Sunday, June 3, 2012

Euro 2012 Preview

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We're just days away from one of the world's most prestigious soccer tournaments as Euro 2012 gets ready to kickoff. Here's a quick preview of what we have to look forward to over the next month:

Group A: Poland, Greece, Russia, Czech Republic

06/08/12 - Poland vs Greece
06/08/12 - Russia vs Czech Republic
06/12/12 - Greece vs Czech Republic
06/12/12 - Poland vs Russia
06/16/12 - Czech Republic vs Poland
06/16/12 - Greece vs Russia

FIFA Rankings (World/Europe):
Poland (65/32)
Greece (14/10)
Czech Republic (26/16)
Russia (11/8)

Prediction: I see Greece and Russia advancing out of Group A. Both nations turned in strong performances during Qualifying losing just one match between the two of them. The Czechs finishing second behind Spain in Group I, which is understandable, but also suffering a bad loss against Lithuania (Lithuania's only win during Qualifying). As a result they needed to knock off Montenegro in a playoff, which they did, but I don't see them advancing to the Round of 8. Poland, one of the host nations, is just happy to be in the tournament so I don't see them doing a lot of damage despite the homefield advantage.

Player to Watch: Roman Pavlyuchenko, Russia
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The 30 year old Russian striker recently left Tottenham Hotspur to return to his homeland joining Lokomotiv Moscow. A contributor to the National Team since 2003, Pavlyuchenko scored 3 goals during Euro 2008 and four more during Euro 2012 Qualification. He has 20 international goals in 47 career appearances including 2 against England, 1 against Spain, 1 against the Netherlands and 1 against Argentina.

Group B: Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Portugal

06/09/12 - Netherlands vs Denmark
06/09/12 - Germany vs Portugal
06/13/12 - Denmark vs Portugal
06/13/12 - Netherlands vs Germany
06/17/12 - Portugal vs Netherlands
06/17/12 - Denmark vs Germany

FIFA Rankings (World/Europe):

Netherlands (4/3)
Denmark (10/7)
Germany (2/2)
Portugal (5/4)

Prediction: This is the Group of Death if ever there was one. Four of the world's top ten teams, and only two will advance. Germany went a perfect 10-0-0 during Qualifying outscoring its opponents 34-7 and the Netherlands' only blemish was a 3-2 loss in Sweden as they outscored their opponents 37-8. Denmark and Portugal met twice in Qualifying with both clubs winning on their home turf, but Portugal also suffered an embarrassing 4-4 home draw with Cyprus and a 1-0 loss in Norway conceding the group to Denmark and needing a playoff with Bosnia and Herzegovina to advance. After a scoreless draw in the first leg, they erupted for a 6-2 win in the second, but their lack of consistency makes them tough to bet on. Given the ridiculous form of the German and Dutch clubs, I think you have to figure both of them will advance. Apologies to the Danes, but even though they finished ahead of Portugal during Qualifying, I see them bringing up the rear.

Player to Watch: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Netherlands
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The 28 year old Schalke 04 striker led all players with 12 goals during Qualifying and is coming off a terrific year in the Bundesliga in which he became the first Dutch player to lead the league in scoring. KJH finished the regular season with 29 goals and helped Schalke to a third place finish and a spot in the 2012-13 Champions League. With 31 career goals for the Netherlands in 53 career appearances, he's just 9 goals shy of Patrick Kluivert's national team record. 

Group C: Spain, Italy, Ireland, Croatia

06/10/12 - Spain vs Italy

06/10/12 - Ireland vs Croatia

06/14/12 - Italy vs Croatia

06/14/12 - Spain vs Ireland

06/18/12 - Croatia vs Spain

06/18/12 - Italy vs Ireland

FIFA Rankings (World/Europe):

Spain (1/1)
Italy (12/9)
Ireland (18/13)
Croatia (8/6)

Prediction: Even with all of their injuries, I think Spain is a lock to make it to the Round of 8, but with all the turmoil in Italy amidst their match fixing scandal and talks of withdrawing from the tournament all together, I'm not sure the normally reliable Italians are a safe bet. Croatia finished second behind Greece during Qualifying suffering road losses to Georgia and the Greeks, but they bounced back with a big 3-0 win over Turkey in the first leg of their playoff. While the Irish only lost once during Qualifying, to Russia, I don't know that they'll be able to hang with these giants of European soccer. So I'm going to go with Spain and Croatia.

Player to Watch: Xavi Hernández, Spain
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32 year old Xavi has finished third in the Ballon d'Or voting the past three years, and while more a facilitator than a scorer, there's no questioning his impact both at the club level for Barcelona and the international level for Spain. Xavi had 10 goals and 7 assists for Barca in La Liga and 2 goals and 3 assists in just 5 matches for Spain during Euro 2012 Qualifying. With Spain riddled with injuries throughout the lineup, it's going to be vital for Spain to have Xavi at the top of his game.

Group D: Ukraine, Sweden, France, England

06/11/12 - France vs England

06/11/12 - Ukraine vs Sweden

06/15/12 - Ukraine vs France

06/15/12 - Sweden vs England

06/19/12 - England vs Ukraine

06/19/12 - Sweden vs France

FIFA Rankings (World/Europe):

Ukraine (50/28)

Sweden (17/12)

France (16/11)

England (7/5)

Prediction: Now I love English football having been enamored with the squad since the days of Alan Shearer and Michael Owen. That said, do these tournaments ever go as planned for the English? On paper they should advance, but in my mind, they're not capable of winning these big games. And now with a new coach, they seem like even less of a sure thing, so I'm going to say the French and Swedes will roll on to the Round of 8 while the co-host Ukrainians will be content to enjoy being in the tournament and playing host.

Player to Watch: Zlatan Ibrahimović, Sweden
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Ibra erupted for 28 goals in Serie A this year en route to the league's scoring title, but AC Milan finished second in the league behind Juventus. It marked the second time the 6'5" Swede had led the league having also done so back in 2008-09 while playing for Inter. Ibra led the Swedes in scoring during Qualifying tallying 5 of their 20 goals. If Sweden is going to advance to the Round of 8, Big Z will have a big role in it.

So to recap, I have the following teams advancing to the Round of 8:

Greece, Russia, Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Croatia, France, Sweden.

What do you all think?