Let’s talk about Euro 2012
Croatia! They won't win it.
Euro 2012 may well be the last of its kind. While many generally view the Shakira-less Championships as somewhat inferior to the World Cup, it trumps it in perhaps the thing (or two things) that matters most; the competitiveness and, with it, the entertainment factor. UEFA’s Michel Platini’s meddling — 24 teams for 2016 — might serve to dilute a competition that simply doesn’t need it — that be weaker teams increasing gaps barely recognisable before, possible convoluted methods of qualification, and the tournament being unnecessarily long-winded (well, maybe not); and besides, poorly-timed reforms should only really be exclusive to a beleaguered coalition government — that way we can at least say we were prepared. Plus, who’s to say UEFA aren’t discussing the possibility of getting Shakira to sing the official song for France 2016, featuring the lyrics “Xhaka Xhaka, eh eh”, an ode to Switzerland’s Granit Xhaka, the FC Basel youngster, by then, of course, two-time Ballon D’Or winner.
As Soccernomics author Simon Kuper told the Associated Press in 2011, slightly cynically maybe, that “by definition, it [Euro 2016] will be diluted” as the “lesser teams defend because that is the easiest thing to learn.” With all of this considered, the Euro 2012 competition is, by conclusion, the Most Important Thing in the World, and it’s not like anything else big and sporty is happening this summer. Which is why, before the 2016 monster is unleashed and the world is brought to an abrupt end, we’ve invited writers and friends of the site to lend us their predictions for the upcoming tournament, seeking an appointment with the oracle, or perhaps even Wojciech the Octopus.
We have: journalist/writer Miguel Delaney (The Independent, Irish Examiner, ESPN), editor of BeautifullyRed Shaun Birch, Stretford-End.com‘s Doron Salomon and Robert Martinez, and internet vagabond Surge B.
Which two sides will progress from each group?
ManUtd24: Group A: Poland, Russia
B: Germany, Portugal
C: Spain, Italy
D: France, England
Netherlands crashing out — and I’d say crashing is a good verb given its magnitude — is my ‘being contrarian’ choice purely because I think their group (B), which features Germany and Portugal, is remarkably difficult and, of course, only two can go through.
Doron Salomon: Group A: Russia, Greece
B: Germany, Portugal
C: Spain, Croatia
D: Ukraine, England
Shaun Birch: Group A: Poland, Russia
B: Netherlands, Germany
C: Spain, Italy
D: France, Sweden
Robert Martinez: Group A: Russia, Poland
B: Germany, Netherlands
C: Spain, Ireland
D: France, Jubilee Nation
Surge B: Group A: Poland, Russia
B: Germany, Netherlands
C: Spain, Italy
D: France, England
In Group A, the draw’s been very kind to the Poles — Lewandowski’s goals should see them finish top. Russia are probably the next best in the group, an achievement akin to being the Europe’s tallest dwarf. [Group B] The ‘group of death’ moniker is misleading; Germany and Holland are easily the two best sides in it and two of the best three in the tournament. [Group C] Spain are World Champions, European Champions, WBA Light-Heavyweight Champions and winners of Toledo Bob’s World Famous Bar-B-Q Cook-Off. Italy conceded two goals in qualifying. It seems straightforward enough. [Group D] I was torn between England and Sweden for second place, then I saw England’s games against Switzerland and Belgium. It was like watching blindfolded zombies navigate an assault course in a flooded minefield.
The Euros’ best player?
Miguel Delaney: If you look through recent tournaments — other than Euro 2008 — this can often be a surprising one. It’s probably too easy to be drawn to the bigger names. In saying that, that’s exactly what’s happening to me. Mesut Ozil to run the show for Germany.
DS: Tough to pick a best player with all the Spanish talent but I quite fancy this to be Ronaldo’s tournament. I don’t think Portugal will win it but off the back of such a fabulous season I think he’ll take Portugal further than they probably should go.
SuB: Mesut Ozil. Forced to play second fiddle to the bigger names (and egos) in Madrid, Ozil comes into his own representing his country where he’s the heartbeat of a German attack that’s tailor-made for a man of his talents. A sublime passer of the ball, he quietly conducts the oom-pah band the rest of the forwards dance to. In 14 appearances in a German shirt, he’s either scored or created a goal every 78 minutes. Everything good Die Mannschaft do coming forward flows through him – and they do a lot of good things coming forward.
