Thursday, 1 December 2011

Steve Investigates - Euro 2012

With the draw for Euro 2012 less than 24 hours away, Steve's had a look at the runners and will tell you who you want in your group.

Now that the 16 teams have all qualified for Euro2012 in Poland and Ukraine I thought it would be handy to have a look at the contenders to see what’s what and who’s likely to win the thing, or go home smelling like Sepp Blatter’s evil dog breath.

The draw will be held in the pretty Ukrainian city of Kyiv (or Kiev for those of you that don’t speak Ukrainian) on Friday the 2nd of December at 19:00 local time, (18:00 CET, 17:00 GMT) so that’s 5pm in England and Ireland. It takes place in the humble setting of the Palace of Arts, which sounds nice for all the UEFA bigwigs. According to the UEFA website there will be a performance by local dancers in traditional Ukrainian outfits, probably with drums. Which should be nice.

Now as we know from previous FIFA/UEFA draws the things can be a puffed up, drawn out affair while a man in a sharp suit explains the rules for an hour and a half and then the draw itself is made as everyone comes out of a boredom induced coma. There will be lots of talk about “Groups of Death” and so on and so forth, as various people nod agreement as to who out of all the pots each team will be looking to avoid.
The pots are as followed.

Pot 1: SpainNetherlandsPolandUkraine
Pot 2: GermanyItalyEnglandRussia
Pot 3: CroatiaGreecePortugalSweden
Pot 4: DenmarkFranceCzech RepublicRepublic Of Ireland

These four pots of four teams will go on to make four Groups (A to D), Poland will automatically be placed in Group A and Ukraine will automatically be placed in Group D, so Spain and Netherlands will be in either Group B or C, one team from each of Pots 2, 3 and 4 will be drawn into one of these groups. So Germany can’t meet England and France can’t meet the Czech Republic. Got that? Good, it means you don’t have to watch that bit in the live draw. Here’s a run down of the teams, how good they are and how much you want you’re team (if you qualified, looking at you Scotland) to play a team from another pot based on nothing more than how good I think each team is. Here Goes.

Pot 1

Will the Polish fans be smiling when the group stage ends?
Poland: If they weren’t hosting the thing they probably wouldn’t have qualified, they’ll play all their games at home in Poland which will be to their advantage, but most teams in Pots 2, 3 and 4 would rather play Poland in Poland than Spain anywhere. Look out for an angry crowd of baying Poles if they’re drawn against Germany and then watch as Germany sweep them aside in a very clinical display of Teutonic superiority.

Spain: The reigning European champions and now World champions come to Poland for a serious and genuine crack at being the 1st team to successfully defend their title. Half of Barcelona’s all conquering squad are going to be here, plus a few other very decent players. They strolled through qualifying and are unbeaten in a proper competitive game since the 1st game of the World Cup, that didn’t stop them winning that though. Friendly losses to Argentina, Portugal and more unlikely England show they are vulnerable, but from the game at Wembley last week there was a hint that they were playing a training game before England surprised them by scoring, you wouldn’t expect them to take it so lightly when it matters. If you draw them and get to play them first, like Switzerland did in South Africa you may catch them a bit cold but you don’t want to bank on it and you really would rather avoid them.

Netherlands: Sailed through a relatively easy group and qualified like a big show who was doing one-handed push-ups, but a bit of smacking last week against their old enemy Germany in a friendly and a loss to an average Swedish team, all be it when they had nothing to play for, may have sobered them up. If Robin Van Persie and Rafael Van Der Vaart can keep up their excellent premiership form of late they’ll give anyone a game, another team you’d rather avoid when the draw’s made.

Ukraine: They still have the sluggish, Chelsea reject Andrei Shevchenko puffing away up front and this is likely to be his last go at tournament football, they’ll want to do well at home, but like Poland they probably wouldn’t have qualified without the help of hosting the tournament. Will be technically good and hard to beat at home but they aren’t going to worry anyone at the business end of the tournament and you’d fancy your chances if you were drawn against them.

Pot 2

Germany: Gave England a pasting at the last world cup, saw off Argentina with similar aplomb and gave Spain the most to think about before losing very narrowly in the semi-finals, probably going to be even more dangerous this time out because their young stars have had another couple of years getting better and playing in better teams around Europe. That Thomas Mueller made the England team look like old, smoke addled granddad’s puffing about in his furious wake. Serious chance of going all the way to the final, none of the teams in Pot 1 will want to get them in the draw, Spain included.

Italy: Their last world cup campaign made England’s look like a success, they’ve pottered through, mostly under the radar and without looking particularly threatening. Certainly not the best team in Europe but every so often at big tournaments they get on a run, take advantage of other teams getting knocked out earlier than expected and get close to the final. Tricksy opponents, but beatable.

The suspended Rooney will be quiet during the
group stages.
England: Who knows? Could be dreadful, could be a surprising success. No one expects the latter, and for once they go into a tournament without an unrealistic float of hype following behind them. Can beat anyone on their day and no one will want to get them in the draw. The Rooney problem may be a blessing in disguise, it’ll mean that England need a plan B and that can only be a good thing, if they make it through the group stages and Rooney does come back they could, only could, make an impact. Dark horses rather than serious challengers.

