BPF co-editor Neil Sherwin offers his thoughts on how Euro 2012 will pan out.
Well it’s finally here, the European Championships. The tournament many believe to be better than the World Cup and the premier international competition. While I don’t necessarily subscribe to that notion it is certainly something to be very excited about, particularly with Ireland featuring for the first time since 1988.
So how will it go? Will Spain dominate for the third time in as many tournament appearances? Can the Germans handle the weight of much expectation? Will England still be able to field a team by the last group game?
Without further ado, here’s some predictions…*
(* none of these are in any way guaranteed to come true)
Not the most enticing of groups but it will certainly be competitive with not much separating Poland, Greece, Russia and the Czech Republic in terms of quality. Russia topped their qualifying group and looked impressive while Poland will be boosted by their partizan home support. Anyone expecting Greece to predict the miracle of 2004 is horribly mistaken and I expect them to prop up the group just below the Czechs.
To qualify: Russia and Poland
Who doesn’t love a good battle between Holland and Germany? From the Rijkaard/Voller spitting incident at the 1990 World Cup to their 1974 battle in the final, these two have a great history and fingers are crossed for some more fireworks this time round. Whoever comes out on top, and I think it’ll be the Dutch by the narrowest of margins, will top the group. Of the other sides, Portugal once again lack a top class striker which is a big reason why they have not fulfilled their potential over the last ten years or so. Denmark are again a solid unit but a place in the proverbial ‘Group of Death’ means their participation will be short lived.
To qualify: Holland and Germany
I’d like to be optimistic about Ireland’s chances about coming out of the group but I just don’t think there’s enough goals in the team to get the necessary results. Unlike Italia ’90, three draws won’t be good enough and it is highly likely that Ireland will be chasing the game against one if not more of their opponents Croatia, Spain and Italy. The Italians have been rocked by yet another match fixing scandal domestically and are without some of their key defenders. Croatia, meanwhile, suffered a blow when Ivica Olic was ruled out through injury but they are still potent enough going forward to cause plenty of problems. A win over Ireland, a defeat to Spain and a point against Italy (who will stumble against Ireland) should seem them finish second behind Spain.
To qualify: Spain and Croatia
It wouldn’t be an England preparation without some drama and the fiasco over Rio Ferdinand’s non selection has threatened to overshadow Roy Hodgson’s squad which is already decimated with injuries. They should still have enough to come out of the group though with Ukraine arguably the weakest side in the competition and Sweden very much hit or miss. A strong showing against France, who should top the group, in game one will set England up nicely.
To qualify: France and England
On to the knockout stages. Germany will be first up against Group A winners Russia and though it will be tough going they should have enough to go through 2-1. Poland will be again have the home support in Gdansk but Holland’s superior attacking quality means they’ll be fine.
In the other half of the draw, France can look forward to a tie against Croatia which is a lot more favourable then England’s match up against Spain. Having said that, England essentially parked the bus and scraped a 1-0 in their friendly meeting in November last year so a win is not beyond the realms of possibility. However I’d still expect Spain to progess and join the French in the semis.
Germany v Spain. Holland v France. Sounds good doesn’t it? While major tournaments often throw up a surprise package (Greece 2004, Denmark 1992 etc), I expect the final four to be made up of the best sides. However it’s at this point I think Spain may come unstuck and lose to a very efficient and well drilled German side. The other game will be another close run affair with France sneaking through by the odd goal in three, possibly after extra time.
Given the turmoil of the 2010 World Cup, a final spot for France would be a remarkable turn around under Laurent Blanc but I think the Germans will have enough to win here. The squad is is strong throughout and the players are for the most part at a very good age. The likes of Mesut Ozil, Bastien Schweinsteiger, Manuel Neuer and Philipp Lahm will be all be key figures in their win. Don’t be surprised to see the often ridiculed Mario Gomez pop up with the winner either.
Plus if the Germans win my wallet will be that little bit happier.
Player of the Tournament
There will of course be many contenders for this accolade but it’s hard to look past the usual suspects of the Spanish squad. Xavi and Iniesta will no doubt be to the fore but it will be interesting to see if David Silva can deliver on the international stage having been a bystander for the World Cup win two years ago.
If Germany can get that good run in the tournament then expect Mesut Ozil to have a big say in matters. With an excellent assist record in La Liga, the playmaker will be crucial to his side’s progress and will be expected to create plenty of chance for the lone striker.
Others like Wesley Sneijder, Robin Van Persie and Cristiano Ronaldo are a good chance to be there or thereabouts, but don’t be surprised to see a defensive minded player, like Fabio Cannavaro at the 2006 World Cup, or even a goalkeeper like Manuel Neuer come out on top.
Top goal scorer
I’ve put my money where my mouth is on this one and gone straight for Karim Benzema. The Real Madrid striker has been in great form lately and scored twice in France’s last warm up friendly against Estonia. If he can get off the mark early against England then expect him to do well.
Other options include Jan Klass Huntelaar and Robert Lewandowski, though with the former not a certain starter and the latter in a tricky group I’ve opted for them to finish in the top four goal scorers at a quarter of the odds.
We’ve got a league up and running for those interested and there will be a prize for the person who finishes in top spot. Simply head to Uefa.com to register and join the league using the code 310046-68770.
Here’s my team for the first round of matches:
For the best odds on Euro 2012 markets, head to Setantabet.com.