Euro 2012: Day 8 Predictions

France Vs Ukraine:

In the opening game France were undoubtedly the side dictating the play against England but they did seem to lack real drive and creative ability in the middle of the park. This is a problem which needs to be sorted very quickly if they are to fulfil their ambitions at this tournament, as the likes of Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema were forced to drop deep on too many occasions which meant that the French struggled to make real inroads into the heart of the English defence in spite of their possessional and territorial superiority.

Shevchenko Ukraine

Andriy Shevchenko re-captured some of the old magic against Sweden and will need to be even more clinical against the French

It is arguable that the Ukranian defence will present greater openings for the French to take advantage of than England afforded them  but still the French must focus on using the ball more effectively and supplying their more dangerous players with greater opportunities to harm the opposition.

France’s opponents on Friday are the co-hosts Ukraine who pulled off one of the results of the first round when they defeated Sweden by two goals to one in Kiev. Inspired by their ageing talisman Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine managed to fight back from a goal behind and in doing so proved that they may well do better than people expected them to.

In addition to Shevchenko it was Ukraine’s young attacking midfielder Andriy Yarmolenko that caught the eye for the co-hosts  in their opening victory. He looked strong, full of energy and technically very sound when crossing from wide positions. If the Ukraine are to push for qualification to the latter stages of the competition then he will surely be key to their hopes and France and England must both be wary of the threat that he poses.

Even though I was pleasantly surprised by the performance of the co-hosts in the opening game they did seem constantly troubled by the presence of Sweden’s real world-class talent Zlatan Ibrahimovic and I think they will struggle to keep the French at bay as they possess more than just one major attacking threat. I think France will win this game 3-1 and will put themselves in a very decent position in the group.

England Vs. Sweden:

Whilst England will be fairly pleased with their first performance of the Euros, today’s opponents Sweden will be more than a little irritated with their own progress to date.

Carroll Welbeck

If England do opt for two front-men then Carroll and Welbeck could cause the Swedish back four some real problems

The Swedes performance in the 2-1 loss to the Ukraine was very disappointing and it is of no real surprise that there are rumours circling of division in the camp in the wake of such a disorganised outing against a side who they will feel they should have beaten.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic for long periods of the game seemed the only player in the Sweden side capable of causing any damage at all but even he was a little wasteful at times and at the back their experienced campaigners Olof Mellberg and Andreas Granqvist appeared as if they had under-estimated and were ill-prepared for the threat posed by Andriy Shevchenko in terms of his movement and his aerial ability.

It is this lack of defensive organisation which will excite England the most going into the second game of the tournament as their side is likely to be packed with players capable of causing the Swedish defence a lot of problems in the air.

It sounds as if England are going to opt for two front men in this game with Andy Carroll expected to take the place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain whose likely omission will mean that Ashley Young will switch to a wider role on the left. I for one think that this switch in formation is a sensible one going into the game against Sweden given their apparent weaknesses in defence and if Ashley Young and James Milner can provide decent service from the wings then Danny Welbeck and Carroll should have plenty to feed off of.

I think England will win the game 2-0 and will sit joint top of Group D with France come the end of today.

Euro 2012: Day 7 Predictions

Italy Vs.Croatia:

Both of the sides involved in the first of Thursday’s matches will be very pleased with how they acquitted themselves in their opening fixtures of Euro 2012.

Di Natale Italy

Di Natale’s finish was sublime and he may well start against Croatia

Italy dealt well with Spain’s unusual ‘4-6-0′ formation for the first hour of the game and looked consistently threatening on the break with Balotelli and Cassano both spurning decent opportunities before second half substitute Antonio Di Natale popped up with a delightful finish to give them a surprise lead.

Unfortunately for Italy the lead wasn’t theirs for long as Spain hit back quickly through Cesc Fabregas’ equaliser but ultimately the Italians will be fairly pleased with the draw and with how they dealt with Spain’s unexpected formation and typically constant threat in and around the box.

Croatia will also be in good spirits heading into the Italy clash as they were at their clinical best against an Irish side who are often very difficult to break down. Croatia manager Slaven Bilic set his team up in a positive fashion and knowing that Ireland would play on the back foot seemed to grasp the fact that his team would need to make the most of any opportunities that came their way and his players

Mandzukic Croatia

Mandzukic was the two goal hero Croatia in their opener

delivered.

The game between these two sides is arguably the most pivotal of the entire group stage as many believe it will decide who qualifies from the group along with tournament favourites Spain. However, if Croatia win and Spain fail to beat Ireland in the second of Thursday’s matches then Croatia will already be through as group winners.

Italy will be pleased with their point against Spain and will back themselves to beat Ireland so a draw on Thursday wouldn’t be an awful result and I think that is what the outcome will be, I’m going for a 1-1 draw.

Spain Vs. Ireland:

Ireland and their fans may well just be happy to be in the Euros as many are suggesting but they will still be feeling a little flat after a disappointing defeat in their opening game of the tournament.

