The group draw for the 2012 European Championships in Poland and Ukraine was made today. I’m going to analyse the groups and see who is likely to come out on top in the championships next summer.
Group A is the weakest of the four, that’s for sure. All four teams are the weakest of their respective pots. In all honesty any of the nations could reach the Quarter-Finals, which is intriguing in itself. Poland aren’t going through their greatest spell recently, but with their youthful side gaining pace, Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny leading the way, they may have a slight chance of progressing, especially with the home crowd roaring them on.
Greece have breezed through qualifying for the last World Cup and next years Euro’s, but they never deliver enough when it comes to the actual torunament. Of course, they far exceeded expectations back at Euro 2004, but since then they’ve never quite managed to hit the same heights, despite playing the same old boring, style of football. Russia would be slight favourites in my opinion, again they came comfortably top of their group, and still have the likes of Arshavin and Pavlyuchenko, who may not have been in the best of form recently, but do have the ability. It was three years ago at Euro 2008, that Arshavin burst onto the scene, but at club side Arsenal he’s never really revived that form consistently. At the age of 30, then, he has a lot still to prove at club and international level. The Czechs are unpredictable, I thought that Montenegro would’ve disposed of them in the play-offs, given how Scotland should’ve really defeated them in the group stage. Alas, the Czechs have gotten this far, proving me wrong, so I really don’t know what to suggest. I see them as stronger than the Greeks, though, perhaps challenging the Poles for the 2nd group slot.
Wow. This is truly the group of death. One of Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil or Robin Van Persie going out in the group stage surely isn’t the best news for UEFA, but it was bound to happen, given the possible permutations. Again, though any of the four group participants have a decent chance of going through. The Netherlands (Holland), runners-up at the last World Cup, met the Germans in a friendly last month. They lost 3-0. Granted it was a weakened side for the Dutch, and tournament football is far different to meaningless friendlies, but that will certainly have some psychological side-effects for the Oranje. Still, they are a top side and will be tough to break down. Germany, who in my mind are joint-favourites, play as good football as Spain. The likes of Muller, Gomez and Schweinsteiger are only the start of the stars that the Germans possess. Infact, the only weak area may well be in defence, where after seeing Per Mertesacker weekly for a few months, I worry if he is their number 1 centre back!
Portugal will push the two favourites all the way, picking up on any mistakes they make. They boast the world’s second best player, Ronaldo, and players in top European sides, Raul Meireles, Nani. However, the lack the strength in depth of the other two sides. They have the stars, but if injury strikes, they’ll have no chance, because of these faults, I see an early exit for Ronaldo and co. The Danes, again, nicked top spot in their group ahead of Portugal! This shows that in a one-off game they have potential to cause a few shocks against the big boys, and cannot be underestimated. However, on such a big stage, shocks rarely occur in the groups. But we’ll see.
Republic of Ireland-2nd
In a way, this is almost as tight a group as Group B. Although it’s tight for the second group slot, not for the first. Spain stand head and shoulders above the rest of Europe and indeed the world. They seem at times unbeatable, although it’ll be interesting the see if their group rivals try the tactics England used in their Wembley victory last month. Still, with David Silva, Juan Mata, David Villa…I could go on, they have far too many players, and as a result, have the best squad in the championships. They are certainly the team to beat. Italy are very inconsistent. They got through the groups unharmed, but then you think back to last summer when they finished bottom of a World Cup group containing Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand. Hence why I’ve placed them bottom here, I know it may not happen again, but in my heart I’d rather the Irish and Croats got further than the Italians. They have talent, undoubtedly, but they never seem to work as a team.
Ireland reach their first major tournament for 10 years, and are placed in a tough group. They aren’t full of stars at all, the likes of Damien Duff and Robbie Keane hitting their peaks a good few years ago. But, they know how to play as a team and to their strengths, something which held them in good stead in the qualifiers. I can see them nicking a point off the Spanish and even taking Italy. Croatia, may be the underdogs for the tournament. At Euro 08, they reached the Quarters, losing on penalties to Turkey, but they showed real guile and strength. Plus, if they get through they may well face old rivals England, perhaps with something of a score to settle, as they lost their most recent battles with us, to qualify for last years World Cup.
Again, a close group. The Ukrainians will be buoyant, and will have the backing of huge, hostile support in Kiev and Donetsk, where they play the English. It’ll be tough for the home team to overcome the stars of France and England, but they’ll give it a good go, plus anything can happen in a tournament. England continue to surprise me. I said a couple of months ago they had no chance whatsoever of even reaching the quarter-finals. However, after a couple of victories against two top nations, Sweden will give us a good rematch here, and a renewed sense of optimism, I think we have an outside chance of the semi’s at the most. Those two games showed we can work together and stay solid as a team, especially against the champions, with Jack Wilshere to return, who I feel is our best player, then we may well be stronger than most think.
France are similar to Italy recently, never really performing to their standards and causing a scene! The whole situation with former coach Raymond Domenech, was embarrassing, but that should be long gone for the current side, with Laurent Blanc now in charge there are no excuses if the side slip up. It really depends if the likes of Benzema, Ribery and Nasri show up, if they do, then England could be pushed all the way. And lastly, Sweden. Sweden are a very consistent side in general, and with a world-class forward in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they do have a source of talent. Sadly, he is the only ‘top’ player in the side, with the rest lacking in the skill and creativity that Zlatan needs to thrive off. I can see them giving tight, close games, but ultimately going nowhere in particular.
So those are my views, what are yours?! Write in the comments what you think will happen next Summer!