Part One Of A Two Part Series - Part Two Will Be Pasted Onto The Site On Friday.
We preview the biggest 11-a-side football event this summer.
The UK And Ireland National 6 a side Tournament 2012 is bigger of course.
By Guest Blogger Dennis Liljeberg
As everyone knows the European Championships is happening this week. For us football lovers, this is the biggest event of the summer (except for a few who oddly enough don’t support their country) and it is going to be a football festival with games basically every day for nearly a month. When it comes to the Euros, it always seems hard to predict who will do well and who won’t.
Looking back at the past couple of tournaments, they have been very open affairs. Back in 2004 Greece stunned everyone and won the whole thing by defending bravely throughout, and riding their luck on several occasions. Last time around, Russia and Turkey were the surprise packages and managed to get through to the semi-finals, but Spain and Germany were too strong for them there.
Before the tournament in 2008, Spain was the team with plenty of superstars who constantly failed in the big tournaments (sound familiar?). Four years later, they are the reigning European and World champions and could this year be the first nation ever to retain the title.
However, there are some clouds on Spain’s horizon. Without major championship man David Villa, who can always be relied upon to hit the back of the net for his country, someone needs to step up and there are doubts whether Fernando Torres can fill his boots after the season he’s had. Llorente has been prolific for Athletic and is a brilliant target man up front on his own, but he lacks experience in these circumstances and my guess is that Torres will get the nod after all. His goal against South Korea the other day will have made his case stronger and I believe coach Del Bosque will go for someone with international experience, and to be fair, he did look better and better the further the season went on.
Carles Puyol is normally instrumental in the centre of defence but has been ruled out of the tournament, and this will be a massive blow for the Spain back line. How much will they miss him? No one knows, but with world-class defenders like Piqué and Ramos they should be able to cope (as long as Ramos doesn’t take any penalties).
Spain have not been overly talked about leading up to this year’s Euros, but have looked strong in the friendlies, and that they are favourites goes without saying.
Another team that looks ridiculously strong is Germany, and they will have a real shot at the title if they manage to overcome some mental obstacles. Like a colleague said in the office the other day, the Germans have got used to losing, and they will have to change something against the big teams to be able to go all the way this year. Both in 2008 and 2010 they met Spain (in the final and semi-final respectively) and lost their stride completely. If they are to stand a chance in the latter stages of the tournament they will need to be able to adapt their game plan to the opposition; Spain will be much harder to play against and have more possession than, say, England. The Bayern players, who make up an integral part of the Germany squad, will also be low on confidence after yet another loss in the Champions League final.
If they manage to get their heads straight, though, they will look really dangerous. Their midfield is nothing short of incredible and their coach will have problems fitting them all in. The new young generation consisting of players like Özil, Götze, Kroos and Reus looks fantastic and they will have a very good team for decades to come, and that mixed with the experience of Schweinsteiger, Podolski and Klose makes for an exciting squad.
The third country that has been touted as early favourites is the Netherlands. Wrongly so, in my opinion. They do have the capacity to go far, and at the top of their game they can beat anyone, but they have not looked very convincing as of late. The only ones out of their star players who have performed this season are the two strikers Van Persie and Huntelaar. Their keepers have also performed admirably in the Premier League, but otherwise it doesn’t look great for “De Oranje”. Sneijder’s season at Inter Milan has been disappointing and Van der Vaart has barely managed 60 minutes in the games he has played for Spurs. On top of that, their defence is ageing and seems quite shaky, and will look particularly slow against a pacey team like Germany. What players like Mathijsen and Boulahrouz are doing in the squad I don’t know, but I guess there just aren’t any better options around.
So which country could cause an upset this year? France look good, and will have a real shot. Laurent Blanc, who took over after the World Cup disaster, should be given a lot of credit for building a team around young players who will be around for years to come. Russia were strong in 2008 and with their free-flowing attacking football they can go really far if Arshavin is on form. The fact that they have the easiest group on paper should allow them to save some energy for the knockout stages.
Now how about the host countries? Neither Poland nor Ukraine should have anything to do with the latter stages of the tournament; however, Poland should have a decent chance of getting through to the quarters seeing as they are in the easiest group together with Russia, the Czech Republic and Greece. In Lewandowski and Blaszczykowski they have a Dortmund duo that won the German league and will be full of confidence (Lewandowski has a lot of goals in him, expect him to bag a few), and Szczesny we all know is a quality keeper. Ukraine will be happy if they manage to snatch a point or two from a very tough group but should not be underestimated in front of their home fans (watch out for exciting wingers Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka)
When it comes to England, don’t expect too much. That never ends well.