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.

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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 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 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.



Euro 2012 Countdown: Group A

Greece:

The 2004 champions head into this tournament with just a very small group of survivors from their shock triumph eight years ago. Goalkeeper Kostas Chalkias and midfielders Giorgos Karagounis and Kostas Katsouranis remain from their heroic efforts in Portugal and they will hope to use their experience to guide an otherwise pretty young squad.

Ninis

Ninis could shine amongst Greece’s seemingly lacking squad

With so few remaining members of their triumphant 2004 squad it is going to be hard for Greece to make a real impact this time around but their are some decent talents in their squad. Sotiris Ninis, the highly-rated young Panathanaikos midfielder catches the eye as does 23 year-old centre-back  Sokratis Papastathopolous who has impressed with Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga and was bought by Italian giants A.C Milan just a couple of years ago.

One to watch… Sotiris Ninis: Greece’s versatile young midfielder is establishing himself as very decent play-maker and perhaps the lack of real quality in Group A will provide the platform for him to shine.

Tournament Prospects: The lack of a real depth of quality will probably result in Greece failing to make it out of the group.

Euros Nostalgia: Winners against all the odds in 2004, Angelos Charisteas scoring from a corner to sink the host side Portugal in the final.

Poland:

The co-hosting nation aren’t blessed with a large number of household names but they certainly do possess a threat within their ranks.

In addition to the positive thinking that comes with the territory of hosting the tournament they also have several players who have tasted domestic success in recent times, perhaps most notably their trio of Borussia Dortmund stars Lukas Piszczek, Jakub Blaszczykowski (Kuba, as his shirt would have him known) and Robert Lewandowski who have all featured heavily in their sides back-to-back Bundesliga triumphs and their recent completion of a domestic German double with victory in their premiere cup competition.

Dortmund

Poland’s Dortmund trio have all tasted major success this year

The latter of the aforementioned Dortmund stars, Robert Lewandowski, is perhaps the pick of Poland’s squad and if he re-produces the form that has seen him become one of the Bundesliga’s most feared front-men in the Euros then his stock will rise further and he will become an even more attractive prospect for some of Europe’s top clubs.

One to watch… Robert Lewandowski: He has been prolific in the Bundesliga this season and his country will need his goals if they are to make it through to the knock-out stages.

Tournament Prospects: Home advantage and a genuine goal-getter might well see them through the group stage but they appear unlikely to threaten beyond the quarter-finals.

Euros nostalgia: Not much to speak of unfortunately. They have never gone beyond the group stages so what better time to do so than now when they co-host the tournament.

Czech Republic:

Though the Czech’s have sprung a few surprises in some of the more recent European Championships, most notably in 2004 where they were semi-finalists and in 1996 when they were runners-up to Germany at the old Wembley Stadium, it is hard to see them producing similar success this time around.

Baros Czech Republic

Baros shone at EURO 2004 and will hope to lead the line again this summer

They do still have some talented and high profile names in their squad such as Petr Cech, Tomas Rosicky and Milan Baros who was prolific in their 2004 campaign but gone are the days of Pavel Nedved, Jan Koller, Karol Poborsky and Patrik Berger the players who have served their country so well throughout the past 15 years or so and who have provided the depth of quality needed to succeed at this level.

One to watch… Milan Baros: Their trusty front-man has long since been at the peak of his powers but he has an international strike rate of a goal every two games and has always been a strong finisher. His performances in 2004 have seen him labelled a ‘man for the big stage’ in international football but that was fully eight years ago and it is unclear whether he can hit such heights again.

Tournament Prospects: In many ways they are lucky to have even qualified given the nature of their triumph over Scotland in their qualification group and I expect their lack of real quality to be exposed and that they will fall at the first hurdle.

Euros nostalgia: The Czech Republic’s run to the final at Euro 1996 captured the imagination of European football fans but sadly they lost out to Germany in the final where Oliver Bierhoff starred.

Russia:

Semi-finalists last time out, Russia, will head into this tournament knowing that they are strong favourites to progress from their group. They may not be one of European football’s real super-powers but they do possess a decent balance of youth, talent and experience in their squad and this should serve them well.

