M Gomez (Germany) 8/1 O Giroud (France) 50/1 N Bendtner (Denmark) 80/1 R Van Persie (Holland) 10/1 H Almeida (Portugal) 50/1 T Gekas (Greece) 80/1 C Ronaldo (Portugal) 14/1 A Shevchenko (Ukraine) 50/1 A Pirlo (Italy) 80/1 K Benzema (France) 16/1 A Kerzhakov (Russia) 50/1 D Kuyt (Holland) 80/1 M Klose (Germany) 16/1 J Defoe (England) 50/1 I Olic (Croatia) 80/1 F Llorente (Spain) 16/1 R Pavlyuchenko (Russia) 50/1 L de Jong (Holland) 80/1 KJ Huntelaar (Holland) 18/1 Pedro (Spain) 50/1 Xavi (Spain) 80/1 F Torres (Spain) 18/1 A Iniesta (Spain) 50/1 M Mandzukic (Croatia) 80/1 R Soldado (Spain) 20/1 Cacau (Germany) 50/1 N Kalinic (Croatia) 100/1 T Muller (Germany) 25/1 M Reus (Germany) 50/1 L Modric (Croatia) 100/1 R Lewandowski (Poland) 25/1 S Gerrard (England) 50/1 A Dzagoev (Russia) 100/1 L Podolski (Germany) 25/1 H Postiga (Portugal) 66/1 T Kroos (Germany) 100/1 M Balotelli (Italy) 25/1 A Young (England) 66/1 N Liberopoulos (Greece) 100/1 A di Natale (Italy) 25/1 T Walcott (England) 66/1 N Kranjcar (Croatia) 100/1 W Rooney (England) 33/1 Nani (Portugal) 66/1 K Doyle (Ireland) 125/1 C Fabregas (Spain) 33/1 Eduardo (Croatia) 66/1 P Brozek (Poland) 125/1 A Robben (Holland) 33/1 R Keane (Ireland) 66/1 A Milevskiy (Ukraine) 125/1 A Negredo (Spain) 33/1 A Arshavin (Russia) 66/1 S Long (Ireland) 125/1 J Mata (Spain) 40/1 M Baros (Czech Republic) 66/1 J Walters (Ireland) 150/1 N Jelavic (Croatia) 40/1 M Ozil (Germany) 66/1 T Pekhart (Czech Republic) 150/1 D Silva (Spain) 40/1 R Van Der Vaart (Holland) 66/1 J Elmander (Sweden) 150/1 A Carroll (England) 40/1 J Menez (France) 66/1 S Cox (Ireland) 150/1 A Cassano (Italy) 40/1 P Pogrebnyak (Russia) 66/1 C Marchisio (Italy) 150/1 W Sneijder (Holland) 50/1 S Giovinco (Italy) 66/1 A Nocerino (Italy) 150/1 D Welbeck (England) 50/1 F Lampard (England) 80/1 D Rommedahl (Denmark) 200/1 F Ribery (France) 50/1 S Nasri (France) 80/1 G Samaras (Greece) 200/1 A Schurrle (Germany) 50/1 D de Rossi (Italy) 80/1 J Milner (England) 200/1 Z Ibrahimovic (Sweden) 50/1 Y Gourcuff (France) 80/1 S Downing (England) 200/1
EURO 2012 Schedule Friday, June 8 (Poland) Poland vs. Greece, 10 a.m. PT Russia vs. Czech Republic, 12:45 p.m. PT Saturday, June 9 (Ukraine) Netherlands vs. Denmark, 10 a.m. PT Germany vs. Portugal, 12:45 p.m. PT Sunday, June 10 (Poland) Spain vs. Italy, 10 a.m. PT Ireland vs. Croatia, 12:45 p.m. PT Monday, June 11 (Ukraine) France vs. England, 10 a.m. PT Ukraine vs. Sweden, 12:45 p.m. PT Tuesday, June 12 (Poland) Greece vs. Czech Republic, 10 a.m. PT Poland vs. Russia, 12:45 p.m. PT Wednesday, June 13 (Ukraine) Denmark vs. Portugal, 10 a.m. PT Netherlands vs. Germany, 12:45 p.m. PT Thursday, June 14 (Poland) Italy vs. Croatia, 10 a.m. PT Spain vs. Ireland, 12:45 p.m. PT Friday, June 15 (Ukraine) Sweden vs. England, 10 a.m. PT Ukraine vs. France, 12:45 p.m. PT Saturday, June 16 (Poland) Greece vs. Russia, 12:45 p.m. PT (National Stadium Warsaw) Czech Republic vs. Poland, 12:45 p.m. PT (Municipal Stadium Wroclaw) Sunday, June 17 (Ukraine) Portugal vs. Netherlands, 12:45 p.m. PT (Metalist Stadium) Denmark vs. Germany, 12:45 p.m. PT (Arena Lviv) Monday, June 18 (Poland) Croatia vs. Spain, 12:45 p.m. PT (PGE Arena Gdansk) Italy vs. Ireland, 12:45 p.m. PT (Municipal Stadium) Tuesday, June 19 (Ukraine) Sweden vs. France, 12:45 