Tag Archives: Greece

World Cup 2014 Preview: Group C

Group C may look like a more relaxed group as compared to groups like Group B, Group D or Group G, but don’t be so quick to dismiss. There have been teams from nowhere that would come to surprise and finish high, if not win. Group C may come with one of those surprisers and it could be any of the four teams. All four have reputations of being ‘sleeping giants’ and it could be right here in Brazil where they finally arrive. Here’s my rundown:

Colombia-Colombia (5)- Colombia is one of many great teams who never had the change to deliver well at the World Cup. There was a period in the 90’s when they were one of the best teams in the world but during those three World Cups, they only made it past the Group Stage once and even then only got as far as the Round of 16. It’s a question of what it was: not all being together, political tension at the time, best players sidelined. We’ll never know. But now there’s a new Colombian team picking up where the previous one left off. They’re currently ranked in FIFA’s Top 5 and they’re hoping to deliver this time around. They have the players and the clout. They also have a good coach in Jose Pekerman who often selects players for a specific role rather than their profile. He was successful in coaching Argentina to the quarterfinals in 2006. They’ve even played well in recent games, tying Netherlands 0-0 and beating Belgium 2-0. Colombia can finally arrive on the World Cup scene here in Brazil.

Greece ficed-Greece (10)- This is one team whose prowess over the years has grown considerably. Their first World Cup was in 1994 and they were uninspiring: losing all three of their matches and scoring no goals while conceding ten. Things have really picked up for Greek football since. They were the surprise winners of Euro 2004. They returned to the World Cup and even though they didn’t advance past the Group Stage, they still had the benefit of winning a game: 2-1 against Nigeria. For 2014, they’re a top-ranked team in good hands with Portuguese coach Fernando Santos who has been very successful coaching in both Portugal and Greece. He guided Greece to the quarterfinals of Euro 2012 and to a consistent track record since, losing only to Bosnia-Hercegovina and South Korea. This is possibly Greece’s best team ever and there’s no better time than now for them to prove themselves.

Ivory Coast-Ivory Coast (21)- At every World Cup since 1986, there’s been at least one African country that advances past the Group Stage. Some have made it as far as the quarterfinals. Many have expected the Ivory Coast–or Cote d’Ivoire– to be that team but ‘The Elephants’ have played below expectations in their two World Cup appearances in 2006 and 2010. Even though they have Didier Drogba, one of the greatest African football players ever, he can’t be a one-man team. Nevertheless the team has been very consistent in recent years. Much from the help of French coach Sabri Lamouchi who has guided the team these past couple of years. They finished second in the African Cup of Nations in 2012 and even tied Belgium 2-2 in a friendly this year. Even at 36, Drogba still looks and plays strong and the team consists of other good talents like Manchester City star Yaya Toure and promising young gun Serge Aurier. This could finally be The Elephants’ year.

Japan-Japan (47)- No other nation has experienced increased growth of football in the last 20 years the way Japan has. It all started with the creation of the J League in 1993 when football really took off and helped Japan qualify for their first World Cup in 1998. They’ve qualified for every World Cup since even co-hosting in 2002 where they made it to the Round of 16 for the first time. Success continues for the Blue Samurais. They’re coached by Italian Alberto Zaccheroni They feature star players in the top European leagues including Keisuke Honda with AC Milan and Shinji Kagawa with Manchester United. From the first year Zaccheroni assumed the role of Japan’s coach, they won the 2011 Asian Cup. They’ve has mixed results in international play these past two years but have shown their strength trough ties against the Netherlands 2-2 and wins against France 1-0, Belgium 3-2, Ghana 3-1 and South Korea 2-1. They may rank low on FIFA’s chart but they could perform above expectations here.

