Quarter Final Previews
Czech Republic V Portugal
The Czechs who owe their last 8 place due to the weak opposition in their group. Playing on the counter attack will fall right into Portuguese hands who will look to counter the counter with Ronaldo and Nani who break with fearsome pace. Provided the Real Madrid striker has his shooting boots on this will be an easy victory.
Germany v Greece
While the Greek were made to look average for a half against both the Poles and the Czechs, the Germans are not likely to be as charitable and their strikers will fill their boots. Another very one sided victory in prospect.
Spain v France
Under Del Bosque Spain have become the very antithesis of what they were supposed to be. Their tiki taka bullshit has made way for midfield catenaccio. Their low risk, ball hogging football is anything but state of the art. The shining light in this tedium of square passing is Iniesta. France aren't too dissimilar. In fact their football has been even more laboured than Spain's and great white hope Benzema has been about as box office as an Adam Sandler movie. One moment of Iniesta magic could decide this otherwise it's going to penalties and I fancy Lloris in the shoot-out.
England v Italy
A fascinating tactical battle in prospect. Italy have played well for about 3 halves. England haven't even managed that. Will Prandelli revert to his failed 5-3-2 formation or go with the 4-1-3-2 system he employed against the Irish? Assuming it's the latter Abate is one of the few fullbacks who can match Cole for pace but they will probably cancel each other out. On the other side Balzaretti will beat Johnson like a drum. Far too much of Italy's play goes through Pirlo, even though Cassano has looked the bigger threat. Hodgson may prefer to sit off Italy, figuring his defenders will cope with Pirlo's telegraphed passes then look to capitalise by introducing Lewis Hamilton once the Italians gas on the hour mark. If Italy are to take the initiative Nocerino, who has more stamina than the other Italians and carries the biggest goal threat from midfield must start ahead of the rapidly deteriorating Motta. I give the edge to Italy if Nocerino plays otherwise favour England as long as Lewis Hamilton doesn't blow his hamstrings.
Euro 2012 Group A - The Dyslexics Nightmare
The Poles got off to a perfect start with an early goal. As expected the Dortmund contingent were pulling the strings and Papastathopoulos' red card should have foreshadowed a second half onslaught but it was the Greeks who came out fighting against a Poland side that looked a spent force. According to Janusz Michallik there's a concern that Smuda over-trains his players. Whatever the reason for their second half collapse even with a defeat against the impressive Russians they should see off the Czechs to go through in second place.
Key Players : Lewandowski, Blaszczykowski, Murawski
Strengths : None
Weaknesses : Too reliant on Lewandowski for goals
Dead and buried with a goal and a man down the Greeks showed tremendous spirit in fighting for a well deserved point. Although this Greek side certainly doesn't have the defensive strength of the past they are not without ideas going forward. The problem is their attacks break down at the feet of Samaras. Karagounis doesn't have the legs to destroy as effectively as he used to and his penalty miss could prove costly. The Greeks have the added advantage of playing the Russians in their third game. If they're already through they could field a second string side.
Key Players : Karagounis, Gekas, Salpigidis
Strengths : None
Weaknesses : One paced
The Russians lived up to their dark horse tag by handing out a beating to a woefully poor Czech side. Arshavin still pulls the strings in midfield but 21 year old Dzagoev, who first came to prominence with an incredible goal against Man United in a Champions League game three years ago, remains one of the best (and due to the money in Russian football near un-transferable) young players in Europe. Up front bus driver Dick Advocaat has two tall, strong forwards in Pavlyuchenko and Pogrebnyak and donkey Kerzhakov. It's difficult to draw any conclusions on the first game but the feeling is the Russians aren't the best of competitors and don't handle adversity too well nonetheless they should go through in first place at a canter from this group.
Key Players : Arshavin, Dzagoev, Shirokov
Strengths : Highly skilled, technical side that are very pleasing on the eye
Weaknesses : Question marks over mentality
Awful in defence, reliant on injury prone slacker Rosicky for inspiration in midfield and one month wonder Baros for goals. Bilek should have built the attack around younger forwards such as Necid and Kozak, who was inexplicably left out of the squad. The only positive was full back Gabre Selassie. He was excellent.
Key Players : Rosicky
Strengths : None they suck
Weaknesses : Defence, midfield and attack
GROUP B - The One Sided Group of Death
The pre tournament favourites, the Germans are expected to bring this nightmare period of tedious Spanish dominance to an end. The main concerns are over the form and fitness of captain Schweinsteiger and in defence if Loew keeps selecting Mertesacker. Gomez' disgraceful display in the Champions League final should resign him to the bench but with Klose 34 today and breaking down physically, Gomez could ruin Germany's chances of success. This is team packed with talent and youth but so far Loew has proved to be the nearly man of international football. It's time to stand and deliver.
