Tag Archives: Portugal

2017 Confederations Cup Preview

confederations_cup

The 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup will take place in Russia one year before they are to host the World Cup.

With the World Cup just a year away, that means this year will have the FIFA Confederations Cup. Back in 2013, I did a focus on the Confederations Cup and why it’s an important tournament. This year’s Confederations Cup is important as well. Not just because the Cup is a growing tournament but also for the host country of Russia.

Russia is already a country controversial enough with the way they do politics. Hosting next year’s World Cup is also considered controversial as there’s question on how Russia won their bid and FIFA’s process in achieving the victories for both Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022. All I can say in this matter is I don’t have the research on that and things will have to sort themselves out over the year’s time leading up to the World Cup.

While the World Cup will be contested in twelve stadiums in Russia next year, this Confederations Cup will be contested in four stadiums. All four being ‘fresh’ stadiums which are either just now breaking ground or have broken ground only within the past five years:

  • Otkrytiye Arena, Moscow – This will be one of two stadiums in Moscow that will stage the World Cup. Located in the Tushino area of Moscow, this stadium is the home venue for Spartak Moscow. Completed in 2014, this stadium seats just over 45,000 people.
  • Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg – This 68,000-seat stadium may have just broken ground this year but it took ten years to complete. Problems from construction management to changing contractors to problems with its conditions have plagued the stadium and its construction but it will finally be ready for the Confederations Cup. Built on Krestovsky Island, the stadium is also the host venue for the football team FC Zenit.
  • Kazan Arena, Kazan – Completed in 2013, this 45,000-seat stadium has the largest outside screen in Europe. The stadium has hosted events like the 2013 World Student Games and the 2015 World Aquatics Championships. The stadium is also the home venue for Russian Premier League team Rubin Kazan.
  • Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi – Remember the $51 billion Sochi Winter Olympics? This is the host stadium which hosted the ceremonies and held the Olympic flame. Determined not to have it become a ‘white elephant,’ the stadium is now the home venue for Russian Professional Football League team FC Sochi. In addition, it will also host six World Cup games next year.

The tournament begins Saturday the 17th. There will be eight teams. Six are winners of their continent’s respective championship, Germany qualified as winner of the World Cup and Russia qualifies as host nation. Here’s how the teams stack up. FIFA rankings for June 2017 are the numbers in brackets:

GROUP A:

Russia Fixed-Russia (63): Russia is an enigma in football right now. The team has a lot of talent but constantly misses in delivering in major tournaments and qualifying events. Such examples include qualifying for three World Cups since the USSR dissolved and failing to qualify for the knockout round each time. Another example is the Euro tournament: semifinalists in 2008 but out in the Group Stage in 2012 and 2016. Trying coaches from other countries like Guus Huddink and Fabio Capello have delivered sub-par results.

Russia has yet to prove its current team since Euro 2016. The team consists of a Russian coach and all but one of the lineup for the Cup play for teams in the Russian Premier League. 2017 has not been the best to Russia as they lost 2-0 to the Ivory Coast and drew 3-3 against Belgium and 1-1 against Chile. They did however score a 3-0 win against Hungary. Remember that football is a box of surprises as Pele always says and Russia could end up surprising everyone here.

NZL-New Zealand (95): New Zealand can be either a very good team or a bad team. It qualified for the 2010 World Cup and drew in all of its games. However it hasn’t made much of an impact since. The current line-up of the all-blacks only features one player that plays for a team in a major European League (France’s Ligue 1). The Kiwis have been dominant against teams from Oceania but have struggled against teams from other continents such as a 1-1 draw against the US and losses to Belarus, Northern Ireland and Mexico. If they don’t go far here, they can always learn in time for next year.

Portugal Fixed-Portugal (8): Portugal is a team of surprises. The team went from lackluster group play in Euro 2016 to becoming Cup champions. Portugal has since maintained its reputation as one of the best teams in the world with excellent play in World Cup qualifying and continuing to win most of their games. However they have had some notable losses such as a 2-0 loss to Switzerland in September and a 3-2 loss to Sweden in March. Portugal can either be very on or very off here in Russia. The next two weeks will decide their fate.