McClean Euro 2012

The Ireland manager has been put under great media pressure to start James McClean against Spain

Spain on the other hand certainly have more lofty ambitions about the tournament as a whole and though they may view Italy as their greatest challengers in Group C I think they too will be left a little underwhelmed by their opening day performance and result.

Time will tell of course whether Spain’s point against the Italians was actually a very good point in the context of the group but with the players that Spain have at their disposal they would surely have hoped they could start building some momentum with a win right from the off. The second round of group fixtures though provides Spain with the perfect opportunity to kick-start the defence of their European crown against an Irish side who looked a little lacklustre at this level in the opening round of fixtures.

Fabregas Spain

Fabregas was probably the most advanced player in Spain’s surprise ‘4-6-0’ formation

The reason Ireland’s performance was so disappointing was that not only did they try and play defensive minded football as everyone had expected them to, but their display at times crept beyond this and into the realms of negativity and damage limitation. Within the context of major tournament football they simply appeared a little shell-shocked.

Sadly for Ireland I simply can’t see how they are going to drastically improve on Sunday’s showing and avoid being eliminated from the tournament on Thursday and I expect Spain to win comfortably. I’m going for the reigning champions to win 3-0 but if they play with an ‘out-and-out striker’ then they could even win by more.

Euro 2012: Day 6 Predictions

Denmark Vs. Portugal:

The two teams involved in the first game of the second round round of fixtures in Group B will go into the match with very contrasting emotions following their first results of the group stages.

Ronaldo Euro 2012

Ronaldo will be hoping to fire Portugal to their first points of Euro 2012

Denmark head into the match riding the crest of a wave having sent shockwaves through the tournament with a surprise 1-0 win against a much fancied Dutch side. I had predicted a very open game between Denmark and Holland with the Dutch coming out on top in spite of my accompanying prediction that the Dutch might be end up falling at the first hurdle and being eliminated in the opening round of the Euros.

On one hand I may be proved correct in that Holland are now right up against it in their bid to progress to the latter stages of the competition but on the other I got things very wrong indeed. The game did indeed begin in fairly open and fluent fashion with Holland on top but after Denmark took the lead against the run of play it became a story of Danish doggedness and Dutch frustration and stuttering.

They may have lost out in nearly all of the statistic categories but Denmark deserved their win for their clinically finished goal from Michael Krohn-Delhi and the admirable determination and execution of their defensive plans.

In stark contrast to the jubilation amongst the Danish fans, the Portugese players and fans will be left deflated following their 1-0 loss to Germany and the reason for their upset isn’t really down to a poor performance but more out of frustration that they couldn’t finish off a decent night’s work.

Of course, Germany are a very good side and Portugal were the underdogs going into the match so one might think a narrow defeat wasn’t a poor result but in truth Germany seemed a little lacking and Portugal for the most part completely negated any threat that their opponents posed. Also, after Germany managed to break the deadlock Portugal came back strongly with a much more offensive approach and in the end probably should have got themselves a point with Silvestre Varela wasting the best of their late opportunities.

So, there were several things for Portugal to be pleased with in their opening game but ultimately they were on the wrong end of the result and perhaps they are left ruing the fact that they left it so late to try and cause the German defence some problems.

In tomorrow’s game I think Portugal will try to play more offensively and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nelson Oliveira start in place of Helder Postiga in the wake of an impressive cameo against Germany. I think Portugal will win the game 2-0 and take themselves level on points with Denmark and in doing so they could blow the group wide open.

Germany Vs. Holland:

When the draw was made for the Euros this game looked like the pick of the group matches. Not only does it see two of the pre-tournament favourites face-off at an early stage but it also renews one of European football’s most famous and most heated rivalries.

Holland Germany Rivalry

The Dutch-German rivalry is one of the biggest in international football but hopefully their won’t be any incidents as unsavoury as this…

Gone are the days of Frank Rijkaard spitting in Rudi Voller’s mullet but the memories of such moments and the memories of some fine games of football still live on and how Germany would love to be the team that defeats the Dutch and in doing so effectively knock them out of the tournament in the very first round.

In the opening games of Group B both Germany and Holland were under-par but the important difference between their respective opening results were that Germany took home three points against a decent Portugese side and Holland failed to take anything from their match against a Denmark side who many thought would end up propping up the rest of the teams in the ‘Group of Death’.

Both sides will head into this one with a point to prove, Germany in terms of upping their performance level and Holland in terms of the desperate need to get at very least one point on the board and I think it will be a 1-1 draw. Hopefully this game will prove to be as much of a spectacle as previous encounters between these two great footballing nations.

Euro 2012: Day 5 Predictions

Greece Vs. Czech Republic:

In the opening round of fixtures Greece didn’t come firing out of the blocks against co-hosts Poland but they grew into the game and seemed to be inspired by the injustice of Sokratis Papastathpolous’ first half dismissal.

