The 14th European Championship is nearly upon us and with that comes piss poor and incorrect predictions. As this blog is one for jumping upon any bandwagon, here are mine for the tournie. Usual rules apply. Read, go to bookies, bet on opposite. Win some money.
POLAND – The hosts do have a chance to make the QFs I feel. With a decent goalkeeper in Szczesny and a solid midfield, they should have enough to see off Czech Rep and Greece. With Dortmund pair Lewandowski & Blaszczykowski, Poland have a strikeforce that can trouble any defence and, importantly, coming off the back of an excellent season in the Bundesliga. A weakness could be (up till now) the lack of killer instinct as 11 goals in their last 10 games shows they rarely hammer teams. The new Greece?
RUSSIA – Four years ago, the side led by Guus Hiddink reached the semi-finals. That won’t happen this time. They plodded along to get here and current manager Dick Advocaat isn’t universally popular. Especially with the decision to normally overlook striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov in favour of Pavlyuchenko or Pogrebnyak. If however Arshavin rolls back the years and Alan Dzagoev continues his excellent form, Russia should challenge the Poles to win this group. But will they beat anyone in Group B? Doubtful.
CZECH REP – If you can only qualify through a 92nd minute non-penalty against Scotland (yes I’m still bitter) then you have problems. Scraping through the play-offs, the Czechs arrive with a team that is partly about to retire and partly not even ready. The impressive Under 21 side from last year (you know, the team that knocked out England) have only had 2 players called up to the squad (Tomas Pekhart and Marek Suchy) which suggests they are not ready, yet. Their one positive is that in my eyes they have the best defence in the group. With Cech, (if he plays like his Chelsea 2005-2007 days) Tomas Sivok and Roman Hubnik, they won’t concede many, but will they score any?
GREECE – Younger football fans who can’t remember 2004 may think that the tournament was a wind-up. Watching Greece at Euro 2008 and WC 2010 was a painful one as a side afraid to attack and have no ideas were easily eliminated. “Lord” Otto has now gone and replaced by Fernando Santos, but the tactics are the same. It isn’t pretty, but in qualifying it’s effective. Conceding only 5 goals in 10 games they should be ok at the back and even defeated a dark horse in Croatia to win their group. You have to wonder where the goals will come from though as Samaras even struggled in the SPL again. If the “Greek Messi” Ioannis Fetfatzidis gets a chance, he (and Greece) could shine, otherwise it’s another early exit.
THE GROUP – The first round of games (Russia vs Czech Rep and Poland vs Greece) will be the key. I expect Russia and Poland to win those so when they meet in Round 2, they could still probably draw against each other and cruise through. I’ve gone with Poland to win the Group based on home advantage but neither side are getting past the Group B qualifiers.
1st – POLAND, 2nd – RUSSIA, 3rd – Czech Rep, 4th – Greece
HOLLAND – The Orange boys are back and look a pretty good bet to reach the final once again. Put into the “weaker” side of the draw, a team that battered their group in qualifying (bar a last match defeat to Sweden – they were already through) should be right there. With Klaas-Jan Huntelaar they have the top scorer in qualifying and the man who almost single handily hauled Schalke back into a respectable position in the Bundesliga. (Top scorer with 29 goals) Even if he doesn’t show up, attacking riches of Sneijder, Robben, Van der Vaart and Van Persie will trouble any defence. The trouble is their defence. Jonny Heitinga and Joris Mathijsen doesn’t get the heart racing. Back home, Dutch media also think they will fail to make it out the group stages quoting Germany and Portugal as the stronger teams.
GERMANY - “Dies ist unsere Zeit.” The rest of Europe expects, as do Germany itself. They have arguably got stronger since the World Cup as the likes of Badstuber, Ozil and Muller have gotten older and wiser. Add in new talents such as Mario Gotze and Marco Reus – this is probably the best squad Germany will have for some time. Their weakness is the defence (except Phillip Lahm) but if they can keep the ball in the opposition half the creativity, skill and just sheer German efficiency will see them past their opponents.