Mexico-Mexico (17): Mexico has always been seen as the leader of the CONCACAF. They hope to take it even further by proving themselves among the best in the world. However it’s come at a struggle as they’ve ended their last six World Cups in the Round of 16. Mexico have had a lot of good wins in the last 12 months to teams like Ireland, Iceland and Costa Rica and even had a 1-1 draw against the US. However they’ve had a 2-1 loss to Croatia and a 7-0 loss to Chile at the Copa America. The World Cup may be one year away but now is a good chance for Mexico to prove itself on the world stage.

Prediction: This is a tough one but I predict the two qualifiers to the semis to be Mexico and Portugal, but don’t count out a possible surprise from Mother (?) Russia.

GROUP B:

Cameroon-Cameroon (32): Cameroon have been one of the most consistent African teams. However their play in the last two decades have been far from their glory days in the early 90’s. The team has worked hard to become better and more consistent since the embarrassment of the 2014 World Cup where they finished dead last. The current squad has many players from many leagues. The team hasn’t had the best chances at proving themselves since. In the past twelve months, they’ve either won or tied every game, but they’ve all been against African teams. The Confederations Cup is a chance for them to prove themselves and where they stand.

ChileChile (4): We can have a long discussion about the ‘sleeping giants’ in football waiting for their big moment to arrive. Chile would be one of them. They have been underestimated in the past and have even gone out in the Round Of 16 in the past two World Cups; and to Brazil both times. However Chile has seized the moment at both the 2015 and 2016 Copa Americas by winning their first-ever Copas. Chile now wants to prove its greatness on the world stage, but they have had an up-and-down period since Copa 2016. They’ve had wins against Uruguay, Colombia and Iceland, but they’ve also had losses to Romania and Argentina and even drew against Russia 1-1 just a week ago. Chile will have to seize the moment if they want to prove themselves further.

AustraliaAustralia (48): Since Australia was switched from the Oceania federation to the AFC after their Round of 16 surprise at World Cup 2006, bigger and better things were anticipated from them. Instead it’s been the opposite with losing in the Group Stage these past two World Cups. Australia hopes to put itself back as a powerhouse. However they’ve had a mixed bag of results in the past twelve months ranging from a 1-0 win against Greece to a 4-0 loss to Brazil. Anything can happen here in Russia and Australia could possibly find itself among the frontrunners.

Germany fixed-Germany (3): The current holders of the World Cup appear to be the heavy favorites to win here. They’ve maintained a consistency even with new members added to the national team ever since. However they’ve had their difficulties too. The semifinal loss at Euro 2016 showed they still have some elements of team unity and other glitches to work on. Since Euro, Germany have not had a loss. They’ve had wins against England and the Czechs but have also drawn 0-0 against Italy and 1-1 against Denmark. They have what it takes to win the Cup here. They just have to deliver.

Prediction: Long shots can pull surprises but I’m going to go with my best instincts and predict Germany and Chile to be this group’s two qualifiers.

And there’s my look at the confederations Cup and the competing teams. Winner to be decided on Sunday July 2nd. Possible more blogs to come, depending on how many hits I get with this.

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2016 UEFA Euro Final: Preview and Prediction

Euro Trophy

Will France win for the third time? Or Portugal for the first time ever?

How about that? What started on the 10th of June with 24 teams will end on the 10th of July deciding which team will win the 2016 European Championship. It took this whole time 50 matches to decide the two teams most worthy to play for the Championship. On Sunday, it will come down to Portugal and hosts France.  The big question is who will win it?

Euro Final

Head-To-Head Stats:

Before I get to head-to-head stuff, I’ll do some finals stats. France has been to the Euro finals twice before and won both times, including when they hosted in 1984. Portugal has been to the finals only once before back in 2004 when they hosted and lost to underdogs Greece. And to think back then it featured a rising 19 year-old by the name of Cristiano Ronaldo. The two have squared off 24 times before. France has won 18 times, Portugal five times and one draw. France’s most recent win over Portugal was 1-0 in a friendly nine months ago. The last time Portugal beat France was all the way back in 1975.