p.m. PT (Kiev Olympic Stadium) England vs. Ukraine, 12:45 p.m. PT (Donbass Arena) Thursday, June 21 (Match 25) Winner Group A vs. Runner-Up Group B, 12:45 p.m. PT (National Stadium Warsaw, Poland) Friday, June 22 (Match 26) Winner Group B vs. Runner-Up Group A, 12:45 p.m. PT (PGE Arena Gdansk, Poland) Saturday, June 23 (Match 27) Winner Group C vs. Runner-Up Group D, 12:45 p.m. PT (Donbass Arena, Ukraine) Sunday, June 24 (Match 28) Runner-Up Group C vs. Winner Group D, 12:45 p.m. PT (Olympic Stadium) Wednesday, June 27 Winner Match 25 vs. Winner Match 27, 12:45 p.m. PT (Donbass Arena, Ukraine) Thursday, June 28 Winner Match 26 vs. Winner Match 28, 12:45 p.m. PT (National Stadium Warsaw, Poland) Sunday, July 1 Winner Semifinal 1 vs. Winner Semifinal 2, 12:45 p.m. PT (Olympic Stadium)
Day Match Tournament Time TV Channels Fri 8th Jun Greece vs Poland Group A Euro 2012 17:00 BBC1 BBC1 HiD Fri 8th Jun Czech Republic vs Russia Group A Euro 2012 19:45 ITV1 ITV1 HiD Sat 9th Jun Denmark vs Netherlands Group B Euro 2012 17:00 BBC1 BBC1 HiD Sat 9th Jun Portugal vs Germany Group B Euro 2012 19:45 BBC1 BBC1 HiD Sun 10th Jun Italy vs Spain Group C Euro 2012 17:00 ITV1 ITV1 HiD Sun 10th Jun Republic of Ireland v Croatia Group C Euro 2012 19:45 ITV1 ITV1 HiD Mon 11th Jun England vs France Group D Euro 2012 17:00 ITV1 ITV1 HiD Mon 11th Jun Sweden vs Ukraine Group D Euro 2012 19:45 BBC1 BBC1 HiD Tue 12th Jun Czech Republic vs Greece Group A Euro 2012 17:00 ITV1 ITV1 HiD Tue 12th Jun Russia vs Poland Group A Euro 2012 19:45 ITV1 ITV1 HiD Wed 13th Jun Denmark vs Portugal Group B Euro 2012 17:00 ITV1 ITV1 HiD Wed 13th Jun Germany vs Netherlands Group B Euro 2012 19:45 BBC1 BBC1 HiD Thu 14th Jun Croatia versus Italy Group C Euro 2012 17:00 BBC1 BBC1 HiD Thu 14th Jun Republic of Ireland versus Spain Group C Euro 2012 19:45 ITV1 ITV1 HiD Fri 15th Jun France vs Ukraine Group D Euro 2012 17:00 ITV1 ITV1 HiD Fri 15th Jun Sweden vs England Group D Euro 2012 19:45 BBC1 BBC1 HiD Sat 16th Jun Poland vs Czech Republic Group A Euro 2012 19:45 BBC1 BBC1 HiD Sat 16th Jun Russia vs Greece Group A Euro 2012 19:45 BBC HiD BBC3 Sun 17th Jun Denmark vs Germany Group B Euro 2012 19:45 ITV4 ITV4 HiD Sun 17th Jun Netherlands versus Portugal Group B Euro 2012 19:45 ITV1 ITV1 HiD Mon 18th Jun Spain vs Croatia Group C Euro 2012 19:45 BBC HiD BBC3 Mon 18th Jun Ireland vs Italy Group C Euro 2012 19:45 BBC1 BBC1 HiD Tue 19th Jun Ukraine vs England Group D Euro 2012 19:45 ITV1 ITV1 HiD Tue 19th Jun Sweden vs France Group D Euro 2012 19:45 ITV4 ITV4 HiD Thu 21st Jun Group A Winner vs Group B Runner Up Quarter Finals 19:45 To be finalized Fri 22nd Jun Group B Winner vs Group A Runner Up Quarter Finals 19:45 To be finalized Sat 23rd Jun Group C Winner v Group D Runner Up Quarter Finals 19:45 To be finalized Sun 24th Jun Winner Group D vs Group C Runner Up Quarter Finals 19:45 To be finalized Wed 27th Jun To be finalized Semi Finals 19:45 BBC1 BBC1 HiD Thu 28th Jun To be finalized Semi Finals 19:45 BBC1 BBC1 HiD Sun 1st Jul To be finalized Grand Finals 19:45 BBC1 BBC1 HiD ITV1 ITV1 HiD
By PATRICK McPARTLIN Published on Saturday 2 June 2012 09:00
SOMEWHAT surprisingly, Denmark topped their qualifying group, finishing ahead of Portugal by three points and losing only once.
