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Who Will Win Euro 2012? Preview, Contenders and Predictions
The greatly anticipated 2012 UEFA European Football Championship starts on the 8th June, with 16 of the top national teams in Europe attempting to be crowned European Champions. The 14th staging of the tournament is being held in Ukraine and Poland, and the matches will take place in 8 stadiums across the two host countries.
After the initial four-team group stages, two teams from each group will qualify for the knockout stages and battle it out to lift the trophy in Kiev on the 1st July, in the new 60000 seater Olympic Stadium.
Republic of Ireland
The Eight Contenders
The defending champions and 2010 World Cup winners, Spain, are regarded as the favourites for the European Championship. They prevailed in Euro 2008 and won the trophy for the first time since 1964, and will be looking to emulate that success this year. However, no country has ever won back to back European Championships or won 3 major tournaments in a row. They qualifying for Euro 2012 at a canter, winning all 8 group games and further illustrating their superiority in international football. They play in a style which is akin to that of Barcelona, one of the most succesful sides in club history. However, recently the defensive and counter-attacking approach of teams, especially Real Madrid, have been effective against this style of football . One would expect that teams like Germany, Holland and France would adopt a similiar strategy against the Spanish side.
The fitness of David Villa could also play a major part in Spain's bid to retain the championship. The Barcelona forward has scored 51 goals in 82 matches for Spain, and he collected the Golden Boot in Euro 2008. He is usually one of the first names on Vicente Del Bosque's team sheet in major tournaments, however, he has been sidelined since December after fracturing his tibia while playing in the FIFA Club World Cup. Recently, Del Bosque has stated that he may wait until the final selection deadline on the 29th May before making a decision on whether to include him in the squad, a testiment to the importance of Villa to the Spanish team, especially when striker Fernando Torres has yet to make a real impression since his move to Chelsea. They may look towards Fernando Llorente or Roberto Soldado (who scored a hat trick against Venezuela recently), or perhaps adopt the no-striker policy of Barcelona, and play either David Silva or Cesc Fabregas in the forward role. Spain have also received the news of another injury blow when it was revealed that Carlos Puyol will be sidelined for 6 weeks due to surgery on his knee, and it looks unlikely that Del Bosque will name him in the squad. The experienced defender will be a miss, however, Sergio Ramos has proved for Real Madrid that he is more than capable of playing at centre back if the need should arise.
Verdict: 9/10 - Spain have dominated international tournaments of late, however, since the World Cup in South Africa, they have in fact lost several friendlies to Portugal, Italy and England, even drawing against Costa Rica, perhaps demonstrating their vulnerability. Nevertheless, when it really matters Spain have been able to produce their best, and they remain the team to beat.
Can he perform on the international stage?
With an excellent record in the competition, and an impressive qualifying campaign, Germany go into this tournament with a firm belief that they can triumph and overcome the heartache of defeat in the final against Spain in 2008, and also their defeats in World Cup semi-finals in 2006 and 2010. The current German team continued to assert their authority in international football with a flawless qualification for Euro 2012, matching Spain's 100% record with 10 wins out of 10, scoring 34 goals in the process.
In Miroslav Klose, they have a proven goalscorer on the international stage, averaging over a goal a game in qualifying, a feat also matched by in-form Bayern Munich striker Mario Gomez (pictured) who will be determined to make a positve impact in this major tournament, after failing to impress in both Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, as he didn't manage to score a single goal in either of the tournaments. In fact there is much debate over who will get the nod from Joachim Low to play up front. In the earlier matches of the qualifying campaign Klose was chosen, however, an injury gave Gomez his chance and he managed to bag a few goals in his place. His great form this season for Bayern looks like it will earn him another chance on the big stage, yet this is set to be Klose's final major tournament and he will be looking to bow out in glory. Mesut Ozil also looks like he will play a key role in Germany's campaign, as he did for La Liga title winners Real Madrid this season, and his creativity could prove crucial to supplying the chances for Gomez and Klose. He managed to provide the most assists of any player in the qualifying, and he will be looking to do more of the same throughout the tournament.
Verdict: 9/10 - The team has the experience of going far in major tournaments, and they know what it will take to go one step further and triumph. They have lost out to Spain in the last 2 major tournaments, but it looks as if they may well have the measure of them this time round if they come up against them. With an excellent blend of youth and experience, everything is in place for them to win their first trophy since the European Championships in 1996.