Team Breakdown:

PortugalPORTUGAL: Just a small tidbit of trivia. Two players from Euro 2004 –Cristiano Ronaldo and Ricardo Carvalho– are here in Euro 2016. Also a piece of irony: you know how Portugal lost to Greece in the 2004 Euro final? Well coach Fernando Santos coached the Greek team at the 2014 World Cup. Unlike 2004, Portugal come to the finals as the underdogs. And it’s easy to see why. All three of their Group Play games were draws. Their Round of 16 match against Croatia was won thanks to an extra time goal. Their quarterfinal against Poland was a 1-1 draw which Portugal luckily won on a flawless penalty shootout. They didn’t fully come alive until their semifinal against Wales which they won 2-0.

It’s obvious Portugal has shown some of their weaknesses. Hungary was good at exploiting them during their 3-3 draw. Portugal should consider themselves lucky they were able to score three goals during that match too. Portugal has a lot of strengths too. They have two good strikers in Cristiano and Nani. They have a rising young star in 18 year-old Renato Sanches. They’ve also delivered more goal attempts than France. They’re a team that knows how to attack. Their defense needs to be as consistent as it was during their match against Wales if they want to win the Championship because the French are the highest-scoring team in the tournament. This will make for an interesting final of Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Antoine Griezmann.

FranceFRANCE: No member of France’s Euro-winning squad of 2000 is playing for France now. However the team is coached by Didier Deschamps who was the captain of the Euro-winning 2000 squad and was part of the 1998 world Cup winning squad.

For the most part, this trip to the Championship has been a dream for France. Save their scoreless draw against Switzerland, the French have been the class of the field. They’ve played like a strong team unit and have defended strongly too. They have a star striker in Antoine Griezmann but don’t forget Olivier Giroud and Dimitri Payet. They look like they’re on fire to win France’s third Euro title.

It’s not to say France has weaknesses, though they have hardly been exposed. One thing is that France has had less ball possession in some games. While that doesn’t prove much of a fact for those games, that could be a factor in the final as Portugal also has strikers who know how to score. France has even been contained by the other teams at times, including Albania who kept them scoreless until the 90th minute. Sure, Portugal has slacked off for most of the tournament but they could just surprise France on home turf when they least expect it.

My Verdict: Eventually I will have to predict a winner for the final so here goes. I predict France to win 3-1. They’ve been delivering the most and giving the least away. So I have to go with them. If they do, France would also become the first country to win the Euro twice as host nation. No nation has won even the World Cup twice as host.

Here’s an interesting note. Whichever team wins the Euro will represent Europe in next year’s Confederations Cup in Russia. Already six of the eight berths have been decided. Russia qualifies as hosts, Germany qualifies as World Cup winners, and Australia, Chile, Mexico and New Zealand qualify upon winning their Confederation’s respective championship. Africa decides their winner in February next year. However Sunday will decided which team will represent UEFA next year.

And there you have it. My breakdown and my prediction. So Sunday will answer all your questions. Who will win it? Will France be only the third nation to win a total of three Euros? Or will Portugal become the tenth country to win a Euro? It will all be decided in the Stade de France that night.

 

2016 UEFA Euro Semifinals: Preview And Predictions

Euro Semis

How about that? The past three-and-a-half weeks have narrowed the field from 24 to four. It’s been full of shocking surprises with teams like the Czechs, Swedes and Russians performing well below expectations in the Group Stage. It’s also had unpleasant surprises off the football field with rowdy behavior from Russian, Croatian and Hungarian fans. It’s also had a lot of positive surprises like Wales and Iceland humiliating bigger competition. And now we’re down to four: Portugal, Wales, Germany and France. It’s the semifinals to decide the two teams to play for the final for the Championship. So here’s my rundown of the two Semifinals:

SEMIFINAL #1: PORTUGAL vs. WALES

Head To Head Stuff:

This is one head-to-head scenario where I don’t have much to compare. Wales only once played Portugal all the way back in 2000. Portugal won.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

PortugalPortugal: Portugal has been an enigma at this tournament. They’ve been very successful in making their way to the semifinals but they’ve grazed the bar almost each and every time. One important fact for this Euro: Portugal is the only semifinalist that has not had a single win in regulation time. All three of their group games were draws, their Round of 16 win against Croatia game after a single goal from Quaresma in added extra time, and their quarterfinal win was thanks to a penalty shootout. Even star Cristiano Ronaldo has faced some flack for underplaying. He should be thankful his two goals against Hungary were what Portugal needed to stay alive in the tournament. If Portugal expects to win the semifinal, they will have to come together and play solid. They can’t afford to take it easy or give things away. Not while Wales has been performing while other teams have slacked off.

