Euro 2012: My Team of the Tournament

Last night’s resounding 4-0 win for Spain sealed their third straight major tournament victory and furthered their case to be considered the greatest international team of all time and as such it is no surprise at all that they have dominated my team of the tournament.

Spain Win Euros

Spain answered their critics with an outstanding performance en-route to a 4-0 win in last night’s final

The team is as follows…

Formation: (4-3-3)

Iker Casillas:

It is very hard to argue with Casillas’ stunning record of five clean-sheets in six games and with him now homing in on a staggering 140 caps  for his country one might be forgiven for thinking that he could yet go on to reach an even more unbelievable total of over 200 caps! His form has been terrific and he has fully justified his continuing superiority over and above the likes of Pepe Reina and Victor Valdes in Spain’s goalkeeping pecking order which is littered with an embarrassment of riches.

Mathieu Debuchy:

Until he was played out of position in the quarter-final against Spain, Debuchy had looked a very useful attacking right back and it is easy to see why several clubs appear to be interested in acquiring his services in time for the new season.

Mats Hummels:

Having heard much about Hummels’ development at Borussia Dortmund but having not actually seen much of him play myself I looked forward to seeing what he had to offer and he didn’t let me down. He looks strong, comfortable on the ball and very assured in the challenge whether it be aerial or on the deck and I think he proved that he has the makings of one the world’s finest centre-halves.

Sergio Ramos:

Ramos may have spent much of his career as a right back but he looked very assured in the central role and he grew in stature throughout the tournament. His contribution to five straight clean-sheets was immense and it will be hard to see Carles Puyol getting his place back in the side if he were to choose to keep playing international football.

Jordi Alba:

Alba deserves a place in this side even if only for the remarkable off the ball run he produced to score the second goal in the final. He has had a fine tournament and he deserves an enormous amount of praise not only for his attacking value at full-back but also for proving that his defensive abilities are right up there too.

Xabi Alonso:

I think Alonso might well be the most underrated player in the Spanish side. As well as providing a tremendous work-rate and a bit of steel in the Spain’s sextet of midfielders, his passing ability sometimes goes under the radar when playing alongside the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Silva and Fabregas but it is supremely good over both short and long distances. Alonso also deserves great credit for his two well taken goals in the game against France and the composure he demonstrated in scoring his penalty in the semi-final shootout with Portugal.

Bastien Schweinsteiger:

Like Alonso, Schweinsteiger gets through a hell of a lot of work in the ‘engine room’ of his side’s midfield and his ability to play a slick, slide-rule pass is second to none (…well, very few anyway…) Gomez’s prowess in front of goal impressed in the group stages for the Germans and it was  mainly Schweinsteiger’s hard work which earned the front man his best opportunities.

Andrea Pirlo:

If it weren’t for the outcome of the final then he would be a runaway winner of the player of the tournament award as he was at the heart of all that was great about a surprisingly strong showing from an Italian side that few people fancied to make a huge impact on this tournament. Against England and Germany in particular Pirlo played wonderfully well from deep in the Italian midfield and his exemplary displays of passing football demonstrated exactly what many of the sides at this tournament lack; a midfielder with so much class and ability that they can create space for themselves and dictate the play from multiple positions on the field.

Andres Iniesta:

Iniesta had a fabulous tournament and even though he may not have scored any goals he was a constant threat to all opposition that Spain came up against and the pressure built by his passing play and smart movement contributed significantly to Spain’s third straight major tournament success. He has been named the player of the tournament by Uefa having not managed to get himself on the scoresheet at any point in the tournament and this speaks volumes about his contributions.

Cristiano Ronaldo:

Love him or hate him, you have to respect him. I definitely and unashamedly veer on the side of ‘love him’ and was pleased to see him have a major impact on a major tournament in international football, as it has put many of his doubters to shame and it demonstrated that he does indeed possess the leadership skills necessary to captain a Portugal side who impressed throughout much of this tournament. He may not quite have inspired his side to make it all the way to the final but he goes home with a share of the ‘golden boot’ award having bagged three goals.

