Here's Travis Lankford again to give us his Euro 2012 preview.
It’s that time again, folks. Euro 2012 begins as Poland opens up the European tournament against 2004 winners, Greece. The Poles are co-hosts this year alongside the Ukraine. Two European backwaters get to put their countries on full display. Poland, which I love calling the Mexico of Europe, will be delighted to show off their unique culture and their brilliant stadiums. Ukraine will look to shrug off its red past and brush its human rights violations under the rug. The tournament is separated into four groups (A, B, C, and D) but will further expand in 2016 and involve 24 teams instead of the current format of 16.
Group A is home to Poland, Greece, one of Poland’s historical bullies in Russia, and rounded out by the Czech Republic. On the outside this group does not seem very compelling. However, Greece is a very efficient side and Russia has been on the up in competitions. It will be interesting to see if Russia are able to play more open and score goals; they have trouble with the latter. However, Greece has an amazing defensive record. Poland do not have a squad that jumps out at you but playing at home is always an advantage. The Czech Republic are led out by veteran, and newly crowned Champion of Europe, Peter Cech. They have some bright youngsters but I don’t foresee them getting the better of Greece or Russia. I hope Poland use this relatively easy group to progress. My prediction, Russia finish top with Poland runners-up.
Group B contains two European, and world, heavyweights in Germany and the Netherlands. Portugal and Denmark round out this murderous group but I don’t foresee them standing a chance against the Germans and the Oranje. Portugal has a good side but the German and Dutch teams are just too good. Denmark is the minnow in the group and hopefully they aren’t beaten too handily but the other three teams in the group. I see Netherlands finishing top with Germany as runners-up.
Group C is nothing but tragedy for the Republic of Ireland. Tourney holders Spain are coupled with Italy and Croatia. While Spain does not play the most electrifying soccer (I’ll never be a fan of tiki-taka), they will easily finish as winners of this group. The real question is will the old Italy show up or the new Italy that loses and keeps losing? Croatia should not be overlooked as England learned that the hard way in the past. I don’t think Italy will be revamped and reenergized enough to challenge as runners-up and I have Ireland, shockingly, being runners-up of this group.
The final group, Group D, is home to the other co-host, Ukraine. England, under new boss Roy Hodgson, haven’t dazzled in their build-up but have won. France seems to be on the up by the leadership of Laurent Blanc. Sweden has the tallest team of the tournament and has some very good players even if they aren’t known to be a strong side. Ukraine would have threatened in this group but their defense has been ravaged by injury. France has looked impressive and I see them finishing as winners of Group D. The runner-up isn’t as clear cut as some would want to argue. England has played very conservatively and do not look to have any flair or imagination when they have the ball. I think Sweden’s more advantageous style will prove the deciding factor and England will falter (yet again).
It will definitely be an interesting tournament but I doubt we’ll see a Cinderella team a la Turkey in 2008. I’ll breakdown the knockout stages once we arrive but I will say that I think the Oranje will win the tournament and exact their revenge upon Spain for losing the World Cup Final to ‘La Furia Roja’.