Yesterday, Kevin Taylor gave you his predictions for Euro 2012. Today, his partner in crime Stephen Bateman gives you his. Let us know who you think got it right!
3. Czech Republic
This group is so predictable that it leaves me feeling a little uneasy. Russia should be looking at taking maximum points in such a weak group, but the second qualifying slot could conceivably go to any one of their three rivals. Greece are still surfing the wave of an excellent qualifying tournament, while it’s almost impossible to assess how much benefit a very average Poland side will derive from having a partisan home crowd behind them. Although they’re probably going to fall well short of progression to the next round, look for the Poles to influence the outcome of the group by taking points from either Greece or the Czechs.
I’ve little doubt that this group will be decided when one of European football’s greatest rivalries is resumed in Kharkiv on June 13th. Whenever Germany and the Netherlands square up to each other you can guarantee that the atmosphere will be laced with a potent mixture of historical, social, and political antagonism. And that’s without even mentioning the scar that the former West Germany carved into Holland’s footballing psyche when they visited “the mother of all defeats” upon the legendary Total Football team in the 1974 World Cup Final. Portugal are undoubtedly a better side than Denmark, but in terms of competition know-how the Danes always seem capable of knuckling down and pulling off at least one shock result.
4. Republic of Ireland
Spain will not only win this group , they’ll also win the tournament – let’s just clear that up for everybody here and now. But as is also the case in Group A, it looks like there could be an intriguing tussle for the second qualification slot. The ‘Azzuri’ were the disgrace of Italy after a disastrous showing in the 2010 World Cup finals, and the current crop of players will be keen to restore some credibility. Croatia, on the other hand, are a team that you write off at your peril, and in Tottenham midfielder Luka Modric they have one of the classiest players to have graced the international stage in recent years. The Irish will fight, but they’re a little out of their depth in what appears to me as being the most competitive group out of the four. Expect Croatia to squeak past an Italian side that will at least give their impassioned supporters something to cheer about.
Anybody who witnessed France’s 4-0 demolition of Estonia on Tuesday will be only too aware of how lethal they are when going forward. Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema both signalled their intent by turning in performances that could truly be described as being world class, and it’s difficult to see how any team will succeed in shutting them down for a full 90 minutes. However, for all their potency up front the French are still a liability when it comes to protecting their own net, so what looks on paper like a fairly uninspiring group could yet prove to be the highest scoring out of the lot. Sweden may be the ones to break up the party, however, and they will most likely look to stifle the life out of their opponents while hoping that they might sneak a winner from set-piece play. England will miss talismanic striker Wayne Rooney during their first two matches, but they will probably stumble their way through into the final eight. The jokers in this particular pack will most likely be Ukraine and – much like their co-hosts Poland – they are in many ways an unkown quantity that could potentially pull off at least one major upset.
Russia vs. Netherlands
Although it doesn’t initially appear as being an appetising prospect, any meeting between these two sides could prove to be one of the highlights of the competition. Neither team is noted for being predictable, although the Dutch have slowly begun to shed their reputation as being Europe’s ‘coulda woulda shoulda’ merchants. That said, I’m expecting a big tournament from the Russians, so don’t count on the ‘Oranje’ going any further.
Germany vs. Greece
If these two teams meet in the quarters I’d strongly recommend that you make other plans for the evening. German efficiency against Greek stoicism is never going to be pretty. Germany march on.
Spain vs. England
For all that the English often flatter to deceive, on their day they can run with the best that European football has to offer, and in November 2011 they demonstrated that fact by beating Spain at Wembley. With Rooney back to lead the line, Roy Hodgson’s men could pull off the shock of the summer and oust the reigning World Champions but, as stated above, in order for that to happen England would have to get everything right on the day. Too much to ask? Probably. Take Spain to win a tense affair.
France vs. Croatia
Again, this potential match-up could be a classic in the making. We’ve already looked at the strengths and weaknesses of the French, and we know that Modric will be weaving his wizardry in the Croatian midfield. France are probably the stronger side, but Slaven Bilic knows how important team chemistry is in major tournaments, and I expect the Croats to shock many pundits by grinding their way into the semis.
Russia vs. Germany
I keep on stressing this, and maybe I’m only setting myself up for a gigantic fall, but do not underestimate just how good this Russian outfit is. And while I fully appreciate that the Germans are probably many people’s favourites to meet Spain in the final, I can’t help but worry that their recent changing of the guard in central defence may come back to haunt them when they come under sustained pressure as they inevitably will do during these latter stages. Upset? You betcha. Russia to squeak past in a thriller.
Spain vs. Croatia
I can only ever imagine that this face-off would end in a rather lop-sided outcome with Spain barely having to shift gear in order to make it past the plucky Croats. They’re just too good at running the legs off teams with their neat interchanges and triangular passing movements. Spain all the way.
Russia vs. Spain
This is where the impossible dream comes to an end for the Russians. Spain are simply the dominant force in world football at this point in time and – when Euro 2012 reaches its ultimate climax in Kiev – they’ll prove the matter beyond all doubt by winning their third major trophy on the bounce.