The football world turns its head towards Austria and Switzerland tomorrow as Euro 2008 finally kicks off.
I think it’s going to be an outstanding tournament. While nothing can beat the World Cup for spectacle and colour the European Championships has a tendency to produce a better quality of football and matches in general. This latest edition should be no different.
With genuine Arsenal news at an absolute premium at the moment I thought it would be fun to write up a fairly detailed preview of the tournament, outlining the teams and players I think might shine over the coming weeks. It’s all my opinion of course but my suggestion is to just enjoy the possibilities and let me know what you make of it all. Cheers.
The first group is arguably the toughest to call.
Much as I despise their tendency to play-act and their pretty-boy captain it’s hard to see Portugal finishing anywhere but top. Indeed, the only thing that will stop them will be if Cristiano Ronaldo struggles to find the back of the net.
The Czech Republic are sentimental favourites of mine – I loved watching the midfield quartet of Nedved, Rosicky, Poborsky and Galasek dominate Euro 2004, but with none of those four featuring they could struggle to repeat their semi-final effort of four years ago.
Switzerland have home-ground advantage, an underrated defence and two excellent attackers in Alexander Frei and Tranquillo Barnetta who could prove the difference. As for Turkey, their major threat will be Nihat Kahveci and an extremely creative midfield featuring Newcastle’s Emre and Middlesbrough’s Tuncay.
Despite this I feel the Turks are likely to finish at the foot of the table with Portugal and the Czech Republic qualifying and Switzerland narrowly missing out despite a gallant performance in front of their own fans.
The Germans have a side more than capable of lifting the trophy at Euro 2008 and I think they will top this group comfortably.
I feel Germany’s balance going into this side is almost perfect; they have two great leaders in Michael Ballack and Jens Lehmann and a host of exciting young players like Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Gomez who will provide plenty of attacking intent. Add to that an excellent defensive pairing of Christoph Metzelder and Per Mertesacker and an outstanding team spirit and I’d go so far to say that they’re my favourites to win the competition.
Croatia are the tournaments dark-horse and despite the loss of Arsenal’s Eduardo da Silva to a broken leg they have enough quality to beat both Poland and Austria. They also have a manager who seems as clever as they come in Slaven Bilic and I feel his wiles could see the Croatians go as far as the semi-finals.
Poland are a bit of unknown quantity and could well finish bottom of the group if Austria can feed off their home support. Neither side have the quality to win the tournament and I can’t see anything other than an early exit for the red and white pair.
The term ‘Group of Death’ was invented for pools like this.
The two finalists from the last World Cup, a Dutch team more than capable of winning the tournament and a Romanian side as strong as the one who qualified ahead of England and Germany in Euro 2000. So who is going to qualify?
First things first, I really think France will top the group. Along with Germany I feel Raymond Domenech’s side is the most balanced in the tournament, combining experienced heads in Claude Makelele and William Gallas with exciting youngsters like Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema. The attacking variety that France have at their disposal is almost ridiculous, indeed, the fact that David Trezeguet was left out says it all.
Romania have two excellent game-breakers in their side in Adrian Mutu and Cosmin Contra but I do feel that Italy and Holland will fight it out to join France in the quarter-finals. I’m tipping Marco van Basten’s to beat Italy in their opening game and I think that will send them on their way to the next round.
Holland’s key players will be goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, midfielder Wesley Sneijder and goal-poacher Ruud van Nistlerooij. Although their manager has them playing in a slightly more defensive way than Dutch teams in the past I feel the encouraging performance at the last World Cup will be a stepping stone towards something better at Euro 2008. Hold on to your hats.
The final group and quite and intriguing one to boot.
Spain, more than ever, have a wonderful group of players who could well shake off their ‘choker’ tag and lift the trophy. Up front is Fernando Torres and David Villa, while Arsenal star Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta will pull the strings in behind. Add to that the unbelievably gifted Xavi and a defence containing Carlos Puyol and Sergio Ramos and it’s a side packed with quality. As such, I see them topping this group relatively comfortably.
It may come as a bit of a surprise but I think that Russia will follow them through in second. The reason? Guus Hiddink. Seriously, when has this guy failed with an international side? Semi-finals with Holland at the 1998 World Cup, semi-finals with South Korea at the 2002 World Cup, second round with Australia at the 2006 World Cup (hooray!) – he just knows how to get the best out of his players and I can see him doing it again with Russia.
Sweden will certainly pose a threat though and are sentimental favourites of mine if only because of Fredrik Ljungberg. They also have one of the world’s best strikers in Zlatan Imbrahimovic and an underrated playmaker in Kim Kallstrom who could well come of age at this tournament.
And what of Greece? Otto Rehhagel’s side won the last European Championships in the most amazing of circumstances four years ago but can they do it again? Unfortunately for the Greeks the answer just has to be ‘no’. Indeed, they don’t have the quality of players to repeat the magic of 2004 and I think they’ll finish at the foot of the table.
Should the groups pan out the way I’ve predicted then the match-ups listed just above would ensue. And don’t they look tasty?
If it does go this way then I’d tip the clever Croatians to knock out a Portugese side too dependent on Ronaldo, the Germans to run all over the Czechs, France to have too much quality even for Hiddink to contend with and an organised Dutch side to out-think the talented Spaniards.
Semi-Finals (Croatia v Germany, France v Netherlands)
Should the quarter-final results go the way I’ve predicted then it would leave the two teams who qualified from Group B and the two teams who qualified from Group C facing off for the second time for a place in the final. As with the group stages I’d expect the superbly balanced Germans to knock off Croatia and Domenech’s France to push past Holland in an absolute cracker.
Final (Germany v France)
Tipping a winner from this game is so difficult I’m probably better off flip a coin. So I will…
Germany. On penalties. Jens Lehmann the hero, William Gallas the villain.
Please don’t get angry at me if I’m wrong.
So there you have it, Joachim Low’s Germany to lift the trophy and hopefully doing so using the attacking football that they produced two years ago during the 2006 World Cup. Just for the record I’m tipping the in-form Michael Ballack to finish as the Player of the Tournament and Arsenal legend Thierry Henry for the Golden Boot. Don’t agree with me? Then be sure to let me know you think.
The most important thing is for you all to enjoy the football that will be played over the next three weeks. It should be fantastic stuff and if for some reason the tournament turns out to be a disappointment at least we will have three weeks without twiddling our thumbs worrying about who Arsenal are going to sign.
Finally today, the wonderful people over at retro football shirt company TOFFS have been nice enough to give readers of this blog a 10% discount on any of their shirts to celebrate the start of Euro 2008. All you need to do to claim your discount is to go to their site and make sure you enter the code ‘afcblog’ at the checkout when you make your purchase. The offer is valid until 15.07.08. Hopefully you can find something nice for yourself or someone you know. Just for the record, I’ve got a classic 1970s Arsenal shirt and it’s fecking awesome!
Anyway, with no further adieu, let the football feast begin!
Be sure to share your own views on Euro 2008 by leaving a comment.