Greece EURO 2012

The Greek fans will have been delighted with the spirit their side showed in coming back against Poland

So, having looked a very ordinary side for the opening half hour or so Greece will have been delighted with their turnaround in fortunes which was in no small part down to the contributions of substitute Dimitris Salpingidis whose equalising goal and tidy and efficient use of the ball in the attacking third has probably earned him the right to start today’s game.

They may have improved as the game went on but Greece didn’t seem to possess a huge amount of quality and much the same can be said of the Czechs who were soundly beaten by four goals to one by Group A favourites Russia.

There were times in their heavy defeat in the opening round of games when they were causing a few problems on the break but ultimately Russia showed far too much cunning and conviction for a limited Czech side to cope with.

If the Czechs can bottle up the period of their game against Russia when they seemed useful on the break and find some greater defensive stability then they have a chance of getting a point and I think they will do so in a 1-1 draw.

Poland Vs. Russia:

Having totally dominated the opening stages of their first match in Group A, Poland will have been very disappointed with the way they seemed to flounder against the ten men of Greece in the second half of their opener. Russia on the other hand underlined their ‘dark horse’ status in the competition with an utterly clinical display which saw them outscore all other teams in the first round of fixtures.

Lewandowski Poland

Poland begun well with Lewandowski proving to be a real threat and they will need to replicate their opening half hour against the Russians

Admittedly, Greece did put up much more of a fight than the Czechs managed but Russia will still be far happier than today’s opponents Poland with their opening results.

The challenge of facing up to the co-hosts will probably prove to be a lot tougher for the Russians than their first game of the tournament and I can see Poland giving them a very good game if they produce the same intensity that they managed at the start of the Greece game for a longer period of time in this outing.

Having said that I still think Russia will win  the game 2-1 which will see them almost certain to top the group and will have co-hosts Poland on the verge of a first round elimination.

Euro 2012: Day 4 Predictions

 

England Vs. France:

 

England and France have arguably been two of the most frustrating sides in tournament football over the past ten years as England have consistently under-performed and France have failed to maintain an extended period of dominance in the wake of their back-to-back World Cup and Euros wins in 1998 and 2000.

England France

France appear to have a more fluid and attacking set-up to England so it will be interesting to see who prospers on Monday night

 

This time around both sides head into the tournament with perhaps a little less expectation weighing them down and both will hope that this can work in their favour.

 

France have come to Poland and Ukraine with a fairly fresh looking and youthful squad and some are tipping them as dark horses to sneak a way through to the latter stages of the tournament. I think their squad is indeed full of interest and the fact that they have opted for just two out-and-out strikers in their set-up suggests that they will go for one up top and play with a trio of attacking midfielders each with a license to roam in behind Karim Benzema. This modern approach could serve the French well and I expect them to top the group.

 

England may also have a slightly less familiar look to their squad than in recent tournaments but it seems that they will opt for a far more old-fashioned and rigid formation and structure. The major hiccup in England’s preparations has arguably been the two game suspension hanging over star man Wayne Rooney’s head, as it is difficult to see them scoring a great deal of goals and playing with the attacking imagination required to beat a team like France when he is absent.

 

Having said that though, I think England’s defensively minded set-up will see them get a 1-1 draw against the French which wouldn’t be a bad result for either side in the context of the group.

 

Sweden Vs. Ukraine:

The second match of Group D may not sound like a cracking game on paper but the fact that co-hosts Ukraine will be making their European Championships bow in elaborate fashion provides the game with plenty of intrigue. Also, the performance of Sweden could be very interesting to keep an eye on as a win for them in particular would cause some major concerns for either England or France if they were to lose out in their head-to-head on Monday evening.

Ukraine

Co-hosts Ukraine aren’t fancied by many in the group stages

Sweden have a stronger squad at their disposal than their opponents tonight but Ukraine will surely find some inspiration from their home following and the co-hosts could well prove to be very difficult to break down. Crucial to their hopes of shocking the rest of Europe and qualifying for the quarter-finals is holding midfelder Anatoliy Tymoschuk who reads the game very well and is very capable when it comes to breaking up the oppositions play.

Whether or not Ukraine are as dogged as expected, if Sweden play to their potential and the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic can contribute strongly then they should win this game and they should maintain hope that they can outdo either one of England or France in the group stages as a whole.

I think that Ukraine will try and play mainly very defensive and abrasive football and will succeed for the most-part in keeping Sweden at bay on the night but I think the Swedes will make a breakthrough at some point and will begin their campaign with a narrow and hard-earned 1-0 win.


Euro 2012: Day 3 Predictions

Italy Vs. Spain:

Spain and Italy could hardly be going into this tournament having had more contrasting preparations for the tournament.

Spain Italy football

Spain will be big favourites to defeat Italy and are the favourites with the bookies to win the tournament

Spain have won both of the last two major tournaments and are heading into the Euros with a strong, familiar and for the most-part experienced squad and as such are very much being targeted by the rest of the field as ‘the team to beat’ to.