Now my prediction for the two that will advance. It’s a toughie but I believe it will be Colombia and Greece that will advance.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

Now that I’m done all the stadiums that will just hold Group Stage, I’ll now be focusing on stadiums that will host matches in the knockout rounds. One is brand new while one is older and has a reputation. Both will be known for their capacity and features and are both expected to have sufficient post-World Cup use.

-RECIFE : Arena PernambucoPernambuco

Year Opened: 2013

World Cup Capacity: 46,154

World Cup Groups Hosting: A, C, D, G

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (D1 vs. C2)

Pernambuco is a new stadium that was built not just for the World Cup but for last year’s Confederations Cup too. Pernambuco is a new stadium not just built for the World Cup and for Recife to have a new football stadium but also to give a financial boost to a deprived area of the city. Plans for the surrounding area include a university campus, indoor arena, hotel and convention centre, plus commercial, business and residential units and a large entertainment complex with shopping centres, cinemas, bars and restaurants. The biggest feature of the stadium is its intent to be a ‘Green Arena’ relying on solar power and even serving the purpose of being a solar power plant to power 6,000 people when not used for game play and be part of the research and development of solar power in Brazil. Football club Nautico Capibaribe is expected to make this stadium home after the World Cup.

-FORTALEZA: Estadio CastelaoFBL-BRAZIL-WC2014-FORTALEZA-CASTELAO ARENA

Year Opened: 1973

World Cup Capacity: 67,037

World Cup Groups Hosting: A, C, D, G

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (B1 vs. A2) & one quarter-final

Castelao is one of the few stadiums at this year’s World Cup to go through two major renovation projects. The first came in 2000 and it was a three-stage project that lasted a year. Then once it was assigned as a hosting venue for the World Cup, it was given a twenty-month reconstruction project starting in March2011: a mere ten years after the first set of renovations were completed. Whatever the situation, Castelao was the first World Cup venue to be completed, back in December 2011. Castelao was one of the venues for last year’s Confederations Cup. Castelao Stadium has always been a venue that has hosted big events in the past. Castelao plans to continue to host major concerts and serve as host venue for Ceara and Fortaleza Sporting Clubs.

And there you have it. My take on Group C and two more stadiums reviewed. Five more groups and six more stadiums to go.

Movie Review: Before Midnight

Greece becomes the setting for the latest film of  Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) in Before Midnight.

Greece becomes the setting for the latest film of
Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) in
Before Midnight.

It’s the summer which means now is the time for movies to win crowds over for the top of the box office. Before Midnight doesn’t seem like the type of film that the summer movie crowd would rush out to see. Those lucky enough to give it a chance will be delighted.

NOTE: I know that Before Midnight is the third film in a series that includes Before Sunrise and Before Sunset which I will refer to as the ‘Jesse & Celine’ series. For the sake of the review, I will review Before Midnight without comparing them to the two previous films.

The film starts as Jesse is seeing his son Hank off back home to Chicago after spending the summer with him and Celine in the Greek Peninsula of Peloponnese. On the ride back to the house of their friend Patrick, the two have a discussion while their twin daughters are sleeping. Jesse has been doing well as a writer but wants to spend more time with Hank and give him a healthy childhood. Meanwhile Celine has been considering a job with the government back in Paris.

The visit at Patrick’s place becomes a moment of tranquility as the people staying with them, especially the other couples, talk about love and life. The couples even share their own experiences and feelings about each other and their relationships as Jesse and Celine are the centerpiece of it all. Patrick even gives his insight about Jesse future as a novelist in this time of electronic media.

Then Jesse and Celine head to the hotel the guests bought for them so they could spend some time alone. The walk seems light and sweet as the two talk about how they’ve met and how they’ve changed since then. However it’s in the suite that the friction starts. We learn that Hank’s mother back in Chicago is a suicidal alcoholic and citizenship laws can’t bring him to live with the two. We also learn that this government job is an opportunity of a lifetime for Celine. Then the fears about their future start pouring out from both of them which causes Celine to storm out of the hotel room leaving their relationship in question. The movie ends on the right notes in tune with the reality of the situation and allows the audience to decide the end of this story for themselves.