WalesWales: Two of the biggest Cinderella teams at this Euro have been Iceland and Wales. In fact the Euro 2016 can best be remembered as the tournament where Gareth Bale finally came to prominence in international play. He’s one of only five players here that has scored three or more goals. In addition to Bale, other teammates had moments to shine too like Ashley Williams, Aaron Ramsey and the currently-unsigned Hal Robson-Kanu. In fact the whole team has performed as a solid unit winning matches over teams with bigger clout like Slovakia, Russia and especially #2 ranked Belgium 3-1 in the quarterfinals. Who decides these FIFA rankings anyways?

Wales does have its imperfections. In fact it faced a heated battle against Northern Ireland in the Round of 16 and was only lucky to advance thanks to an auto goal scored by Gareth McAuley: the only goal of the match. In short, Wales have proven themselves able to deliver. However it’s a matter of them all being there.

My Verdict: With no reliable head-to-head stats to base a judgement, I have to base it on the team’s play during the Euro. I predict Wales to win 2-1 in added extra time.

SEMIFINAL #2: GERMANY vs. FRANCE

Head To Head Stuff:

They’ve both faced each other off twelve times ever. France has won six times, Germany four and two draws. Germany’s wins have been one home, three away. France’s wins have been three home, three away. Germany’s last win over France was at the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals. France’s last win over Germany was during a friendly in Paris in November 2015.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

Germany FootballGermany: Germany faced a lot of expectations here at the Euro. They came as the reigning World Cup holders who were struggling to form a new team with new younger talent. They’ve done very well for the most part as they won 2-0 against Ukraine and 1-0 against Northern Ireland. Their big moment came in the Round of 16 when they beat Slovakia 3-0. Remarkable since Slovakia beat them 3-1 in a friendly one month earlier.

This Euro has also been the arena where Germany’s weaknesses have also been exposed. First was the 0-0 draw against Poland in the Round of 16. The second came against Italy in the quarterfinals. It wasn’t simply drawing 1-1 but their three misses in the penalty shootout right during the first five. Usually Germany are the experts at penalty kicks going without a miss in a major tournament since 1982. That was a shock! Had Italy not also had three misses in their first five, it would’ve been the Italians heading to the semis instead.

The German team here in Euro 2016 is very capable of great play and have gone beyond most people’s expectations. However they cannot give anything away while playing against France. Not while France is host nation and playing brilliantly.

FranceFrance: France is one team that has been on a roll consistently. They’ve only had a single draw: 0-0 against Switzerland in the Group Stage. Everything else has been a win: 2-1 over Romania, 2-0 over Albania, 2-1 over Ireland and 5-2 over Iceland. They even have the three highest scorers: Antoine Griezmann with four, Olivier Giroud with three, and Dimitri Payet with three. Having Didier DesChamps, captain of France’s 1998 World Cup winning team, as coach definitely has a lot to do with it.

France have been excellent though they aren’t perfect. The team has definitely risen to the occasion game after game and showed all of Europe they’re ready to win at home. They have not had a single loss in 2016. However they could face the pressure of playing at home. Sure, they may have beaten Germany in a friendly in Paris seven months ago but Germany may have something up their sleeve. Don’t forget Germany did a reversal on Slovakia. Also keep in mind Germany beat France 1-0 in the quarterfinals in Brazil as Des Champs was coaching. Some food for thought.

TRIVIA: The world was horrified on Friday November 13, 2015 when six bombs went off in various areas of Paris. The first attack was at 9:20pm just outside the Stade de France; right while the friendly between France and Germany was taking place. In fact the two explosions can be heard on video replays during the 16th minute and 19th minute of that game, which continued on and France won 2-0.

