After a four-year wait, the European Championship returns with perhaps more interest level and excitement than ever before. The defending champion Spain is tipped to go all the way once again but there are 15 competitors ready to give the Spaniards a run for their money.
One of the brilliant aspects of Euro 2012 is the balance within each of the four groups that will battle it out from today (June 8) to the tournament final in Kiev on July 1.
All the groups are extremely competitive and although there are certainly those who are predicted to perform better than others on paper, when is football ever played on paper? Had that been the case, Greece wouldn’t have tasted glory eight years ago.
So, without a further adieu, here is a quick look (along with predictions) at the four groups and the 16 teams that will be involved in this 23-day football fun-fest in Poland and Ukraine.
This group will kick-off the tournament today in truly Eastern European style. There is plenty of drama to be had when such evenly contested teams collide with each other over the course of the group stage.
Poland has home advantage, as well as world class talent such as Borussia Dortmund forward Robert Lewandowski and Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. Russia, on the other hand, has the wild card factor going in its favor and in 2008, that helped them sprint all the way to the semifinals.
Greece and Czech Republic bring plenty of grit and experience to the table, which is poised to make life difficult for the other two teams.
Prediction: Poland and Russia progress to the quarterfinals.
To reiterate, the draw for this summer’s tournament was quite balanced but yet, this happens to be the group that many have labeled as the ‘Group of Death’.
All the ingredients are present to make this one a cracker: a fired up Germany team that is often mocked for being international football’s ‘nearly’ side, a highly talented Dutch side that gave Spain a hard time in the World Cup final two years ago, a crafty Danish squad that can prove to be the dark horse, and a Portugal side powered by the heroics of Cristiano Ronaldo.
In the end, it is poised to be a toughly contested battle between several diverse skill sets, but remember, only two teams can progress to the knock-out stages.
Prediction: Germany and Netherlands progress to the quarterfinals.
The reason why many have tipped Spain to dominate this otherwise tricky group is Italy’s distractions stemming from the recent domestic match-fixing scandal, uncertainty surrounding Ireland’s potential, and the lack of major weapons within the Croatia squad.
Nevertheless, the Italians can always rise to the moment as they did in 2006 during their triumphant World Cup campaign and the other two teams can prove equally lethal due to their ability to pop up a surprise.
Personally, I feel that this one may just come down to the current form heading into the tournament.
Prediction: Spain and Croatia progress to the quarterfinals.
As we all know very well by now, this happens to be England’s group and hence, one that media is poised to scrutinize using a rather large microscope.
The Three Lions are depleted by injuries and criticized for their squad selection but somehow, they look set to impress in the group stage. The emergence of young talent such as Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck and Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could prove to be the key, particularly in the early absence of Wayne Rooney.
Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine, though, will certainly be no push-overs. Superstar forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic will lead the charge for the Swedes while his legendary Ukrainian counterpart Andriy Shevchenko is preparing for perhaps his last moment on a stage of such great magnitude.
Last, but not least, the French will be the team to beat here as they carry over a 21-game unbeaten run under Laurent Blanc. United left-back Patrice Evra is humble yet confident about impressing in this group but England can cause Les Bleus to derail quickly when the two teams square off in the much anticipated group-opener on Monday.
Prediction: France and England progress to the quarterfinals.
What are your thoughts about the UEFA Euro 2012 group stage? Have your say below!