Even without the whole ‘Jesse & Celine’ factor, the film has the ability to stand well alone. The best quality of the film is that it’s one of the most thorough scripts I’ve seen when it comes to being about a relationship. The film focuses on the highlights and the struggles of the relationship between Jesse and Celine but it also features a scene at the house of Patrick and the other couples at the villa. The scene shows the couples young and old and their relationships where they talk about all the factors going into their love and their relations. There’s even talk from those no longer married. That scene adds to the story of Before Midnight. It’s a common trait of Richard Linklater to add conversations of others in situations involving the main plot of his films.

The other quality of the film is not just the film about being about relationships but of how two people can make or break it either by who they are, what they do or even what point in their lives they’re at. A lot of it has to do with the development of the characters. Jesse is the dreamer writer who tries to balance his imagination with his reality. He has become a successful writer as he’s on the verge of writing another novel. He appears to be in a happy relationship to Celine and a good father to his twin girls. However he wants to spend more time with his son in Chicago because he doesn’t trust his son’s mother. In the meantime, Celine is on the verge of a major career opportunity. This request from Jesse couldn’t come at a worse time. Celine however is the opposite of Jesse as she is very business oriented and does let her surrounding factors get to her. At the beginning of the film, you think this is a problem that will eventually sort itself out over time but it doesn’t. In fact all factors come into play such as the couple’s individual personalities, their vocations, Jesse’s fame as a writer, their roles as parents, their past selves, their genders, their current middle-ages and even their concepts of what they will be many years from now.

The thoroughness of the subject of relationships is one of the best qualities of the story. Another quality of the story is how the status of the relationship changes with every trip they make and every location they’re both at. In fact it’s all within a single day for changes to happen for the two to go from a family during a drive from the airport to one of the couples at Patrick’s house to a happy couple walking the streets of the town to a relationship in trouble at the hotel suite. That’s another strong addition to Before Midnight having all this happening in one day.

You have to give kudos to Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. It’s this trio that made it work in their collaborative scriptwriting, Richard’s directing and Ethan’s and Julie’s acting. You can bet with this series practically being Richard’s baby he would deliver a third movie that adds to the story of Jesse & Celine and he does it very well. Ethan and Julie have to know their roles of Jesse and Celine if they want to deliver performances that show them aging and growing believably in order for this movie to make the story of the two progress and even add to the series. Mind you it’s not just Richard, Ethan and Julie that deliver in this movie. Walter Lassally was a charming scene-stealer as Patrick and the dinner guests also added to the film very well. Another standout was the cinematography of Christos Voudouris that captured the feel of Greece in the movie.

Before Midnight may or may not be the last film in the Jesse & Celine series. Nevertheless it is an excellent and intelligent movie as it is and adds to the series. People who loved Before Sunrise and Before Sunset will not be disappointed.Those from the summer movie crowd who don’t bother to see this film don’t know what they’re missing.

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: With One Last Group Stage Game Left

Go Slavek! Go Slavko!

It’s always that way whether it’s the Euro or World Cup. The Group Stage is always what separates the contenders from the pretenders. The contenders qualify for the quarterfinals and keep playing until the last team is standing. The pretenders pack for home earlier than they hoped. This Euro has told a lot about each of the four teams in each of the four groups. So with the final game for each group’s teams coming up, here’s my team-by-team rundown:

GROUP A

Russia- They have been the class of the group so far with their 4-1 win against the Czechs. But they would soon find themselves humbled by Poland with a 1-1 draw. Even a simple draw against Greece would have them advancing and it would have to take a win from the Czechs or a big win from the Poles to displace Russia from #1. The only way Russia could fail to qualify is if they lose to Greece by at least a -4 goal differential and either team from the other game winning. Otherwise Russia is very comfortable in qualifying.