The national side haven’t enjoyed the same amount of success as the ‘Danish Dynamite’ team of the 1980s, nor have they come close to repeating the European Championship win in 1992. Coincidentally, the Danes have been drawn in the same group as Portugal, but the games against the Netherlands, narrowly pipped to the World Cup in 2012 by Spain, and Germany might mean the Danes are found out. Players such as Michael and Brian Laudrup have been unsurprisingly irreplaceable, with Dennis Rommedahl expected to fill prolific striker Jon Dahl Tomasson’s boots in Poland and the Ukraine.
KEY PLAYER: He might only be 23, but defender Simon Kjær could be the lynchpin of the Danish defence. Although rather publicly criticised for his performances at club level, Kjær, who is currently on loan at AS Roma, performed well in the 2010 World Cup. He has been likened to ball-playing centre backs like Fernando Hierro and Ronald Koeman, due to his fondness for hitting 40 yard passes from defence - perhaps due to playing his formative years in midfield.
WORLD RANKING: 10
June 09, 2012 Netherlands (Kharkiv, Ukr)
June 13, 2012 Portugal (Lviv, Pol)
June 17, 2012 Germany (Lviv, Pol)
COACH: Morten Olsen - A notable former player and captain of the national side during the 1980s, Olsen also has the unenviable claim to fame of having been sacked by every club side he has managed. He replaced Denmark’s Swedish coach Bo Johansson in July of 2000, leading to the team being nicknamed the ‘Olsen Gang,’ a tongue-in-cheek reference to a series of Danish films based on a character called Egon Olsen, and his criminal-yet-genius plans. Olsen has abandoned the traditional 4-4-2 formation, threatening to resign if he was ever asked to play it. Instead, he prefers more attacking formations such as 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1.
He said it...
“If we’d played like that all match we would have won.”
IF Ukraine had not been co-hosting the tournament, they may well not have qualified for Euro 2012.
But coach Oleh Blokhin is determined to lead his side into the knockout stages at least on home soil.
They have not played competitive football in months and their only other outing at a major tournament as an independent nation was the World Cup in 2006.
But they did reach the quarter-finals, where they lost to eventual champions Italy.
This competition is likely to be the last hurrah for the likes of Andriy Shevchenko and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk.
But it could be just beginning for younger players like Yaroslav Rakitskiy, Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka, who are all tipped to be stars of the future.
Few Chelsea fans have fond memories of Shevchenko, once the best striker in
Europe but never a roaring success at Stamford Bridge.
Time has taken its toll on the former AC Milan star and he was not even assured of his place in the squad.
But he will be back and he will want to prove a point when he faces some of his former Chelsea team-mates in Donetsk on June 19, when Ukraine face England.
Blokhin will not want to go into that game needing a win to go through so expect them to go all out for victory in their opening fixture against Sweden in Kiev.
The manager has talked ambitiously about winning the tournament, but just getting out of the group would be an achievement.
