Friday, 8 June 2012

Euro 2012 preview number 4,576,192

Throughout this year's European Championships, I'm going to try and do a post every other day to keep up to date with the major - or funny - stories of the tournament. Because I've already done a Formula One piece, I'm a little tired so will just do a little rundown of all the teams at the tournament. Enjoy!


Vast swathes of English people will this summer descend upon the most populous urban areas of eastern Europe to impose their cultures, drink too much and drain public finances. I'm not making any Daily Mail-esque comparisons, that will only be witty if you're a little bit right-wing. If you're liberal, then you won't find that funny, but luckily, that wasn't funny. As one of the host countries, Poland have a genuine chance of progression to the quarter-finals, where they will then get spanked by one of the teams in Group B, home advantage or not. A "quirk" or "irritation" in the seeding system means that Poland were seeded top for their group, because three home games and automatic qualification is not a big enough advantage. I fancy them to go through, as their strong Borussia Dortmund contingent of players whose names I cannot spell may just shock their opponents.

RussiaThe seeding system is Poland's gain and Russia's, well...gain. In the opinion of many, including yours truly, the Russians are the favourites to top Group A, where a possible mouth-watering rematch of their Euro 2008 quarter-final against the Netherlands awaits. I say mouth-watering, it will be all right, not amazing. Group A is incredibly weak and the Russians were predictably strong in qualifying, but I can't remember how strong they were, because I can't be bothered to look it up. Players like Arshavin, Pavlyuchenko and Zhirkov were flops in the Premier League, but remain important to Russia. However, Russia have three key players who many British  fans will be unfamiliar with. Igor Akinfeev, a long-time target for Manchester United, is a top goalkeeper, while Aleksandr Kerzhakov is a deadly striker with a good record for his country...and he's MILES better than Pavlyuchenko. Finally, Alan Dzagoev will provide a lot of Russia's flair. Playing on the opposite side to Arshavin, Russia are a very dangerous side, and 21-year-old Dzagoev is key.

Czech RepublicWho remembers when the Czech Republic were good? I do. Poborsky, Berger, Nedved, Koller all came and have all gone from the country which was often the surprise package at European Championships. In 1996, the Czechs reached the final, only to be beaten in golden goal by Germany. Four years later, only an evil group including France and the Dutch prevented them from progressing beyond the group stages. In 2004, they won all their group games, including epic matches with Germany, the Netherlands...and Latvia. They saw off Denmark (I think) in the quarter-finals with ease, and Milan Baros found himself as tournament top-scorer. However, like Baros scoring, nothing lasts forever and they were knocked out by a silver goal (remember that?) by a Greek player...Dellas I think. Four years ago, a team similar to today's side was competitive enough to beat the Swiss, lose to Portugal, and lead Turkey with ten minutes left. However, Turkey came back to win and knock out the Czech's. I have spent this section reminiscing because other than Tomas Rosicky and Petr Cech, their team is unremarkable, although a weak group may see them progress.

GreeceAhhh Greece. Never write off the Greeks (not an economics joke). Seriously, don't. After years of international averageness, they managed to see off Portugal, Spain, France and Czech Republic (but not Russia) to win Euro 2004 with a sum total of six goals from six matches, pretty much all of them scored after about an hour from a corner. Everyone lapped up the underdog story, and then realised that what had happened was in many ways a defeat for decent football. They have talented players like the two Papadopoulos' (or Papadopouli) defenders and Sotiris Ninis, but have an overall lack of quality which will prove crucial. I can't see them winning it again and I see a swift exit from Europe for them (not an economics joke).