Czech Republic- Czechs are also comfortable as they could just simply draw against the Poles and still advance. They may have taken a beating from Russia but their win against Greece keeps their hopes alive. Mind you it’s very chancy. Poland has pulled some surprises. If Poland wins, Czechs are packing early. Simple as that.

Poland-If there’s one team in this group that had the most to prove, it was Poland. The team at Euro with the lowest FIFA ranking (65th), they had something to prove and boy have they done it. They haven’t won a game yet but they’ve drawn 1-1 against Greece in the Euro opener and even drawn 1-1 against Russia. The latter is remarkable since Russia had one of the tournament’s biggest winning games so far. Goes to show what a homefield advantage can do. Since Greece and the Czech Republic already have a loss, this puts Poland at an advantage as they face their final Group Stage match against the Czech Republic. Already Poland is ranked 3rd in the group standings. A win, and nothing less, is what it takes for them to qualify for the quarterfinals. Can they do it?

Greece-They drew hosts Poland in the opening game and then lost to the Czech Republic. This is it plain and simple. They need to have nothing less than a win of +3 goal differential against Russia if they are to have any chance at qualifying. The winner of the Poland vs. Czech Republic game will be the one qualifying and Russia already has a 4-1 win. Even if the Poles and the Czechs draw, Czech Republic will be the one moving on if Greece doesn’t win.

GROUP B

Germany- They seem to have it the most comfortable of all teams at this Euro. Two games, two wins. That doesn’t mean they’re completely guaranteed a berth in the quarterfinals. The only ways Germany can fail to qualify is if Portugal wins and Denmark wins either 1-0, 2-1 or with a +2 goal differential. That just shows how tight it is in this Group of Death. There’s no telling what will happen. Even though Germany’s comfortable right now, who know? A simple draw against Denmark can have them qualifying #1 in their group but don’t forget the Danes surprised the Dutch.

Portugal- Portugal started out with a 1-0 loss against Germany and then came roaring back against Denmark with a 3-2 win. Even though Portugal and Denmark have the same win-loss stats and goal differentials, Portugal has the advantage because their win was bigger than Denmark’s 1-0 win. Draws in the next games will help Germany and Portugal advance. The only chance Portugal doesn’t have of qualifying is if the Netherlands wins and both Denmark even so much as draws Germany. Knowing that all final games of the Group Stage are simultaneous, there are no taking chances. And Portugal wouldn’t want to do that.

Denmark-They were the surprise of the group. Lowest ranked of the four but they beat Netherlands 1-0 and give Portugal a strong challenge in their 3-2 loss. They can qualify not just by simply drawing against Germany but if the Netherlands beat Portugal. Otherwise nothing less than a win against Germany is what they need to move on.

Netherlands-The problem with being in the Group Of Death is that even the best teams in the World can face stiff competition and look less powerful than they are. Netherlands is the team that had it the worst here at the Euro. A 0-1 loss to Denmark and a 2-1 loss to Germany. Its only chance of qualifying comes not just in beating Portugal but in Germany beating Denmark. Anything less and the Dutch are packing. This should make for an interesting match. Will the Dutch play hard and well or will it all be in vain?

GROUP C

Spain-Funny how they used to be known as ‘football’s greatest underachievers’ and they sure have been achieving a lot in the last five years. They’ve continued their achieving here with a 4-0 victory against Ireland and a healthy 1-1 draw against Italy. Their lead is comfortable enough that they could still qualify if they lose against Croatia and Ireland draws against Italy. Mind you they could be out if they lose to Croatia and Italy wins. This group may not be as much of a group of death as Group B but they have their own tight statistics that can even cause Spain to be out in the Group Stage. It will all be decided Monday.

