Here is where to expect each team to finish, round by round, at the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship. Some are quite obvious, while other picks are surprising.
There is probably a lot of political pressure for them to perform well, in hopes it boosts moral for their country and brings some unity. But that is a lot of pressure to put on their shoulders. They were strong qualifiers, but the competition in their group was not very strong, and they have not looked impressive in their friendly matches. If Giorgos Samaras gets hot, things could change.
A loss to Hungary is no way to gain momentum going into the tournament. This aging team will be edged out in group play.
Denmark is the easy pick to finish last in the ‘Group of Death’. They did hold fair against a strong Brazilian team, and in any other group they might advance. But in Group B, do they stand a chance against the likes of Portugal, Germany, and the Netherlands?
They are a strong and talented team, but they are in the Group of Death. They racked up goals in qualifying, but they also let if a bunch (3 to Iceland, 4 to Cyprus). When under pressure Portugal sometimes slips up and unlike the Netherlands and Germany, Portugal hasn’t been racking up many goals in their latest friendly matches. They just got crushed by Turkey in a friendly.
Everyone still talks about Italy, but what quality team have they beaten since Spain in Augsut 2011? They did beat Poland in a friendly, but they have lost to Russia, Uruguay and the United States of late. Their only chance lays at the hands of an immature Mario Ballotelli, whom I see having a meltdown when the defensive minded Azzurra don’t give him many chances with the ball.
They did not qualify strong for this tournament. Unless they beat Ireland, they will have no chance to advance. They have lost to Sweden big this year and tied Norway in their final tune up. Not a strong showing they want to carry into their group play.
Ukraine, thanks for playing the host. I hope your team enjoys watching the rest of the tournament.
England has a new, unproven national team coach at the helm and have Wayne Rooney suspended for a few games, the mysterious omission of Rio Ferdinand, and injuries to key players, like Frank Lampard, Gary Cahill, Gareth Barry, and Kyle Walker. If they are to win, it will be because of Joe Hart and their Chelsea backline anchored by John Terry. I think the issues they have encountered lead them to an early exit.
Group A will lack a lot of goal scoring. Defense and a lack of strong play will lead to some boring games. Out of this mess you can expect Russia to advance, but that will be as far as they go. They easily win Group A, but with a lack of goal output from this side they will be taken out by a surging Dutch side, unless Arshavin can hit the back of the net, frequently.
Sweden, led by Zlatan Ibrahamovic, will beat Ukraine and get a surprise victory over England to advance with France out of Group D. They scored a lot of goals in qualifying and that output should continue for them. Their problem is they will face FIFA World #1, Spain in the quarterfinals. Their run stops there.
As co-host they will have a lot of support on their side from the fans. Led by young goal scorer, Robert Lewandowski, they get wins over Greece and the Czech Republic to advance out of Group A. They have momentum coming into the tournament winning their last few games.
France will be much improved from the 2010 World Cup. Expect a total turnaround. What is important is when the national team has gotten together they have been winning games. They have a lot of young talent coming off good club seasons, such as Benzema, Ben Arfa, Malouda, Nasri, Ribery and Evra. I think this core will win Group D, but some inconsistencies will show up when they lose to a tough, scrappy, Irish side.
Spain is another of those teams hampered by some injuries. They are lucky they are very deep and talented, but where they are hurt the most is at the top where scoring star David Villa has been out injured. Also missed will be the leadership of Carles Puyol. If Fernando Torres finds the scoring stroke he has lacked at Chelsea, Spain can go a long way as he has a lot of talent behind him. But, I think it stops in a loss to the Dutch.
Ireland I believe will upset Italy and defeat Croatia to advance. I don’t believe in Italy yet and Croatia struggled to qualify, plus Ireland is highly confident entering the tournament. I think Ireland has been strong as of late, and they have had tensions building up for a while making them due for a strong performance. Behind the leadership of Shay Given they can play defense and score as needed. Possibly Robbie Keane’s last major tournament will be a strong one.
Germany is young and loaded with talent, as good as they have been in years, and remain largely intact from their 2010 World Cup run. They carry some of the most notable names in football right now: Neuer, Klose, Mertesacker, Muller, Podolski, and Gomez, who had a strong season with a Bayern Munich team that went to the Champions League final. Ozil has been subperb with Real Madrid. Schweinsteiger will be extremely hungry and eager to redeem himself from his floundering penalty kick in the Champions League final. They will feel confident facing the Dutch in the final after a 3-0 drubbing late last year.
The Oranje were a scoring machine in qualification, racking up 37 goals. They also just rocked Northern Ireland 6-0 in their final tune up match. They are a tough pick because at any time they will let you down, with recent losses to Sweden, Bulgaria, Bayern Munich and Germany. They are front to back. Maarten Stekelenburg is a world class goalkeeper; guys like van der Weil and Heitinga provide strong defense; they are very deep at midfield with the likes of van Brommel, de Jong, Wesley Sneijder, Robben, and a rising star in Afellay. Robin van Persie had a great club year and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has racked up goals in qualifying.
The Netherlands will take the crown and win the Euro 2012, exacting revenge against Spain along the way after a disappointing loss to them in the 2010 World Cup.
A number of players are in line for a chance at winning the golden boot, as the tournements top goal scorer. Players such as Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Robin van Persie, Zlatan Ibrahamovic, Christiano Ronoldo, and Mario Gomez will be the favorites. There are also possible outside shots from young players like Karim Benzema, Fernando Llorente, Robert Lewandowski and Ibrahim Afellay.
My pick is Zlatan Ibrahamovic. Sweden plays in a weak group defensively and Ibrahamovic has been scoring goals. They will surprise England or France to advance out of the group because of his foot. He will beat out players from the big three as their scoring will be balanced enough to allow Ibrahamovic to lead the tournament.