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A Preview and Recap of EURO’s 2012 First Matches

June 12, 2012

Features, Soccer

Unless you were stuck somewhere without cable television (or sleep past 4:30 pm Eastern everyday), you probably caught some of the UEFA EURO 2012 tournament on ESPN this weekend.

Soccer can be a pretty alien concept to Americans over the age of 10, so this article is written for the novice reader as well as the soccer fan who follows some of the European tournaments and leagues closely (or as closely as you can across the Pond).

For more information on the EURO 2012, join us after the jump!

Now that one match has been played by every team, we have seen some competition and hopefully have a better feel of how the teams might perform throughout the month (where applicable, of course). Each team will play 3 games to begin with, one against each team in their group, and amongst them the top two from each group will be chosen to continue the tournament. From then on, the winner from each match will continue and the loser will be sent home.

Here are the Groups and where the standings are as of today:

GROUP A          
 

W

D

L

GD

POINTS
Russia

1

0

0

3

3
Greece

0

1

0

0

1
Poland

0

1

0

0

1
Czech Republic

0

0

1

-3

0
GROUP B          
 

W

D

L

GD

POINTS
Denmark

1

0

0

1

3
Germany

1

0

0

1

3
The Netherlands

0

0

1

-1

0
Portugal

0

0

1

-1

0
GROUP C          
 

W

D

L

GD

POINTS
Croatia

1

0

0

2

3
Italy

0

1

0

0

1
Spain

0

1

0

0

1
Ireland

0

0

1

-2

0
GROUP D          
 

W

D

L

GD

POINTS
Ukraine

1

0

0

1

3
England

0

1

0

0

1
France

0

1

0

0

1
Sweden

0

0

1

-1

0

A quick look shows some decisive victories by the Russians and the Croats. The win over Ireland definitely will help Croatia as they look ahead to two tough matchups from the best national team in soccer the last four years and BY FAR on the FIFA rankings: Spain and the always tough, Italy. A draw from one of these could be enough to push them past the group stage and a win would most surely.

Now that we’re all lubed up, let’s break down these groups and get some predictions going. Steve Sohlin will be joining us on the back end for some analysis on Groups C and D, where long, flowing hair is rampant and the players have more sex appeal than…well…whatever turns you on.

GROUP A:

Russia. FIFA World Ranking: 13

Alan Dzagoev had 2 goals in the Russian win.

In my opinion, especially with the thrashing of the Czechs on Friday, this is Russia’s group to lose now. It probably was before anyway when the Russians were placed in the arguably (although who would?) easiest group of the tournament. Andrey Arshavin looked fantastic, and Alan Dzagoev was exactly what the Russians needed as he scored two goals in the onslaught. Mother Russia is on the assault, and the only Asian team in the tournament may be the first to pencil in their names in the knockout round.

Greece. FIFA World Ranking: 15

The always fiery Greeks will always be remembered for their jaw-dropping EURO 2004 win against the host Portuguese front chock full of talent. They weren’t even supposed to qualify for that 16 team tournament, having started the qualifying games off with two losses. Greece drew with Poland in their first game, and while Poland looked like the better side by far for the majority of the first half, the second half was all Greece…even with the loss of the first-choice defender, Sokratis Papastathopoulos on TWO questionable yellow cards. He’s also basically the only defender not normally playing with Olympiacos it seems like, but I guess that really doesn’t matter. Just as their first game was quite level, I expect the 2nd qualifier to the knockout round to come from that game. The Greeks play the Czechs next, and while the Czechs are actually not a bad side, if Greece is able to come out with a win, it could be their place to lose with Poland up against Russia tomorrow.

Poland. FIFA World Ranking: 62

Being one of the two host countries may have been the best thing going for the Poles in this tournament. Hopefully their good showing in the first half of the Greek match can go for longer against the Russian side. They are clearly going to need to command the ball like they did, as the freakishly good Wojciech Szczęsny is suspended for the match. Przemysław Tytoń was able to sub in and kept the scores level and ultimately preserve the draw for the Polish side after a scary penalty kick, but the skill really does fall off. That’s not stating Tytoń isn’t good…but the first choice Arsenal keeper is just THAT good. He’s a prodigy. A draw pits them in the running against a Czech team who was stomped by a strong Russian side. A win, and they could very well be in. They need to score early and ride their home crowd to a draw or win. A complete game needs to be played against a stronger opponent this time around.