Croatia-Like Spain, they too are quite comfortable. A win against Spain means they win the group. A draw against Spain still has them moving on but the draw would have to be at least 1-1 and Italy doesn’t do better than 2-0 against Ireland. A 2-2 draw against Spain would help them qualify provided Italy doesn’t win 3-0. Even if they lose to Spain, Croatia can still qualify if Ireland beats Italy. Mind you I’m sure the Croats won’t want to take any chances.

Italy-After 1-1 draws against Spain and Croatia, this is it. Croatia and Spain both have a win and a draw under their belt. They have to win against Ireland if they are to move on. The real complicated part comes in being #1 in the group. The only way that could happen is if a win of 2-0 and Spain and Croatia have a scoreless draw. A 1-1 draw of Spain and Croatia would mean Italy would have to beat Ireland 4-0 for #1. Yeah, this numbers thing is confusing but for the teams it matters tons. Especially for the Azzuri since they want to recover from their Group Stage ouster form the 2010 World Cup.

Ireland-Simply put, it’s over. A 3-1 loss to Croatia and a 4-0 loss to Spain marks the end of Ireland’s chances completely. This should make it interesting in their game against Italy. Even though it’s over, they could still try to beat Italy for the sake of their own pride. I’ve seen it done before at World Cups where the team that’s out and knows it still makes the effort to win with one last thing to prove. Could Ireland do it? They face a tight challenge from the Azzuri hungry for its first win.

GROUP D

France-If you remember the 2010 World Cup, France’s performance was so dreadful the president of the French Football Association resigned before their last Group Stage game. When you hit rock bottom, all that you can do is rebuild. France’s rebuilt team has obviously paid off here. A 1-1 draw against England and a 2-0 win against Ukraine has France top of the group with one last game to play. The only way France can fail to qualify is if they lose to Sweden and Ukraine beats England. And even then it would have to come down to some tricky goal-scoring numbers to deny France a quarterfinal berth.

England-Like France, they too have a  draw and a win. Unlike France, their win against Sweden was 3-2. Their single-goal differential is what puts them in second. For England to be top of the group, they not only have to win but France would have to lose or draw against Sweden or England’s win would have to be two more goals than a France’s win. England can simply draw against Ukraine on Tuesday and they’d still qualify. A loss to Ukraine would be what would deny England a quarterfinal berth. The only way they could qualify upon losing against Ukraine is if Sweden beats France by at least two goals. Do you think England would want that to happen?

Ukraine-Like co-host Poland, they too had low expectations but surprised everyone with a 2-1 win against Sweden. The excitement died down four days later with a 2-0 loss to France. Plain and simple, Ukraine has to win against England if they want to qualify. The only other option would be drawing and Sweden beating France by at least 3 goals. Knowing that’s an impossibility, you can imagine Ukraine wants to be ready on Tuesday. Three Euro hosts of the past have failed to make it past Group Stage. You can bet Ukraine doesn’t want to be added to that list.

Sweden-Like Ireland, they’re out. Not even a big win against France can help them qualify for the quarterfinals. Their match against France would be as interesting as Ireland’s match against Italy as it could be one last thing for Sweden to prove. Also interesting for Sweden, Ireland or any of the other six countries that get eliminated is to see in the months ahead what changes they’ll be making to their football board, coaching or even player roster as the World Cup qualifiers start just months from now. The teams will want to take from this experience in all their victories and defeats and learn from it in preparation for qualifying for a World Cup berth. Will they improve? Will they still stay the same? Or will they get worse during the qualifying matches? Only time will tell.

And there you have it. A summary of the teams and what they need to do to qualify for the quarterfinals. Nothing is really sacred for any team right now. Even though Germany has the most comfortable qualifying chances, there’s still a slim chance they may be eliminated: slim but still possible. It will all be decided during these next four days. I have to say there’s something about the final Group Stage match. What is it? The simultaneous play? The heat and pressure of qualifying? The sometimes thrilling moments of some games? Whatever it is, they will finalize all the Group Stage play of Euro 2012 and sports history will be paved from then on.

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.