Following on from my profiles of the sixteen teams competing at Euro 2012, I thought I’d throw my sixpence into the ring and have a bash at some predictions. Trying to call what is likely to happen at major footballing tournaments, such as the World Cup or European Championships, is always a leap into the unknown and can, more often than not, lead to emerging from the three weeks with more than a hint of egg on your face, such is the unpredictability of tournament football. However, it is time to throw caution to the wind and get the face-cloth at the ready because, beginning with the group stages, that is exactly what I’m about to do.
Group A consists of Russia, Greece, Poland and the Czech Republic, making it is a fairly evenly matched group. Russia made a good fist of Euro 2008, reaching the semi-finals, had an excellent qualifying campaign and look like a team in great shape; as their 3-0 demolition of Italy in a recent friendly proved. The Russians are a tight-knit unit and have some very creative players amongst their ranks, Arshavin and Kerzhakov to name just two and, with good pace throughout the team, they will be the ones to beat in this group.
Poland, with their trio from Borussia Dortmund: Lewandowski, Kuba and Pizczsek, along with Szczesny in goal, are much stronger than their ranking suggests. The Poles have a very strong right side and great pace in wide positions, the understanding between the Dortmund lads which comes from club level has also helped the national team in terms of fluency and inter-play. With home advantage to capitalise on and a burning desire to return some pride to Polish international football, I see them coming through in second place.
Greece and the Czech Republic are capable. Greece’s tournament will be built on defence because they don’t score enough goals, I feel Poland will beat them in the first game and after that, it will be a struggle for them. The Czechs are historically strong, however, this team isn’t as good as teams of the past and they lack in creativity and flair. The possible loss of Milan Baros through injury, at least for the start of the action, is a big blow and they could find goals hard to come by, especially against teams who enjoy sitting back like Poland and Greece. Like Greece, It seems likely to me that they will struggle in their first game, which is against the Russians. Should they lose that, a first round exit will be on the cards. PREDICTION: Russia 1st Poland 2nd
Group B, The Group of Death, so called because if the four teams that comprise it had have been drawn each in separate groups they all would have been favourites to qualify, features Holland, Germany, Portugal and Denmark. Germany were outstanding at the 2010 World Cup and have kept the coach and team together from that tournament. They are all now two years older and two years wiser and, with a couple of new additions, their team is even stronger.
Maximum points in qualification bears this fact out and die Mannschaft are certainly my favourites to top this group. Doubters have questioned Germany’s Bayern based players’, of which there are eight, ability to recover from a gruelling season which saw them finish second in every competition they entered. However it is not the German mentality to let one setback run into another and I believe that they will be even more determined to triumph in Poland & Ukraine as a result. Mesut Oezil has had a magnificent season in Spain as Real Madrid won La Liga and I expect him to be a real star once Euro 2012 gets underway.
Holland are perennial qualifiers for the knock-out stages in tournaments and this year should prove no different. Arriving on the back of a near flawless qualification campaign, the Oranje looked in devastating form as they racked up 38 goals from their ten games. Van Persie and Huntelaar are in lethal mood, each topping the scoring charts in their respective leagues and Sneijder and Afellay look in tip-top condition also. Critics point to a relatively weak back four which is compensated by playing with two holding midfielders, which can, in turn, lead to slow movement of the ball. However, with such strong attack minded players, these issues may prove to be less problematic than they might otherwise.
Portugal and Denmark are capable of springing an upset as both teams are very strong in their own right. Denmark are compact, hard-working and have some real creativity, particularly in Eriksen, and they will not be easy to beat. The Danes qualified in assured fashion, topping a group which included their Group B opponents Portugal and traded victories with the Iberians on route. Goalkeeper Sorenson has been ruled out of Euro 2012 after sustaining an injury in a warm-up fixture, prompting a call-up for Casper Schmeichel exactly 20 years after his father played a pivotal role in Denmark winning the European Championship back in 1992.
Portugal are back to playing more expansive football under Bento, however they still lack a true striker and will rely heavily on the form of Cristiano Ronaldo. The recent 1-3 defeat by Turkey in a warm-up friendly highlighted Portugal’s susceptibility to counter-attacks and Bento’s feuds with Carvalho and Bosingwa have left the Potuguese short of top quality options at the back. Although by the very nature of this group a surprise is certainly possible, I can’t see past Germany and Holland to qualify. PREDICTION Germany 1st Holland 2nd.
