[article written by Steven Wang]
Experts will tell you that this is probably the hardest event to win. While the World Cup has more
teams and more variety, everyone knows that UEFA (Europe) has probably the greatest concentration
of soccer talent known to man. You could put up a small argument for CONMEBOL (South America)
based on the fact that Europe has nearly 50 nations (47 to be exact for all you geography nerds like
myself) that vie for a coveted spot in both tournaments which is why they get 13 spots in the World
Cup as opposed to 5 for South America. But let's be frank here -- Europe is where it's all at.
Quick rundown of Groups (along with predictions made before the start of the games. All rankings are based on UEFA team rankings and not ELO/FIFA rankings (world rankings).
Group A – One of the weakest groups, dubbed the Group of Life.
Poland – Host nation alongside Ukraine. Lowest ranked team in the event at 28th. Young team with
interesting pieces. With Robert Lewandowski, one of the up-and-coming young strikers, and their GK Szczesny, who has established a place on Aresenal's starting squad, this team should be
interesting to watch. Playing on home turf is a huge advantage.
Greece – Ranked 8th in the team rankings, Greece is no stranger to the Euros. Having pulled off a
Cinderella story back in 2004 against the host nation of Portugal, teams are often wary of
what this team can do. Methodical and persistent, strong defenses and quick counters make this team
one to be cautious of
Russia - Ranked 6th, the Russians are always a team to be reckoned with. Anchoring their offense is
the enigmatic Andrei Arshavin, who performed brilliantly in 2008 but has since fallen on hard times.
Could young Alan Dzagoev become the next Russian product to rise to new heights?
Czech Republic – Ranked 13th, the Czechs could be considered the trusty old war horse of the group.
With Milan Baros and Tomas Rosicky leading the potent offense and one of the premier goalkeepers
in the world, Petr Cech, the Czechs stand to be one of the teams in the tournament despite the loss to
Predictions: Russia, Czech Republic, Greece, Poland
Group B – With every Group of Life, there is the Group of Death, one of the strongest groups to date,
and another reason why dual host nations should still be forced to qualify, or at least not be seeded in the
Netherlands – Ranked 2nd, the "Oranje" as they are commonly known are the architects of Total
Football. While the Brazilians have Jogo Bonito, the Dutch have the their equal. Having immense
talent on both sides of the ball, their skills in passing and offense make watching this team a treat.
Could we have a repeat of 1988, where they too lost the opening game? Robben, Sneijdar, RVP, and
Van De Vart will be put to the test.
Germany – Ranked 3rd, “Die Mannschaft” and their systematic approach to soccer have made this
team year in and year out one of the top in the world. Their approach to dissecting defenses and
wearing opponents into submission is top notch. With Ozil, Schweinsteiger, Boateng, and Gomez leading the charge along with veterans like Klose, Lahm, and Podolski, the Germans have been picked
by many to go all the way this year (along with this totally unbiased writer here).
Portugal – Ranked at #9, the Portuguese have adopted much from their Iberian neighbors, Spain,
and their cousins across the pond, Brazil, to create a brand of football that is their own in a sense.
Backed by a stingy defense and an offense that can be quite potent, this team has the skills and heart
to advance. It does not hurt at all when you have the best player in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo.
Alongside Pepe, Nani, and a bevy of other talented players, could we see Portugal rise to the top?
Denmark – Often in the Group of Death, you have one hapless team who can be seen as the punching bag.
As is usually the case, this team is guaranteed for 2 or 3 losses, but this does not pertain to Denmark. Ranked at #10, the Danes are quietly building a reputation as one of the top teams in Europe. With Bendtner, Eriksen, and Christian Poulsen, Denmark looks to advance and stake their claim as European powers for years to come.
Prediction – Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Portugal
Group C – Not exactly a Group of Death, but there are surprises.
Spain – The #1 team in the world and returning champion. Boasting an all-star roster with the likes of
Xavi, Andre Iniesta, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique (formerly Mr. Shakiria), and Fernando
Torres (a favorite of Mr. Mok), there is definitely no shortage of talent and skills. Injuries to David
Villa and Carlos Puyol have hurt their chances ever so slightly, but sometimes it's just what teams need.