My Verdict: There’s no one ‘wonderteam’ at this Euro but I think France is the team that most has it together. I think they will win 1-0.

And those are my predictions for the semifinals for Euro 2016. I may be right. I may be wrong. All to be decided Wednesday and Thursday.

 

 

UEFA Euro 2016: Group F Focus

Euro Logos

For my predictions for the previous groups, just click below on the links and you’re there:

Interesting how the next Euro won’t have a single host country. It was decided in 2014 for what will be the 60th anniversary of the Euro to have all the first round matches and knockout games in cities throughout the continent mainly for that celebration. The second reason why was because Europe was, and still is to a certain extent, struggling with an economic crisis. It makes sense as most cities that have agreed to stage part of the tournament will use the stadium already in existence. Only Brussels is planning a new stadium for Euro 2020 and Budapest is planning a new version of their old stadium in time for the tournament. This should prove interesting in how it works out. In the meantime, here are my predictions for Group F:

Portugal FixedPortugal (8): This isn’t simply the time for The Navigators. More like this is the century for them. Back in the 20th century, the team only qualified for two World Cup and two Euros. Now they’ve made every World Cup since 2002. Not to mention every Euro since 1996. The team features legends like Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Alves, Nani and Pepe. The team also shows promise for their youth as they were finalists in the under-21 Euro last year. They team will come to France in hopes of shaking off their embarrassment from the 2014 World Cup of being ousted in the Group Stage. The team brought back Fernando Santos whom coached Greece at the 2014 World Cup. The squad for Euro 2016 features a wealth of talent both old and young. Since Brazil, the team has had a lot of key wins against Argentina, Belgium, Serbia and Italy. They’ve also had some key losses against France, Bulgaria, Russia and England. The players playing their best strengths and the right team chemistry should take them far in Euro 2016, if not win.

IcelandIceland (35): Iceland amazes me. A nation of less than half a million people fielding a football team to be reckoned with. This is their first-ever Euro. They almost qualified for the 2014 World Cup going as far as the knockout stage against eventual qualifiers Croatia and even bringing them to a scoreless draw in the first match. They’ve even reached their highest FIFA ranking of 23rd for three months of last year. The team consist of members that play for a variety of teams throughout Europe across many different countries. Sweden’s Allsvenskan league is the national league with the most members of the national team. In the past two years, the team has had key wins against Turkey, Czech Republic, Greece and the Netherlands twice. However 2016 has shown the team struggle in Friendly play losing four of their seven matches including Norway, Denmark and the United States. France will be the first stage for them to prove themselves on an international level. Don’t count them out.

AustriaAustria (11): Austria is an enigma. The team had their best days in the 1930’s and 1950’s. Since the 1960’s the team’s prowess has declined with only qualifying for four World Cups and giving a dismal showing at Euro 2008 which they co-hosted. Since 2014, the team has shown a remarkable turnaround. In Euro qualifying, they finished top of the group by winning nine of their ten games and only drawing once, even overpowering Russia and Sweden. The current team is coached by Swiss coach Marcel Koller and features players that mostly play for Germany’s Bundesliga. In the past two years, the team has had additional wins against the Czech Republic and Albania. The team has also had losses against Turkey, Switzerland and the Netherlands. I’m sure they hope to show the World what they’re made of in France. Possibly their best team in decades.

HungaryHungary (18): I’m sure Hungary hates being known as a ‘blast from the past’ but it’s easy to dismiss them as that. It’s a long ways since their days of being the ‘Magical Magyars’ back in the 30’s and 50’s which include two World Cup finals appearances and Olympic gold in 1952. Their first signs of their prowess waning came in the 60’s. Despite finishing third in Euro 1964, they only went as far as the quarterfinals at both the 1962 and 1966 World Cups. Since 1966, the team has never made it past the Group Stage at the World Cup with their last appearance in 1986. Their last Euro appearance was in 1972. The demise of Communism led to less focus on Hungarian football talent and an eventual demise in world rankings including a worst-ever FIFA ranking of 86th in 1996. However Hungarian football is making a comeback as there is more funding for football and more development of players happening nationally. They’ve even hired a German, Bernd Storck, as their head coach. Most of the players play for Hungary’s OTP Bank Liga but there are four players that play for teams of Germany’s Bundesliga. They’ve had notable victories in the last two years against Finland, Norway and Albania and some notable draws against Croatia and Greece. They’ve also had some notable losses to Russia and Germany. France could be the stage for them to prove Hungary’s back.