Group C is made up of Spain, Ireland, Italy and Croatia. Spain are the current champions and the bookies’ favourites to retain their crown. Although they will be without Carlos Puyol and David Villa, two players who played vital roles in both the success at Euro 08 as well as at World Cup 2010, Spain have an abundance of talent at their disposal and their squad is without doubt one of the strongest in the competition. The omission of Roberto Soldado from the final squad raised a few eyebrows, however it would appear that with Torres seemingly recapturing some of his form at the right time and Fernando Llorente now presumably well rested goals shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Look out for Jesus Navas, a winger with rockets in his boots, he could light up the tournament !
Italy’s form in qualification, under Prandelli, was exceptional. Playing a more attacking game, the Italians still only conceded two goals, finishing top of their group. The recent match fixing scandal which has broken surrounding Serie A is hardly ideal, however, it is nothing new in Italian football and is unlikely to make much of an impact on the squad. The only real problem facing Prandelli is his lack of an experienced goal-scorer, meaning that striking duties may be handed to the unpredictable Mario Balotelli. Prandelli’s desire to play three at the back has been dealt a blow by the injury to Andrea Barzagli, however, the coach hasn’t given up on the system and feels that Daniele de Rossi may well be able to fill that particular void.
Croatia are a team that I fancy as possible Dark Horses in the tournament, perhaps not to go all the way, but certainly to do better than expected. This will be their last tournament under Slaven Bilic and the squad are keen to deliver something special as a parting gift. With quality players in most departments, Croatia have a really strong team and their compact counter attacking style may well suit this tournament perfectly. Look out for Jelavic, if he can translate his club form to international level we could be witnessing the birth of a superstar.
The Republic of Ireland arrive at the finals with, as usual, the minimum of expectations. They are a solid side with great experience who arrived at this point on the back of a great defensive record and the ability to take their chances when they appeared. Whilst I can’t see the Irish progressing, it would be folly to write them off completely as they delight in providing magic moments for their fans and proving doubters wrong. This is a really tough group to call, but I have to so here goes. PREDICTION Spain 1st Croatia 2nd
Group D features France, England, Sweden and Ukraine. France come into the tournament on the back of a twenty game unbeaten run and recent friendly wins over Serbia and Estonia, howed that Les Bleus are in confident mood. Both Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery are in fantastic club form and have, it seems, been successful in bringing that form to the national set-up. The French seem to be united as a team for once, with the only exception appearing to be Patrice Evra, not a popular man with the French support. Question marks over the centre-back partnership of Mexes and Rami mean that Koscielny may be given a chance to start. If anything, the inclusion of the Arsenal man could strengthen the French team.
England are getting used to life under Roy Hodgson. The new England boss has a very tactical approach and likes to concede possession, soak up pressure and play on the counter-attack. Whilst it has its detractors, this approach has worked so far and could continue to be successful as England, in comparison with other teams, are not so good at keeping possession and dictating the play. It may just be that Hodgson proves to be the perfect fit for this current England team with his commitment to organisation and discipline, something which the Three Lions have been woefully bereft of at recent tournaments. Hodgson is without Wayne Rooney for the first two games against France and Sweden so expect Andy Carroll and Ashley Young to star.
Sweden come into Euro 2012 after finishing best runners-up, defeating Holland in their last game. Sweden have a strong, experienced squad with strikers such as Ibrahimovic and Toivonen who’ve both had fantastic goal-scoring seasons at club-level. The spine of the team is one of the most capped in the competition and, with the set-piece delivery of Sebastien Larsson, the other teams in the group will need to be very alert defensively when confronting the Swedes.
Co-hosts Ukraine come into the tournament with nothing to lose. A very experienced squad which, of course, includes Andriy Shevchenko, also features some really exciting young talent such as Andriy Yarmolenko. Home support could prove to be a real advantage for Ukraine and they will have to make the most of it, because on paper, they are the weakest side in the group. All the groups are difficult to call and this one is no different, Sweden are a quality side and with home advantage Ukraine will be a tricky proposition however, when it comes to the crunch, which it just has, my choice is this. PREDICTION France 1st England 2nd.
For a more in-depth look at the teams involved from their history, right up to the coming tournament you can check out my Euro 2012 profiles, also available on this site.
Russia image Kate_Lokteva. Germany image by Andrey Terekhov.
Spain image by yonmacklein. France image by William Brawley. .
Trophy image by DrabikPany