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UEFA Euro 2016: Group D Focus

Euro Logos

Wow! Euro 2016 is not even a week away. Fast notes about the ten stadiums staging the Euro. Six were venues of the 1998 World Cup. The other four are new stadiums that opened anywhere from back this January to four years ago. Glad to see this Euro isn’t that big of an expense. Although five of the ‘older’ stadiums did need upgrades for this event. Anyways here’s my look at the Group D teams:

TurkeyTurkey (13): Turkey is a team known for its infrequent successes. It has competed in three Euros and two World Cups. It finished third in the 2002 World Cup–its first World Cup since 1954– and hasn’t qualified since. Turkey didn’t qualify for the 2004 Euro but finished in the semis in 2008 and didn’t qualify for 2012. Turkey’s back now. All but six players play for Turkey’s Super Lig, three play for German teams and captain Arda Turan plays for Barcelona. The team has done very well in play the past year and a half including wins against the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Sweden. Their only loss came to England two weeks ago and the score was 2-1. Turkey is one team that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Croatia ficedCroatia (23): Croatia has a reputation of being world class ‘minnows’ that will surprise you when you least expect it. However Vatreni has struggled to regain their strong reputation they had back in the late 1990’s. In fact the team’s play has been mostly quiet news. However they still should not be underestimated. They may have lacked a standout moment for the team in recent major tournaments but they’ve continued to exhibit consistent play. They may lack a standout superstar but they function excellently as a team unit. Since World Cup 2014, they’ve regained the consistency they’re known for. They’ve had wins against Russia, Israel, Norway and Bulgaria and have even drawn against Italy. The team has only had two losses in that time: against Argentina and Norway. In this group, their toughest opposition will be Spain as they’ve only won against them once in the last 25 years. In that same time, they’ve never lost to Turkey and the Czechs. Euro 2016 is another time for the team to prove themselves once again.

Spain FixedSpain (6): We’ve talked about England trying to recover from its 2014 World Cup embarrassment. England’s not alone. Spain entered the Cup as the reigning holders only to lose their first two Group games which meant their elimination as Group play concluded. Like England, La Roja didn’t drop their coach: Vicente Del Bosque. Their road to redemption did have a struggle for the remainder of 2014 as they lost three of their six 2014 games after the Cup. Spain did have challenges bringing in new players who aren’t as well seasoned as their veterans still on the team. However Spain were very good in qualifying for the Euro and their only loss in 2015 came to the Netherlands. This past week they scored big wins against Bosnia (3-1) and South Korea (6-1). No doubt they will be coming to France with something to prove.

Czech Republic fixedCzech Republic(29): The Czechs are an enigma in football. Since the divorce of Czechoslovakia in 1992, the team has qualified for every Euro even being finalists in 1996 and semifinalists in 2004. However they’ve only qualified for one World Cup: back in 2006 and they were out in Group Stage. Their play since the 2014 World Cup has also been enigmatic. They’ve lost to the United States, Slovakia, Iceland, Turkey, Poland and Scotland. However they’ve also won against Iceland, the Netherlands, Serbia and Russia. France will be another chance for the team to prove themselves.

Prediction: This is a tough one because both teams have a lot of strengths but they also have a lot of very noticeable weak spots. You could call this a ‘group of death.’ I predict Spain to top it with Croatia second and Turkey third.

And there are my thoughts for Group D. Next up my review of Group E.

UPDATE:

Here are my reviews of other groups:

 

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UEFA Euro 2016: Group C Focus

Super Victor

Meet Super Victor, mascot of Euro 2016.

This is actually my favorite group of the six because I’m 3/4 Ukrainian, 1/4 German. Plus I like Poland because Poland and Ukraine have a lot in common, especially in their language. Nevertheless this should make for an exciting group with a lot of rivalry. So here’s my review of Group C:

Poland fixedPoland (27): Poland may have a good World Cup legacy with seven appearances and two third-place finishes but they lack a Euro legacy with competing in only the last two and going out in the Group Stage both times. Last Euro was especially embarrassing since they were co-hosts and didn’t win a game. Since then the White Eagles has gotten better. And it’s not just with Robert Lewandowski becoming a star striker for Bayern Munich. It’s the whole team that has been performing consistently. In fact the team even scored their first ever win against Germany in October 2014 during Euro qualifying. They’ve had other notable wins in the past two years against Ireland, Czech Republic and Serbia. Their only loss in the past two years came to Germany when they got their Euro qualifying revenge last September. Before I even give my predictions, I can already say I know Poland will advance to the Round of 16 at the very least. Poland could be the team most likely to cause a surprise.

