16 teams qualify. 1 team is crowned champion of a continent. Euro 2012 begins on Friday in Warsaw, Poland, with what should be a compelling competition. Ukraine is also hosting the event, with its capital, Kiev hosting the final on July 1. Here is a look at what to expect over the next 3 weeks.
The Russians thrilled fans at the 2008 Euros, by playing an attractive, attacking style that guided them to a semi-final berth. Coach Dick Advocaat is a firm believer in attacking football and his players seem to perform well in that style. Russia scored an impressive 3-0 result over Italy in their final tune-up match, which opened many eyes in the football world. The main issue in the Russian camp is dissension, as there have been reports of a rift on the squad. However, if the Russians can play through that distraction, they should go through to the quarterfinals.
Poland is co-hosting the tournament, and optimism hasn’t been this high since 1982 when Poland reached the World Cup semi-finals. This Poland team doesn’t have the likes of legendary striker Grzegorz Lato on the team, but there is skill on this side. With home field advantage as well, Poland will look to their supporters for that extra edge. A player to watch will be Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski, who scored 35 goals for the German champions this season. Don’t be surprised if Poland reaches the quarter-finals.
The 2004 champions, Greece will look to play a pragmatic, defensive style, while using the counter attack and set pieces to score goals. That plan worked to perfection 8 years ago, but it may not work in 2012. The Greeks are a patient side and are hoping other teams will get frustrated with their tight defensive play. Unless the Greeks can find some scoring, it will be tough for them to reach the quarter-finals.
The Czechs love to play attacking football, but the armoury is a little empty for the Red Lions. Relying on veterans Milan Baros and Tomas Rosicky, the Czechs are hoping the men from Galatasary and Arsenal respectively have one more surge in them internationally. One position where the Czechs have no issues is goalie. Petr Cech remains one of the best keepers in the world, and he displayed terrific form in aiding Chelsea to their first Champions League title last month. However if Baros and Rosicky don’t get support up front, it will be an early exit for the Czechs.
One of the favourites to win the tournament, Germany are always a threat in international competitions. Quality abounds in Deutschland. Manual Neuer is climbing the ranks as one of the best keepers in the world. Phillipp Lahm is arguably the best left back in the world. Mario Gomez is a brutally efficient striker ranking only behind Lionel Messi as the game’s best. When healthy Bastion Schweinsteiger is one of the best midfielders in the world. There is no shortage of quality on the Germans but questions remain. Their last pre-tournament match saw the Germans concede 5 goals against Switzerland. Questions have arisen about the back four, especially with Per Mertsacker who had an abysmal match against the Swiss. There is considerable pressure on this German side to win a major tournament, something they haven’t done since Euro 1996. They should win their group, but the heat is on in Germany.
A side full of intrigue and wonder, Portugal can be glorious and maddening in the same fixture. There is little doubt about the skill of Portugal. Cristiano Ronaldo is regarded by many observers, as the best footballer in the world, and his 46 goals helped Real Madrid to the Spanish title this past season. Ronaldo is known for surging runs along the flank, and his deadly set pieces which he can finish with aplomb. Alongside Ronaldo is Manchester United midfielder Nani, who is garnering attention with his play. Although he is inconsistent, when Nani is on his game, there are very few who can match his skill. These two stellar athletes will need to be at their best for Portugal to go through to the quarters.
The team that just fell short in the 2010 World Cup, the Dutch are looking to redeem themselves after South Africa. Even though they reached the final, the Dutch used thuggery and negative actions to reach the final, to the dismay and disappointment of their supporters. Many are hoping that the Dutch can return to “total football” but it will be difficult. Midfielder Wesley Sneijder is battling a hamstring knock and is fitness is a concern. There is quality with the Clockwork Orange, led by Arsenal striker Robin Van Persie, Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben and Tottenham midfielder Rafael van der Vaart. However, returning the same team from South Africa means this team is 2 years older, and they may not have the legs to get out of their group.
The Danes have the unfortunate task of being stuck in the Group of Death. The good news is the expectations will be low for the Danes, which could work to their advantage. With the pressure on Germany, Portugal and Holland to get out of the group, Denmark just might sneak up on these teams to surprise everyone. They did it in 1992, when the won the European Championship. Denmark is a long shot and while getting out of the group is highly unlikely, they just might pull an upset out of the bag.