At one point under his leadership they lost four games in a row.
Former Liverpool flop Andriy Voronin is still around, while Bayern Munich’s Tymoshuck will be desperate to get over his Champions League Final defeat.
MANAGER: ERIK HAMREN Well-respected in Scandinavia where he had success at club level in Denmark and Norway. Took over after Sweden failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. STAR PLAYER: ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC Often an enigma but still one of the best centre-forwards around. Has scored some great goals for Sweden at past Euros. Expect more this time around. RECORD: 2008 first round 2004 quarter-finals 2000 first round 1992 semi-finals
Italy thrashed 3-0 by Russia in Euro warm-up June 02, 2012 16:53 IST
Italy's [ Images ] troubles mounted as they produced some slapstick defending in a 3-0 defeat by fellow Euro 2012 finalists Russia [ Images ] on Friday in their only warm-up match for the tournament.
The game at the Letzigrund in Zurich was played against the backdrop of a match-fixing scandal back home that prompted Italy coach Cesare Prandelli to say he would not mind his side pulling out of the European Championship if it was the right move.
Friday's performance was a defensive nightmare for Italy, who conceded only twice in 10 games during qualifying, with Russia's second and third goals coming from defensive mix-ups involving substitute goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis.
Italy had created more chances in the opening hour but their rearguard always looked shaky and they fell to pieces when Russia, who could have scored three times ahead of the break, went ahead through Alexander Kerzhakov just before the hour.
Roman Shirokov then added two late goals.
It was Italy's third successive match without scoring following 1-0 defeats by Uruguay in November and the United States in February and their heaviest loss since Prandelli took charge following the 2010 World Cup.
Italy have been drawn in a tough Group C at Euro 2012 with world and European champions Spain, Croatia [ Images ] and Ireland.
Mario Balotelli [ Images ] drew a blank for the Italians, disappearing from the action in the last half hour after a bright opening.
"I have to do tests, we didn't have time for lots of preparations, there is not much time," said Prandelli.
"The first half was open, both teams could have scored and the first 10 minutes of the second half were also very good but when the goal came we lost all our energy. I'm not sure if it was physical or psychological."
"This is something I have to find out, to help rebuild the confidence. Perhaps it's good to suffer a bad game now as it means we have our feet back firmly on the ground and know how much we have to work.
"We have to regain our strength and fight for every ball, as in the qualification," he added.
Italy's match-fixing scandal led Prandelli to drop left back Domenico Criscito from his squad after police said the player was formally under investigation.
Criscito has denied any wrongdoing.
Jeered off the pitch by the mainly Italian crowd, Italy's nightmare began just after Antonio Cassano failed to turn Balotelli's cross into the net.
Russia broke down the other end and Kerzhakov, allowed too much space, fired the opening goal past De Sanctis, who had replaced Gianluigi Buffon at halftime, from Shirokov's pass just before the hour mark.
The second goal 15 minutes from time came after De Sanctis and Christian Maggio went for the same ball and the hapless keeper cleared to Shirokov who slid it into an empty net.
The Zenit St Petersburg [ Images ] player benefitted from more sloppy defending in the 89th minute to round off the victory.
Italy began the match with Balotelli and Cassano in attack, Daniele De Rossi and Claudio Marchisio in the heart of midfield, Riccardo Montolivo between them and the forwards, with Andrea Pirlo as a deep-lying playmaker.
Pirlo was involved in nearly all of Italy's best attacks, his floated passes over the Russian backline and angled passes between their defenders spelling danger almost every time.
In the fourth minute, he picked out Balotelli, who controlled the ball on his chest and produced a powerful half-volley which was tipped over by Vyacheslav Malafeyev.
A similar chipped pass was just too long for the marauding Balotelli, who also just failed to make contact with De Rossi's low cross after Pirlo again opened up the Russian defence.
Balotelli tried too often to go it alone and ended up losing possession.
However, Italy's main problems were at the back, usually their strong point. They looked exposed at the back and often lost possession as they tried to play their way out of defence.
Russia weaved some neat passing patterns and could easily have scored two or three goals before halftime, but repeatedly wasted their chances.
Kerzhakov hit the foot of the post, Konstantin Zyryanov twice shot wide from good positions and Shirokov had a shot parried by Buffon.