Italy on the other hand have disappointed on their two most recent outings in major tournament football, have a younger and more inexperienced look to their squad than usual and their domestic leagues have once again been embroiled in a wide-scale match-fixing scandal.

On the plus side  though for Italy, the last time their nation was under scrutiny amidst match-fixing issues they went to the World Cup in Germany 2006 and they came home as champions of the world. Also, as much as Spain may possess a squad packed with talent, class and depth they are missing a couple of the key players from their recent triumphs, Carles Puyol and David Villa, both of whom have failed to recover form injuries in time for the defence of Spain’s crown.

In spite of their high-profile injury absences Spain still have an embarrassment of riches at their disposal and I expect them to win 2-1 in the opening game of Group C. Just as an aside to my score prediction, I think it will be intriguing as it always is to watch Mario Balotelli and to see whether he looks like producing the sublime or the ridiculous at the Euros, both of which we know he is all too capable of…

If Balotelli and fellow front-man Di Natale can link well with each other then don’t write off Italy’s chances of getting themselves a draw but I think Spain will be a little too good for them on the day.

Croatia Vs. Ireland:

The second match on the opening day for Group C sees Ireland return to the big time and although they have a very tough looking group draw they will head into the tournament with great enthusiasm and the hope that they can spring a few surprises.

Giovanni Trapattoni Slaven Bilic

The opening game for Ireland and Croatia will depend much on the respective strategies of their two managers

Their opening game pits them against Croatia who have at times really impressed in tournament football since returning as an independent nation in the early nineties and who possess a few of European football’s most sought after and most in-form players.

The two names that spring to mind immediately with Croatia in terms of their biggest assets are Luka Modric, who is on the radar of several European super-clubs, and Nikica Jelavic who has proved an instant hit in the Premier League with Everton. If Modric is at his superb best then it is likely that Jelavic and his fellow forwards will have plenty of scraps to feed on and if they do then Ireland could be in for a torrid evening.

Ireland are likely to set up in typical fashion as their manager Giovanni Trapattoni is very sure of his first XI and how he thinks they can be most successfully deployed. The manager tends to side with defensive responsibilities and his Ireland side are expected to soak up pressure and to try and produce match-winning chances on the break with the likes of skipper Robbie Keane ready to pounce at the top end of the field as and when chances might come his way.

It is essential that Ireland try and keep Modric under wraps as he has the potential to pull the strings and eventually pull Ireland apart with his clever running and eye for a killer pass. I think Ireland will give a decent account of themselves in this game but I expect Croatia to triumph either 2-0 or 2-1.

 

Euro 2012: Day 2 Predictions

Denmark Vs. Holland:

Both sides will head into their opening game with real optimism having both qualified for the Euros in very convincing fashion. Holland will be the favourites courtesy of their wealth of high profile and world class performers as well as being buoyed by their run all the way to the final of the World Cup in 2010 but they will have to be on their guard to avoid dropping points to a very decent Denmark side.

Holland Denmark

Holland overcame Denmark at the World Cup in 2010 and will be expected to do so again at the Euros

The favourites to win the opening game of Group B are blessed with an attacking contingent that is the envy of most sides in international football and they will be heavily reliant upon the threat that this unit provides as their defence is by comparison a little weak.

Denmark will have to be willing to attack Holland if they are to avoid defeat as it will be very difficult indeed to keep the Dutch’s attacking threat at bay for the whole of the ninety minutes. Their attacking burden may have to be shouldered by the promising Christian Eriksen whose pace and craft has caught the eye of many.

I think this is a game which looks like it will contain a few goals as Holland’s ambitions are based upon their lethal attacking options and because Denmark will seek to exploit any weaknesses that their opponents may have in their rear-guard. I am going for Holland to win 3-1 but I expect Denmark to carry a decent threat throughout and to cause a few scares.

Germany Vs. Portugal:

In arguably the most anticipated match of the tournament so far we are likely to find out a little more about how far Germany’s youthful squad have come since the World Cup in 2010 and whether Cristiano Ronaldo will be supported strongly by his Portugese team mates in their quest to prove not only that they aren’t a ‘one man team’ but also that they have the ability to exceed expectations and qualify from the ‘Group of Death’.

Germany Portugal

Ronaldo is undoubtedly the key man for Portugal but most fancy Germany to limit his threat and dominate against the Portugese

I think Germany are undoubtedly one of the stand-out teams in the tournament and I think their blend of youth, in the form of players like Mats Hummels, Mesut Ozil and Mario Gotze, and experience, in the form of players such as Philip Lahm, Bastien Schweinsteiger, Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klose, looks set to provide the platform for a genuine crack at winning the competition.