Dzagoev Russia

Dzagoev looks a very decent prospect and he could be the heir to Asharvin’s throne as Russia’s chief playmaker

Their squad for the tournament includes many names which will be familiar with English football fans such as Andriy Asharvin, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Pavel Pogrebnyak and their squad is anchored upon their strong and robust defensive unit which will be marshalled by their keeper Igor Akinfeev who is up there with the very finest keepers in Europe.

One to watch… Alan Dzagoev: Russia’s smart young attacking midfielder has craft and vision that defy his tender age of just 21 and he has been a big hit for his club CSKA Moskow in the Russian league. He has a strike rate of a goal every four games in the Russian top flight and just 18 caps into his international career he has racked up a similar rate.

Tournament Prospects: So long as the weight of expectation doesn’t weigh too heavy upon their shoulders given their performances in 2008 and their relatively very decent group draw for the competition, Russia should breeze through the group and will give any side a good game in the knock-out stages.

Euros nostalgia: Russia were fantastic en-route to reaching the semi-finals in 2008 and Andriy Asharvin was the spark at the heart of their fantastic run.

A brief summary of Group A:

On paper this is the weakest of the four groups in the competition but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a bad one to watch.

Neutral fans may find it hard to get excited by the prospect of seeing a match-up such as Greece Vs. Poland given the lack of household names on show but I actually think this could be a very entertaining group to watch as three out of the four teams appear to be pretty well matched.

Russia should really win the majority of their three group games and should top the group as they possess the strongest squad but don’t rule out Poland who I think could go through the the quarters by finishing second in the group. I expect the Czech Republic to push for progression from the group but ultimately fail and end in third place and I think Greece will finish bottom of the pile.

Euro Draw: My Thoughts and Predictions

What an intriguing draw…

Group A:

For what this group looks set to lack in world-class talent it will almost certainly make up for in ferocious atmospherics. Each of the teams drawn into the first group are notorious for their passionate and at times raucous national fans and it all looks set to kick off. The stadiums that host the Group A ties will undoubtedly be erupting with noise and energy,  and the thought of these sides coming head-to-head in one of the biggest tournaments in world football is mouthwatering even if we aren’t to anticipate consistently brilliant football.

My Prediction: Russia and Greece qualify

Group B:

Without a shadow of a doubt this group must go down as the famed “group of death”. There simply isn’t a weak link amongst the sides (though Denmark are probably the underdogs on paper), and the amount of young and experienced attacking talent on show in this group is very exciting indeed. To think that the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Robin Van Persie, Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Mesut Ozil, Mario Gotze and Cristian Erikson will be taking to the field in the same group of the Euro’s is utterly tantalising, bring it on!

My Prediction: Germany top the group and Holland pip Portugal to second place.

Group C:

Poor old Ireland. Finally they deservedly qualify for another major tournament and they get the rotten luck of drawing Spain and Italy in their group. Not to mention  also drawing Croatia who have been known to perform well on the big stages. This is another exciting group with plenty of exciting young attacking talent as well as the all-round brilliance of the reigning champions Spain who will be hopeful of making it an incredible three straight victories in major international tournaments.

My Prediction: Maybe I’m just a romantic but I think Spain will top the group and Ireland will squeeze through to the last eight as well. I think that aside from Spain that this could be the tightest group of the lot which could play into Ireland’s hands.

Group D:

It will be tough but it could’ve been a lot worse from England’s perspective. All four teams in the group will fancy their chances of going through  and with good reason. Ukraine the joint hosts obviously have home advantage, France tend to go win or bust in recent major tournaments, Sweden performed well in qualification and England on paper are the best of the four teams. This is set to be another very close group and I just hope that this group stage isn’t as bereft of excitement and quality football as England’s group stage in South Africa.

My Prediction:

France and England both qualify as they probably should, but I can’t pick a group winner.

 

Beyond the groups:

It is very hard indeed to look beyond Spain winning yet another major trophy, but there are teams out there that could shock them. Germany’s youth will once again be on display and could inspire them to go deep into the tournament and we all know that Holland have a fantastic side, so perhaps these two are the most likely to upset the Spanish. Other major contenders include the likes of England and France but I think that Group D’s two strongest outfit’s are in the middle of tricky transitional periods and that they will both have a greater chance next time around.

I know it’s boring, but I think Spain will win the Euro’s again. How can I argue against them given the recent history?