Northern IrelandNorthern Ireland (26): This is Northern Ireland’s first ever Euro. They’ve played in three World Cups before and even made the quarterfinals in 1958 but no previous Euro. The team may not have a George Best right now but they appear to be getting stronger in recent years. Five players play for the Premier League and they’ve scored notable wins against Hungary and Greece. Their two losses to European teams in the past two years were to Romania and Scotland. France could be another proving ground for the team.

Germany fixedGermany (5): You think that since they’ve won the World Cup in 2014, they should be top of the world, right? Well one of the reasons why they won the World Cup is because they had the most team unity and best team chemistry of all. No standout superstars, just one functioning team. And that’s how it should be. However three of its top players from World Cup 2014–Per Mertesacker, Phillipp Lahm and Miroslav Klose–retired immediately after. This led to dealing with a new team format since then and also into developing new national team players. Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, Andre Schurrle and Mario Gotze and still part of The Mannschaft but they’re also added some new younger talent too.

With the changes to the team, they’ve gone through some ups and downs. They qualified for the Euro top of their group. They’ve had some notable wins against Poland, Spain, Scotland and their traditional ‘Achilles heel’ Italy.  However they’ve also had some notable losses to Argentina, Poland, the U.S., France, England and most recently Slovakia. However Germany has a habit of coming alive when they most need to so it’s not right to dismiss them quite yet. Plus Euro 2016 could be the grounds for a lot of the new younger players to come of age. Only time will tell.

Ukraine FixedUkraine (22): Ukraine is a team that either gets better or keeps on learning over time. They first arrived as a team at the 2006 World Cup where they made the quarterfinals. However they’ve struggled to qualify for a World Cup since. They played in their first Euro in 2012 as co-hosts going out in the Group Stage. The current team mostly plays for teams in the Ukrainian Premier League. The current team has a lot of good talent like veteran Anatoliy Tymoschuk and rising great Andriy Yarmolenko. In the past year, the team has had some notable wins over Wales, Romania and Slovenia. Their only loss in 2015 came to Spain. In their history, they’ve either won or tied Northern Ireland, had mixed results against Poland and never won against Germany. Chances they could be on at Euro 2016.

Prediction: I think Germany vs. Poland will be a draw game and both teams will have the exact game results in all of group play. But I think Germany will come out on top over Poland because of goal differentials. Third place in this group will go to Ukraine.

And there you go. My thoughts on Group C. My thoughts on Euro 2016’s Group D coming soon.

UPDATE:

Here are my reviews of other groups:

UEFA Euro 2016: Group B Focus

UEFA-Euro-2016-Live

Here I am with my second review of the Euro 2016 Groups. One thing I won’t do for this tournament is review the stadiums like I did for the World Cups of 2014 and 2015. I prefer to restrict it to World Cups. Group reviewing is something I won’t stray away from. So without further ado, here’s my review of Group B:

WalesWales (24): This is Wales’ first ever Euro. They may have played in a single World Cup back in 1958 but this will be their first Euro. Some will say this is thanks to star player Gareth Bale but you could say it’s more thanks to coach Chris Coleman. Besides there are four other players on the team with more career caps than Bale.

The Dragons may not have the biggest combined talent but they can prove to be a surprise such as winning against Belgium and tying against Bosnia and Northern Ireland. However they will face a tough Group B. They’ve played Slovakia twice ever winning once and losing the other time. They’ve never won against Russia in the four times they’ve played them and they’ve lost to England more often than they’ve won against them. It will have to take the right play and right team unity if they want to get far.

SlovakiaSlovakia (32): This is Slovakia’s first ever Euro. They’ve competed at the 2010 World Cup before but never a Euro. Slovakia doesn’t have too many players on its national team playing for too many major leagues but they play very well as a team. In the past two years, they’ve had wins over Spain, Ukraine, Switzerland, Czech Republic and most recently Germany. They’ve also lost to Spain and Belarus. Leading to Euro 2016, their chances in Group play are iffy. The Falcons have always lost to England, have a win and a loss against Wales and have mixed results against Russia. France will be the grounds where they will take another step in defining themselves.

England fixedEngland (10): What do you do after your team has possibly their most humiliating result in World Cup play ever? Surprisingly England still kept coach Roy Hodgson after World Cup 2014. The Three Lions has since delivered excellent play since winning all but four of their games and losing only twice, to Spain and the Netherlands. Notable wins since include Germany and France. Hey, humiliation can be one helluva motivator.

The big question is can they continue their success streak into Euro 2016 all the way to the win. England has always had the reputation of bringing the most talented players to a major tournament but lacking the necessary team unity to win. They’ve shown since World Cup 2014 that England can play as a united team, and play very good. They will come to France with a lot of young talented players as well some of the young players of World Cup 2014 that have become well-seasoned over time and some older experienced veterans like Wayne Rooney. Euro 2016 will write another chapter for the team.