Italy's only other warm-up match before they face Spain in their opening match on June 10, against Luxemburg in Parma on Tuesday, was cancelled following the earthquake which hit the north of the country.
The Portugal national team get together to listen coach Paulo Bento (3rd L) before their training session at Praia del Rei training camp in Obidos May 30, 2012. Talented and stylish when at their best, Portugal will have to shake a long-standing reputation of underperforming in a very difficult group if it has a chance to leave its mark on Euro 2012 with Germany, the Netherlands and qualifying group stage nemesis Denmark lying in wait. Source: Reuters Pictures
Players to watch: Something of an obvious candidate here, as former World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo is the dominant figure looking to find his first success with the senior national team. The Real Madrid superstar will be the focus of both the Portuguese attack and opposing defenses. Employed as a winger strictly in his younger days, Ronaldo has been moved more centrally and advanced by his coaches and into any of the wide forward, lead forward or supporting forward positions. He can play off a target striker in Hugo Almeida or with another striker like Helder Postiga and, potentially, Nani supporting him. The other factor to watch here will be Rui Patrício who will need to duplicate his club form with Sporting to give Portugal any chance to survive this group, much less be a contender for Euro 2012.
Potential weak spots: there are very few on this very balanced balanced squad. Goalkeeping, midfield and defense are all very solid, even though Pepe has to watch out for the red cards. In attack, while this team has Ronaldo, Nani and some fine complimentary pieces who afford tactical variety to Bento, the goals at times go missing and that's where the trouble often begins - when Portugal is chasing a result. It's not often a country ranked fifth in the world is not among the favorites, but with 2nd-ranked Germany and 4th-ranked Netherlands also in Group B - one of the top five will fall after the group stage.
Coach's Bio: Paulo Bento was a popular hire after the firing of Carlos Queiroz for a string of job related indiscretions, delivering with him a more open style than his predecessor, at least on paper. That made Bento more popular among the players and fans alike, but Portugal still came in second in their group by virtue of a loss to Denmark. In the playoffs, however, Portugal destroyed Bosnia and Herzegovina 6-2 at home.
Team analysis: It's hard to find much wrong with this squad as its mix of skill and style will make Portugal one of the fan favorites going in. Perhaps, one could spot a little inconsistency in its performances and an over-dependence, at times, on a single player; but the most problematic area for this team is the quality of their competition in Group B. With a little fortune along the way, Portugal could be one of the biggest surprises of the championship.
Tournament prospects: This is a team that go could places. Or, given that the poor fortune of having been drawn in this tournament's "Group of Death," it could just as easily be three-and-out. Even worse, Portugal's first two matches are against Germany and the Netherlands, so Bento will need to get points in each of those matches for even a bit of breathing space.
Betting odds: anywhere from 15-20 to 1 to win, 7th best overall, but widely regarded as only 3rd best in its group.
Current rankings: Elo 8th (1871), FIFA 5th (1190).
Euro 2012 Group A - Greece Preview June 01, 2012 by Dan Leo Dukhin
The Greece national football team players (top L-R) Kyriakos Papadopoulus, goalkeeper Michail Sifakis, Sokratis, Konstantinos Katsouranis, Chose Cholevas, Sotirios Ninis and (front L-R) team captain Georgios Karagkounis, Dimitrios Salpangidis, Ionannis Maniatis, Konstantinos Fortounis, Theofanis Gekas pose before the international friendly football match between Armenia and Greece at the Kufstein Arena stadium, in Kufstein on May 31, 2012 ahead of the Euro 2012 tournament. Source: Getty Images
Players to watch: on a team without major international superstars - 2004 is a looong source of Greek pride, but the key to their success is solid team work in midfield and a high conversion percentage of goal scoring opportunities from their forwards. Giorgos Samaras and Theofanis Gekas will be asked to convert whatever opportunities created and may dictate what happens for the Greeks in this tournament.
Potential weak spots: this team lacks athleticism and team speed, but only Russia can be considered as having weapons to seriously threaten Greece on that front. Additionally, the quality of the Greek ball possession and off-the-ball movement can offset this shortcoming to a degree as well.