Prediction: Okay, my final prediction for the final group. Predicting Portugal to top it is easy. Predicting the other two is heard because it could be any of the three. I’ll go with Austria second because of their consistency and Hungary third.

And this not only sums up my review of Group F but of all Euro 2016 first round groups. Some of you may wonder why I haven’t predicted the winner of the Euro yet. It’s simple. Because I’ve always had a case on my blog of predicting the groups first and then making predictions for the knockout rounds as the tournament moves on and then then predicting the final just days before it happens. It always was my case. Besides if I went with my group predictions, I’d have a raw idea on who would win the Euro as I mapped them out. I’ve basically mapped out that the winner of the Cup would end up being France. Yeah, that raw. So hang tight right now.

And that wraps it up for all my pre-tournament posting of Euro 2016.24 teams playing, only 16 will still stand after Wednesday the 22nd. It all remains to be decided over the next two weeks. More predictions and write-ups from me coming as the tournament progresses.

World Cup 2014 Preview: Group G

Group D has been most lauded as the ‘Group Of Death’ not just because of three country’s current prowess but because of their past World Cup legacy. Group G could rightfully be called the ‘Group Of Death’ because there are four teams that rank amongst the world’s best and it can be any two of the four making it to the Round of 16. Here’ s my rundown:

Germany fixed-Germany (2)- Brazil may be the country with the biggest World Cup legacy but Germany is a close second. They have stats and feats of their own to brag about too: competed in all but two World Cups, has made the Top 8 every year since 1954, qualified for the final seven times like Brazil and won the Cup three times. The Mannschaft know how to make a power of themselves and create a legacy but they also have their own glitches too. Like there have been two Euro tournaments this century when they failed to advance past the Group Stage. Even in World Cup play within the past twenty years they have lost to underdogs like Bulgaria, Croatia and Serbia.

The current German team is in good hands with Joachim Low who has managed Germany since the 2006 World Cup. He has guided Germany to the 2008 Euro finals and to the semifinals in the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. Germany also has their stars too like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski, Thomas Muller and Miroslaw Klose who is just one goal short of tying Ronaldo’s World Cup goal record of 15. Germany already shows solid play as they’ve lost only once since Euro 2012, to the U.S. 4-3 and I’ll get to that later. They’ve also had good wins to England, Sweden, France and Chile. However they did have a 1-1 draw against their traditional ‘achilles heel’ Italy. Low and the boys will have a lot of proving to do in Brazil. No doubt they have the talent and skill to do it. It’s just a matter of them delivering.

Portugal Fixed-Portugal (3)- Before this century, Portugal had only competed in two World Cups: 1966 where they finished third and 1986. Ever since the World Cup has expanded to 32 teams in 1998, Portugal has qualified all but once and they’ve shown their talent off in grand style. Their best World Cup performance this century was a fourth-place finish in 2006. Their biggest moment to shine was in Euro 2004 which they co-hosted with Spain and made it to the final.

Even now they show themselves to be a formidable team full of talent like Cristiano Ronaldo, Simao and Helger Postiga. Right after Portugal lost out in the Round of 16 back at the last World Cup, they appointed Paulo Bento who already had a proven record with coaching Sporting CP. Bento has organized the team well and helped guide them to the semis at Euro 2012. Since then, Portugal has had excellent play with key wins against Croatia and Sweden and a big 5-1 win against Cameroon. They’ve only had three losses in that time to Brazil, Ecuador and Russia. Portugal has the consistency and the ability to go at this World Cup. Possibly even make the finals for the first time. Will they deliver? Brazil’s the stage that will decide.