Portugal on the other hand are being almost written off by many and they will be determined to prove that they do have a chance not only of progressing to the latter stages of the competition but also that they should be considered contenders to win the tournament. I think it would be grossly unfair to label the Portugese a ‘one man team’ as they have plenty of world class performers such as Pepe, Fabio Coentrao, Joao Moutinho, Danny and Nani, however, their will undoubtedly be a great reliance upon Ronaldo to weigh in with a heavy goals contribution if they are to prove to be a serious threat.

Germany will have to be at their best to ensure victory in a game which most people fancy them to win and I think they’ll get the result. I am going for a 2-1 win for the favourites in a closely contested match but I am not totally writing off Portugal who possess a great threat to some of the more fancied sides in Group B. Expect to see Germany control the possession of the ball and Portugal to have real menace on the counter-attack.

Euro 2012: Day 1 Predictions

Poland 2-1 Greece:

Day one of the Euros could go either one of two ways. One potential summary of the day could be along the lines of ‘Group A really does lack quality as many expected to be the case‘, perhaps though it could be something far more positive, such as; ‘Maybe Group A won’t be as bad as people expected, the quality on show exceeded expectations.’

Poland Football Team

The co-hosts Poland look like favourites to win their opening game but expect a close game

If the latter statement is to prove to be a more apt description of day one then the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski are more than likely to have played their part in proceedings and so too  are the likes of Sotiris Ninis and Sokratis Papastathopolous who look like Greece’s strongest squad members.

I actually think that Group A may benefit from the fact that there is not an abundance of star players of show and could prove to be very hotly contested and very exciting for the neutrals.

I am going to go for Poland to win on home soil in the opener with Blaszczykowski to play a starring role. I think both sides are fairly well matched for the most-part but I also believe that Poland’s stronger assets slightly outweigh those of the Greeks and that is why I’m siding with the co-hosting nation.

Russia Vs. Czech Republic:

The second of day one’s matches sees the hot favourites to win the group, Russia, take on a Czech Republic side that look a shadow of the sides which have served them so well in previous European Championships.

Andriy Asharvin and Alan Dzagoev

The likes of Asharvin and Dzagoev should hold Russia in good stead to win their opener and eventually to top Group A

Russia to me look like the overwhelming favourites to win this match and of particular interest to the neutral will be the performances of Andriy Asharvin who was so brilliant for the national side in their Euro 2008 campaign but seemed to have lost his mojo over the past couple of seasons at Arsenal and Alan Dzagoev one if Russia’s more exciting prospects heading into the Euros.

The Czech Republic may not be going into the tournament with a great deal of hope or expectation but if the likes of Tomas Rosicky can play to the best of their abilities then they may have the potential to shock a few people and if they could pick up a point in their opening game then they will start to believe that progression to the latter stages is possible.

I think Russia will win this game comfortably and am predicting a 2-0 triumph. I hope and expect Asharvin to play a big role in the win and to prove that the past couple of years have been something of a blip.

Euro 2012 Group D: How will Roy’s boys fare in their testing group?

England:

The past five years have been very tough for the English national side in the wake of their failure to qualify for the Euros in 2008 and their dismal showing at the 2010 World Cup when handed a very favourable looking group draw but with a new man at the helm England will be hoping for greater success, stability and continuity.

Hodgson and Gerrard England

New manager Hodgson and new captain Steven Gerrard are hoping to lead by example

Given the disappointments of recent times, their performances and results throughout the qualification for Euro 2012 must have gone some way towards restoring some lost confidence and were deserving of a fair amount of credit. It was of course Fabio Capello who lead England throughout this process but perhaps his departure was for the best for England and for Capello himself as the English public, media and even some of the national team players never really warmed to the Italian.

In charge of England now is Roy Hodgson who has already been the target of some pretty unfair criticism just for being appointed as boss but the fact of the matter is that Hodgson is a wily old fox and will have been prepared for the glare of the media and some of the negative criticism that has come his way. Roy is a man who lives and breathes football and being a proud Englishman will realise that English fans are amongst the most passionate in the world and that sometimes this passion will spill into the realms of harshness and irrationality.

In spite of Hodgson’s critics and the slightly stand-off-ish nature of their two performances under his guidance to date, England have won both of their games since Hodgson took charge of the side and Roy will head into the Euros pleased with the fact that he has a 100% record as England manager. Probably the major concern for Hodgson heading into the tournament is the late losses of the experienced Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard and the talented Gary Cahill to injury, all of whom had a genuine chance of making Roy’s starting line-up against France next week.

One to watch… Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: Since Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger opted to give ‘The Ox’ a run in their first team the winger-come-attacking-central-midfielder has developed at a frightening pace. The really impressive thing about him as a young player taking his first major steps into top level professional football is that he seems not only to be un-phased by the big occasion but that he appears inspired by such scenarios. If given the chance to impress I could see him having a similar impact to Wayne Rooney in Euro 2004.