Coach's Bio: Fernando Santos, 57, has had an interesting coaching career that had him regularly shuttling between Greece and Portugal, having coached most of the top clubs in both leagues, including Porto, Sporting, Benfica, AEK, Panathinaikos and PAOK. Having taken the reigns after Otto Rehhagel's "retirement," Santos managed the team to the top place in its qualifying group, ahead of the much more fancied and star-studded Croatia.
Team analysis: Greece can best be described as workmanlike but also as a clever and tactically astute squad that can shift its formations on the go without necessarily making a substitution. It will probably need to use every trick up his sleeve to progress to the second round. On the other hand, it could claim a scalp or two on a good day also, with mentality and resilience in far more supply than technical quality. Options do appear to be rather slim for Poland and Ukraine, however.
Tournament prospects: Being placed in Group A certainly helps their cause, but questions remain as to whether this team has another 2004-like performance in it that could sustain what could be best described as lack of reliable goalscoring options. Greece looks to fall out of the tournament rather early.
Betting odds: Between 66 and 117 to one, dead last to win. Of course, that's what the odds-makers predicted back in 2004 too.
Current rankings: Elo, 26th (1754 points), FIFA 14th (961)
Euro 2012 Group A - Czech Republic June 01, 2012 by Dan Leo Dukhin
Czech Republic national team players pose for a photo before their international friendly soccer match against Hungary in Prague, June 1, 2012. Top row (L-R) Jaroslav Plasil, Theodor Gebre Selassie, David Limbersky, Milan Baros, Michal Kadlec, Petr Cech, Tomas Sivok. Front row (L-R) Jan Rezek, Daniel Kolar, Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar. The man in the spotlight: Chelsea FC goalkeeper Petr Cech who will be called on to keep this skilled and hard working side in every match until a breakthrough can be summoned. Source: Reuters Pictures
Top players to watch: Arsenal's Tomas Rosicky was once hailed as the next great Czech playmaker but his string of injuries limited his contribution to both his club and national team. When in form, his talents are indispensable to the Czech efforts. Petr Cech just won the Champions League and will attempt to avoid a nightmare that was his 2008 performance, where his dropped ball and the subsequent tap-in was the major reason for the quarterfinal loss to Turkey.
Potential weak spots: lack of upfront scoring. With the retirement of a giant Jan Koller, the potency of the Czech flank-and-cross strategy has vastly diminished. 22 year old CSKA striker Tomas Necid will attempt to duplicate the production of the ex-Anderlecht-Dortmund-Monaco center forward but it is, pardon the pun, a tall task. A veteran speedster Milan Baros could complement a 6'3" Necid in the same way he complemented a similar style striker Johan Elmander with his club Galatasaray SK, but the ex-Liverpool-Aston Villa-Lyon prospect has been a picture of inconsistency through his career.
Coach's Bio: Once a respected Czech international, 47 year old Michal Bilek took over in 2009 after the team failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup and guided it to the second place in its group, albeit far behind the winner Spain. The Czechs then scored two goals in added time at home versus Montenegro and ended up winning that playoff series with the 3:0 total.
Team Analysis: a hard working squad with few stars needs a total commitment from every member in order to remain in contention for the second round. Rosicky needs to stay healthy and Cech to make a few big saves, much as he did for Chelsea FC in Barcelona and Munich during a tough ride to a Champions League title.
Tournament prospects: Progress to the next stage is not an impossible task, given the top line quality - or lack thereof - in Group A. Will be in every match and might have to get points in every match to seal progression to the knockout rounds.
Betting Odds: Anywhere from 60-100/1 to win, ~ 13th longest.
Current rankings: Elo 21 (1768 points), FIFA 26th (798)
Euro 2012 Group A - Poland Preview June 01, 2012 by Dan Leo Dukhin
Poland's goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, trains prior to a friendly soccer match against Andorra at Legia Soccer Stadium in Warsaw June 1, 2012. The European Championship is due to start in a week's time on June 8 with the first match between Poland and Greece. Players such as striker Robert Lewandowski, midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski and defender Lukasz Piszczek may be key talking points because of their success with Borussia Dortmund, but Arsenal's Szczesny might in fact be the key. Source: Getty Images
Players to watch: Borussia Dortmund's Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczkowski and Lukasz Piszczek are top tier pros, for whom these Euros might serve as an audition for lucrative moves to England or Spain. That's the good news. The bad news is that outside the trio and Arsenal's GK Wojciech Szczesny, the Polish cupboard is pretty bare and it remains to be seen how the coach Franciszek Smuda adopts the piano carriers that comprise the bulk of the team to the aforementioned piano players.