Russia FixedRussia (27): If there’s one team that’s struggling to make a name for itself, it’s Russia. Ever since the fall of the USSR in 1991, Russian football has struggled to get a reputation. It’s fallen out during the Group Stage in each of the three World Cups they’ve played. They’ve had better success at the Euro with a semifinals placement in 2008 but they’ve been Group Stage each of the three other times including the last Euro.

They want to deliver an excellent performance at this Euro especially with the fact they will host the 2018 World Cup. They want to send a message to the world they’re a force to be reckoned with. One thing Russia has returned to is hiring their own as head coach. In the past they hired foreign coaches like Guus Huddink and Fabio Capello to get their team in action. Now they have Leonid Slutsky who also coaches CSKA Moscow. All but one of the players are part of the Russian Premier League. They have a mixed record in the past two years. They have notable wins against Sweden and Portugal. They’ve only had three losses but to Austria, Croatia and France. Euro 2016 will not only be the arena for them to prove themselves once more but also to prepare en route to the big one in 2018.

Prediction: England has the most consistency. I think they will come out on top. Russia will come in second and Slovakia will come in third.

And there are my thoughts on Group B. Review of Group C up next.

UPDATE:

Here are my reviews of the other groups:

 

UEFA Euro 2016: Intro and Group A Focus

Euro Trophy

The Euro is expanded from a 16-team contest to a 24-team contest in 2016.

It’s that time for the second-biggest football tournament on the planet. The UEFA European Championships or EURO. The tournament returns to France, the host country of the very first Euro all the way back in 1960.

The Euro may not be the first continental championships but they are the biggest no doubt about that. The first Euro tournament was only a four-team tournament that consisted of two semifinals, a final and a third-place match. However qualifiers were held in the months leading up to determine the four as well as the host nation as hosting was relegated to one of the four semifinalists at that time. That would continue to be the play of the tournament until Italia 1980 when it was expanded into eight qualifying teams and the host nation decided years in advance. Group play was held for the first time with two groups of four to determine the four semifinalists. The Euro would really take off in 1996 when the number of teams in the tournament was expanded to 16 and have a quarterfinals added to the tournament for the first time.

Here in France, there is another expansion: to 24 teams. This tournament is also the first to feature a Round of 16 and ‘wildcard’ qualifiers as there will be six groups of four. There will be ten stadiums facilitating the matches in nine different cities. There was concern over security in the months leading up as Stade de France was one of the places bombed in the November 13 Paris bombings of ISIS. In fact there are videoclips of the match of France vs. Germany when the bombing took place. No one in the stadium was injured. France has made it clear that security will be a serious issue during the event and will use the maximum measured needed to facilitate.

Throughout the next two weeks, I will be focusing on the teams participating at the 2016 Euro group by group just like I do for most football tournaments. I will analyze each team per group and make my predictions on which two teams will advance as well as a third-place team. I think predicting the four wildcards who will advance will be too tricky. I’ll leave it at that. Also the number in brackets is the team’s FIFA ranking for May 2016. So here goes it for Euro 2016:

GROUP A:

France fixedFrance (21): So France is host nation for the third time. Les Bleus even won it as host back in 1984. France has a reputation of going all the way or going nowhere in major tournaments. Very rarely are they an in-between team. At the 2014 World Cup, France made an investment in putting a lot of young talent on their team and it paid off as Paul Pogba won the Best Young Player award and Raphael Varane was third. A lot of France’s young players like Pogba and Antoine Griezmann have come of age since. The current team consists of a good mix of young and old including 35 year-old captain Patrice Evra.

France however has had a lot of inconsistent moments in the months since the World Cup. They’ve had some noticeable losses to Brazil 3-1, Belgium 4-3, England 2-0 and Albania 1-0. They’ve also had some noteworthy wins like the Netherlands 3-2, two wins against Denmark last year and a 2-0 win against Germany which occurred on the day of the Paris attacks. France could just come alive as host nation again.

RomaniaRomania (19): Romania is a team whose success seems to come in waves. There’s usually a time when the team has what it takes to go far or a time when the team doesn’t have what it takes to even qualify. I still remember the period of time after the Romanian Revolution of 1989 when they had their best World Cup success and even made it past the Group Stage of Euro 2000 for the first time ever. The team is hoping to bring its success back here in France. However it won’t come without challenges. They did succeed in qualifying for Euro 2016 but drew in four of their last five matches. They have been able to bring both Italy and Spain to draws in the last 12 months so they are able to prove themselves to be tough opponents. We’ll see how they turn out here.