Mario Balotelli:

As is the case with Ronaldo you may well love or hate Balotelli, but regardless of which side of the fence you sit on it is hard to deny that he isn’t a joy to watch one way or another. Throughout lengthy periods of this tournament Balotelli was superb and his behaviour was generally pretty decent by his standards which perhaps showed signs of increased maturity in the unpredictable young front-man. He too will return home with a share of the ‘golden boot’ and one would hope that he can look back on this tournament as the start of a more consistent and reliable stage of his developing career.

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Euro 2012: Prediction for The Final

Spain Vs. Italy:

So, here we are. It is time for the final and time for us to find out who will be crowned either the kings of Europe or the new kings of Europe.

Spain Vs Italy

Spain will of course go into the game as favourites but Italy should be hopeful that they can cause an upset

Spain head into the final hunting a third straight success in major tournament football, a feat which has never before been achieved and Italy are looking forward to trying to prevent the Spaniards from taking the title and also continuing their uncanny run of achieving major tournament success in the wake of or in the midst of major match-fixing scandals within their national game.

So far many have deemed Spain’s performances a little lacklustre when considering their enormously high standards but such thoughts and pessimism regarding the Spanish must be unfair given that they have once again made it all the way through the tournament and into the final.

Italy on the other hand have been the recipients of an enormous amount of praise for the way in which they have surprised people not only with their ability to carve out important results but also the way in which they have gone about their business on the pitch, playing with perhaps a greater emphasis on the attacking side of the game than has been evident in former Italian sides in major tournaments.

The man behind most of Italy’s attacking play has been Andrea Pirlo who has had an astonishingly good tournament and who has shone above the likes of Xavi and Iniesta of Spain each of whom have become the benchmark for creative midfielders to aspire to over the past few years. Pirlo’s range of passing has been at the forefront of Italy’s success in each and every one of their matches thus far and Spain will have to deal far better with the threat he poses from deep in the Italian midfield than either England or Germany managed to do in the previous two rounds.

Contrastingly, Spain have struggled to decide upon their ‘go-to man’ in this tournament and perhaps that is why they haven’t been quite so fluent as people have come to expect them to be. Some of their best attacking play has though been provided by Andres Iniesta who has been given a more forward-thinking role over the past couple of years by the Spanish coaching team and they will need him to be at his very best if they are to make history this weekend.

I have a feeling that this will be a very close game indeed and I think that things will unfold in similar fashion to how they did when these two sides met in their opening group game where Italy took the lead and were pegged back by Spain. I think that normal time will again see these two sides locked at 1-1 and I think Spain will win in extra-time in spite of a brave Italian performance.

I actually think that Italy could well be the side creating the bulk of the game’s best chances but I am backing Spain to fight their way to the narrowest of victories courtesy of some clinical finishing.

Euro 2012: Semi-Finals Predictions

Portgual Vs. Spain:

Though the reigning champions Spain will go into the first semi-final as big favourites to win and progress to a third straight final in major tournament football, their opponents and next-door neighbours Portugal are arguably in better form and will be keen to get one over on their more celebrated neighbours.

Ronaldo Casillas

This international ‘derby-match’ makes for a mouth-watering semi-final clash at the Euros

It isn’t as if ‘getting one over’ on Spain is Portugal’s only huge incentive to take this run further either, they are also hugely driven by their failure to capitalise on their run to the final on home turf in 2004 and to some extent are still embarrassed by their loss to huge underdogs Greece in that final and they are more than keen to try and erase such bitter memories with an incredible rise to prominence at this tournament.

If Portugal were to defeat Spain and then whoever would be lying in wait in the final then the Portugese will have landed the trophy in the most spectacular of fashions having come through the ‘group of death’ defeating Denmark and Holland along the way and then having defeated rivals Spain and then either one of footballing super-powers Germany or Italy in the final.

Typically, to win a major tournament you have to have overcome some serious opposition along but with their quarter-final draw aside, if Portugal were to win the tournament come Sunday evening then they would surely have had one of the more amazing runs ever seen in a European Championships.

Portugal will need to keep their dreams in check though for now, as they must try and do what nobody has done since France in 2006 and find a way to get the better of Spain in the knockout stages of a major competition.

Spain have been on the receiving end of a wave of criticism in this tournament for their perceived negativity in not selecting an ‘out-and-out’ striker  in half of their games but their record stands up against any criticism and scepticism as they have won three out of their four matches and drawn with fellow semi-finalists Italy.