GermanyNever write off the Germans either. It doesn't matter how good or bad their team is, they always find a way to go far into tournaments. Defeats in the semi-finals at the last two World Cups and a loss in the Euro 2008 final will have hurt them, but they look set to go far again. While the team in 2010 was talented, it was arguably too young. The group of players has now matured and they look a real force to be reckoned with. In Manuel Neuer, Germany have one of the best goalkeepers and despite a sense of the unknown regarding their best back four, Phillip Lahm is one of the best, if not the best right backs in the world. It is in midfield where all the usual German cliches come out. "Efficient", "powerful", "reliable" are usually terms used for a BMW, and this German midfield certainly has a great "engine" I right?! Bastian - Sebastian - Schewinsteiger and Sami Khedira will protect a potentially brittle defence, while players like Mesut Ozil and Thomas Mueller provide the ammunition for whatever striker Germany pick, either Mario Gomez or Miroslav Klose. Klose has a habit of scoring at major tournaments, while Gomez has had a prolific season with Bayern Munich...even though every time I see him I have been disappointed. I expect a place in the final for Germany, but not victory.

The Netherlands
Ahhh the Dutch, everyone loves the Dutch. A lot of us don't necessarily like the Netherlands for footballing reasons, but, like one of their most famous "services", Dutch football often leaves you relaxed and mellow, with a slight sense of paranoia if your country is playing them next. For so long in-fighting wrecked Dutch campaigns at major tournaments, but the last two competitions have shown a Dutch team which is full of talent, but with a steel to compete with the best. With Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong screening a back four which, like Germany, can be vulnerable, there is licence for the attacking players to wreak havoc. And these attacking players aren't bad. Robin Van Persie, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben have had contrasting seasons, but if the four link up like they can, the Dutch will score enough goals to cater for the concessions they will make in defence. Strength in depth with Dirk Kuyt and Ibrahim Affelay could be the key here and I back the Netherlands to win the whole shabbang. Yes, shabbang.

Ronaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldo. That seems to be the perception of Portugal's Euro 2012 team. In Ronaldo, the Portuguese arguably possess the best player at the tournament but, as they found out at Euro 2008, one individual is often not enough. Of course, Portugal have a number of quality players in other positions, but much will depend on their talisman striker. Fabio Coentrao is one of the world's best left-backs and a midfield of Miguel Veloso and Joao Moutinho is strong. However, in such a tough group, I can't see Portugal going past the group stages. There isn't really anything funny to say about Portugal, they're just not a funny country.

Tipped by most people - including me - to be the whipping boys in a group harder than a Viagra tester, Denmark may benefit from low expectations. In fact, Denmark are ranked higher than Portugal in FIFA's world rankings at number nine, and even beat the Portuguese in qualifying. So why are they being written off? For some reason in England, we value the individual over the team. Hence our love of David Becham and our persistence with our banking system. Denmark - Christian Eriksen and Nicklas Bendtner (the world's best striker, just ask him) aside - have no superstar players and are built around a solid team and a good defence. Here in England, we love the individual, which is why the whole country will be scratching their heads when Portugal (probably) don't make it out of Group D. I fancy the Danes to beat Portugal, but still fall short of qualification.


Are really good. With good reason, they are many people's favourites for the tournament, having won both Euro 2008 and World Cup 2012. Still persisting with their system which emphasises short-passing over a more English "BOOT IT SON" style, they have better ball retention than a severely psychotic girlfriend. Get used to over-use of the words "tiki-taka", which describes their passing style, not the alternative name for noughts and crosses. There is a suggestion that Spain are becoming vulnerable and easier to work out, which is why the inclusion of the tall striker Fernando Llorente is so important for them. This will give Spain an option to mix things up rather than endlessly keeping the ball amongst their fourteen midfielders. To give you an idea of how good Spain are, Juan Mata will get nowhere near the first XI. That said, I can't see them winning it this time and I fancy them to come unstuck against whichever team from Group B they play in the semi-final.

ItalyAre not so good. The World Cup winners in 2006 have regressed slowly over the last few years. Too often criticised for being slow and too old, they have attempted to shake up the squad with more exciting, younger players, but preparations have been poor for this tournament, with a 3-0 loss to Russia the nadir. Yes, I say words like nadir now. Denied only by penalties against Spain in 2008, they had a poor World Cup in 2010, coming bottom of a group including New Zealand and Slovakia. If enigmatic players like Mario Balotelli and  Antonio Di Natale fire, they could reach the semi-finals, but the squad still appears mediocre. The midfield is OK, with players like Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio (the most Italian name of all time) pulling the strings. The problem - ironically for Italy - may be in defence, despite the excellent Giorgio Cheillini (the second most Italian name of all time).