After judging the first game where Vincente Del Bosque basically went with a 4-6-0 formation, can
Spain repeat without their best striker David Villa?
Italy – Ranked #4, the Italians were on the verge of collapse before the tournament even started.
Embroiled in another match-fixing scandal that has rocked the nation, there were calls for Italy to
withdraw. Back in 2006, a previous match-fixing scandal united the Italian squad into a World Cup
win in Germany. Can this happen again? Leading the team is Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo, Daniele
De Rossi (who Brian McBride fondly remembers from 2006), and the wild card Mario Balotelli, who
we all know can make or break this Italian squad
Croatia – Ranked 7th, the Croatians don't have much history, being that the nation is still young. It was not
until the breakup of Yugoslavia did the Croats have a chance to make their mark in football. Till this day,
this writer still refers to them as the team with the funny uniforms and their greatest export to the US
being Dino Radja. Backed by Darijo Srna, the captain brings with him a pair potential stars in
Mario Mandzukic and Nikica Jelavic. A definite X-factor will be the Brazilian-born Eduardo, whose
claim to fame is the horrific open dislocation of his ankle in 2008.
Ireland – The 14th-ranked Irish finally made it after years of struggles and controversy. Would have
been hilariously fitting had the Irish been placed in Group D alongside France, but the Irish will settle
for the juggernaut that is Spain and Italy. Hope basically rests on Robbie Keane to pull a rabbit out of
his hat and lead them to victory. A monumental effort is needed from Shay Given if the luck of the Irish is
Prediction: Italy, Croatia, Spain, Ireland (first major upset)
Group D – much like Group A, it's fairly even and up for the taking in this group as to who advances.
France – While ranked 12th in Europe, the French have much to make up for after their poor
showing in South Africa two years ago. Led by Ribery, Samir Nasri, and Karim Benzema, Les Blues has
the makings of a team poised for a deep run into this year's Euros. Experts have listed this team alongside Germany and Spain as favorites to hoist the Cup. If their past 22 (15-0-7) games is a sign of things to come, the rest of Europe could be in trouble.
England – The Three Lions come in ranked 5th and already start at quite the disadvantage. Losing
a key cog in Frank Lampard to injury and one of the premier strikers, Wayne Rooney, for at least two
games, the English have struggled without an identity for the coming tournament. With a young
and inexperienced front line besides Steven Gerrard, England could find itself playing strictly counter
football and allowing opponents possession and time while they wait for their small openings. Their
defense should be solid with Terry and Ashley Cole.
Sweden – When you think Sweden, what comes to mind is attractive blonde women, hockey, and fish. What does not come to mind for this 10th ranked squad is a rather consistent showings in past Euros and World Cups. With the exception of a couple years, the Swedes have made a habit of advancing at least beyond round robin play to elimination play. For a nation that prides itself in its hockey prowess, its not a bad showing. But a nation can only go for so long before wanting more. Zlatan Ibrahimovic leads the Swedes into this group, with Olof Mellberg holding the defense.
Ukraine – Ranked at #15, Ukraine is probably one of the weakest teams next to Poland. Again
with home court advantage, they should make things interesting as they have already with a win
against Sweden. Andriy Shevchenko, once a leading player in European club football, and Anatoliy
Tymoshchuk make (most likely) their final appearances for Ukraine and hope to lead the nation into
European glory. Much like their co-host, not much is expected of them, but the final game could make
for an interesting match in the event that Ukraine and England are fighting for the final spot.
Prediction: France, England, Ukraine, Sweden
Check back from more updates along with more analysis as round robin play continues.
Predictions for Elimination play
Denmark (B2) over Russia (A1)
Germany (B1) over Czech Republic (A2)
Italy (C1) over England (D2)
France (D1) over Croatia (C2)
Predictions for Semis
Italy (C1) over Denmark (B2)
Germany (B1) over France (D1)
Prediction for Final
Germany over Italy 2-1
Photos courtesy of DUSA, StanJames.com, and Jasper Juinen/Getty Images Europe