Euros nostalgia: In 1996 England hosted the European Championships and they were denied a place in the final and quite possibly their first major tournament victory since 1966 by Germany who out-witted and out-nerved them in a penalty shoot-out. Gareth Southgate’s failed attempt to score from the spot will live painfully long in the memory for all England fans. Cue the following classic Pizza Hut advert…

Tournament prospects: Given the difficulty of their group some might argue that England would do well to make it into the last eight. If they were to progress through the group via a second placed finish then an intimidating tie against Spain could lie in wait in the quarters…

France:

The past fifteen or so years have seen the French become arguably one of the most maverick and most frustrating sides in international football game. Having won the World Cup in 1998 and the Euros in 2000 France looked set for an era of dominance but since then their major tournament success has been horribly inconsistent.

Benzema and Ribery

Benzema and Ribery are both magnificent players but have both struggled with inconsistency

In 2002 France made an embarrassing first-round exit when defending the World Cup, in 2004 they lost out in the quarter-finals when defending their European crown, in 2006 they defied most people’s expectations of them in reaching the final only to lose out on penalties, in 2008 they were again left embarrassed as they failed to get out of their group and worst of all in 2010 they collapsed into a state of mutiny and were again eliminated in the group stage.

This time around though some peace seems to have been brought to proceedings in the French camp and their squad is packed full of young and precocious talents and it is in attack where they look most exciting. They are likely to opt for Karim Benzema up front with the likes of Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri, Jeremy Menez and Hatem Ben Arfa likely to provide the support on the flanks. Each of the aforementioned players have on occasion failed to live up to the hype that has preceded them in both domestic and international football and each of them will be keen to prove their doubters wrong.

One to watch… Frank Ribery: There are several very exciting players in the French squad going into the Euros including many players in their infancy as international footballers but my ‘one to watch’ is Ribery who is arguably their greatest example of a player who has struggled to live up to his own billing on the biggest stages in world football. At times Ribery can look like the most threatening and technically able wide-man in world football but up until now he has too often had his threat negated by teams who have put thought into how to stop him and he, his club sides and the French national side have paid the price.

Euros nostalgia: France have twice won the tournament, their first triumph was in 1984 where UEFA President Michel Platini was their captain and then their second European Championship win came in 2000 courtesy of an extra-time winner from David Trezeguet.

Tournament prospects: As ever it is almost impossible to know how this tournament will go for the French. If their inexperienced players grasp their opportunities and adapt quickly to the requirements of major international football then they could well be set for a long run this summer but if not then another embarrassment could be on the cards. I think they will at very least get through the group and progress to the knock-out stages.

Sweden:

Sweden may not appear to have quite as good a squad as England or France heading into the Euros but it does contain some very experienced players. One of these veterans is Zlatan Ibrahimovic who as well as providing leadership and inspiration will also try and provide the flair, imagination and world-class conviction needed to mount a challenge towards progression from the group stages.

Ibrahimovic Sweden

Zlatan has become well renowned for epitomising the term ‘mercurial talent’

Other players who could have a big impact for Sweden this summer include Kim Kallstrom of Lyon, Sebastien Larsson of Sunderland, Johan Elmander of Galatasaray and Ola Toivonen of PSV each of whom have impressed in some of Europe’s top domestic leagues over the past few seasons whilst having featured regularly with the national side.

It isn’t only in the experience department where Sweden are looking strong either as they have named the likes of Rasmus Elm and Emir Bajrami in their squad, both of whom have impressed in the infancy of their club and international careers.

One to watch… Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Ibrahimovic is one of football’s more interesting characters as well as being one of the most talented players on the planet. He has enjoyed great success throughout his club career but he continues to be thought of by many as being overrated. The only way for him to prove his doubters wrong is for him to perform in a huge tournament in which the whole world will see him and appreciate him and the Euros provides him with a great opportunity to do so.

Euros nostalgia: Sweden’s best performance in the Euros came when they were the host nation in 1992. They performed strongly in the group stages on home turf and went through to the last four as group winners only to be knocked out by Germany at this stage. Their fellow Scandinavians, Denmark, were the surprise winners of the competition that year.

Tournament prospects: If France and England both perform to their potential then it is hard to see Sweden progressing, particularly as co-hosts Ukraine make up the group. However, both France and England have underachieved at times over the past decade so the Swede’s certainly do have a hope of making it through and into the knock-out stages.

Ukraine:

Co-hosts Ukraine look the weakest side in group D on paper but they will be banking on home advantage to help them spring a surprise and make it through to the last eight of the competition.

 Tymoschuk

The co-hosts will rely heavily on their experienced stalwarts like Tymoschuk

The vast majority of Ukraine’s squad play their football on home soil and as a result they will go into the competition as something of an unknown quantity as most people, including myself, are fairly ill-informed about the Ukranian leagues.

Though much of their squad will be relatively unknown to many, there are a few very familiar names present including legendary striker Andriy Shevchenko, former Liverpool forward Andriy Voronin and Bayern Munich’s hugely experienced holding-midfielder Anatoliy Tymoschuk.