Will he be instrumental for Holland?
Beaten 2010 World Cup finalists, Holland, will be hoping to go one better in Euro 2012 as they try to maintain their impressive record in the competition. In the last 6 European Championships they have made it to at least the Quarter Finals, winning the tournament in 1988. They only lost once in qualification (although were already through), and were the top goalscorers in the qualifying campaign. Offensively, they are a match for anyone with the goalscoring threats of prolific striker Robin Van Persie and Klass Jan Huntelaar - who scored 12 goals in 8 games and was the top goalscorer in qualification. He may not even find a place in the starting line up as is the depth in attack that Holland possesses with players like Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder - who was very impressive both Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup. He was also in fine form in qualifying, scoring 3 times and providing 6 assists. The Inter Milan midfielder looks set to play a central role once again for Holland in Euro 2012. Like Germany and Portugal, Holland's 3 group games may prove as tough or even tougher than their potential quarter-final opponent.
Verdict: 8/10 - They proved they could go toe to toe with the world's best in the 2010 World Cup, narrowly losing to Spain in extra time. Some have criticized their style of football under manager Bert van Marwijk, most notably Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, however, in the 2010 World Cup they developed a ruthless streak that has been previously lacking, especially in major tournaments. They will be thirsty for major success after going so close two years ago.
The French side come into this tournament with an increasingly optimistic outlook under coach Laurent Blanc. In qualifying for the tournament, France had to fend off Bosnia & Herzegovina to claim the automatic qualifying place. Despite their good defensive record in qualifying, they only finished one point above Bosnia & Herzegovina, and even lost to Belarus at home in the early stages of the qualifying. Nonetheless, France are a side which are improving under Blanc's leadership and they are almost certain to put in a dramatically improved performance compared to Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, where they finished last in both group stages. Their recent 2-1 away victory over Germany in a friendly underlines their credentials, and with Blanc at the helm, the team is showing a unity that was lacking under previous coach Raymond Domenech. The win over Germany meant that they have gone 18 matches unbeaten, and are evidently establishing themselves as a team that is very hard to beat. Karim Benzema (pictured) will be the one most likely to provide France with the goals in Euro 2012.
Verdict: 7/10 - The key to their chances could be their performance in their difficult opening match against England; a win would instill them as firm favourites for the group, however a defeat could mean that they will have to battle it out for 2nd, and would be likely to meet Spain in the Quarter Finals if the Spaniards finish top of their group. Their consistency over the last year and a half indicates that they may have what it takes to put in a good showing in the tournament.
Can Hodgson bring England success?
England come into this competition in unusual circumstances after the high profile resignation of Fabio Capello in February. New manager Roy Hodgson has been appointed just over a month before the tournament, and with only two friendlies before the tournament, he has little time to instill his ideas into the England squad. However, he still has high hopes of getting England to the latter stages of the tournament, and starting his England career with a win in what would be England's first ever European Championship title. They will be determined to make amends for their failure to qualify for Euro 2008 and their disappointing showing at the 2010 World Cup, where they were taken apart by the Germans. Few people have tipped England for success, mainly due to the circumstances leading up to the the tournament, and their inability to reach their best when it really matters. In addition, key striker Wayne Rooney is also suspended for the opening two matches and nobody has cemented their place in his stead, with strikers such as Danny Welbeck, Andy Carroll and Jermaine Defoe yet to force themselves into the first team and prove that they can perform at this level. This is reflected in the odds for England's top goalscorer in the tournament; Rooney is still the overwhelming favourite despite his 2 game ban.The currenty injured Darren Bent could be fit for the tournament and may be in contention for a place in the squad despite a lack of match fitness.
Verdict: 5/10 - Perhaps, the different situation in which England enter the championship could work in their favour. In keeper Joe Hart, England now have a keeper who they should be able to rely on. It is of vital importance that England qualify 1st from their group, or else Spain could lie in wait for them in the quarter-finals.
