As part of my build-up to the European Championships this summer in Poland and Ukraine, I will attempt to predict what will happen in the tournament and who will be victorious on the 1st of July in Kiev, Ukraine.
GROUP A [matches in Warsaw and Wroclaw]
Poland, Russia, Greece, Czech Republic
Group A is evidently the weakest group of the tournament and it features the co-hosts Poland alongside Russia who upset England in the qualification for the 2008 tournament and eventually reached the semi-finals in Austria and Switzerland. You’d have thought that Russia will qualify with ease in a group which also features Greece and Czech Republic who both had a good, yet surprising campaign eight years ago in Portugal and who knows, they could spring a surprise again.
Had Poland not be playing at home then they would be favourites to finish bottom of the heap but in Warsaw and Wroclaw a big gathering will be out to watch Robert Lewandowski and co. steer them into the knockout stage. As 2004 winners Greece came down to earth in the next three tournaments with a crashing blow, not making one World Cup and haven’t reached the knockout stage in the past two tournaments. I think that Russia will run away against the ageing legs of Czech Republic and take top spot in the table with Poland and Greece left to battle out the second place with the home advantage shading things for Poland.
However, don’t rate either of the Group A’s chances as for the knockout stages they are paired with the group of death containing Holland, Germany, Portugal and Denmark so expect the two Group B qualifiers to be alive come the semi-finals.
GROUP B [matches in Lviv and Kharkiv]
Holland, Germany, Portugal, Denmark
When comparing to the opening group you could draw comparison from the Champions League to the Europa League in terms of the quality of teams and players on show in Group B. Germany made the final in 2008 and believe they can go one better in Poland and Ukraine as they are buoyed by a strong 2010 World Cup and with a fresher looking line-up the Germans clearly hold the correct balance of young and experienced talent.
Holland were looking the favourites four years ago until they were demolished by Russia in the quarter finals and after a strong showing in South Africa the Dutch will be out for a first trophy in 24 years. Portugal might have a weaker side than the top two seeds but with Cristiano Ronaldo any side bares high levels of hope. Ronaldo hasn’t stopped netting goals this season and the Portuguese public will be praying he can carry the side and upset the odds to make the knockout stage after a disappointing couple of major tournaments.
Denmark remain the underdogs in the group and will hope to shed their tag of whipping boys after being dumped out of the World Cup (what was their first tournament in six years) in a group which also contained Holland. I think that although Germany may have the stronger side, they will get pipped to first spot by the three-time World Cup finalists in Holland but will finish the tournament strong – as usual.
GROUP C [matches in Gdansk and Poznan]
Spain, Italy, Croatia, Republic of Ireland
When you look at the current world and European champions in Spain you cannot see any other possible winner of Group C – despite how it appears to be one of the strongest in the tournament. Ireland’s first showing since the 1988 tournament and a first major tournament in ten years may mean that Giovanni Trapattoni’s side may be rusty from the lack of tournament football.
Although for sentimentality, I’d love to say that Ireland would qualify for the knockout rounds, Italy and Croatia just have too much about them to leave the Irish at the bottom of the heap. Whilst Spain should clearly walk the group against the ageing Italians and Croatians, the crucial battle in the group remains to be on June 14 when Croatia face Italy in Poznan.
You never know what you’re going to get with the Italians in tournament football though. They finished dead last in one of the easiest groups in the World Cup and were dumped out of the last Euros by Spain in a quarter final penalty shootout before winning the World Cup six years ago only to face humiliation in the next two tournaments, going out in the groups in 2004 and going out to South Korea in the 2002 World Cup. An England fan would love to see an easier quarter final tie (should Hodgson’s men make it that far, of course) but it has to be Italy who prevails alongside Spain, only just though.
GROUP D [matches in Kiev and Donetsk]
Ukraine, England, France, Sweden
The English in me probably comes out when I predict England to progress into the knockout stages but let’s face it the national side haven’t had the perfect preparation for the tournament. Just six weeks prior to their opening match in Donetsk on June 11 against France, Roy Hodgson was appointed as the manager and with some different selections in his team, nobody knows what to expect from England this time.
We scraped through in 2010 only to be knocked out by the superior Germans with three successive quarter final showings after their failure to qualify for the last European Championships in 2008 and should get that far at least this time out. With France you can easily compare with Italy in terms of not being able to predict what French team will show up in the summer.
In the previous World Cup they succeeded in creating the biggest crash and burn of any big World Cup team in history. There was rebellions from the players, staff, a walk out from Nicholas Anelka and plenty of tantrums. However, a fresh side including the likes of Loic Remy was born out of an ageing squad who failed to qualify out of their group which gives me enough foundations to see them through to the quarter finals which leaves the debutants of the tournament and co-hosts Ukraine missing out in slim fashion with Sweden finishing dead last.
QF: Russia v. Germany, Holland v. Poland, Spain v. France, England v. Italy
SF: Germany v. Spain, Holland v. England
F: Germany v. Holland
When consulting your wallchart, mixing in my aforementioned predictions, you should end up with this quarter final list. The list features six heavyweights of European football along with the Group A qualifiers which you should expect to be dumped out of the tournament with ease thanks to Germany and Holland – who are probably the two likeliest teams to win the tournament alongside Spain. According to my prediction, Germany can expect a tough semi-final against Spain as they should get through France easily enough.
With a slight bit of bias I predict that England will make the final four of a tournament for the first time in 16 years as they, according to my predictions, will get past an Italy side which isn’t good enough in my opinion to play in a final four. Conversely, as I said earlier, mixed with England’s poor preparations and poor tournament form anything can happen in this tie.
However, to stop being sentimental I think because England will land Holland in the semi-finals and the Dutch will be far too strong for Roy Hodgson’s side. This will set up either a repeat of the previous World Cup final or showcase one of the big rivalries in international football, which I believe will be the outcome, as Germany will tangle with Holland for the first time in a major tournament since 2004 when Holland dumped Germany out in the group stages in Portugal.
The shoe should be on the other foot in a hotly contested match where Germany will walk away with the title. Holland don’t have a fresh feel to them as they contain many players which lost out to Spain two years ago and I don’t think they have improved significantly like the Germans for them to claim their second European Championship.
So as an Englishman I regrettably predict that Germany will win Euro 2012.