One would assume that Shevchenko in particular could bow out of international football after this tournament on home soil and how he would love to sign off in style with a reminder of the old magic that once made him one of world football’s most celebrated front-men.

One to watch… Andriy Yarmolenko: The young Dynamo Kyiv prospect has already shown great versatility in his fledgling career as he has demonstrated an ability to switch seamlessly between playing as a striker and playing in midfield for both club and country. The 22 year-old already has a very impressive international record having scored eight goals in just twenty appearances.

Euros nostalgia: Since becoming an independent nation and football side Ukraine have never qualified for the European championships so the opportunity to host the tournament has provided them with a huge opportunity given that the hosts have an automatic right to qualification.

Tournament prospects: As I’ve mentioned, Ukraine definitely appear to have the weakest squad on paper but being the host nation can sometimes inspire greatness. Even some of football’s lesser sides have prospered when given such an advantage and Ukraine will hope to join the list but in reality they are more than likely to fall at the first hurdle.

A brief summary of Group D:

If England and France play to their potential then they should both progress to the knock-out stages. However, both Ukraine and Sweden possess a decent threat and the two favourites to move forwards from the group will have to be very watchful in order to avoid an upset.

England France football

England and France look like the favourites to progress from a tricky Group D

I am finding it hard to call who I think will top the group but I will go for France with England qualifying in second place. I think both Sweden and Ukraine will pick up at least a point in the group with Sweden to finish third and co-hosts Ukraine to struggle into last place.


 

Euro 2012 Group C: Can anyone topple Spain?

Italy:

The Italian national side may have endured a few years of indifferent form but they remain the most recent side to have won a major trophy aside from Spain who accompany them in group C.

Spear-headed by ‘Super-Mario’ Balotelli the Italians will go into the Euros knowing that in being drawn with the reigning champions they have immediately become only the second favourites to progress from their group but also that they have a huge chance to send out a statement of intent by either beating Spain or by finishing above them in the group.

Balotelli Italy

Balotelli will have to keep his emotions in check if he is to deliver for Italy at the Euros

As ever with the Italian national side there is plenty of experience to call upon in the form of players like Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgo Chiellini, Daniele De Rossi, Anrdrea Pirlo and Antonio Di Natale but the squad they’ve named for the Euros is arguably their most exciting and refreshing selection for quite some time in major tournament football.

In and around the experienced figure-heads of the squad there is plenty of youth and plenty of talent and it isn’t limited to just one area of the field either. At the back the likes of Angelo Ogbonna and Ignacio Abate look like big prospects and up top they have included the likes of Fabio Borini and Sebastian Giovinco to support the ever-eccentric Balotelli.

One to watch… Mario Balotelli: It may well feel like Balotelli has been around forever given the antics on and off the field which have made him so well known but this will be the very first major tournament appearance for Italy. There is no doubting his ability to succeed and be a star at the Euros but huge questions still remain about his temperament and it will be interesting to see if he can keep his emotions in check.

Euros nostalgia: Italy have a rich history in World Cup football but their Euros record is poor by comparison. In two of the past four tournaments they have failed to get out of their group but they did reach the final in 2000 when they were felled by an extra-time winner from France’s David Trezeguet. The only time Italy have won the tournament was way back in 1968.

Tournament prospects: It appears to me as if Italy will be hugely reliant on the ability of Balotelli up-front as he is their real stand-out player. There is a decent blend of youth and experience at Italy’s disposal for the Euros and in spite of the turmoil in domestic Italian football at the moment it would still be a surprise if they weren’t to make it out of the group.

Spain:

Reigning champions Spain have an awful lot to live up to this summer given their fantastic performances in the last two major international competitions but their technically gifted squad should be confident of landing a third straight piece of silverware.

Iniesta Xavi

Spain’s ‘Golden Duo’ in midfield will team up once again

One area which could be exploited by other teams is their defence which will be missing their rock of a centre-half and the man that would have been their captain, Carles Puyol. Any potential problems at the back for Spain may not just be caused by Puyol’s absence but also the form and versatility of their other defensive options.

Their other truly world class centre-half, Gerard Pique, hasn’t enjoyed his finest season with Barcelona this year and he may well be partnered by Sergio Ramos, a man far more accustomed to playing at full-back, in the heart of Spain’s defence.

Another potential creak in the Spanish rear-guard is their lack of a natural left-back. They will probably opt to play Valencia’s Jordi Alba in this position but he isn’t exactly a natural defender. He is very strong going forward has the pace and stamina to get up and down the left flank all game long but it is unclear up to now whether he possesses the discipline to play in such an important position on one of world football’s biggest stages.

Another major miss for Spain this summer is that of David Villa who hasn’t recovered in time from a broken leg suffered at the back end of 2011. However, as much as Villa is a big loss one would have to think that Spain have more than enough in reserve to cover his absence as their squad still possesses so much attacking strength and depth that players such as Cesc Fabregas, Pedro and Fernando Torres all might struggle to find a place in the starting line-up.