One of Lewandowski's great attributes is his movement off the ball and ability to sniff out even the tiniest of the passing lanes. But this Polish squad has nowhere the movement of Borussia Dortmund and the star striker could get used to casting glances of great displeasure toward his team mates.
Potential weak spots: the defense, outside of Piszczek, seems to be void of the international level talent and Szczesky will have to be on top of his game to keep the goals allowed to a minimum. A left side winger is another missing link, which makes this team extremely right sided.
Coach's Bio: Franciszek Smuda has an extensive coaching resume, though most of his stops have been in Poland proper. His record with the national record is an unremarkable 11 W 10 T 7L with some very unpleasant defeats such as 6:0 to Spain and 2:0 to Lithuania. On the plus side of the ledger, he did register a 2:1 win over Argentina and a 2:2 tie vs. Germany.
Historical record: for all its fame from the 1970's and 1980's, the Polish sides have not made it to the Euros until 2008, when they qualified at the top of their group under a legendary Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker. Beenhakker, however, must have lost interest somewhere along the route with his team "achieving" the last place in Austria/Switzerland with 1 draw and 2 losses.
Team analysis: Through its most successful spells, the Polish teams combined the Russian athleticism and the German stoicism, playing a direct style football that relied in speedy wingers and forwards, aided by the quality goal keeping from the likes of Jan Tomaszewski and Józef Młynarczyk. The quality goal keeping remained but the team slipped into a pedestrian form unbecoming a nation of 38 million people and many expatriates.
Tournament prospects: A positive spinmeister might say, "Beat Czechia and Greece and you're onto the second stage". Considering that Poland is a host nation, such a scenario is fairly feasible, albeit not very likely. However, should the other results fall their way, the advance into the quarterfinals is not out of the question.
Betting odds: From the mid-30's to 50/1, ~ 9th best.
Current rankings: Elo 36th (1690 points), FIFA : 65th (514 points).
Euro 2012 Group A - Russia Preview May 30, 2012 by Dan Leo Dukhin
Russia's national football team players attend a training session in Moscow on May 20, 2012, ahead of the Euro 2012 football championships in Ukraine and Poland. Source: Getty Images
Top players to watch: After a scintillating 2008 European Championship, Andrey Arshavin earned himself a lucrative move to Arsenal. After a not so-scintillating 2011 season with Arsenal, Arshavin finds himself back with Zenit St. Petersburg. Ho-hum. When on his game, the moody little playmaker can be brilliant. When he is off, he can be a surplus to requirements because forward Alexandr Kerzhakov, attacking midfielder Roman Shirokov (both Zenit), playmaker Alan Dzagoyev (CSKA) and winger Marat Izmailov (Sporting Lisbon) can be relied for inspiration.
Potential weak spots: there's usually a problem in Russian central defense and this team is no exception. Many coaches might have chosen to place two holding midfielders as a shield but Advocaat prefers a single holding mid in Igor Denisov and a box-to-box linker Konstantin Zyryanov (both Zenit) instead.
Coach's Bio: Dick Advocaat, 64, 10W 5T 3L record with Russia.
Advocaat has a long and impressive resume, having coached at far too many clubs - and the Dutch national team - to count. Having won the 2008 UEFA Cup with Zenit, he stood as the most likely successor to his compatriot Guus Hiddink. when the latter quit after failing to qualify the team for the 2010 World Cup. Unlike a more adventurous Hiddink, Advocaat teaches a more deliberate style and it remains to be seen how Russia rates against a top tier competition. Fortunately for them, their group isn't rated as highly as others.
One possible negative to the current regime, Advocaat has already signed on to coach his old club PSV after the end of these Euros and his commitment to this team has been questioned.
Historical record: for the reference purposes, performances of the long defunct USSR teams and a one-shot CIS squad are excluded. As Russia - 1996 (1D 2L, last in its group), 2004 (1W, 2L, last in its group), 2008 (3W, 2L, semi-finalist)
Team analysis: A skilled and athletic side rode high thanks to Hiddink's adoption of the run-and-gun playing style and its star Andrey Arshavin back in 2008. Advocaat preaches a conventional 4-3-3 but is yet to settle on its attacking options. With Pavel Pogrebnyak (Fulham/Stuttgart) and Roman Pavlyuchenko (Lokomotiv) on an indifferent form, Kerzhakov has looked like Russia's best bet in the middle but, at 5'9", Alexandr lacks the stature of a prototypical center forward suitable for 4-3-3.