CroatiaThe battle for the right to finish behind Spain seems to be between Croatia and Italy. The Croats, who the Italians have never beaten, come into the tournament having flown slightly under the radar. The loss of Ivica Olic will be a blow, but there are still a number of players who Premier League fans will recognise. Vedran Corluka and Luka Modric are important players, but much may depend on Nikica Jelavic to score the goals if they are to progress from Group C. Croatia have overachieved in recent years, performing well in major tournaments, and I think they could do the same here. However, I think that Italy's experience will prove just too much for them and I think Croatia will be left longing for a spot in Group A.

Republic of Ireland
Aha! It's time for us to all remind everyone of our long-lost Irish ancestry! "I'm a two-hundred and fifty-sixth Irish, so I hope they do well". Like the Netherlands, everyone seems to love the Irish. Unlike the Netherlands, it isn't for their footballing prowess. Ireland have a pretty limited and forgettable squad, but their group gives them a chance. A win against Croatia wouldn't be farfetched and victory or at least a draw could be at least a neighbour to the realms of possibility. That said, despite talented players like James McClean and Robbie Keane and their history of overachieving in big tournaments, I think it will be an early plane home for the Irish. Their players anyway, their fans may stick around a while longer.

OK, let's get this over with. I can't say anything about England that hasn't been said. I can't even say anything funny about them which is new, due to Stewart Downing and Martin Kelly's call-ups. The absence of Wayne Rooney will be a blow for England but fortunately, his suspension means he won't get sent off in the first two games. Andy Carroll and Danny Welbeck will fight it out up front during Rooney's absence and if they can somehow be in with a chance going into the final game against the Ukraine, England may just pull through. Injuries have also taken their toll, but may provide an opportunity for over-rated young players to shine. I won't talk about the John Terry/Rio Ferdinand thing, but Terry should be right at home at the Euros if Panorama is to be believed.

FranceLike at Euro 2004, England kick off against France, our best friends. Let's try and avoid French stereotypes shall we? France had a decent but unspectacular qualifying campaign which has served to keep expectations low, which is good for a team who are often "unpredictable" as "you never know what you're going to get with the French". With good players in every position, they shouldn't suffer from a snail-like start against England and should tower above the rest of the group. Their player to watch is Jeremy Menez, who can play just about anywhere in attacking midfield. I think that they will top Group D and face a medicore Group C runner-up, before being beaten in the semi-finals. Not as easy to fit French puns in as you would think. Sacre Bleu.

SwedenENGLAND HAVE NEVER BEATEN SWEDEN IN A COMPETITIVE GAME. DID YOU KNOW THAT?! Yes, we do now. I have so little to say about Sweden it hurts. They have Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is about as predictable as a greasy-haired Mentho in a well-paid Diet Coke. So often anonymous on the biggest stage, much will depend on Sweden's talisman. Umm, they also have Jonas Olsson, who is the world's most boring man. That's about it. They could qualify for the quarter-finals, where they will get beaten by Spain. They could overcome England and Ukraine, but could easily finish bottom of the group. I just don't know OK?

This took so much longer than I anticipated. But I'm finally at the second co-host. They play in yellow and their player's names are hard to spell. But I am a tiny bit excited about Ukraine's chances. Not so excited for a little bit of wee to come out, but a bit excited still. They have a good team and the hosts could do well at the tournament. In front of a passionate, vociferous (insert third adjective) crowd, they could trouble their opponents. In Artem Milevskiy, Ukraine have a striker who doesn't score. They have a crap defence and a 35-year-old Andriy Shevchenko. Watch out for (seriously, watch him) Yarmolenko. I forget his first name, but he is unforgettable. Probably. I expect a showdown with England for the final qualification place in Group D, but I back England to just about edge out the hosts.

So there it is. Euro 2012 starts tonight, so goodbye incredibly busy social life, hello snacks and lots of TV.

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