One to watch… Fernando Llorente: The powerful Athletic Bilbao forward has played a huge part in his clubs impressive cup runs both in Europe and in domestic football this season and in the absence of David Villa and the absence of Fernando Torres’ best form it could be down to him to lead the line for Spain and to provide the bulk of goals needed to win a tournament like the Euros.

Euros nostalgia: The previous European Championships in 2008 saw Spain underline their undoubted potential. Inspired by the coinciding rise to prominence of Barcelona and their famous ‘tiki-taka’ brand of football, Spain passed their way to the most elegant of major tournament victories sealing their triumph with a 1-0 win over big-tournament specialists Germany in the final.

Tournament prospects: Given their recent successes in major tournament football Spain will go into the Euros as the team to beat and rightly so. They may appear a little damaged by a couple of major injury-enforced absences but the depth of quality at their disposal should allow them to cope with such losses and go deep into the competition. I have a hunch that this might be the tournament where they are finally denied victory but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get to the final once again.

Republic of Ireland:

This is the first time that the Republic of Ireland have qualified for a major tournament since the World Cup in 2002 and their Italian-heavy coaching contingent deserve an enormous amount of credit for the work they’ve done in getting their side back to this level.

There are a few survivors from the World Cup in 2002 still present in Ireland’s squad for the Euros and they will be hoping that these more experienced players can help them try and stand up to the likes of reigning champions Spain in the group stages.

James McClean Ireland

McClean has been a great find for Sunderland and he hopes to be much the same for Ireland

To be drawn in the same group as Spain on their return to major tournament football might appear a little unlucky for Ireland but their players and their fans will just be delighted to be back at this level and to be being thrust into direct competition with the world’s best side.

One to watch… James McClean: Sunderland’s power-house of a winger was plucked from the relative obscurity of the Irish leagues last summer and since Northern-Irishman Martin O’Neill has taken the helm at the North-East club McClean has been thrust into their starting line-up and has excelled . The youngster’s meteoric rise to prominence was sealed when Giovanni Trapattoni named him in Ireland’s squad for the Euros and now he has the opportunity to impress on an even bigger stage.

Euros nostalgia: Ireland’s only previous taste of the Euros came under Jack Charlton’s management back in 1988. They narrowly missed out on a semi-final place but took away with them the precious memory of defeating England 1-0 in their opening game of the tournament.

Tournament prospects: Ireland go into the Euros as huge underdogs and most people, myself included, will expect them to end the group stages propping up the rest of teams in Group C. The excitement surrounding them competing in one of world football’s biggest competitions will undoubtedly inspire them and I expect them to give everyone in their group a good game but ultimately I can’t see how they will get enough points on the board to challenge for a place in the quarter-finals.

Croatia:

Ever since Croatia took their first steps into international football as an independent nation in the early 1990’s they have never looked back and they have often impressed and punched above their weight in major tournaments.

Modric Croatia

Modric will be key to Croatia’s hopes at the Euros

This time around the Croats will head into the Euros armed with a squad including one of world football’s most highly-rated attacking midfielders in Luka Modric and they will hope that their chief playmaker can help them compete strongly in the group stages and get them into the reckoning for a place in the last eight.

Though they might not possess one of the more eye-catching squads in European football Croatia should not be underestimated as they have a lot of very decent players to accompany the likes of Luka Modric and perhaps none more so than their striker Nikica Jelavic who has been a major hit at Everton since signing from Rangers in January.

One to watch… Nikica Jelavic: Having established himself as the most threatening striker in the SPL in his time with Rangers, Jelavic has now made the big move south of the border and into Premier League football and in his first few months in England he has proved himself time and again and his form towards the end of the season was as good as pretty much any other striker in the league. If the Croatian front-man can carry this form into the summer then Croatia could spring a few surprises once again.

Euros nostalgia: Croatia are responsible for one of the most famous nights of English football’s recent history after defeating them by three goals to two at Wembley in the final game of their qualification group for the 2008 tournament. This victory saw Croatia become one of the teams to qualify at England’s expense and thus denying one of Europe’s finest sides on paper a place in the previous European Championships.

A brief summary of Group C:

On paper it appears as if reigning champions Spain will be the huge favourites to win Group C and I can’t see anybody preventing them from doing so.

Beyond this though I am struggling to work out exactly what the outcome of the group will be but I suspect that Ireland will finish bottom of the group and therefore I think that it is between Italy and Croatia in the battle to qualify for the latter stages of the tournament.

If it were simply down to the quality of the sides on paper then I would plump for Italy every time but Croatia have demonstrated several times in the past that they aren’t afraid of a challenge and Italy may well be inhibited by the ongoing investigations into corruption and match-fixing in their domestic leagues. It is a really tough call and I am clueless as to who will progress alongside Spain.