The defending Euro and World Cup Champions, Spain are still one of the teams to beat in the tournament. However, even the champions have points of contention. David Villa, the all-time leading goal scorer for Spain, will miss the tournament after tearing out his knee late in 2011. Defender Carlos Puyol will also miss the tournament due to a knee knock. With Villa out, Spain will look towards Fernando Torres to supply the goals. The mercurial striker has laboured since joining Chelsea in 2009 and his wayward play is a concern for The Red Fury. Torres should benefit from the service of Andres Iniesta and Xavi. The Barcelona midfielders are world-class in the middle and can withstand the pressure of the big match. Spain are still a threat to win the competition, so discount this team yet.
After a disastrous 2010 World Cup, in which the Azzure failed to get out of their group, it is out with the old and in with the new. Gone are Fabio Cannavaro and Gennaro Gattuso. In are Mario Balotelli and Thiago Motta. Balotelli is a riveting choice for Italy, as his temper tantrums are as common as his goal scoring. There is some of the old guard for Italy. The likes of Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi and Gianluigi Buffon are still loyal to the international side, and will be relied upon to push Italy through to the quarter-finals. Italian supporters are hoping that an embarrassing 3-0 loss to Russia was just a blip and Italy can regain the form that helped them win the 2006 World Cup.
Never underestimate the pluck of the Irish. They will scratch and claw until that match is over, and Ireland are no pushover for anyone in the tournament. The main issue for the Boys in Green is the fitness of keeper Shay Given. The Aston Villa keeper has been battling various knocks, but is deemed fit and ready to go. Striker Robbie Keane has been the brunt of much abuse in his homeland, despite being Ireland’s all time leading scorer. Keane has been playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy of MLS, but is facing much sturdier competition in this tournament. The back four led by Richard Dunne and John O’Shea will make things troublesome for opposing strikers. Ireland are scrappy, but don’t have enough skill for them to reach the quarters.
Croatia are another side full of grit and heart. Led by the talismanic Luka Modric of Tottenham, Croatia are looking to replicate the success of the 1998 World Cup in which they placed third. Striker Nikica Jelavic of Everton, will be counted on to supply goals for Croatia, but he can’t do it alone. Support is needed, and Croatia needs to find that support in this tournament. If they don’t, they won’t get past the group stage.
After a tumultuous 2010 World Cup campaign, in which the French were an embarrassment to their country, changes were in order. Gone is manager Raymond Domenech, striker Thierry Henry and defender William Gallas. In their places are new manger Laurent Blanc, striker Olivier Giroud of French champions Montpellier and striker Karim Benzema of Real Madrid. The French are looking youthful and sprite and could be a darkhorse in this competition. Don’t be surprised if this young France team wins the Group and makes a run at the championship.
The Swedes are a side that always seem to play better than they look on paper. Sweden can demonstrate ability and determination, when they decide they want to. Striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be counted on for the goals. The AC Milan striker is a moody player, but can finish with the best in the world, if he’s in the mood. Midfielder Anders Svensson will provide leadership and service from the centre of the pitch. Sweden are known for pace and will use the flanks to showcase their speed. It would not be a shock if Sweden qualifies for the quarters.
There is never a dull moment when discussing the Three Lions and England always seem to bring baggage to every competition. Manger Roy Hodgson has been taken to task by the hyperactive British media for his team selection. In Hodgson’s defence, he had no choice in some cases. Defender Gary Cahill and midfielder Frank Lampard will both miss the competition due to injuries. In their place will be Martin Kelly and Jordan Henderson. Striker Wayne Rooney will miss the first two fixtures due to suspension. Then there is John Terry. The former captain is still up on charges of racism during a match against Queen’s Park Rangers. These distractions will be too much for England. A quarter-final berth is unlikely.
The other co-hosts, Ukraine will look upon veteran striker Andriy Shevchenko to lead them to the promised land. Shevchenko was brilliant in the 2006 World Cup, leading Ukraine to an unexpected quarter-final berth. However, Shevchenko is now 35 years old, and his pace has slowed considerably. Midfielder Anatoliy Tymoschcuk had a solid campaign for Bayern Munich this past season, and is a player to watch. Sadly, a lack of quality and a reliance on old tired legs, will spell doom for Ukraine.
Euro Final Pick: Germany vs. Spain.
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