PORTUGAL – Once again Portugal have to qualify through the play-off lottery as once again they ended Bosnia’s dream of qualifying for a major tournament for the first time. Portugal in my eyes are a one man team. Mr C Ronaldo. Mark him out of the game (which Bayern players already have good experience of) and you’ll probably beat Portugal. The rest of the squad are just not good enough to make the final stages and to exacerbate matters, key players seem to have lost form going into the tournament. Some really poor results recently have affected the side with defeat to Turkey and a 0-0 draw against Macedonia. More needs to happen from other players. But can they deliver it?
DENMARK – Before I started researching Denmark and their squad, I had them bottom of the group on 0 points. Now I have researched them, I think a 3rd place finish is on the cards. A tournament too early perhaps with some talented youngsters on the way. World Cup 2014 should see Nicolai Jorgensen and Rasmus Falk light up the Danish team. For this set of players, relying on Nicklas Bendtner for goals is always a risk but Christian Eriksen and Dennis Rommedahl can cause problems. Any of these key players get injured however, the Danish lack of depth would mean 3rd place may not even be achievable,
THE GROUP – Despite the problems the Dutch media expect them to face in this group, I can see them winning this on goal difference after a draw against the Germans in game 2. With wins against Portugal and Denmark, I think Holland will score more as the Germans start slowly with some narrow wins. Denmark will avoid the wooden spoon.
1st – HOLLAND, 2nd – GERMANY, 3rd – Denmark, 4th - Portugal
SPAIN – I’m very big on reoccurrences. No team has ever retained the European Championships and I can’t see Spain breaking that record this time. The Semi-Finals should be fairly easy to get to. Win a weak group and beat 2nd place in a weaker group before facing the might of Group B. The problem this time out with Spain is that teams know how to play against that time of game (look at the teams Barcelona failed to break down this season). With David Villa out of the tournament and Torres failing to hit a barn door, it seems the task of scoring their goals will be up to Pedro (2 international goals) and Fernando Llorente (7 international goals – although one was vs Scotland). The squad is strong with some class as Xavi, David Silva and Juan Mata can offer something very different. But is it the strongest squad in the tournament?
ITALY – It’s funny how long 2 weeks is in football. Had I wrote this two weeks ago, I would have discussed that Italy have taken a gamble with Antonio Cassano leading the line after missing most of the season with cardiac problems. Also Mario Balotelli can have the potential to explode or cause utter mayhem to opposition defenders. Yet now the Italian team has been rocked in yet another match fixing crisis and have even discussed pulling out of the tournament. Defender Domenico Criscito would have started at left back after an excellent season with Zenit St Petersburg but has pulled out due to these match fixing allegations. The squad now look disinterested and “warmed-up” for the tournament with a woeful 3-0 defeat to Russia. The saving grace is that manager Cesare Prandelli can appear to motivate the squad and they could squeeze through.
CROATIA – The eternal darkhorses can cause a couple more shocks again but have been dealt a massive blow in the loss of Ivica Olic with a thigh injury which was suffered during the 1-1 draw with Norway. It’s now up to Eduardo and Nikica Jelavic to score the goals but Croatia will miss Olic’s energy and workrate. With Modric and Kranjcar they have a midfield that is extremely creative and can take them into the QFs. Their weakness is in defence however as Greece proved how vulnerable they can be during qualification. Weak to crosses and slow (Simunic vs Torres would be brutal) as soon as they come up against a half decent strike force, Croatia will be eliminated.
IRELAND – Probably sounds extremely patronising but Ireland have done well just to get here. Built on the back of excellent organisation under Trapattoni, Ireland appear to be the new Greece as their safety first approach means not many goals at either end in their games. Defensively sound as proven by keeping clean sheets against bigger sides such as Russia and Italy. They need to be excellent at the back though as their midfield is paper light with St Ledger, Andrews and Whelan nowhere near the class needed to compete at the top international level. Kevin Doyle had an average season with Wolves while Robbie Keane only managed 2 games all season at LA Galaxy. A lot of defence awaits.
