EURO 2012 PreviewSpain and Germany on collision course
The UEFA European Football Championships is a tournament that many soccer fans look forward to just as much as the World Cup. EURO 2012 will be held in Poland and Ukraine starting June 8, with the final set for July 1 at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev, Ukraine. Played between only 16 elite European national teams rather than the 32 global sides that compete in the World Cup, the EURO tournament is filled with blockbuster matchups of some of soccer’s best players from start to finish. Here’s a preview of the tournament.
Co-hosts Poland couldn’t have hoped for a better draw for the group stage, avoiding all of major powers lurking in the lower seeds. But the less-heralded teams they have been matched with have been known to either punch above their weight (in the case of the skillful Czech Republic team and EURO 2004 champions Greece) or be sleeping giants (Russia, who despite missing out on the last two World Cups, possess a potent attack with players like former English Premier League standout Andrei Arshavin). Look for Poland to make good use of home-field advantage, while the traditionally solid defense of Greece could help carry them into the second round as well.
In what many have labeled the tournament’s “group of death”, a trio of heavyweights (Germany, Portugal, and Holland) will battle it out with underdogs Denmark. Germany, featuring Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira from Spanish league champions Real Madrid, has been arguably the best team in the world since the 2010 World Cup and should advance without too much trouble. The matchup between The Netherlands and Portugal may decide the second team to advance. Look for superstar Cristiano Ronaldo to break his national team slump and lead Portugal to the next round.
Expect defending European and World champions Spain to run away with this group, featuring an unusually weak Italy team coming off a shocking loss to the United States in a February friendly. Croatia boasts a dangerous attack headlined by English Premier League players Luka Modric and Nikica Jelavic that should be enough to put them in the knockout round. But look out for the plucky team from Ireland, whose status as the lowest-ranked nation in the tournament could earn them sympathy from neutral crowds.
The presence of the England national team in any tournament always seems to breed mayhem. After their legendary Italian coach Fabio Capello quit and star player Wayne Rooney was suspended for the first two games of the tournament earlier in the year, the Three Lions’ hopes for the Euros looked bleak. But the recent hiring of the experienced and tactful Roy Hodgson as coach could be a good fit for England, who should qualify along with always-talented France. At the bottom of the group should be Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine, who are dealing with both a political crisis in their home country and the loss of their top three goalkeepers to injury and suspension.
The arrangement of the groups opens the doors for a final between Germany and Spain, a rematch of the final from the last Euro tournament in 2008. Though the track record of Spain may make them the favorites, various important players for the “Furia Roja,” including Gerard Pique and Fernando Torres have been in poor form with their clubs. Look for this relatively weak Spain team to see its historic streak end against the powerful and organized Germany.