Russia: Only in this pot because Croatia drew with Turkey in the return leg of their already won play-off game, not sure quite how that works but they are the team from this pot that everyone will be hoping to draw. Expect them to get either Poland or Ukraine, (yep, that’s the fix) and expect it to be a noisy old game whoever they play.

Pot 3

Croatia: Being well organised and possessing some very technically gifted players makes Croatia quite dangerous, they would be more dangerous if they were playing this tournament at home though. Not staggeringly good travellers and they’ll be hoping to get lucky in the draw.

Greece: The team you’d want to play from this pot, they don’t seem to have any problems qualifying for tournaments but, 2004 aside, they tend to get slightly brushed away as they meet better teams. They have no really massive stars, but a good team ethic and a defensive mindset will make them hard to beat. But they are beatable.

Portugal: They had to work harder than was necessary to qualify, but qualify they did and any team with Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani in it will be a threat to any team in this tournament. I know who won’t want to play them as well, England. England have a dreadful record against Portugal, it’s like England think they’re playing the Germans only in maroon shirts. Dangerous, probably the best team in Pot 3.

Will the frustrating Ibrahimovic finally deliver when it counts?
Sweden: Sweden looked a bit limp and toothless at Wembley last week, that was a friendly but given Sweden’s record against England over the years you’d have thought they would have put up more of a fight. Before last Tuesday I’d have said England don’t want to face their biggest bogey side, but now the 43 year unbeaten run is broken you really wouldn’t mind playing the Swedes. England seem to have a way of stopping the talented but inconsistent Zlatan Ibrahimovich and the rest of the team look like they’d be more at home in the lower half of the Premiership than the Champions League.

Pot 4

It's time for Bendtner to show he's the
best player in the world and not just in
his own mind.
Denmark: Beat Portugal to qualify as group winners so they have something good going on. The usually hapless, and star-only-in-his-own-brainspace, Nicklas Bendtner actually scores for Denmark. He has over twenty to his name already, which is almost certainly more than he’s scored for Arsenal. Plus they have the supernippy winger Dennis Rommedahl who can cause problems for slower moving full backs of the world. Will be well organised and will be looking to use their natural underdog reputation to surprise teams who take them too lightly. Can’t see them getting far out of the group but they should make it tough for the teams that do.

France: What they’re doing in Pot 4 is a mystery, actually it isn’t. They had a wretched time in South Africa last year, but on the plus side they did finally manage to get rid of their crackpot manager, Raymond Domenech and replace him with Laurent Blanc, a man who previously guided Bordeaux to a Champion’s League spot. A good crop of youngsters makes France the team you don’t want to get in the draw. If everything goes a bit crazy there could be a group that has Spain – Germany – Portugal and France, and I wouldn’t bet my house that France don’t make it out of the group stages. The best team in this pot by some distance.

Czech Republic: Not as good as they were, lucky to get through a fairly poor group in second place behind Spain. That was almost entirely down to the terrible decision of Scotland to play a 4-6-0 formation in Prague. Good win over Montenegro to qualify though, tough to beat but you’d rather play this lot than France or Denmark.

Republic Of Ireland: They’ve done the hard bit for them, just getting through a play-off was looking like a hoodoo that they were always going to be doomed to fail at. But now that they’ve finally put that awful night in Paris two years ago, a game they should never have lost, behind them they will be buoyed and put up a fair challenge for anyone they play. They may well look a bit like Bolton playing Manchester United at times, especially if they get to play Spain, Netherlands or Germany but they’ll be up for that and I expect them to give supposedly better teams a lot of questions to answer before they get beat.

My tips

The big three are clearly Spain, Netherlands and Germany and it’s difficult to look past any of these three for the eventual winners. It depends on how the draw goes, because it’s entirely possible that two of them could play each other early on and whoever wins that game would be in a strong position. Every team in the tournament will be looking to avoid Spain but I think the Germans might be a match for them.

Can Gomez fire Germany to the title?
If these three slip up there are a number of teams who could surprise people in this tournament, and you do need four teams to make two semi-final games. Italy are good at tournaments, their natural defensive mindset and being the best organised team will make them hard to beat if they can leave their squabbling behind. Their squad might be a bit too old and maybe one tournament to far for some of their old fossils but if they get the right balance of youthful exuberance they could challenge. France and Portugal are quite capable of giving any team in the world a decent game of football and ask them serious questions and the two hosts will be looking to keep the atmosphere in the tournament by progressing through the group stages.

And then there’s England. No team will want to play them, they seem to have some good young players coming through, although they may be two years or so behind certain German and Spanish youngsters in terms of international experience. No one really expects England to do that well, but they’ve only been beaten twice, although one was a massive German hammering, in competitive matches since the night they lost to Croatia at Wembley and didn’t go to the last European Championships. Dark horses but they don’t look like winners. Possible semi-finalists, but then anything can happen in a one-off game.

Winners: Germany
Losing Finalists: Spain
Semi Finals: Netherlands & England (or France)

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