Euro 2012 is almost upon us. Over 24 days, 16 teams will play 31 games in eight stadiums to earn the right to lift the European Championship Trophy. Over the duration of the tournament, upsets will occur, incidents will happen, controversy is expected, the top attacking players in European Football will go against the top defenders, but only one team will win. Here Irish News Review assesses our top three contenders for the Henri Delaunay trophy.
The first to be looked at and heavy favourites, as expected are Spain. The reigning European and World champions go into this tournament with heavy expectations on their shoulders. Despite missing the injured Barcelona duo Carles Puyol and David Villa, the Spanish squad still contain an exceptional number of talent such as Iker Casillas, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, Juan Mata, Fernando Llorente and Fernando Torres at their disposal. To say they have the most talented squad would be an understatement.
They have a difficult group on paper, Italy, Croatia and the Republic of Ireland should prove difficult opposition, but Spain having been in this position and come out on top twice, should have more than enough to win the group. The players will expect to be playing teams who keep ten men behind the ball and Euro 2012 should be no different. Both Italy and the Republic of Ireland have defensive mentalities and will attempt to stifle Spain in those games. Even Croatia, normally at team of an attacking nature will surely adopt a more defensive approach when going up against the number one team in the world.
The Spanish nation as well as the players and staff will be expecting a third international trophy in a row; it would take an exceptional team on top of their game to beat the Spanish. Bet against them at your Peril.
The Dutch had their hearts broken two years ago in South Africa, when a late Andres Iniesta goal handed Spain the world Cup at the expense of Holland, leaving the Dutch without an International trophy since 1988. Like Spain they have a number of extremely talented players including Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Rafael Van der Vaart, Klass-Jan Huntelaar, Dirk Kuyt and Robin Van Persie. Where Holland struggle and where coach Bert Van Marwijk will need to be at his best is turning what is normally a group of individuals into a team. He succeeded at the World Cup, but not without a price, sacrificing their normal attacking football style for a more defensive approach and despite it getting them to the final, they were criticised.
Holland are faced with the most difficult group in the competition, the “group of death” along with Germany, Portugal and Denmark. Despite the obvious difficulties of the group Holland should overcome Denmark and Portugal and then tussle with Germany for position of group winner. It will of course depend on the form of their attacking players and whether they can duplicate their performances of two years previously, but if Van Marwijk can combine their toughness of 2010 with a little more attacking freedom this time around then Holland more than capable of going all the way.
Holland have a lot to prove in international tournaments. With the exception of 1988, the country that gave us total football have usually been the bridesmaid rather than the bride. This squad will be determined to erase the World Cup Final, but can they?
Germany were the surprise package in South Africa in 2010, Joachim Loew had selected a very young side full of potential, who combined and very attack minded philosophy with German efficiency to great effect. Two years later the surprise factor may be gone, but the players in that young German side have evolved into very good players in their own right. Players such as Mezut Ozil, Thomas Muller, Manuel Neuer and Sami Khedira excelled at the World Cup and have established themselves in the first 11 because of it. Those four combined with Lukas Podolski, Bastien Schweinsteiger, Phillip Lahm, Mario Gomez, veteran striker Miroslav Klose and new additions such as Mats Hummels and Mario Gotze make Germany one of the clear favourites for Euro 2012.
Germany joins Holland, Portugal and Denmark in the Euro 2012 “group of death”. Given the quality the Germans posses and their penchant for tournament football, it is fully expected that they will get out of the group. The only question is in what position. The key fixture in Group B takes place on June 13th when Germany face Holland in the game that more then likely decide the outcome of the group as a whole and will more then likely avoid Spain until the final. Once out of the group, it will be fully expected that Germany will get to at least the semi-finals if not the final itself.
If history has showed anything, it’s you never right off the Germans. The longest they have gone without a trophy is 20 years; it has been 16 years since they last won in 1996. It is doubtful they will have to wait much longer.