Arguably their most criticised performance was their quarter-final showing against France but the facts are that they won the game 2-0 against very strong opposition and that they hardly ever looked even remotely troubled throughout. People have begun to turn against Spain as they do with many sides that are successful over a long period of time, as success does grate on some and any complaints about Spain’s strategy at this tournament and also the lack of excitement for the neutrals in a couple of their matches is just grown out of bitterness.

It is very hard indeed to justifiably have a pop at Spain and Vicente Del Bosque’s preferred tactics as they have once again found themselves unbeatable up to this point of the tournament. However, if Portugal harbor real hopes of becoming the first team since France to get the better of Spain in a major tournament then they would do well to follow in the footsteps of Croatia who may have ended up losing to Spain but along the way they caused some major concerns for their more celebrated opponents and could really have won the game had they made the most of their chances.

I think Portugal are actually quite well set up to cause Spain some issues and I think that inspired by Cristiano Ronaldo they will draw the game 1-1 in normal time. If this predicted score is to materialise then I will back Portugal to win either in extra-time or on penalties even if just to make this score prediction a little more ballsy.

 

Italy Vs. Germany:

The second of the semi-finals is set to be a very intriguing game indeed and in the wake of Germany’s performance against Greece in the quarter-finals which was full of attacking intent and ambition, their coach Joachim Loew now has some very tough selections to make in his side to face an Italian team who are likely to pose a greater threat and greater defensive resistance than Greece were capable of.

Pirlo Italy

Pirlo’s ‘Panenka’ spot-kick capped a wonderful night’s work against England both for him as an individual and for Italy as a whole

Arguably the toughest of Loew’s decisions regarding his line-up for the semi-finals will be whether he can find a place for the very impressive Marco Reus. Reus was behind much of Germany’s best play against the Greeks and he got his name on the score-sheet in emphatic style and may well have played his way in Loew’s thinking ahead of the Italy clash, as this individual performance was arguably more impressive than any other by one of Loew’s usual first-choice trio of attacking midfielders Thomas Mueller, Lukas Podolski and Mesut Ozil thus far in this tournament.

It seems a formality that Mario Gomez will come back in for Miroslav Klose as the lone striker and Germany will be heavily reliant upon Gomez to prove himself just as clinical this time around as he was in the opening two games of the tournament, which saw him score three goals having had possession of the ball for just 22 seconds throughout these two matches. This conversion rate was staggering and it proved many of Gomez’s doubters very wrong indeed and now Germany will hope he can return to the side in similar goal-scoring fashion.

Germany’s opponents Italy may not have frightened the life out of any potential opposition at this tournament with their failure to score over 120 minutes of football against England who they had on the back-foot for much of Sunday night but they did play well and they will be hugely encouraged by Andrea Pirlo’s glorious exhibition of passing football and one of Mario Balotelli’s more persistent, determined and perhaps most importantly mature performances in an Italian shirt.

Italy are under no illusions about the task lying ahead of them if they are serious about winning the Euros and they know they will have to be more clinical if they are to have any chance of doing so but there were many more positives than negatives to come out of their quarter-final performance and consequentially they will head into the Germany game with greater self-confidence.

I think that Italy will find it hard to adapt to being fronted up to when it comes to possession and in terms of territorial domination in this semi-final clash after the dominance they experienced in their game against England and what I think will hurt them the most is that Andrea Pirlo in particular is far more unlikely to have a huge say in this game as Germany are better equipped to deal with the significant threat which he poses.

I think Germany will win the game 2-1 and I still have them down as my favourites to win the tournament as I have throughout the entirety of the competition.

Euro 2012: Quarter-Final 4

England Vs. Italy:

The last of the quarter-finals at the Euros pits England against an Italian side that have been trying their utmost to gain the upper hand in the psychological battle going into Sunday night’s game with their suggestions that ‘England are the new Italy’.

Rooney Pirlo

In a game which is set to be a battle of two organised outfits, Rooney and Pirlo will carry the heavy burden of being the ‘difference makers’

These remarks and suggestions of copycat tactics on one hand send out the message that the Italians are flattered by England’s ‘aspirations’ to take on board their style of play and that to have ‘followers’ of their methods is empowering and on the other hand attempts to belittle England by suggesting that they needed to copy the Italians in order to further themselves.