AlbaniaAlbania (45): This is Albania’s first ever appearance not just at a Euro but at any major tournament. Albania may lack the past successes of the other three teams but they are very capable of pulling surprises. That was especially noteworthy during their first game of Euro 2016 qualifying against Portugal whom they beat 1-0. Portugal’s loss embarrassed the team enough to find a new head coach. They’ve delivered other surprise wins over the past two years like 3-0 to Serbia and 1-0 to France. Albania still has a ways to go to prove themselves further. They’ve lost to Austria and Italy and have drawn against Georgia and Kosovo. However Euro 2016 could prove to be the stage for another upset by the team. They’re in their best form ever so now’s the time.

SwitzerlandSwitzerland (14): Switzerland is a team that’s also either on or off. They’ve been on at the World Cup when people least expect it but they’ve also been off especially when they play at the Euro. In fact they’ve never made it past the Group Stage in the three previous Euros they’ve played in. The current team doesn’t have that consistent of a record right now. They may have had notable wins against Slovenia and Austria but they’ve also had notable losses against Belgium, England, Slovakia, Ireland and Bosnia-Hercegovina. The latter is a bit disheartening since current head coach Vladimir Petkovic is from Bosnia. However they will have to come alive in France if they want to develop their reputation.

Trivia: Switzerland’s first Euro game against Albania should be noteworthy since six members of Switzerland’s team are ethnic Albanians!

MY PREDICTION: As I said, I only plan on predicting first, second and third. I expect France to come out on top with Switzerland second. I’ll take a chance and say Albania will be third.

And there are my thoughts on the first Euro 2016 group. Five more group reviews to go.

UPDATE:

Here are my other group predictions:

 

 

Euro 2012: It All Comes Down To The Finals

Will Spain win for the third time?
Or Italy for the second?

The Group Stage came and went. The quarterfinals came and went. The semifinals just finished. Now all that remains is the Euro Final to decide who wins the Henri Delaunay Cup. It’s between two teams: Italy and Spain. Both have their strengths. Both have their weaknesses. The question is who will win this year’s Euro?

SPAIN-To start things off, let’s have a look at the defending champion Spain. La Furia Roja has traditionally been known as football’s greatest underachievers: known for being a team loaded with talents players that gets eliminated from major tournaments sooner than most expect. Spain has sure changed a lot since 2008. The first sign of Spain’s new-found consistency came at the 2008 Euro. They won all their games and even survived a penalty shootout against Italy in the quarterfinals to meet Germany for the final. Tradition would have it that Germany would win. Instead Spain won 1-0.Then came the 2010 World Cup. After losing their first match against Switzerland, they really came alive. After that it was all straight wins. Even the knockout round resulted in 1-0 wins for Spain including the final for the Cup against Netherlands in overtime.

Euro 2012 has continued to showcase Spain’s consistency.  They started with a 1-1 draw against Italy but won their other Group C matches against Ireland and Croatia. A 2-0 win over France continued their success. It almost came to a halt against Portugal in a scoreless semifinal but penalty kicks gave Spain their ticket to the final.

ITALY-Italy has always been one of Europe’s greats in football. Hard to believe the Forza Azzurri have only ever won a single European Championship. The crazy thing is Italy has its good years and its bad years. When they have their good years, boy does it show. When they have their bad years, boy does it show too. It really showed at the 2010 World Cup when they failed to win any of their Group Stage games and faced an early exit. Ironically the 2010 team was coached by Marcello Lippi: the very coach who coached the Azzurri to the World Cup win in 2006.

Since the World Cup, Italy has been in rebuilding mode. They hired a new coach in Cesare Prandelli. They’ve kept some of their most consistent talent and even scouted out new talent, like young Mario Balotelli. Here at this Euro, they had a lot to prove and prove they did. The Group Stage was not easy however. They drew 1-1 against both Spain and Croatia. It took a 2-0 win over Ireland to guarantee them to the quarterfinals. Over in the quarterfinal against England, it was all theirs. They may have had a scoreless draw but their control of the ball and frequent attempts on goal showed they were ready to perform. It took a penalty kick round—England’s Achilles heel—to give them a berth in the semifinals. In the semi against Germany, they continued to perform well with continued ball control and phenomenal scoring from Balotelli. Italy has been known to be Germany’s Achilles heel and tradition continued with Italy’s 2-1 win. Interesting how Italy has already earned the UEFA berth for next year’s Conederations Cup since Spain has already qualified as the reigning World Cup holders.

Now comes the final. Interesting how we started the quarterfinal with two teams from four groups each, the semis had two teams from two different groups and now the final will have two teams from Group C. And we thought Group B was the Group Of Death. So who will win? Italy or Spain?

