This little guy does love a big stage for his country - for his club, not so much unfortunately. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Writing about fantasy for a short tournament is really no easy feat. The spacing of the games, especially in the group stages, is such that there just isn't much time to collect your thoughts and do any analysis. Throw in the uncertain nature of how managers are going to treat situations and the necessity to get things right because the game is so short and the pressure is really on. And I'm just talking about the situation if writing about fantasy were your primary job (and wouldn't that be nice). What makes it even harder is the fact that real life occasionally interjects itself as it did over the last two days when I was away from my desk and TVs for almost all of the matches. I saw a few minutes of the Spain/Ireland match well after Spain had put the Irish to bed and then bits and pieces of England/Sweden yesterday between appointments. I didn't make it home until pretty late last night and by the time I did make it back, there wasn't even a small chance of me writing a decent column let alone a good one.
All of this is a long way of saying, I'd certainly have liked to have this out to you yesterday so you would have plenty of time to read and consider but as it is, I didn't so hopefully, you'll have time make some critical adjustments before the 3rd match day starts. OK, without further ado, here are my player picks for Match Day 3:
First things first, if you have your wild card left, I would play it no unless you really love your team. Once the group stages are over, you get an unlimited set of transfers to redo your squad and in-between the subsequent knock out rounds you get a pretty substantial number so there's no real value in saving it.
My second piece of advice at this point in most tournaments would be to stick to teams whose starting line-ups you at least have some ability to predict. Usually that means avoiding the teams that have already advanced and those that have already been eliminated. The unusual thing about this particular tournament is that there are only two such teams - Sweden and Ireland are both eliminated. No one, not even the undefeated Germans, have officially been passed on to the next round. Presumably this means everyone will be putting their best foot (and line-ups) forward in an effort to ensure passage to the elimination stage.
That leaves us with the form of the teams and the match-ups they have going into the final day. From that point of view, I'd be particularly inclined toward Russia, Italy and France with the next set of priorities going to Germany and Spain. The two matches that seem incredibly uncertain in my mind are the ones that involve the host nations. Poland and the Ukraine are both still alive in the tournament. Talent-wise, they both face superior teams in the Czech Republic and England respectively but with home field advantage on their side and the history of host countries advancing to elimination stages in major tournaments, you have to at least be wary of those two match-ups. I'm not implying that you should stay away from either of them entirely, just that I wouldn't spend a lot of money investing in either of them.
As far as picks go, I'm going to list players in the order of priority I'd give them with prioritizing my transfer activities (the first on the list would be the one player I'd transfer in if I were only going to make one transfer, etc.).
Andrei Arshavin - He's been an exceptional creator and it feels like time he got a goal as well.
Andrea Pirlo - Like Arshavin, he has his best match-up of the tournament coming us and he is a consistent producer of fantasy points even if he isn't scoring goals.
Alan Dzageov - It isn't only that he's scored three goals but that he's also had other strong chances that could have that tally at 4 or 5 after just two matches. The only downside is that he doesn't seem likely to get much unless he does score.
Mario Mandzukic - The opposition isn't terribly helpful in the form of Spain but he has been effective and Spain haven't looked that great defending. The thing that puts this choice over the top is the modest price that will enable you to buy some more expensive players.
Jordi Alba - In stark contrast to the last recommendation, you have the inexpensive Spainish defender. There haven't been many defending points accumulated and Alba is one of the more price-effective guys out there in Match Day 3. That said, with limited value from defenders so far, I'd not spend transfers or a lot of money at the back unless you're using the wild card and have money to burn.
Karim Benzema - Those looking for an Ibrahimovic replacement might want to look within the same group. Sweden has conceded a bunch of goals to forwards and Benzema feels like he's been on the brink of a big scoring game without actually producing it yet.
Steven Gerrard - The goals have come from all over for England but Gerrard has been their most consistent attacking player. With uncertainty surrounding who Woy will start with Rooney available again, the Liverpool man has the best combination on price, chance of starting, and chance of producing some strong fantasy output.
Bastian Schweinsteiger - Ozil and Muller have been extremely expensive decoys for the Germans thus far and as they has come into the attack and occupied the central defense and holding midfielder, Schweini has taken that space and used it to great effect in creating for Mario Gomez who is in great form. My only worry about Gomez is that he may not get the start with the Germans all but through.
Goalkeepers - I'm in on Buffon because there isn't another Italian outfield player that I love but here's another situation where I wouldn't spend a ton given the lack of clean sheets in this tournament and the way that goalkeepers are scored in this format.
I hope that despite the lateness of the post, this has been helpful in sorting through the options for the final Match Day of the group stages. We'll be back later in the day with The Barn Door Live and hopefully we'll get a report from Nik soon as he is just recently returned from being in Poland for the tournament. That's two big events in a row (Champions League Final and Euro2012) where we'll end up having a correspondent report back from the middle of the action. Heady times for a fantasy blog.