So another major tournament has come around, and for once the pressure isn’t quite as high on the Three Lions. It makes sense really, when you consider England didn’t even qualify last time, and the squad is at it’s most abysmal in 20 years. Some of the selection decisions made by Roy Hodgson – both in his initial squad and then in replacing a succession of injury casualties – have done little to assure the manager’s doubters of his ability.
But never let this negativity hold back an optimistic England fan, as my Euro 2012 predictor below illustrates:
As you can see, I became a little sentimental, with England beating Germany 4-2 in the final. Realistically I don’t think England have enough, but it would be nice to see The Ox score a goal reminiscent of the one that shot Owen to stardom in the 98’ World Cup against Argentina.
But what of the other 15 teams, how will they fare in what the media have built up to be ‘racist filled football competition Spain aren’t so likely to win without David Villa, oh and you left Rio Ferdinand behind’? I’ve been planning a team-by-team preview, but unfortunately I haven’t watched all the countries, so I’ll just have to steal from what I’ve heard elsewhere.
Poland: Joint hosts with toxic replica shirts. It appears their key man is Robert Lewandowski, who has been key to Borussia Dortmund’s recent Bundesliga success and is reportedly on his way to Manchester United to join former team-mate Shinji Kagawa. Poland are more likely than Ukraine to be the ‘South Korea’ of the tournament. Should negotiate a relatively mundane group, but expect them to get knocked out by one of Group B’s heavyweights in the quarter finals.
Greece: Unlikely to repeat their success of 2004, but it’s not inconceivable to imagine them thwarting Spain’s tiki-taka style in the final on July 1st. I bring this wild possibility up as I have them in a work sweepstake, however realistically there’s more chance of them overtaking China’s economy than making a real impression on the tournament. The only potential weapon up their sleeve is Ioannis Fetfatizidis, dubbed ‘The Greek Messi’, but he is unlikely to start and only has five goals in 39 appearances for Olympiakos. Expect them to be knocked out at the group stages.
Czech Republic: Perhaps summed up by the fact their best player is their goalkeeper. Struggle to create and score goals without Pavel Nedved and Jan Koller from days gone by. Reliant on Tomas Rosicky and Milan Baros, two very mediocre European players who have struggled with injury recently. Expect very little from them, perhaps even nil points.
Russia: My dark horses for the tournament. Well-organised and with a wealth of attacking talent in Andrey Arshavin, Roman Pavluychenko, Pavel Pogrebynak and Aleksandr Kerzakhov. Watch out for Alan Dzagoev, a 21-year-old midfielder who scored four goals in eight qualifying matches. Should pull the strings and play a pivotal role in winning me some money if I choose to follow through with my gut feeling.
Germany: All that is certain is they’ll probably knock England out at some stage. Another team with an array of talent going forward. However with Lahm their only top fullback, could struggle in a group containing Robben and Ronaldo. Expecting big things in terms of creativity from Mesut Ozil, Mario Gotze and Marco Reus, whilst Schweinsteiger remains the heartbeat of the midfield. Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klose will always score goals at this level, but my only lingering concern for them is whether their conglomerate of Bayern Munich players are still suffering a Champions League hangover. A semi-final berth at least awaits.
Netherlands: Fitting Robin van Persie, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder into the same team is a dilemma most managers in world football would relish. However it is key that head coach Bert van Marwijk gets this dynamic right, as they will need to compensate for what looks like a weak defence. I think the Germans will make it through the group easily, so Netherlands v Portugal is going to be a crucial game. I fancy Netherlands to sneak through the group, but I can’t see them winning the tournament, mainly because I envisage another mighty balls-up from Arjen ‘destined to failure’ Robben.
Portugal: Blew their best chance of winning the tournament on their own turf in 2004, when they had Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Deco and a young Cristiano Ronaldo. Not quite such a talented group this time around. No-one can expect Nani to ever fulfil his potential so it is all down to CR7. Raul Meireles and Fabio Coentrao can be deadly going forward, but whether or not CR7 turns up is where their hopes rest. Will struggle to make it out of the ‘Group of Death’.
Denmark: Actually finished above Portugal in qualifying, but many see them as the whipping boys of Group B. Young Ajax playmaker Cristian Eriksen undoubtedly has great potential, but will he be able to prove it against some of the world’s top sides, or will he just be cruelly taken out by Nigel De Jong? I suppose if Nicklas Bendtner turns out to be as good as he thinks he is, then we could be in for a surprise.
