Euro 2012 starts tomorrow. We previewed all 16 teams. We looked at the WAGs. Now, here’s how we think the tournament will play out.
Group A: Russia (7), Poland (5), Czech Republic (2), Greece (1)
The Russians have superior talent. They have club continuity with CSKA Moscow players at the back and Zenit players at the front. Poland has home field, some quality with their Dortmund trio and a strong goalkeeper. The Czechs are relevant, but mediocre and limited. The Greeks are a watered down version of their past selves: not as disciplined, not as talented and not as successful.
Germany tops the group and the tournament for both high-end talent and depth. They are strong at the back and play ambitiously with confidence. The Dutch have an edge over Portugal. Both teams are a solid enough defensively, but Holland has far more options for goals going forward. Portugal, really, has one elite outlet, Cristiano Ronaldo. He’s easier to contain when it’s just him. Denmark got caught in the wrong group.
Group C: Spain (9), Italy (4), Croatia (2), Ireland (1)
Spain is dominant in midfield, solid everywhere else and clearly outclasses the other teams in this group. The Italians are notoriously slow starters – they departed in 2010 still fiddling with the ignition – but should get enough from their enigmatic talent to secure a win and qualify for the next round. Croatia missed its window when they lost in the 2008 quarterfinals. Ireland gets hurt by the match order. They must go for it immediately against Croatia. If they lose they are sunk.
Having faith in France is hard. So is looking at them on paper and not picking them. They will suffocate every team in this group in midfield. They have ample firepower going forward. If their back line fails them, it should not be in the group stage. England won’t be great, but should be stable enough to hang around, get Rooney back and beat Ukraine in the final leg. Sweden has a top-tier star in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, surrounded by an Ikea squad. Ukraine is playing at home, but quite weak.
Netherlands over Russia: Revenge for Euro 2008. The Dutch are have better top-end talent, especially up front. The force is not with Arshavin the way it was four years ago.
Germany over Poland: Another Bayern vs. Dortmund matchup. Except it’s three Dortmund players and most of Bayern’s team with a dash of Real Madrid.
Spain over England: Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard trying to hold the line against Barcelona’s midfield for 90 minutes. That could get ugly.
France over Italy: Similar teams. France is more reliable up front and has a bit more steel in midfield.
Spain over Netherlands: Spain holds possession, blunting the Dutch attack. Iker Casillas makes a few close saves. Spain edges a close match and returns to the final.
Germany over France: France’s weak center back pairing crushes Les Bleus as the Germans abuse them from all sorts of bizarre angles.
Germany over Spain: Spain’s cracks start to emerge in a tight match. They don’t have David Villa to swoop in and break the deadlock. Germany was in transition in 2006 and 2008. They were raw in 2010. In 2012 they are at the height of their power. The Germans can throw on depth without sacrificing quality. They outlast Spain to win Euro 2012.
[Photos via Getty]
Previously: Euro 2012: Hottest WAGs Best XI