There is certainly more than a hint of a dig in the messages coming out of the Italian camp about England but when it comes down to it they will know that they are up against a team who are not merely an organised unit but rather a team on the up, a team that are as settled and as happy as they have been in quite some time and ultimately a team that can carry a significant threat.

England are unlikely to have taken too much heed of the Italian’s efforts to ruffle their feathers given their recent run of results and they too will go into this quarter-final match with real hope as well as a great deal of respect for their opponents.

Respect aside though, England will realise that this Italian side isn’t the strongest that they have ever brought into a major tournament and that they have nothing to fear going into the match, plenty to take care of and much to plan for but ultimately this Italian squad don’t possess the defensive qualities or midfield tenacity of many of their previous squads for major tournaments and England should go into this match believing that they can hurt the Italians.

If you look at each individual position across the field, in all honesty it would be hard to identify many Italian players that would make it into England’s starting line-up and this in itself should motivate England to prove they aren’t the ‘new Italy’ but perhaps that they can be a better version.

To pick between Gianluigi Buffon or Joe Hart in goal would be a tough call, you would probably have to find a place in England’s line-up for Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi and Claudio Marchisio would have a chance of making it in but the only other player who would almost certainly make it into England’s team is Mario Balotelli who would get the nod ahead of Danny Welbeck.

So, England should go into this match confident that they can get a result and I have a feeling that they will whether it be by hook or by crook. I think that the game will end 1-1 after ninety minutes and that England will take the game either in extra time or in a penalty shoot-out and if this were to happen then England would face-off against Germany in what would be an epic semi-final clash that would stir memories of England’s shoot-out heartbreak from Euro 96 at Wembley.

Euro 2012: Quarter-Final 2 Prediction

Germany Vs. Greece:

Having sent shockwaves through the entire competition with their surprise win against Russia in their final group game, in the quarter-finals Greece now face the challenge of taking on Germany who have recently taken over from reigning champions Spain as the bookies favourites to win the tournament.

Mario Gomez and Bastien Schweinsteiger

Gomez and Schweinsteiger have been the two stand-out performers for tournament favourites Germany

It would be fair to say that the Greek side isn’t packed with household names or with players that possess real star quality but their performance against Russia and the willingness to fight for a result which they showed in the second halves of their other two group games against Poland and the Czech Republic have impressed and Germany must be prepared to face up to a very committed and resilient side this evening.

Greece may not have superstars at their disposal but they appear from the outside to be a harmonious group of players intent on taking the national side as far as they possibly can in this tournament and though they don’t seem keen to get too far ahead of themselves they will surely be thinking back to 2004 and wondering whether they could do it all over again.

As with the Portugal-Czech Republic game yesterday though, I am finding it very difficult to see beyond the overwhelming favourites to win the game and in today’s quarter-final Germany are undoubtedly befitting of such a billing.

Before the tournament begun I was tipping Germany to win the tournament as their team appeared to have a very decent blend of youth and experience as well as the deadly combination of style and substance. Many were expecting them to continue in the same vain as their performances in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which at the time were being labelled as ‘very un-German’ as they were full of vibrancy and excitement as opposed to the more stereotypical solidity and efficiency of many former German national sides but thus far in the tournament we have seen more of a return to the days of organisation and attacking ruthlessness.

Some have even dared to mock the German side for their less fluent approach so far in the tournament but I think Joachim Loew has got his tactics absolutely spot on as his side have come through the hardest group in the tournament having dropped not a single point along the way.

Sure, the German side at the Euros have played with more structure  and perhaps less excitement than the side that won so many admirers in South Africa two years ago but that is because they were quick to realise that this was exactly the requirement if they were to stand the best chance of advancing from ‘the group of death’ and giving themselves the best route possible to the final of the competition.

I think that this quarter-final tie with Greece will provide Germany with a greater opportunity to express themselves and play a more adventurous brand of football, as on paper it is arguably the easiest game they have had in the tournament thus far.

We should however expect Germany to stick with the winning formula that has served them so well in the group stages where their performances have been based upon an understanding of togetherness, cohesion and the knowledge that they must be clinical when chances to score come their way.