Czech Republic. FIFA World Ranking: 27

The glorious helmet.

The way the Czechs looked in their first match would have you thinking they had no chance in this group, even if it was seen as potentially the weakest in the tournament. But the Czechs are not a bad side. They really aren’t. They have a lot of talent and definitely have the potential to find their way out of the basement against Greece and Poland. The helmet wearing Chelsea keeper, Petr Čech, has pledged that his side will fix their issues against Greece and one could believe him with the combination of talent on this team, ie: Tomáš Rosický, Petr Jiráček, Michal Kadlec, Václav Pilař. The strength of this team is in the midfield, undoubtedly, and they must continue to play to that strength.

GROUP B:

Germany. FIFA World Ranking: 3

Take that Ronaldo. That’s for being so damn dreamy. On a real note, though, that was not the prettiest game each team has played, and that’s being nice. The Germans definitely didn’t play like the behemoth of a roster they possess would have led you to think and the beautiful Portuguese attack really never came together. But nonetheless, the Germans find themselves atop Group B with a realistic chance to ensure a position in the next round with a win over a stunned Netherlands squad that also couldn’t get a goal on the board against Denmark. Mario Gomez, the man with the least German name on the squad, scored the lone goal against Portugal with a magnificent header last time around. He may have assured another start above old man Miroslav Klose, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he found net again against The Netherlands. The Germans haven’t won a EURO cup since 1996 and are definitely a favorite to make a run at it. I wouldn’t bet against it, either.

Denmark. FIFA World Ranking: 9

So the Danes stunned the Dutch. It’s not the first time and will not be the last. But it’s not like the Danes aren’t a good team. They rank 9th in the world and beat some tough teams on the way into this tournament. Young Niklas Bendtner is going for his 50th cap at the ripe age of 24 on Wednesday, and he has to face a team Denmark had to beat to get into the tournament’s finals back in November, Portugal. The Portuguese will not go down easily as a loss will send them home almost assuredly. But what feeling brings more pressure?…The feeling of an almost assured climb into the knockout round or a sending home? I have to go with the latter, but the Danes have a chance to really make this Group and tournament interesting.

The Netherlands. FIFA World Ranking: 4

Let’s be real. As I stated above, no one saw that loss coming. The Danes are no slouches, but the Dutch are the 3rd highest ranked in this tournament and were supposed to be automatics with the Germans into the knockout round. Now we have this debacle on our hands. But, that’s what makes soccer interesting. Think of the unlikely win of Slovakia over Italy in the last World Cup, sending Italy packing. There’s no way the Dutch can be written off so quickly, but they are in the hardest group of the tournament and haven’t played against the two other most talented teams in the group yet, Germany and Portugal. Robin van Persie, one of the best strikers in the world had an off day against Denmark. The Dutch side cannot afford for him to not give a top notch performance against Germany on Wednesday.

Portugal. FIFA World Ranking: 10

Miguel Veloso’s hair.

This is a must win for this team. Who would have thought that Portugal would be fighting for their lives at this point in the tournament after just one game? But that’s the luck of the draw, and they drew one of the best teams in the world. Portugal is one of the best as well, but this Group harbors four of the top ten teams in the world, and four of the seven even eligible to be in this tournament. The winner of the tournament could very well come out of this group as Group A is undoubtedly the underdog against any of the teams in this group. Portugal has some of the most promising and talented players in the world, with dreamboat Cristiano Ronaldo in the front along with other notables such as Nani, Pepe, Raul Meireles, and Miguel Veloso. The “other” Spain is going to have to not just draw the Danes, but beat them. And, I have a feeling they will be victorious, making Group B the most interesting group of the tournament thus far.