Spain looks poised to become the first team to successfully defend their title. Spain is also poised to join Germany as the only other nation to win a total of three Euros. It’s obvious Spain has a lot of strengths as they know how to control the ball well. However their scoring abilities have faded a bit in recent Euro matches. They went all out against Ireland but it was all scoreless against Portugal. They have to be as good at attacking as they are about ball possession. They’ve demonstrated against Ireland and France that they are good at scoring but they have to deliver when it matters. It’s going to be needed against Italy because they’re the team they drew against in the Group Stage.

As for Italy, they were lackluster in the Group stage and but came alive in the quarterfinals and semis. Like Spain, they’ve demonstrated ball control. They’ve also showed they can score well. However like Spain, they also showed that they can hold back in terms of attacking. Their scoreless game against England showed it. Joe Hart turned out to be one tough goalkeeper. If they play as well against Spain as they did against Germany, they could do it.

So what’s my prediction? I believe the game will be 1-1 with Spain winning on penalty kicks. Both teams drew in their Group Stage match. Both have demonstrated great ball control and both have stellar goalkeepers in Gianluigi Buffon for Italy and Iker Casillas for Spain. Both also have good scorers with Mario Balotelli for Italy and Xavi Alonzo and Fernando Torres for Spain. However neither is going to give way during the match and it would have to be penalty kick to decide it, in which Spain has the edge.

So will my prediction of Spain repeating hold true? It’s hard to say. A lot of my predictions have come true. However don’t forget I predicted a Portugal – England final in my article from last week. Anyways may the best team win in Kiev’s Olympic Stadium on Sunday.

Euro 2012: Now It’s Last Team Standing

Okay. The Group Stage is done and the Last-Team-Standing stage is about to start. The Groups have separated the eight contenders from the eight pretenders. The pretenders are now on their flights home. The contenders move to the quarterfinals where eight will become four. Then the semis are where the four will become two and the final is where the two will decide who wins this year’s Henri Delaunay Trophy. After giving analyses on the ousted teams, I’m glad I can now finally predict the winners. Before I do, here’s a rundown on the contending teams and their demonstrated play at Euro:

Group A winner: Czech Republic-They started out badly with a 4-1 loss to Russia but they came back with wins against Greece and Poland. All I can say is that I’m glad goalie Petr Cech got a wake-up call from Russia otherwise the Czechs wouldn’t have finished #1 in Group A. Actually the whole team woke up after their big loss to Russia. Also great scoring from Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar. As for continuing on, they have to play as well as they did in the last two matches because that match to Russia showed their vulnerability. If they don’t, they could face an early out because of Group B being the Group Of Death.

Group A runner-up: Greece-Another team that was alive one moment and down the next. They drew again Poland 1-1 which turned out to be better than anyone thought. They also lost to the Czechs 2-1. That meant they had to deliver against Russia like they meant it and boy did they ever with a 1-0 victory. That sent them to the quarterfinals. The question is can they go further? As I said with the Czechs, Group B was the Group Of Death so any one of the teams that made it would be a formidable opponent for them. We also shouldn’t forget that they came alive in Euro 2004 when they were the least expected team to win. They could pull an upset again here just as they did against Russia but they have to be dead on and make everything as a team work.

Group B winner: Germany-They’re the team that has it all right now. Excellent team play, smart coaching and straight wins. If one could make a judgment on who’s going to win the Henri Delaunay Trophy upon Group Stage play, I’m sure Germany would be your pick. However don’t forget Germany has been known to choke at World Cups and at Euros past. We shouldn’t forget they even got eliminated during Group Stage in 2000 and 2004. Germany has to remember to do things right and not get overconfident after their Group Stage success or they may be out sooner than they wanted.

Group B runner-up: Portugal-What can I say? Great team play and Cristiano Ronaldo as the highlight. The loss to Germany was the only downside to their Group Stage play. They have the potential to win. It’s just a matter of them doing it. We shouldn’t forget that they could be their own worst adversaries and get an early out, like last Euro when they were stopped at the quarterfinals. Portugal’s strong enough to win the Euro. But are they smart enough to make it happen?

Group C winner: Spain- The team that has been long known as football’s greatest underachievers keep on achieving. If you remember the World Cup, Spain gave a surprise win by winning all the knockout matches 1-0 including the final for the Cup. Here at the Euro, their winning was more spectacular. Nevertheless they did show some vulnerability as they drew against Italy 1-1 and beat Croatia with 1-0. Hopefully in the knockout matches they can deliver on demand because that trick of trying to win 1-0 may just backfire. Some of their rivals may have thing or two up their sleeve. If they want to be the first ever team to successfully defend their Euro, they have to do what it takes.