I think that Greece will  struggle to live with Germany’s work rate and dominance of possession and I think Germany will be afforded the opportunity to press forward more than they did in the group stages  and  I’m going for a  3-0 Germany victory which would set up a semi-final against either England or Italy.

 

Euro 2012: Quarter-Final 1 Prediction

Portugal Vs. Czech Republic:

In the first of the quarter-finals we have two sides that it would be fair to say weren’t fancied by most in terms of their chances of progression to this stage, however, both sides have overcome losing their first games of the tournament with Portugal finishing second in ‘the group of death’ and the Czech Republic topping Group A in spite of a crushing 4-1 defeat to the now eliminated Russians in their opening fixture.

Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal

In their final group game against the Dutch Ronaldo’s performance for Portugal was arguably the best individual performance of the tournament so far

Since this opening day confidence knock the Czech Republic side have recovered their position valiantly and though their squad isn’t blessed with tremendous depth or individual quality, they have found a way to win games and that has been no easy feat when you consider the sides they have beaten in their last two games. First, they had to beat Greece who so famously mastered the art of punching above their weight and winning games they shouldn’t have and then having conquered the former champions they had to muster a result against Poland in their own backyard.

These two wins demonstrated admirable and impressive resilience and a surprising ability to be clinical when match-deciding chances came their way, however, I simply can’t see any way that they can beat Portugal who have better options than the Czechs in arguably every single position on the field.

Though I don’t expect the Czechs to just lie down and take a beating, I think that this quarter-final tie will be fairly reminiscent of the events of the Czechs opening game against Russia. In the Russia match the Czechs battled hard throughout and at times they even brought the fight to their opposition on the offensive but eventually the superior quality of the Russian side told and they bagged a couple of late goals to underline their dominance.

I am going for a 3-1 win to Portugal and though I expect them to once again be heavily reliant upon their skipper Cristiano Ronaldo, who was at his unstoppable best against the Dutch in Portugal’s final group game, I hope to see the likes of Nani and Helder Postiga and perhaps even midfielders Joao Moutinho and Raul Meireles start to contribute more meaningfully to the goals tally.

Euro 2012: Day 10 Predictions

Germany Vs. Denmark:

Gomez Euro 2012

Mario Gomez has been the star of Group B so far with three goals in two games

With Germany looking as steely, as focused and as clinical as they have done in their opening two games it is hard to see them slipping up against a decent Danish side. The motivation for Germany to win or at least get a point out of their final group game is clearly the possibility of securing the top place in the group which means they should theoretically be handed a more favourable quarter-final draw.

Denmark’s motivation is certainly greater than that of the Germans in that they are playing for their survival in the competition and they know that even just a point could be enough for them to advance from the ‘Group of Death’ having gone into the tournament as the clear underdogs to do so.

I think Denmark won’t lack motivation or determination against a very good German side but I think they will be found lacking in the final third against the likes of German centre-back Mats Hummels who has been brilliant in their opening two games. I expect Germany to keep a clean sheet and win the game 2-0 thereby maintaining their 100% record in Group B.

 

Holland Vs. Portugal:

Going into their final group game Holland, who were one of the pre-tournament favourites, are very lucky to still have a chance to progress to the quarter-finals after a couple of lacklustre performances en-route to defeats against Denmark and Germany.

If, for instance, Denmark had held on for a couple more minutes against Portugal and got themselves a  2-2 draw then they would be on four points and Holland would have already been assured of elimination but as it stands they still do have some hope to cling  to in their final game of the group stages.

In this final group game Holland will have to try and overwhelm a Portugese side who have actually been pretty decent up to now. In their opening game against Germany they weren’t really outclassed or really outplayed, they just lacked a little bit of extra composure which Germany’s Mario Gomez demonstrated with his winning header and then in their second game they got the better of and scored three goals against a Danish side who were so impressive in defence against the Dutch and it could even have been more than three had Cristiano Ronaldo had his shooting boots on.

If the Dutch beat Portugal by two or more goals in tonight’s game then they could well advance to the last eight of the competition having managed to accrue just three points from their total of three group matches. I think they will win and will make it an exciting night of football but I think they will be limited to a winning margin of just one goal. I’m going for 2-1 Holland.

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 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 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.