Group C

Spain. FIFA World Ranking: 1

The favorite to win Euro 2012 at 13/5, just beating out Germany’s 3/1 shot to win it. Without doubt, Spain’s been the most dominating force in international football over the last 4+ years. However, this team’s hampered by the same two injuries that kept Barcelona from repeating their campaign from two years ago: No David Villa, and no Carles Puyol. Without Villa, the Spanish are forced to make a choice between a Fernando Torres (who still can’t find his old form), and Fernando Llorente (who simply doesn’t fit in to the Spanish style of play as of late) up front at the lone center forward position.  In Sunday’s case however, the head coach Vincente del Bosque went with “C: None of the above” and preferred 6 midfielders instead, with Cesc Fabregas leading the way at the most forward starting position. Left with no truly effective scoring threat, teams like Italy can do this to the Spanish playmakers (in this case, Andres Iniesta) without fear of leaving a true scoring threat alone in the box…

Italy playing “Ring Around the Rosie” around Iniesta

Italy. FIFA World Ranking: 12

The winners of the 2006 World Cup, and victims of the most famous headbutt in football history. As with Spain though, Italy’s historical success carries little weight. Italy has an incredibly well-rounded starting squad highlighted by Daniele De Rossi, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Pirlo, and yes, Mario Balotelli. Italy trots out a stunning surplus of veteran talent, with Balotelli really being the only newer kid on the block. Experience served them quite well in their first match against the Spanish, where Italy escaped with a point from a 1-1 draw (thanks to the atrocious finishing of the Spanish attackers). Look for the Italians to continue matching up well against other sides due to their open-minded approach with their starting formations, and possibly making a surprise deep run in to this tournament. The only thing I could see coming between Italy and an easy trot to the knockout rounds would be the players’ increasing frustration with Mario Balotelli’s continued displays of immaturity. But with Antonio Di Natale coming off the bench, there’s really only a slight contrast in the effectiveness of Italy’s attack with or without Balotelli leading the way. Look for the Italians to make a decent run though if all goes well, and if Balotelli gets his nightly bottle before bed.

Ireland. FIFA World Ranking: 18

Frustrations visible on the face of Robbie Keane

The Irish have always sent out above average squads in the major tournaments. They were one terrible call away from beating France in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers and a subsequent birth in the World Cup Finals. However, two years later, the Irish tell a different story. Albeit strong in the Euro qualifiers, the Irish defense completely disappeared in their first game against Croatia, giving up three incredibly soft goals. Normally invisible to the casual watcher’s eye, John O’Shea’s lackluster speed never really presents a problem for the teams he’s on. However, Croatia attacked the wings with great ease, and especially highlighted the possibility that perhaps John O’Shea is getting to be a bit seasoned. On top of the lackluster defense, the Irish can normally depend on their main playmaker Robbie Keane to show up and create chances for them. Once again, the story’s changed here as well. After leaving the English Premier League for a more featured role with the Los Angeles Galaxy in MLS, Keane has yet to rediscover his old ways almost in the same respect as Fernando Torres. These two players need to be outstanding in their remaining games against Italy and Spain, or the Irish will be dead men walking.

Croatia. FIFA World Ranking: 8

Another team that routinely trots out decent squads in their major tournaments. Luka Modric is proving to be one of the top midfielders in the entire world, and continues to live up to the ridiculous standard he set for himself during Euro 2008. Also turning in to quite the player is Nikica Jelavic, whose transfer to Everton this past season completely turned the club around. He’s continued his stellar form in international duty, scoring against the Irish in their first match, and served as a persistent nuisance to the Irish defense. If both of these players continue their extremely high level of play, look for Croatia to be a legitimate threat to upset either Italy or Spain and possibly take one of their spots in the knockout rounds.

 

Group D

England. FIFA World Ranking:6

O Captain, My Captain

My, my. There’s simply too many talking points with this squad to have them all covered in a paragraph. Truth be told, the English have been extremely disappointing in their last few major tournaments. Granted, their expectations are always through the roof, but they normally have the talent to warrant such expectations. This year is no different. Despite the absence of Rio Ferdinand, the stripping of the captaincy from John Terry, Wayne Rooney’s two-game suspension, and Frank Lampard’s injury, this team still has absolutely no excuse for the way they played against France today. When a team trots out Danny Welbecks, Ashley Youngs, Steven Gerrards, Scotty Parkers, and James Milners, they have NO excuse for sitting back and playing nothing but defensive football as the #6 team in the world. The French had 15 shots on goal to England’s 1. Yes. 1. This contrast is something you’d expect to see if the United States played Spain’s A team. Never should it be expected from an English national team. If I were an Englishman, I’d be extremely concerned with not only their form today, but also with the newly appointed head coach (Roy Hodgson) who allowed this type of effort. If they don’t attack against the Swedes and the Ukrainians, do not be surprised if Ukraine steals a spot away from England in the knockout phase after getting their 3 points today.

