FRIDAY, JUNE 8: The European Championships start today with co-hosts Poland kicking off the festivities. It seems like such a long football-less summer if there are no competitions but we are lucky this year as sixteen of Europe’s elite battle it out for the former Henri Delaunay Trophy.
It is a round robin set-up in group stages, then the top two then progress to the knock-out stages.
The way the schedule falls depends on group finishes so even though progress past the group stages is great, placement is very important. For instance, coming first or second for England is most likely the difference in meeting the holder’s straight away in the quater-finals!
Spain look to continue their success for the third competition in a row and eight years of domination. Who can stop them? The rule is to qualify, but not to hit peak form too early. Let the games begin!
Poland, Greece, Czech Rep, Russia
There is no easy group in this competition but Group A is the most favourable draw. It is tough to call as everyone will fancy their chances. Greece were winners in 2004 with an incredible sense of teamwork and defensive capabilities,and they will be looking for similar organisation to help them this year. The Czech Republic struggled in qualification and since being runners-up in 1996, haven’t looked like causing many problems. Russia are favourites to take the top spot and will be looking forward to causing some upsets in the knock-out stages. Poland will have a great support behind them as they are one of the hosts — this will surely help their case in getting through the group.
Progress Prediction: Russia and Poland
One’s to watch: Lewandowski (Poland) / Dzagoav (Russia)
Holland, Denmark, Portugal, Germany
The group of death! Denmark face a mighty task if they are to do anything at all. This draw is incredible as the Danes face three out of the top five teams in the world. Portugal are up against it as well, however, they have more stars that could cause upsets. Nani looks like he could beat the fitness test in time and Ronaldo will be up for it as he disappointed in the World Cup.
Germany and Holland are two of the three favourites to lift the trophy and I am especially looking forward to watching these promising sides. The initial group game between these two will be interesting as it could decide the route they will take. Also, if they both make it — they won’t meet again until the final! The firepower up front is incredible on both accounts and I wouldn’t be surprised if you find the golden boot (top goalscorer) out of this lot.
Progress Prediction: Germany and Holland
One’s to watch: Gomez, Schweinsteiger, Ozil (Germany) / Robben, Van Persie, Huntelaar (Holland)
Spain, Italy, Rep of Ireland, Croatia
Croatia seem to love tournament football and some say they are dark horses to go a long way. The injured Olic is a massive blow for Bilic’s men but they have other stars — Simunic and Modric pulling the strings. The Irish qualified through great teamwork, amazing grit and determination as well as some unbelievable defensive qualities. These two are strong teams and not to be underestimated, whether they have the complete package to overcome Italy’s new look side will be interesting to watch.
Spain are obviously the favourites but we’ve seen the batteries running out of the Barcelona contingent over the past month or two. However, if they play like they did in the last World Cup and can keep the key midfield players injury-free, It’s hard to see them missing out on another trophy.
Progress Prediction: Spain and Italy
One’s to watch: Silva, Llorente (Spain) / Balotelli, Marchisio (Italy) / Given, Keane (ROT)
Ukraine, France, England, Sweden
England have a new manager and he’s had to call in the re-inforcements even before the opening game. Big names are dropping like flies and Rooney is suspended for the first two matches. Make no mistake, England’s under-achievers will find this tough and Gerrard needs to step up to the wicket to ensure no embarrassments. I’m Scottish so this hard to say, but I see England getting through the group.... but just not going far! Party in kilts when Hodgson and company are on the way home with Terry’s tears.
Ukraine are co-hosts so will be encouraged by an amazing support, even though their fans have seen stronger sides. Sweden are probably the most underrated team in the competition and will be no pushovers like their last Wembley meeting. Their star, Ibrahimovic is up front and has had an incredible season at club level.
Blanc’s young French side will be hoping for a good run with Ribery leading the pack. The country has the football fever back under new management — which is no wonder after Domenech was responsible for their shocking early exit from the previous tournament in South Africa.
Progress Prediction: France and England
One’s to watch: M’Vila, Ribery (France) / Welbeck, Young, Rooney (England)
I have my prediction down to the semi-finals with Holland, France, Germany and Spain still remaining. From there it is impossible to call. Run of form, fatigue, injuries, team spirit, the manner of winning previous matches (extra-time?) and suspensions are all key factors at the latter stages. If the previous tournaments are anything to go by.... we will see some amazing matches, but a more defensive look to most teams with low scoring games.
Winners: Germany or Spain
Golden Boot: Gomez (Germany), Van Persie (Holland), Llorente (Spain)
Outsiders: Benzema (France), Lewandowski (Poland)