With Euro 2012 starting this Friday, the Nouse Sport team offer their ‘expert’ opinions on who will shine in Poland and Ukraine.
Luke Gardener – Sports Editor
Winners – Spain
The World Cup and Euro 2008 winners have to be favourites for the tournament. They have been drawn alongside Italy, Croatia, and the Republic of Ireland in Group C and should qualify comfortably. Although missing David Villa, who would have led the line, they have plenty of options with Pedro of Barcelona, Fernando Llorente of Athletic Bilbao and a resurgent Fernando Torres in their squad. The midfield is the strongest of any team in the competition with Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, David Silva and Juan Mata all vying for places in the starting 11.
Dark Horse – Portugal
One team who have not been talked about at all when it comes to winning Euro 2012 is Portugal. They have always been contenders in major tournaments in the past decade and I don’t see why it would be any different this time. They have the potential to beat anyone on their day and have arguably the best player in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo. The hardest task for the Portuguese will be getting out of Group B as they have both Germany and Holland in their group. If they do qualify, the draw could well open up for them and they will become a real threat.
England prediction – Semi Finals
Although England are not one of the favourites, I am optimistic that we can have a very successful tournament. I actually think Group D is quite a favourable one and if we top the group there is a strong possibility that England can go far. The first match against France is the most crucial as whoever finishes top of Group D will likely avoid Spain in the quarter finals. Instead, a quarter final against Italy would be a far more winnable tie.
Player of the tournament – David Silva
After giving it a lot of thought, I have gone with Spain’s David Silva. After watching him inspire Manchester City, particularly in the first half of the season, his quality is undoubted and with the hole David Villa has left in the Spanish squad, Silva is the perfect man to step up the mark and fill that void. He may not be the top goalscorer, but you will be hard pressed to find a player at Euro 2012 that creates more chances for his teammates.
Rising Star – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
This was a tough choice, but I have gone for promising England winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ahead of some of the other contenders. With Stewart Downing and Theo Walcott too inconsistent for club and country, the Arsenal winger could well find himself in the starting line up against France on June 11th. With James Milner on the other flank, Oxlade-Chamberlain will have the freedom to be attack minded and take on any full back he faces. If England are to have a successful tournament it will be a breakthrough summer for the young Arsenal starlet.
Dan Holland – Sports Editor
Winners – Holland
Bert van Marwijk’s side strolled through qualifying after reaching the World Cup final two years ago. The Oranje may not be playing the ‘total football’ of their illustrious predecessors, or even that of the current Spain and Germany sides, but they have developed a style that gets results – something that they have been missing for a while. And though Holland don’t generally have the flair of some of the other teams at the Euros, with an attack comprising of Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, they aren’t exactly lacking a cutting edge.
Dark Horse – Republic of Ireland
This is a real long shot, but there’s always a shock contender at these tournaments – if people are applying the “well, Greece won it in 2004” logic to hype up England’s chances then that certainly applies to the Irish as well. Giovanni Trappatoni has them well drilled, tough to beat and capable of causing an upset. They lost only once in qualifying and if luck is on their side then Croatia and Italy look like potential scalps in the group stage.
England prediction – Quarter Finals
A mediocre group stage and comprehensive quarter final defeat to Spain. France will edge us in the opening game, then Hodgson’s men will pick up four points from the remaining fixtures. England will be reasonably solid and hard working but ultimately lacking in pace in creativity – something that will be badly exposed by the better teams. That’s no bad thing; it’s just where England are at this stage in their development.
Player of the tournament – Robin van Persie
After a spectacular season in which he carried Arsenal almost single-handedly at times, it’s hard to believe that van Persie may not even start for Holland at the Euros, given the red hot form of Huntelaar for his country. But in a team that is largely functional, the ability to score a goal from nothing could prove invaluable. If they play to his strengths, then van Persie could be on for a tournament comparable to that of Marco van Basten in 1988.
Rising star – Mario Gotze
Already a double title winner with Borussia Dortmund at the age of 20, Gotze has had a meteoric rise to prominence. He almost immediately became a key player for the German champions and is now established in the national side. He’s more than capable of getting into the starting 11 ahead of either Thomas Muller or Lukas Podolski, but even if he doesn’t, expect to see him gracing Europe’s top competitions for years to come.
Will Light – Deputy Sports Editor
Winners – France
It appears that Laurent Blanc has managed to banish the demons that resulted in the farcical scenes at the South African training camp in 2010, and a reunified, resurgent France will pose a threat to any side. Their pool of attacking riches is frankly embarrassing, with the old guard of Benzema, Nasri and Ribery now being joined by emerging talent like Marvin Martin and Olivier Giroud. There are potential frailties in the centre of defence (Laurent Koscielny, anyone?), but a France on top form can pick apart teams at will. England, beware.
Dark Horse – Russia
Dick Advocaat’s team remains much the same as four years ago, even if they are a little older. With a group markedly easier than the others, with games against Poland, Greece and the Czechs, Russia will definitely fancy their chances. With the in-form Andriy Arshavin supported ably by veteran lieutenants Kerzhakov, Pavlyuchenko and Zhirkov, Russia need to be treated with caution.