France. FIFA World Ranking: 14

It’s fairly hard to judge the French based on today’s match. Obviously their defense cannot be focused on, because they could’ve sent out their Under-17 defensive players and gotten a similar result. It’s also challenging to accurately judge just how good their attack is as well, since finding space to operate in today’s match proved to be a nearly impossible task, with England routinely dedicating 8 men to play in their defensive third of the pitch for most of the match. However, the potential is all here with the French. They figured out the clubhouse hysteria that would pave the way for an atrocious display in the 2010 World Cup, and it seems that with Samir Nasri (their lone goal scorer from today’s match), Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery, and Florent Malouda, this team shouldn’t have any trouble with advancing past group play.

Ukraine. FIFA World Ranking:52

A view of the Kiev Olympic Stadium

One of the two host nations (obviously)! On top of that, perhaps the greatest Ukrainian player of all time in Andriy Shevchenko seems to be on his international football goodbye tour, and he couldn’t have started it off any better. After Sweden’s first goal, Shevchenko answered only 3 minutes later, and followed it up with an incredible near-post header off a corner 7 minutes after that. Needless to say, the crowd for this match was nothing short of breathtaking. Even though they’re far from favored to advance past group play, Ukraine’s support simply does not reflect any sort of fair-weathered fandom. And really, what’s more satisfying than playing for your country when you have an entire nation of people to support you no matter the result?

Sweden. FIFA World Ranking: 17

Last but not least, we address the Swedes. There were murmurs throughout the world football media that Sweden’s better off without Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the starting lineup. The basis to the argument being that, similarly to the situation with Barcelona before his transfer to AC Milan, he’s simply too selfish a player to fit in Sweden’s system. Every time I hear this argument, I’m baffled by it. Especially in this case, since he’s the runaway greatest player to routinely throw on a Swedish kit. He doesn’t only score goals either. His ball distribution is becoming better and better every time he plays. His crosses are accurate, his short range passing is accurate, and his ability to shield defenders away from the ball to buy more time for teammates to get open is just outstanding. With midfielders that can strike the ball as well as Kallstrom, Elm, and Svensson, Sweden is all but solid up front. However, we learned today that their defense is just downright pathetic. Time after time they tried to build up an attack from the back, and time after time they failed quite miserably. Not to mention the fact that (no disrespect intended) they allowed a guy who’s Ukraine’s only real scoring threat, and seems at this point like he should be eligible for senior citizen discounts, score a double against them today. This is unacceptable, and as a result, Sweden already seems to be dead in the water with no real hope of advancing past group play.

In the end, how do we feel it’s all going to play out? Well, neither of us are banking on a 2004-esque finish.

Mike’s Prediction: Spain takes the EURO cup and takes a hat trick in major tournaments since 2008. With that lineup, they won’t draw another match in this tournament, let alone lose one.

Steve’s Prediction: A healthy German side runs away with the EURO cup, and finally puts an end to injury-laden Spain’s dominance of European football. For now.

What are your feelings on the EURO? Who do you think will the win the whole thing? Any surprises you think could or will make it to the knockout stage? Tell us what you think in the comments below!

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About Mike Gazdik

Born in Detroit, raised in Warren, MI and now located in Grand Rapids, Mike has lived in Michigan his whole life: totaling 22 years. He currently is Vice-President of The Farm Club, a blog that is growing daily with new writers and readers. He enjoys offering research driven articles on many different subjects, but mostly American football. The goal of The Farm Club is to give aspiring college writers the ability to write on what topics really get them ticking, while sharing their insight and feelings with a large reader base. www.thefarmclub.net If you think you'd like to contribute to The Farm Club, contact the blog on Twitter, Facebook or through email. Information is listed on the blog's webpage.

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  1. EURO 2012: Group A and B Updates, Remarks and Predictions « The Farm Club - June 14, 2012

    […] For the original article including more in depth predictions, information and general feelings from Mike and Steve, click here. […]

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