Last Friday, while most of you were slaving away working for the weekend, the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship hosted its draw in Kiev to set the groups of the tournament for this summer. Euro 2012, the tournament’s more common name, is the second largest soccer tournament in the world behind FIFA’s World Cup. In a nutshell, the teams that can qualify are from Europe, Eastern Asia, and parts of Northern Africa. The tournament has sixteen teams that gets narrowed down to eight through group stages like the World Cup with the top two teams in each group advancing to the knockout stages. It starts June 8 and runs through July 1 and will be hosted by Poland and Ukraine in eight host cities. Here is a bit of a group breakdown:
Teams: Poland (Ranked 66th in the world by FIFA), Czech Republic (33rd), Greece (14th), Russia(12th)
This is easily the worst group of the four and possibly one of the worst groups in the history of the Euros. This points out a glaring flaw in the system to make the host nation an automatic top seed. Poland is the worst team in the tournament so that all but guarantees that this group would have two of the worst teams in the tournament. And that came true with the Czech Republic joining the group. But, regardless of how awful this group is there is no clear-cut favorite to come out of this group. I am assuming Russia will win the group but with the other three it is a complete toss up. Greece won the tournament in 2004, the Czechs are a scrappy squad, and Poland has the home crowd behind them. I do not think the Czechs have enough fire power to advance, so it comes down to Greece and Poland…
Projected finish: Russia (Group A winner) , Poland (runner-up), Greece, Czech Republic
Teams: Netherlands (2nd), Denmark (11th), Germany (3rd), Portugal (7th)
This is easily the group of death in the 2012 Euros. I feel awful for the Danes who are ranked 11th in the world but are the worst in the group. They may not even salvage a point in their three games. I think they’ll give Portugal a good game, however. Despite being ranked behind Netherlands, Germany is probably the favorite to win the group. They have qualified for the Euros ten times and won it three times (both are records). The Dutch were not able to get results against Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland in friendly matches, but let’s face it they have the highest winning percentage in the Euros (53%) and they are the World Cup runner-up. Portugal can be deadly if they can click on all cylinders and have Cristiano Ronaldo show up unlike the World Cup. With all that being said, this should be a fun group to watch…
Projected finish: Germany (Group B winner), Netherlands (runner-up), Portugal, Denmark
Teams: Spain (1st), Croatia (8th), Italy (9th), Ireland (21st)
The World’s most talented team, Spain, has a shot to get three wins in this group with a less-than-average Irish team and hot-and-cold Italy and Croatia. Ireland will be able to join Denmark on the couch when the knockout stages begin because there is just too much power in this group for them to be able to compete. Who will be joining Spain in the next round is the real question. Croatia or Italy? Both teams are known for playing very well, but also very poorly. But I think Italy has a little more fire after missing the knockout stages of the World Cup and have a lot to prove to their nation…
Projected finish: Spain (Group C winner), Italy (runner-up), Croatia, Ireland
Teams: Ukraine (55th), France (15th), Sweden (18th), England (5th)
Predicting the way the teams will finish in this group is near impossible. Ukraine is not likely to win the group, but I also don’t see them finishing last where their ranking would put them. England is without its star forward Wayne Rooney for the entire group stage (pending a three-game suspension appeal). France is known for imploding on the big stage–as is England. And Sweden flies under the radar so it is hard to figure out how they stack up against their competition. I am a firm believer in how much home-field advantage helps in soccer, so I expect Ukraine to overachieve. But the other three teams should just go back into the pot and be drawn out again and that will be the order they finish…
Projected finish: England (Group D winner), Ukraine (runner-up), Sweden, France
I may have picked both host nations to advance, but I certainly wouldn’t be shocked if they fail to win a game. I certainly don’t expect them to win it all either. No host team has won the final in the last six tournaments. The best finish by the host in those six tournaments was Portugal losing in the finals in 2004.
My early favorites to win it all are either Spain or Germany. Look for the Netherlands to make a deep run, but they don’t seem to have the clutch gene to win it all. My sleepers are Italy, who play great team defense, and England with a hungry Rooney coming back for the knockout stages (if they get that far).
Though I do not think the tournament will not get the coverage the World Cup got a couple summers ago because the United States has nothing to do with UEFA, it will be a great month of soccer that I personally am looking forward to. I assume any other soccer fans are looking forward to it as well. In just a few short months I will be dusting off my cleats and busting out my vuvuzela!
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