams going in complete opposite directions at the 2012 European Championship.
Erik Hamren's side has disappointed in the competition so far, losing both of its matches against Ukraine and England by one-goal margins. The Swedes have been eliminated from the tournament, but will be looking to salvage any inkling of pride that they can.
Laurent Blanc and company are in prime position to advance to the knockout stage of the Euro with a win against Sweden. They played to a 1-1 draw in the opener against England, but bounced back with a thorough 2-0 win against the co-host, Ukraine. The French have not lost in their last 23 matches and should be able to continue that streak against a demoralized Sweden side.
Where: Olympic Stadium, Kyiv, Ukraine
Watch: If you can't get to a television where the match can be seen on ESPN2, make sure to tune in to Watch ESPN.
When: Tuesday, June 19, 2:45 p.m. ET
Most Important Player to Watch for France: Samir Nasri
Nasri has already notched a goal in this European Championship, against England in Les Bleus' opening draw with the Three Lions. He is a supreme talent on the international stage, but does not always play to the best of his abilities.
He is young, meaning that if he gets off to an encouraging start, he will be a huge factor throughout the match. When he is at his best, it opens up the field for other French stars like Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema.
Most Important Player to Watch for Sweden: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Ibrahimovic scored the first goal for the Swedish side in the European Championship, but has not been able to find the back of the net since. His lack of firepower in his team's matchup against England is a good indication of why they were unable to come away with at least a draw.
There is no debating that he's the cog that turns the wheel in Sweden's offense. Unfortunately, he does not always do the wheel-turning to the best of his abilities. When he's the best player on the attack for Hamren's side, they have a definitively better chance at winning.
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Key Matchup: Karim Benzema vs. Olof Mellberg
Benzema was able to assist on France's two goals against Ukraine, but it is not just the statistics that make this matchup so important. The 24-year-old did not meet much resistance from the Ukrainian back line and became just the fourth player to tally two helpers in the 2012 European Championship.
Mellberg hopes to knock Benzema off his game, especially on the counter attack. Once Benzema and the French launch a counter assault, it is hard to slow them down. If Mellberg can keep Benzema's possession to a minimum, he will not be able to work as the catalyst on the attack.
What They're Saying
French boss Laurent Blanc knows that this is a trap match. Just because the Swedes have no hope of advancing does not mean that they will not be out to do their best to keep Les Bleus from advancing out of the group. Blanc said as much, per UEFA.com:
There's always the danger that you may take your eye off the ball. So it is up to us to prepare seriously. We also need to be very aware of what we want to achieve. We were very happy following the Ukraine game, rightly so, but as I said to the players, we now need to prepare for the next game, as a game like this against Sweden demands it.
In what seems like empty praise, Sweden manager Erik Hamren told UEFA.com that he believes his team is extremely talented:
Everyone showed up except [Johan] Elmander, who is in rehab. I was very happy about it and that's why I believe in this squad. This team could be really good. They have the ambition to be and they can be.
Prediction: 2-0 France
Sweden has nothing to play for except pride in its last match of a disappointing 2012 European Championship, while this tilt means the world for France. The French have not lost in their last 23 matches, and it is hard to see that streak ending in Kyiv.