THE GROUP – Despite Spain’s deficiencies, they should easily win the group with 7 or 9 points. The race for 2nd is very interesting but I have Croatia to snatch it by taking 3 points from their first game vs Ireland and sneaking through then. Maybe Italy should have pulled out the tournament.
1st – SPAIN, 2nd – CROATIA, 3rd – Italy, 4th – Ireland
FRANCE – The French have come a long way since the 2010 shambles (which I called!) when they were eliminated at the group stage. They should qualify from this group as the backbone of the team is now settled. Hugo Lloris, Yann M’Vila, Adil Rami and Karim Benzema will all be in the French team for years and can all contribute something too. Another important aspect to France as the depth on the bench as Mathieu Valbuena and Jeremy Menez can be impact subs. The weakness is that this tournament may have come too soon. Blanc can work his magic for World Cup 2014 where they will be one of the favourites, but they should make the SFs at least here.
ENGLAND – For the first time in my lifetime, the English media have already waved the white flag for this tournament. This however shows how pathetic the English (and British to a certain extent) media are as this England team are not all bad. They should get through this group and reach the QFs where they will get dumped out by the holders. England do have pace in Ashley Young, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain to get at defences (especially the older ones, like Ukraine) and cause problems. The main concern is Roy Hodgson hasn’t had long to get his ideas across as well as alienating players such as Rio Ferdinand. (Will he even be missed? No.) Young players can have this tournament for experience before a better (but unsuccessful) tilt at World Cup 2014.
UKRAINE – The other hosts have the harder group compared to Poland and will most likely be crashing out early. Relying on Shevchenko, Tymoshchuk and Rotan for goals and creative spark despite all being over 30 shows a team that is stale. They have also not played competitive football for some time, playing against the tinpot sides as “warm up” for France and England. A 3-2 defeat to Austria also shows this team lack the ability of others and should be heading for an early exit. 3 points most likely against Sweden however.
SWEDEN – Imagine Sweden being Portugal-Lite. With Ibrahimovic playing the role of C.Ronaldo, the rest of the team watch as he tries to make the magic happen. A slight exaggeration but should be close to the truth. A team in transition under Erik Hamren are starting to attack more (appealing to Ibra) and get other “key” players such as Elmander, Kallstrom and Larsson into the game. Add in up and coming talents such as Rasmus Elm and Ola Toivonen and it’s not all bad. But can they overcome any of these 3 teams in the group? I think not.
THE GROUP – France and England in the Top 2 with France nicking it. Probably through a narrow win in the first game against each other. Should England need a result in their final game against the hosts then 2nd and 3rd place could change hands but I think England should hold on to their QF place. Can’t see Sweden doing anything, but I’ve been wrong before, lots of times.
1st – FRANCE, 2nd – ENGLAND, 3rd – Ukraine, 4th – Sweden
Poland vs Germany
Holland vs Russia
Spain vs England
France vs Croatia
The four group winners (bar Poland) should have enough to get through to the Semis. Poland despite having a home crowd behind them should be beaten by Germany’s blitzkrieg tactics as Die Mannschaft should now be getting into full force. Holland won’t suffer the same result at Euro 2008 as they’ll beat Russia, Spain should pass their way past England while France will show Croatia’s defensive deficiencies up.
Germany vs Spain
Holland vs France
Spain’s run as Euro Champs will end as Germany will win a narrow game (elfmeters?) to fully show their credentials as favourites. Holland vs France is a tougher game, but I’ve gone with Holland as they have the experience of getting to a final while France still have shown signs they can self-implode.
GERMANY vs Holland
It’s the repeat of the Euro ‘88 semi and the World Cup ‘74 final. I’ve gone with Germany to win it as they have shown signs in the last two tournaments of going all the way and should finally win a tournament with a team that will get better too. I can see this being an even tighter game than the group stage encounter but the different elements of the German team along with their German efficiency will see them win their 4th Euro Champ title.
Disclaimer: This probably won’t happen.