-GhGhanaana (38)- Ghana has proven themselves to be top African team as of late. They made it to the Round of 16 in 2006 and the quarterfinals in 2010. However while most African teams would consider their quarterfinal performance a feat as Ghana was only the third African team in history to advance that far, it was a disappointment as Ghana almost had a sure semifinal berth in their play against Uruguay. Even though the handball by Uruguay’s Luis Suarez was cheating, Ghana were unable to recover from it. We should remember with the World Cup in 2010 in South Africa, African teams had expectations on them unlike previous World Cups and Ghana was the only one of the six African teams to advance past the Round of 16.

Ghana still continues to perform well including fourth-place finishes at the last two African Cups. James Kwasi Appiah is the head coach after being assistant coach during the last World Cup. Gyan is back as captain and AC Milan’s Michael Essien as vice-captain. However Ghana has a lot of proving. They have not won a game against a non-African team in the past two years and their FIFA ranking has dipped a lot in the past four years. It could be either a case of a team in decline or a team that just hasn’t been proven. This World Cup is their proving point.

-UUSA.S.A. (14)- Before this century, the U.S. men’s team was a joke in the football world. When you think the U.S.A., you don’t think football, or ‘soccer’ as they call it. You think baseball, basketball and American football. A last-place finish at the 1998 World Cup sure didn’t help much. This century, the U.S. have really developed a stronger reputation and are seen as a joke way less tan ever. The existence and success of MLS has helped a lot. Making the quarterfinals in 2002 and even finishing #1 in their Group Stage group in 2010 also made the football world see the U.S. men’s football team as an actual contender in world football superiority.

However the last four years has been a yo-yo. For one thing, they had their lowest FIFA ranking (36th) in August 2012. They’ve also endured losses in the lats two years to Brazil, Jamaica, Belgium, Ukraine and Costa Rica. They’ve also had some great wins like 5-1 to Scotland, 2-1 to Mexico, 2-0 to South Korea and 4-3 to Germany (and I’ll get to the juicy bit soon). Part of their recent success has to do with hiring Jurgen Klinsmann who coached Germany in the 2006 World Cup. In addition is the talent and play of players like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, rising young gun Julian Green and goalie Tim Howard. 2014 looks like to carve another chapter for the U.S.A. and their quest for soccer supremacy that was once considered a long shot.

Note: Spain vs. Netherlands may be the most eagerly anticipated Group Stage match of this World Cup but the second-most should be Germany vs. U.S. A. Why? First because the U.S.A.’s coach Jurgen Klinsmann played for Germany when the last won the world Cup back in 1990. Secondly because while Klinsmann was coach of Germany from 2004 up to the 2006 World Cup, Joachim Low was assistant coach and became head coach after Klinsmann’s departure. Already Germany got a taste of the U.S.A. in a friendly a year ago with the Americans winning 4-3. The rematch in Brazil should be full of intrigue.

And now my prediction for the advancers: I believe it will be Germany and Portugal. The U.S.A. looks like the one most likely to upset.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT Now that I’m nearing the end of my World Cup preview, my Stadium Spotlights are now moving towards stadiums that are more like Brazil’s prized jewels. And this is definitely a grand one. A brand-spanking new jewel for Brazil, especially for its capital city.

-BRASILIA : Estadio Nacional (Mane Garrincha)Brasilia

Year Opened: 1974 World Cup Capacity: 70,042

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

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (E1 vs. F2), one quarterfinal & third-place match

The stadium already had a big reputation in Brasilia with it being the stage for home games for Brasilia FC. However the stadium had to be demolished to have a newer bigger stadium in its place in time for the World Cup. Changes involved dismantling the lower tier, retaining the upper tier into the new rectangular bowl, adding a roof and pillars and reducing the size of the field into a football-only field. The changes made the stadium second to the new Wembley Stadium as the most expensive in the world. Nevertheless all the changes were ready by the Confederations Cup and for Beyonce’s concert last September. The venue will continue to be important after the World Cup as they will be home to Brasilia FC and will be a football venue for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

And there you go. Another group review and another stadium spotlight. Last review to come 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: 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.