Key Players : Schweinsteiger, Klose, Muller
Strengths : Exhilarating options in midfield
Weaknesses : Suspect at the back and in attack if Gomez plays
Another team given the dark horse tag, Robben ruined their best chance of success with trademark bottling in the World Cup final. Van Persie is finally established as the centre forward coming off his best ever domestic season, which inevitably means he will get injured. Sneijder pulls the strings in midfield but he too is injury prone. Defensively, a usual achilles heel, this Dutch side look positively mediocre but if the refs are lenient Van Bommel and De Jong can kick the opposition at bay. Luuk de Jong could be one the potential breakout stars, given the chance.
Key Players : Van Bommel, Sneijder, Van Persie
Strengths : Violent midfield, Sneijder's artistry
Weaknesses : Crap defence, Robben is one of the seminal chokers of our time
After over achieving under Scolari, the Portuguese have reverted to type and can be dismissed as a threat. Violent thug Pepe and the physically imposing Alves marshal the defence but the midfield is riddled with midgets and DM Veloso is sloppy in possession. There is huge pressure on Ronaldo but he has yet to deliver in national team colours. Why frauds like Quaresma and Postiga are still in this squad remains a mystery.
Key Players : Alves, Nani, Ronaldo
Strengths : Highly technical, flair packed midfield
Weaknesses : Lightweight, Ronaldo chokes at international level
The Danes have been in decline since 2004 and will maintain their recent record of qualifying for a major tournament and doing nothing once there. Bendtner is the teams lead attacker but falls way short of the incredible standards set by Tomasson. Ajax playmaker Eriksen has a chance to enhance his already high reputation. Agger is a beast of a defender, when fit and the once promising career of the player who could deputise in his absence, Kjaer, has gone down the toilet. The Danes will prove hard to beat but will come up short in this group. Too many of their players are at mediocre clubs.
Key Players : Agger, Eriksen, Bendtner
Strengths : Resilient, disciplined, enjoy the underdog role
Weaknesses : Lack quality in attack, players without big league experience
GROUP C - Catenaccio
The defending champions play a very different brand of football under Del Bosque. Masters of midfield catenaccio there is little to enjoy about this Spanish side unless of course you're a fan of the square pass, a role in which the arrogant, delusional prick Xabi Alonso, unquestionably the most limited player to ever command a high transfer fee, is king. The powers of playmaker Xavi (two great years between 2008-2010) are on the wane. Up front it appears that £50 million charity case Torres has been rewarded for doing absolutely fuck all year all other than scoring when clean through against Barcelona with the starting centre forward role. Negredo and Llorente are far more deserving. Puyol and Villa, key protagonists in Spain's success, are irreplaceable. Spain's defence is anything but World Class. The Spanish don't like being tackled, if referees are wise to their diving and playacting they will struggle with their park the midfield bus and bore the opposition into a mistake strategy.
Key Players : Casillas, Xavi, Llorente
Strengths : Fabulous options in midfield and attack - if picked
Weaknesses : Play a low risk game. Will miss Puyol and Villa
In trying to emulate the football of Spain Prandelli is betraying the legacy of calcio. Lest we forget Italy have won 4 World Cups and Spain only 1. While Prandelli insists on accommodating Montolivo, who has continually failed to deliver in Azzurri blue, there is a disconnect between midfield and attack. Italy would be better served by loading up on DMs, a position in which they are the strongest in the World, to protect Pirlo. Although the defence has looked suspect in Chiellini's absence provided he is fit this Italy side will be much more difficult to break down than under Lippi two years ago. The attack combines the combustible elements that are Balotelli and Cassano. Much has been made of the Calcioscommesse scandal, with suggestions it could unit and inspire Italy as it did in 1982 and 2006 but there is one major difference, this isn't a World Cup, it's a European Championship. Italy have a poor record (given their talent) in this competition and typically arrive at a European Championship in a transitional stage.
Key Players : Chiellini, Pirlo, Balotelli
Strengths : Strong in defence and in DM positions, Pirlo is playing the best football of his career
Weaknesses : Disconnect between midfield and attack, as yet no proven goalscorer
Far too reliant on the lightweight Modric who will need a lot of protection if he is to work his magic. Srna and Rakitic will be looking to hit Jelavic who is coming off a fantastic domestic campaign with Everton. Corluka aside Croatia's defenders play at mediocre clubs. Not the best of proving grounds when having to face some of the best attackers in Europe.