Portugal - The Portugese were runners up in Euro 2004, and narrowly lost to Germany in the quarter finals in 2008. In Euro 2012, they have been drawn in arguably the toughest group, and their hopes could hinge on the performances of Cristiano Ronaldo. All attention will be directed towards the Real Madrid forward in the Portugese team, nevertheless, other players will have to step up if they are to go one step further than in 2004, when they lost out to Greece in the Final. In players like Nani, Joao Moutinho and Ronaldo, they have players who are very capable to cause problems for any team, and this was demonstrated in the qualifying campaign where they averaged just under 3 goals a game. However, they failed to qualify automatically from their qualifying group, surrendering the top spot to Denmark after a 2-1 defeat in the last match. They then thrashed Bosnia & Herzegovina in the play-offs to secure their place at Euro 2008. However, they will have to improve defensively if they are to cope with the attacking threats of Germany and Holland in the group stages.
Verdict: 5/10 - If they can get through from the "group of death" they will have the reward of avoiding the likes of Spain, France and England in the Quarter Finals, as they will face a country from Group A, which contains Russia, Greece, Czech Republic and co-hosts Poland. Their good record in this competition should not be ignored; in the last 4 European Championships they have reached two quarter finals, one semi final and finished runners up to Greece in 2004. However, in Holland and Germany they face teams that are very accomplished and accustomed to qualifying from the group stages, in addition, Denmark will hold no fear when they play Portugal after getting the better of them in qualifying.
Cassano to impress?
Slowly but surely the Italians have been improving since their disappointing 2010 World Cup exit in the group stages. Under the leadership of Cesar Prandelli, they eased through qualifying, winning their group by 10 points. However, they were in a group which was arguably one of the weakest, with Estonia making the play-offs. They largely relied on the mercurial AC Milan forward Antonio Cassano for goals, as he found the net 6 times. However, he suffered a stroke in November and underwent minor heart surgery. He returned to the AC Milan team on the 7th April and now looks set to be fit for the tournament, and may well be the type of player who could lift his game for the big stage and finally demonstrate his ability at a major tournament. In qualifying, they averaged less than 2 goals per match, yet, their defensive prowess was as good as ever as they only conceded twice in the whole qualifying campaign, an impressive feat despite the lack of quality opposition.
Verdict: 5/10 - Antonio Cassano and defender Giorgio Chiellini were the only Italian players to play all of the qualifiers, and their performances could be pivotal to Italy's chances in Euro 2012, one to continue keeping the clean sheets, and the other to provide the goals. The Italians will be determined to make an impression in Euro 2012 after their disastrous showing in the World Cup in 2010, where the finished bottom of there group.
Will he rediscover his form for Russia?
Russia have been placed in a group which is generally seen as the easiest of the four; alongside Euro 2004 winners Greece, Czech Republic and co-hosts Poland. They are a team that have lots of firepower up front with the in-form Fulham striker Pavel Pogrebnyak, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Zenit striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov - who is leading the goalscoring charts in Russia. Yet, when excluding their 2 wins over Andorra, Russia only managed to score 9 goals in qualifying. In fact, in the process of their qualification, they were particulary impressive in defence, conceding only 4 goals in 10 matches, and amassing 7 clean sheets. However, they were not fully tested, with the Republic of Ireland representing their toughest opponents in a group that contained Armenia and Andorra.
They will face a much tougher task if they are to progress deep into the tournament like they did in 2008, when they unexpectedly reached the semi-final, before losing out to Spain. The CSK Moscow youngster Alan Dzaegov has attracted interest from the likes of Arsenal and Man. Utd of late, and played a key role in their qualifying, scoring 4 goals, however, he has been injured of late and will be lacking in match fitness prior to the tournament. Andrei Arshavin has shown glimpses of his best form while on loan at Zenit St. Petersburg, and he will be hoping to rediscover his form of four years ago which helped his country reach the semi finals. Their full backs Zhirkov and Anyukov were instrumental in their success in Euro 2008, and could be good picks for fantasy football teams this time round.
Verdict: 4/10 - Although the Russians are favourites to finish top of their group, they will still have to work hard to get past Greece, Czech Republic and Poland, who will be tough to beat. Expect them to make it through to the Quarter Finals, but it will be a tough ask to go any further, as they would face a country from the aptly named "group of death" containing Germany, Holland, Portugal and Denmark. They will however have plenty of support in Poland and Ukraine.
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