Tournament prospects: Russia should qualify for the knock-out round. Anything above that is icing on the cake.
Betting odds: Anywhere from 18-25/1 to win, ~ 8th best.
Current rankings: Elo 17th (1808 pts), FIFA 11th (1049) (rankings subject to change after all the pre-Euros friendlies are played out)
Euro 2012 Group B - Germany Preview May 30, 2012 by Dan Leo Dukhin
A combo of recent file pictures shows (top, from LtoR) German national football team's goalkeepers Manuel Neuer, Tim Wiese, Ron-Robert Zieler, defenders Holger Badstuber, Jerome Boateng, Benedikt Hoewedes, Mats Hummels and Philipp Lahm, (middle LtoR) defenders Marcel Schmelzer, Per Mertesacker, midfielders Lars Bender, Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil, Andre Schuerrle, (bottom LtoR) midfielders Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Götze, Ilkay Guendogan, forwards Mario Gomez, Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski, Marco Reus and coach Joachim Löw. Coach Joachim Löw on May 28, 2012 unveiled his final 23-man squad for next month's European Championships, cutting four players from his initial pre-list. Source: Getty Images
Top players to watch: given that Germany features a star loaded roster from top European clubs, the star attackers tend to stand out more than star defenders. As such, Real Madrid's Mesut Özil, Bayern Munich's Thomas Müller and Lazio's Miroslav Klose attract a larger share of attention. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer can be both spectacular and spectacularly awful and needs a performance void of major gaffes.
Potential weak spots: a presumed starter at left back Marcel Schmeltzer (Borussia Dortmund) is inexperienced at the international stage and the coaching staff may be tempted to alter the assignments to a more asymmetric "pulley" variety with Bayern's Holger Badstuber as a stay home fullback on one side and a two way fullback Philipp Lahm (also Bayern Munich) on another. Badstuber, however, plays centrally for his club. Bastian Schweinsteinger's return to form from a long term injury has been gradual, with the Bayern stalwart having a few rough moments in the waning days of the Bundesliga and the Champions League.
Coach's bio: Joachim "Jogi" Löw, 52, took over from the current US national team coach Jürgen Klinsmann after the 2006 World Cup and managed the team to the second place in the 2008 Euros and third place in the 2010 World Cup with an overall 53W-11T-13L record. Germany won all of its ten matches in qualifying.
Historical record (including West Germany): 19 W, 10 L, 9 T, winner (1972, 1980, 1996), runner-up (1976, 1992, 2008)
Team analysis: despite the finals appearance in the 2008 Euros, the squad was criticized for its uninspiring play and afterwards Löw changed the general approach from a mechanical, power-based style, as exemplified by captain Michael Ballack, to a movement based scheme that is closer in principle to that of Borussia Dortmund or several Spanish clubs like, dare we say, Barcelona. The formation switched from a dominant 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 hybrid. Players quickly responded to the change and Germany moved from 1945 Elo points to the high of 2057 and from the 6th to 2nd in the world rankings by the end of 2011.
Tournament prospects: one of the top favorites for the title, if its stars recover both mentally and physically from their grueling 2011-2012 club campaigns.
If I was forced to pick a winner then I would go for Germany. Funnily enough, though, I think this could be a repeat of 2004 or 1992 again where an unfancied team (and no I am not implying Greece) could actually win it.
For all their quality I think this is going to be one tournament too many for Spain, my only thing against Germany is that they are in a tough group (or on paper it is tough) and that could count against if they do get to the knockouts. Holland seem to self destruct with their discpline these days when the going gets tough - and France and Italy don't give me a warm feeling at all.
England's odds are totally out of touch with reality - and I have to wonder what some people are smoking.
Looking at those odds I have to say that 3 teams catch my fancy - Russia, hosts Ukraine and Sweden - while the Czeks have a pretty solid Euro record, albeit thay are in a very tough group. I wouldn't be surprised if the winner came from that group of 4.
And before you laugh let's not forget Uruguay got to the semi's at the last WC.