Group C runner-up: Italy-The Azzuri had something to prove after their disappointment at the 2010 World Cup. They’ve made it through but it wasn’t a strong performance. 1-1 draws against Spain and Croatia and a 2-0 win against Ireland. That doesn’t look very strong for a team like Italy. They now have to start performing.  They have however demonstrated improvement since the World Cup but here in the knockout games they have to play harder. I don’t know if they are still trying to get their power back or if they were just playing conservatively in the Group Stage but they can’t take any chances here.

Group D winner: England-If there was any inability to play as a team, the Red Devils didn’t let it show. A 3-2 win against Sweden and a controversial 1-0 win against Ukraine shows the familiar winning flare of England. However conceding two goals against Sweden and drawing against France highlights their weak spots. They really have to come together in the knockout stage because they could face some tough rivalry from the other teams. Also England has never won a Euro in the past. Now more than ever should they show the world what England is made of.

Group D runner-up: France-Italy wasn’t the only country seeking redemption at the Euro after a disappointing 2010 World Cup. Les Bleus were hoping too and they’re on the right path, if not completely smooth. Their 2-0 win against Ukraine showed they’re on and their 1-1 draw against England showed they’re getting their strength back. But the 2-0 loss to Sweden shows they still have some obvious weaknesses. If they want to win the Euro, they really have to play smarter than in their game against Sweden. Group C was a tough group. Any bad moves or lack of team chemistry and it’s over for them sooner than they wanted.

Okay enough of my summary. Now for my predictions for the quarterfinals, semifinals and final for the Cup:

Quarterfinals:

Czech Republic vs. Portugal – The Navigators will win. Portugal has a competitive edge over the Czech Republic and it shows no signs of slowing down. Even in Group Stage they showed their consistency by finishing second in the Group Of Death.

Germany vs. Greece – The Mannschaft. Germany hasn’t played Greece in eleven years. However Germany is looking very strong and hard for Greece to beat.

Spain vs. France – La Furia Roja will win. It used to be France in the past that had the competitive edge. Now Spain is the team with the strength while France is still in rebuilding mode.

England vs. Italy – England will win with the possibility of penalty kicks. It’s been ten years since England played Italy and it was a loss. Mind you Italy is still in rebuilding mode. The Three Lions have shown they’re on and look very likely to beat the Azzuri to the win.

Semifinals – Assuming my predictions turn out right:

Portugal vs. Spain – Portugal in overtime. Both teams look strong. Spain and Portugal have always had a rivalry with split results. I think Portugal has the edge because Spain has had some iffy plays lately.

Germany vs. England – Oh boy. A rematch of the 2010 World Cup Round of 16. These two have also had a heated rivalry with results split both ways. I think it will be the Three Lions on penalty kicks. Mind you I’m sure England hasn’t forgotten the goal that wasn’t called.

Final for the win:

Portugal vs. England – If my predictions run true and the two actually meet for the final then Portugal will win. Portugal has the competitive edge over England this century and I don’t think it will change here.

 So there you have it. My predictions for the knockout rounds. Don’t forget I’m well-aware that any of the teams I predict to lose could in fact win. It would make some interesting changes. However I’m not putting any money on my guesses and you shouldn’t either!

Euro 2012: Anyone’s Game

Mascots Slavek and Slavko can’t wait for Euro 2012 to begin!

The World Cup is definitely the most exciting and anticipated football/soccer tournament in the World. Next in line would have to be the UEFA European Football Championships, or the ‘Euro’. Like the World Cup, it takes place once every four years. Also like the World Cup, it is a contest of the last team standing to win the Cup. This year’s Euro will take place in two countries: Poland and Ukraine from June 8th to July 1st. This is the first time the two countries have hosted a soccer tournament this huge. The draw for the First Round groups were decided back in December and people have made predictions which country will win the championships. This is not easy as it involves group play in the first round and the second round being the last team standing.

For my part, I won’t predict the winner. What I will do is give an analysis of each country group by group in terms of what to expect in terms of current skill and even possible surprises (FIFA ranking of May 2012 in brackets):

GROUP A

-Czech Republic (26)-The Czech Republic always has a talent-loaded team each time they make a tournament like the World Cup or Euro. It’s just a matter of them being on the ball. Since Czechoslovakia split up in 1992 and the Czech Republic has fielded its own team, it has participated in all four Euros since and their performances include being a finalist in 1996 and a semifinalist in 2004. They’ve also been known to lose out early as in the other two Euros and their only World Cup appearance in 2006 where they started strong but racked up a lot of injuries. Lately they’ve been looking strong as they’ve won or drew five of their last six friendlies. Will they go the distance at Euro or will they lose out early? It’ll all be determined in Poland.