ShB: Like he stood out in his last international tournament, I’m going with Mesut Ozil. Coming off the back of a tremendous season with Real Madrid, that saw him instrumental in beating Barcelona to La Liga title, and playing in an international set up that is prepared to challenge as winners, Ozil is in perfect form to showcase his beautiful ability of making football look sexy. His creative genius will drive Germany all the way to the final.
RM: Andres Iniesta. He hasn’t had a particularly good season with Barcelona, but is vital to Spain’s attack, especially against the ultra-defensive opponents they can expect to face throughout the tournament. A big-game, big-tournament player.
24: Thomas Muller. He’s German. And very, very good. Shall I wrap it up there? He was just 20 in the 2010 World Cup where he won the Golden Boot and he’s got the same surname as his countryman Gerd (probably irrelevant but who doesn’t dearly love an insubstantial link) who, of course, scored a lot at major tournaments. He’s not necessarily a goalscorer but his record for Germany is good anyway and when you consider that, and his other notable attributes, creating chances, creating chances and creating chances, he’s a good bet to do well.
Best young player?
This may overlap with Best Player. Your problem?
RM: Does Mesut Özil still count as young? I don’t see the big contenders giving much playing time to any of his juniors. However, if Russia do well I expect their playmaker Alan Dzagoev to have a big role in that. He turns 22 during the tournament, and has been around for some time now — Euro 2012 seems as good a time as ever for him to “break out.” Was excellent for CSKA Moscow in this season’s Champions League.
ShB: I’m struggling to think of any real youngsters, so I’m going with a 23-year-old playing in his first international tournament. Double winner with Borussia Dortmund in a season that saw he scored 30 goals including a season ending hat-trick versus Bayern Munich in the German Cup Final, Robert Lewankdowski will spearhead the attack for co-hosts Poland this summer, and in a group that offers them a very realistic chance of progressing, and backed by his host country, I see the Polish striker continuing his season form and firing Poland into the knockout stages.
24: I like Christian Eriksen. Yes, fine, it’s fairly plausible that Denmark will end Group B pointless but they’ve got a good team and, while qualification into the knockouts is another matter, they can make it difficult for the opposition; and Eriksen, at 20, looks a fine prospect. And even if, as predicted, Denmark flounder, if they were to indeed produce any special moments, it would probably come from this particular Dane. If you want another, Danny Welbeck. (Ah, good ol’ Danny.)
MD: I think Poland will have a promising tournament and their young striker Lewandowski will show why clubs like United have bid for him.
SuB: Injury permitting, Yann M’Vila. Denmark won’t play enough games for Eriksen to be considered and there’s no telling how heavily the likes of Strootman, Reus and Gotze will feature. Mats Hummels is a preposterous talent -– an intelligent, commanding centre-back with an exceptional range of passing -– who’s likely to be Germany’s first choice but no young player will be more key to his nation’s fortunes than M’Vila. His vision and distribution are matters of record but, playing in front of a back four that inspires about as much confidence as a hedgehog operating a forklift, it’s his robust defensive abilities that will prove most important.
DS: It’s a shame Milan Badelj won’t be starting for Croatia because I really like the look of him but it could be any of the German kids — the two I’d pick out are Mats Hummels and André Schürrle. Given the injuries to England, too, I think Oxlade-Chamberlain will feature quite a bit and I think he along with Welbeck could be England’s young stars.
RM: Andy Carro… heh, no. This is a tough one, as I expect a fairly low-scoring tournament overall. I think the eventual top scorer will come from Group B, so I’ll just go for Robin van Persie. Unless Huntelaar plays instead. Err, yeah.
ShB: They are several top strikers coming into the tournament on the back of brilliant seasons for their clubs. Lewandowski, van Persie, Gomez, Ibrahimovic and Ronaldo, for example. My pick, however, is Karim Benzema, who with 32 goals in 39 starts for Real Madrid this season is high on confidence and in deadly form. France’s recent international tournament shambles are well documented but under coach Laurent Blanc they look to have turned themselves around and Benzema is central to their plans.
24: I’ve said Muller will score a few but let’s go for Mario Gomez. He’s scored 26 league goals from 33 and although he’s always been seen as a bit of a bottler — lacking composure — he’s notably improved in front of goal (though 26 goals from 101 Bundesliga shots makes him the new Andy Cole). On another note, I’m not entirely looking forward to be disappointed by a Klose-less Germany.
DS: Mario Gomez. Next.
MD: Don’t laugh: I fancy a bet on Torres. Look at this way: most of the big scorers — like Ronaldo and Van Persie — are in tough groups. There are no stand-out options in the more open groups (although Kerzhakov is worth a punt at about 66-1). By contrast, Spain will dominate every game and Torres — who looks likely to start — is suddenly relatively revitalised.