Key Players : Modric, Srna, Jelavic
Strengths : Pace on the flanks
Weaknesses : Defence ill equipped at this level, Modric is the only midfielder with flair
Is it any surprise that under the master of catenaccio dinosaur Trapattoni Ireland have developed into a dour defensive side? The ends justify the means in this case are Ireland are making their first appearance in a major finals tournament since the 2002 World Cup. All but two players are UK based, the one club legend that is Robbie Keane and McGeady who in numbers terms at least has done remarkably well at Spartak Moscow. Midfield is the teams strong point. In addition to McGeady the much maligned Gibson packs a powerful shot from distance, Hunt is a dirty little bastard in the Deschamps mould i.e. he kicks people all day while McClean has been a revelation at Sunderland even if his form, like his team, tailed off in the last two months of the season.
Key Players : Dunne, McGeady, Keane
Strengths : Disciplined
Weaknesses : By and large lacking in technical quality. Few players with tournament experience
GROUP D - The Generation Shift
Beset by injuries and criticisms over the make-up of the squad and the Rio Ferdinand debate, for once England does not expect. As with the previous three incumbents, Hodgson is a pragmatic, defensive minded coach. England will look to sit deep and break using the pace of Young, Wellbeck and the prodigious Oxlade-Chamberlain, at least that's one option, the other is playing the defensive minding Milner and the turgid Downing. Hodgson will look to avoid defeat in the opening two games and play more expansive football once Rooney returns from suspension in the third game. Gerrard must show previously unseen discipline in his midfield role alongside kicking machine Parker and be more selective in his forward runs if England are to ride out the Rooney suspension. A bigger concern than any tactical issues is the mentality of the players. You get the impression they would rather do anything than spend weeks outside of the confines of Chavistan (England), deprived of drink and fornication.
Key Players : Hart, Gerrard, Rooney
Strengths : Potentially the best defence in the tournament, tremendous pace in midfield and attack
Weaknesses : Players struggle to come to terms with a lack of freedom off the pitch
The Domenech era is over and disciplinarian Blanc has moulded an exciting new team who are carrying a long unbeaten run into the tournament. Blanc has awe inspiring options in midfield and attack. Benzema has a chance to finally establish himself as one of Europe's lead attackers and an excellent understanding with Ribery while the tall, powerfully build Giroud gives the team a different dimension if the passing lanes through the middle are closed. Ben Arfa, who has made a remarkable recovery from a serious injury, could excel in a super sub role. Cabaye and M'Vila, one of the most sough after midfielders in Europe, are the modern day Vieira-Petit combination. The weaknesses are in defence. Mexes is slow and prone to mistakes without leadership and as yet his partner, Rami, has not shown those qualities. Koscielny, who has taken great strides over the past season, would surely be a better option.
Key Players : M'Vila, Ribery, Benzema
Strengths : A wealth of attacking options, pace, power and technique
Weaknesses : A generation of leaders has yet to be replaced. Centrebacks are suspect
The Largerback era is over and coach Erik Hamren has transformed dour Sweden into an attacking machine - they scored 31 goals during the qualifiers. The make up of the team is very different to 4 years ago (Sweden did not qualify for the 2010 World Cup) as a result Sweden are something of an unknown quantity. Dead ball specialist Larsson has plenty of giants to aim at from free kicks and corners. Ibrahimovic is one of the best forwards of his generation though doesn't consistently produce in national team colours. In Hamren's system he plays off Elmander, criminally wasted at Galatasaray. If Ibrahimovic is on Sweden are more than capable of getting out of the group.
Key Players : Mellberg, Larsson, Ibrahimovic
Strengths : Power and technique in attack, dangerous from set plays
Weaknesses : No real midfield schemer, concerns in defence
The co hosts may well have delivered state of the art stadia but they do not have a team to match. Tymoshchuk is the only player who doesn't ply his trade at an Eastern European club, a clear indication of the lack of quality at racist Blokhin's disposal. Midfield is the teams strong point with Husyev and the next big thing Yarmolenko providing ammunition from the wings. The excellent Tymoshchuk is partnered by Rakytskyi in central midfield. The main concerns of course are the attack. Shevchenko and Voronin are past it while Milevskiy simply hasn't built on the promise he showed in his youth. A point in the opening game against Sweden is a must. Even if they lose to France, they could take advantage of a disinterested England side to sneak through to the last 8.
Key Players : Tymoshchuk, Yarmolenko, Husyev
Strengths : Good balance in midfield
Weaknesses : Ageing forwards, defence lacks top level experience