-Greece (14)-In the past, Greece’s football team was never thought of as much. Greece’s team of today is a lot different that their team of twenty or even ten years ago.  Never underestimate Greece as they are very capable of pulling a surprise. They were the team at the 2004 Euro that was least expected to win and they won. They do have an Achilles Heel and it’s evident as they tied 1-1 in friendlies against Belgium and Slovenia this year. Nevertheless they could prove to be a very formidable opponent this year. Knowing that the nation of Greece has been going through a lot of violent rioting and huge economic turmoil this past year, a win of the Euro could lift the spirits of the country.

-Poland (65)-Poland’s international prowess is always in question. They’ve qualified for seven World Cups in the past and even finished 3rd twice yet only qualified for one other Euro: the previous one. They currently have the lowest FIFA ranking of all the teams at this year’s Euro but were able to tie Portugal and defeat Slovakia, two countries with higher rankings, in recent Friendly play. Being in the weakest of the first round groups–this is the only group without a team in FIFA Top 10– could be an advantage, as well as playing home field. A surprise could await.

-Russia (11)-Russia has always been known to have a strong football team even after the breakup of the USSR back in 1991. Nevertheless acquiring big achievements has always been a challenge for them. They’ve qualified only two World Cups in 1994 and 2002 and failed to advance past the first round both times. They’ve also had lackluster showings at Euros until they had a breakthrough in 2008, qualifying for the semifinal. There’s no question Russia wants to do well here. The next World Cup is two years away and they’ll host the World Cup right after in 2018. They’ve even acquired coach Dick Advocaat to get their team ready. They’re already looking strong as they beat Denmark and Italy in friendlies this year. Hopefully this Euro could write a new chapter for their team.

GROUP B

-Denmark (10)-Denmark is a country that has really come alive in the last 30 years. They’ve qualified for four World Cups and even made it to the quarterfinals in 1998. Their Euro achievements have been better as they qualified for seven Euros including winning in 1992 and qualifying for the semifinals in 1984. They are a strong team as they’ve won friendlies against Portugal and Sweden last year but they also lost to Russia months ago. Nevertheless they could pull a surprise. Don’t forget that their winning 1992 Euro happened as they were a replacement team for Yugoslavia. Also don’t forget this is a tight group: the group most called the ‘group of death’. All four countries ranked in FIFA’s Top 10 which means any two of them can qualify for the quarterfinals and even Denmark has a good shot. It’s all a matter of who delivers.

-Germany (2)-The Mannschaft are always considered heavy contenders and this Euro is no exception. However they too are known for choking big at Euro. They’re the only country ever to win the Euro three times and they even made the finals three other times.  However thy have failed to move past the first round in 2000 and 2004. Being in the ‘Group Of Death’ could go either way for Germany. They’re always at their most consistent during World Cup play and they showed in the 2010 that they’re still a strong team. However they’ve lost their two friendlies of this year: against Switzerland and France. Will they show the strength they’re known for at Euro 2012 or will they face an early out? Anything’s possible here.

-Netherlands (4)-Netherlands has what it takes to win; no doubt about it. However they could face an early out. We shouldn’t forget at the last Euro, the Orange were eliminated in the quarterfinals by Russia. This Euro could provide for some interesting results. They’re already known for consistency at the Euro as they’ve always made it past the First Round since 1980. They’ve since won in 1988 and made three semifinals. Since the 2010 World Cup where they made it to the finals, they’ve been ranked #1 in the World back in August 2011. Could they return as champions? It’s possible as they’ve won their last three friendlies but they did lose to Germany in a friendly in November 2011. It can go any way here.

-Portugal (5)-If any country seems to have come from nowhere to become a major force in the soccer world, it has to be Portugal. Before the 90’s it’s had successes in the past with a third at both the 1966 World Cup and 1984 Euro. Nevertheless they would rarely qualify for those events. Starting in the 90’s, Portugal’s football prowess has grown tremendously. They’ve qualified for the past three World Cups and even came in fourth back in 2006. They’ve also qualified for every Euro since 1996 where they even made it to the semifinals in 2000 and finals in 2004 when they were co-hosts. They have the power and the talent to perform well at Euro 2012. Nevertheless they do have an Achilles Heel as they’ve played to scoreless draws in friendlies against Poland and Macedonia this year and even lost to Turkey recently. Will The Navigators excel or will they choke? It’s all in their hands.

GROUP C

-Croatia (8)-Ever since the collapse of Yugoslavia, Croatia has proven themselves to be the little country that can. The Blazers have been able to qualify for four of five Euros and three out of four World Cups including a third-place finish in 1998. The team of that World Cup is known as Croatia’s “Golden Generation”. However the country has been in a struggle ever since most of the Golden Generation have retired. They have had their ups and downs in the past twelve years. This year’s team hopes to revive the successes of the Golden Generation but it won’t come without a fight. Recent friendly results include ties to Ireland and Norway and a loss to Sweden. Nevertheless Croatia could just deliver here and make this their best ever Euro.