SuB: Robert Lewandowski. Mario Gomez may not get a game and Ronaldo has never managed to duplicate his merciless club record at international level. The second half of Robin van Persie’s season was nowhere near as good as his PFA and FWA awards suggest and he’ll have to contend with Bert van Marwijk’s obsession with shoe-horning both he and Huntelaar into the same side. Lewandowski, on the other hand, being technically adept and a lethal finisher, is in the weakest group in the tournament and is the clear focal point of the Polish attack that could easily reach the semi-finals.
Surprise package (team), or [grits teeth] dark horse?
To do well and progress, exceed expectations, not to necessarily win the thing a la Greece ’04, but like semi-finalists Russia in 2008.
ShB: Sweden. As much as I’d like to say England will do well, they look a mess right now. Some strange squad calls from new manager Hodgson has been compounded by several injuries to key players and I think Sweden with the enigmatic Ibrahimovic will follow France out of Group D, and once you get to the knockout stages, with some added confidence and a key player performing, anything can happen.
MD: Group A is probably the best place to look given it’s the most open and, if you get through, you could be one lucky game away from a stand-out historical achievement like a semi-final. So I’d go for Russia and, to a lesser extent, the Poles. If you take into account that Spain and Germany are on a completely different level, though, France could be a good outside bet to win it if they build momentum in their comparatively easier group.
SuB: At first, I was tempted to say Poland but given that I’ve tipped Lewandowski to be top scorer and their group is about as challenging as a Spot-the-Ugly-Bloke competition at Melwood, I’m not sure I can get away with calling them a surprise package. Group D looks like an upset waiting to happen. The Spanish are beginning to look fatigued from having been hawked all over the world like a revolutionary kitchen cleaner on late-night television and will be missing both David Villa and Whitesnake’s Carles Puyol. Italy still have the whiff of experimentalism about them and if there’s one man capable of derailing the plans of entire nation by setting fire to the one-legged exotic dancer he invited back to his room for a game of strip-Temple Run, it’s Mario Balotelli. Croatia are more than equipped to capitalize should either of the big two slip up. If that happens, a semi-final appearance would hardly be unlikely.
RM: Ireland to make the semis! I can see them just beating an uninspired-looking Italy into Group C’s 2nd place. In the quarters, they would presumably face France, who look massively talented but unbalanced, and maybe one stale Gitane away from collective meltdown. Irish revenge against France… pretty good #narrative, eh? Oh, I don’t know — I just made this up and am currently wearing green.
DS: Croatia — they have a tough group with Spain, Italy and Ireland but I fancy them to come through it. Their strongest starting XI is very good and they have some pretty experienced players in the squad. Importantly, they have players coming in off the back of a good season, particularly in midfield and up front.
24: Poland! It’d be wrong not to fancy at least one of the co-hosts but unlike Ukraine, they’ve got a group they can realistically progress from.
And the winners …?
24: Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel might be planning to boycott the Euros but I suspect we’ll see her cheering her nation on — with David Cameron nowhere in sight — in the Kyiv final as Germany do a Germany and win the shiny thing.
DS: I’ve flipped a coin and the coin tells me it’ll be Germany, not Spain.
ShB: Allez Les Bleus! There may be question marks over how solid they are defensively but a competitive midfield of M’Vila and Cabaye mixed with the creative flair of Ribery and Nasri, added to my predicted goal haul for Karim Benzema will see France, with plenty of tournament pedigree in coach Laurent Blanc, make up for recent embarrassments and beat the Germans on penalties in the final.
MD: All things being equal, Spain. But all things are not equal. There’s a huge build-up of fatigue and pressure after four years of making and chasing history. As such, I think Germany might just pip them.
SuB: Germany. Spain are still a magnificent side but you get the sense they’ve already peaked. Germany, however, have spent two years building on their outstanding display in South Africa, quietly adding some of the finest young players in Europe to a squad that was busy gaining the experience of a 100% qualifying campaign. Their profusion of options, particularly in the in attacking areas, is formidable and their defence only looks weak when compared to the staggering embarrassment of riches they possess in other areas of the field. The squad that gave the impression the World Cup had come a little too early for them now looks ready to fulfill its potential.
RM: Germany. The eurozone will collapse the day after.
The site will try
hard to cover the Euros over the next few weeks, though probably intermittently. Leave your predictions in the comments section.