England prediction – Quarter Finals
We’ll lose to France, beat Sweden in drab style and scrape a draw against the hosts to go through on goal difference for a quarter final with Spain. Comprehensively outplayed by the Iberians with Steven Gerrard sent off, we’ll see familiar scenes at the final whistle of a downcast Roy Hodgson patrolling the pitch, hands in pockets, as the players disappointedly crouch and spit on the turf. All the optimism of a youthful, ‘new leaf’ team will come to nothing. Oxlade-Chamberlain will perch timidly on the subs bench for two weeks watching Stewart Downing huff and puff on the wing and ultimately display his mediocrity. A new manager, but the same problems are here to stay.
Player of the tournament – Cristiano Ronaldo
However detested this preening, pouting Portuguese is, it is impossible to argue that he is not the best player in Europe. If Portugal are to succeed at this tournament, he will be expected to carry them there single-handedly. There are no superlatives to describe his goal-scoring record, scoring 112 in 102 games for Real Madrid and striving to break every record going. A thoroughbred with pace, power and two of the sweetest feet to ever grace the game, Ronaldo will see this as the perfect opportunity to finally emerge from Messi’s shadow.
Rising Star – Christian Eriksen
This man will be at the heart of anything Denmark achieve at this tournament. A playmaker, Eriksen is gifted with a football vision that belies his mere 20 years, and it must be frustrating for the wonder-kid that the main man benefitting from his intelligence is Nicklas Bendtner. Impressing for Ajax throughout his teenage years, he is being heavily linked with a move to one of the Premier League’s top dogs.
Winners – Germany
The World Cup of 2010 was a touch too early for this new breed of outrageously good Germans. This time round however, it is a different story. Boasting several of Europe’s top players, the goal scoring machine that is Mario Gomez and a desire for retribution after the Champions League final, the Germans have a very real chance of usurping Spain as Europe’s top dogs.
Dark Horse – Poland
One can never write off the hosts. The Poles have always been there or thereabouts in major tournaments, and they have some real quality in their squad in the form of Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny and Borussia Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski, who bagged 30 goals this season in all competitions. Couple this with passionate – to say the least – home support, they could be the surprise package.
England prediction – Quarter Finals
Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson hold the key to England’s tournament in my view – as long as they stay on the bench then we should get out of the group stage with relative ease. However I don’t see us getting past the quarters. England fans can perhaps think of writing this tournament off, and let Roy Hodgson build towards the World Cup in 2014.
Player of the tournament – Mesut Ozil
When I first saw Ozil play in the 2010 World Cup I was blown away by his class. I knew then we had a potential world beater on our hands. He has not disappointed. Since he signed for Real Madrid in 2010 he has become everything I expected. A young genius who I think is nailed on to carry his league form into the Euros and spearhead a German victory.
Rising star – Marvin Martin
Dubbed “Little Xavi” after a remarkable 2010-11 season, this wee Frenchman is only one of several arguably more obvious players I could have picked from another of the dark horses of Euro 2012. Picked ahead of the likes of Yohann Gourcuff, I’m backing this little midfielder to star should he be given the chance. With his superb vision and technique, he’s definitely one to watch.
Winners – France
While qualification was by no means straight forward, losing their opener at home to Belarus, France have since gone on 18 game unbeaten run that includes wins over England, Brazil and Germany (away). It’s one thing to play down expectations when the team has just gone on strike and failed at a World Cup; but it’s quite another when it has beaten one of the pre-tournament favourites on their own patch. The spine of the French team is talented, solid and young, while Blanc also has some decent impact subs to call on; Newcastle’s Hatem Ben Arfa’s is quite capable of producing the occasional flash of brilliance.
Dark Horse – Croatia
Unconvinced by the ‘strong Juventus, therefore strong Italy’ argument and by the Irish national team in general, I have Croatia to qualify as runners up from Group C. Luka Modric stands above the rest as his country’s best player and after another stellar season at White Hart Lane, in which he was the driving force behind many of Spurs’ attacks. With fabulous passing range and accuracy, Modric has the ability to both act as his team’s metronome or pepper the defence with pinpoint through-balls, and if he can hit top form at the Euros, Croatia might just surprise a few.
England prediction- Group Stage
The underwhelming Roy Hodgson has picked an equally underwhelming squad, including the likes of a winger who has failed to score or assist in 36 league games and a striker who has scored just 9 times all season. I suppose it’s a relief for the lads that they won’t go into a major tournament carrying the weight of expectation, but that’s only because there isn’t any.
Player of the tournament – Karim Benzema
After initially struggling at Real Madrid, Benzema has since developed into a dangerous all-round striker, and goes into Euro 2012 on the back of a season in which he tallied 32 goals in all competitions. In addition to his silky touch and clinical finishing, Benzema has also played an increasing part in play making, notching up 15 assists. His blistering pace and versatility allow him to play in any one of a plethora of attacking positions, from the wide left to the lone target man, and he looks primed to translate his prolific club form into a breakthrough on the international scene.
Rising star – Andriy Yarmolenko
Earmarked as Shevchenko’s successor, Ukraine’s 22 year old attacking midfielder could set this Summer’s tournament alight. He blends pace, power and exceptional close control in a devastating mixture; a penchant for step-overs and flicks that Cristiano Ronaldo himself would be proud of, makes him definitely worth a YouTube.