Spain: Defending European Champions, defending World Champions, and naturally the favourites. Without last tournament’s top scorer and World Cup joint top scorer David Villa, they may lack a little dynamism in comparison to previous triumphs. A lot will depend on the likes of Fernando Llorente, Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla, subject to the opportunities Vicente Del Bosque gives them as fringe players. The tournament is make or break for one Fernando Torres, who could be anywhere on the spectrum from national hero to retired international footballer by the start of next season. Many have predicted Spain’s downfall because of Barcelona and Real Madrid’s recent failures in Europe, but all this talk is of course premature. Expect another strong performance, and Spain have a great chance of winning a third successive major tournament.
Italy: As the match-fixing scandal rages on, it is likely to affect the team in one of two ways. Either they’ll nosedive out of the group or go on to win the thing. Mario Balotelli’s Jekyll and Hyde antics will likely feature, but it will be all about the creativity of Andrea Pirlo if Italy are going to be a success this summer. He has had a fantastic season for Juventus, and will be no doubt eager to add to the Serie A title he has won this season. Watch out too for Sebastian Giovincio, a hobbit-like playmaker who has an abundance of talent he has yet to unleash onto the world stage. I’m not convinced they’ll make it out the group, but then again wouldn’t be surprised if they went far in the tournament.
Croatia: Have been impressive in this competition since their debut in 1996. The loss of Bayern Munich’s Ivica Olic is a huge blow, but Everton forward Nikica Jelavic should relish the opportunity of leading the line. Don’t be surprised if Luka Modric has a good tournament to put himself on the market and raise his value back up to the £40 million it was at last summer. They have a number of other decent players including Nico Kranjcar and Darijo Srna. Probably going to end up surprise quarter-finalists at best.
Ireland: I quite frankly give them no hope. Loveable rogues, but rebels without a cause. Gio Trappatoni hopes they can defend for their lives and sneak a goal. However Robbie ‘it’s always been my dream to play for the Galaxy’ Keane is past his best, and Kevin Doyle barely made an impact in Wolves’ calamitous relegation campaign. Part of the reason for my blatant dislike of Trappatoni is the ridiculous omission of Norwich City playmaker Wes Hoolahan. He could have no doubt sprinkled some magic on an otherwise dour Ireland side. Might sneak an upset against Spain or Italy, but it is most likely the highlight of their tournament will merely be a Keith Andrews piledriver.
England: Probable losing quarter-finalists, but why not dare to dream. Wayne Rooney will be a big miss for the first two group games, and it is a real shame as I’d be quite looking forward to seeing him partner Danny Welbeck up top. Andy Carroll, a controversial choice over Peter Crouch (and Grant Holt), has the perfect stage to prove his worth should he get a chance to lead the line. The selection of Stewart Downing is as uninspiring as the selection of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is inspiring, but expect Ashley Young to be the key man to make a difference, either in wide areas or just behind a lone striker.
Defensively, England are at sixes and sevens. John Terry has looked shaky, Gary Cahill is out, while Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott are not proven at this level. Ashley Cole bucks the trend as one of the best left-backs in the world, but at right back Glen Johnson is not the most sound defensively. Probably won’t be a historic tournament for England but it would be brilliant if Oxlade-Chamberlain and Phil Jones gave us hope for the future.
France: A great bet to win the tournament. Karim Benzema is finally starting to look the real deal, and is my tip for the golden boot. Samir Nasri, Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa and Franck Ribery all offer a potent attacking threat which should be more than enough to see them through to the group stages. With Yann M’Vila injured, Les Blues face the worrying possibility of having to play Laurent Koscielny in a holding midfield role. Defence is a weakness for France, and it will be interesting to see which left-back they choose to play out of Gael Clichy and Patrice Evra. Of course, as in previous tournaments, France could be their own worst enemy, but I expect Laurent Blanc to get them best out of them, and definitely see them as potential finalists.
Sweden: Perhaps even more of a one man team than Portugal. If Zlatan Ibrahimovic turns up, they’ll have a very good tournament, if he doesn’t, they might as well of not got off the plane. It’s a shame John Guidetti, the young Manchester City striker who impressed on loan at Feyenoord, is injured, as he could have really livened up the starting XI. Seb Larsson will always be a threat from set pieces, but I can’t see the Swedes lighting up the tournament. A place in the knockout stages only realistically beckons if one of England or France have a stinker.
Ukraine: The other co-host. I know relatively little about them, so I won’t waffle on about Andriy Shevchenko being their golden boy, and will instead say Artem Milevskiy has always been good for me on football manager. I don’t see them posing a great threat to the other group members, but its ultimately hard to tell as they haven’t played any competitive games recently. A recent bout of food poisoning has hindered their preparations for the tournament, with the coach crying sabotage. Probably would be the longest odds of all sixteen teams if it wasn’t for the fact they are hosts.
Ian’s tournament forecast:
Top Scorer: Benzema
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