-Italy (12)-The Azzuri’s Euro record is just as impressive as its World Cup record as it has won once in 1968, finalists in 2000 and semifinalists in 1980 and 1988. But it too has a habit of choking. The last two Euros have been dismal for them. And they choked badly at the 2010 World Cup. Not pleasant at all when you’re defending Cup champions. They have worked hard to improve its reputation since and even hired a new coach: Cesare Prandelli. It hasn’t been completely easy. Their friendly play these past twelve months have been a mixed bag: they won against Spain and Poland but lost against Ireland, Uruguay and the USA. Will Italy play like the Italy we’ve always known them to be or will they struggle again? It all starts June 11th in Gdansk.

-Republic Of Ireland (18)-Ireland is actually better at qualifying for the World Cup than it is at qualifying for the Euro. It has qualified for three World Cups but only one Euro: way back in 1988. It has the lowest ranking of the four teams of this group but it could pull a surprise. In fact it tied Croatia and beat Italy in friendly games within the last 12 months. Ireland also drew 1-1 against the Czech Republic. Besides Euro wins from Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004 remind us not to count the little guys out. So don’t count Ireland out.

-Spain (1)- Spain has always been referred to as ‘football’s greatest underachievers’. They have an excellent team full of talent and capable of winning, but often lose out early in the tournament. Last Euro was a big turnaround for La Furia Roja as they won it. They also went on to win the World Cup in 2010. Finally the greatest underachievers were achieving. They could continue their achievements or they could go back to being the Spain the football world knows. Another important thing to take note of is no winning team has successfully defended their title at the Euro. As for Spain, they’ve so far continued to show their strength in friendlies play this past year but they did lose to Italy 2-1 in one match. This Euro will tell another story of Spain and it will either be continued consistency or back to choking. Time will tell.

GROUP D

-England (7)- It’s the same story all over again. The Three Lions always has a team that can boast of some of the best combined talent in the world. The problem is when they get to a major event like Euro or the World Cup, the TriLi’s aren’t the best at playing as a team unit. They almost always lose out too soon. While they’ve only won one World Cup, they’ve never won a Euro. They’ve qualified for the tournament seven times and their best finish was being a semifinalist twice. This Euro could be different if England plays well as a team unit. Their play in friendlies has been very good as they beat Sweden and Spain and only lost to the Netherlands. Will this be England’s first-ever win at the Euro? It will all be decided this month.

-France (16)-Les Bleus are an enigmatic team. They can go all the way or lose out fast. In the past four World Cups, they’ve been champions in 1998, runners-up in 2006 and out in the First Round in both 2002 and 2010. Even the Euro has seen their all-or-nothing play pay off or fall flat. They’ve won the Euro twice, including 2000 as reigning World Cup holders. However they lost out in the first round at the last Euro. This coming Euro will be a chance to prove themselves again as the team has gone through massive reconstruction since their disappointing World Cup in 2010. Can they bounce back? They’ve been looking impressive in friendlies as they’ve beaten the USA and Germany. The 2012 Euro looks like the playing fields for their redemption.

-Sweden (17)-Sweden is a country that has had their ups and downs in the past. They’ve qualified for eleven World Cups where they’ve been finalists once and semifinalists three other times. As for Euro, they’ve qualified for five including this one and their best finish was the semifinals back in 1992. This year’s team has potential to do well. In recent friendly play they’ve won against Ukraine, Croatia and Serbia but also lost to England and Denmark. Will they have it all together at Euro 2012? It’s all up to them.

-Ukraine (50)- Even though they’re co-hosting Euro, this will be the very first Euro the team will have ever played in. Even though they competed at the 2006 World Cup where they made it to the quarterfinals, they have yet to prove themselves amongst the best European teams. Like co-host Poland, they’re the only other country not in FIFA’s Top 30. Nevertheless they could pull a surprise. In their last seven friendlies, they’ve won five and tied Germany 3-3. So they could still prove to be a surprise contender. Homefield could prove to be an advantage. Never has there been a better time to seize the moment.

And there you have it. The summary of each team competing at Euro 2012. There are many heavy favorites but even they have weaknesses that could cause them to lose out even as early as the First Round. There are also teams that have minimal expectations that could perhaps pull a surprise. It all starts with Poland playing Greece in Warsaw’s National Stadium on Friday June 8th, twenty-nine matches in between, and ends with the winner decided July 1st in Kiev’s Olimpiyskiy Stadium. Excitement awaits.