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Blogcritics Euro 2008 Preview: Euro, Euro On The Wall, Who’s Gonna Win It All?

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"Mom."

"Yes, dear?"

"What's a Euro?"

"Don't you mean 'hero,' honey?"

"No. Euro."

"Ask your father."

"Dad."

"Yes, son."

"What's a Euro?"

"Why son, it's a Greek sandwich.”

Insert Vaudeville cane here.

Brace yourselves North America! Euro 2008 is right around the corner and there's no telling what those devilish bureaucrats in Brussels will be up to.

I don't know what that means either.

So you know, Euro 2008 (formerly known as the European Championship) is a soccer tournament sanctioned by UEFA where 16 of Europe's top soccer nations battle for footie supremacy. This year it will be held from June 7 to June 29 in Austria and Switzerland.

It’s often argued that any Euro tournament is tougher than the World Cup because there are no so-called weak nations competing.

Indeed, 12 of the 16 teams in the tournament are ranked in FIFA's Top 25 countries. The ELO rankings report 11 of the 16 in the top 25. In both cases, one of the hosts – Austria – is the lowest ranking European nation.

Of course, if Austria was ranked for cultural pedigree, it would be a different story. Austria would be ranked among the top nations. Alas, this is not about Ludwig von Mises, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Sigmund Freud. It's about Christiano Ronaldo, Luca Toni and Cesc Fabregas.

Historically, Germany has won three Euro titles with five trips to the finals – more than any other nation. Next in line is France with two titles in its trophy case.

Russia (including the Soviet Union) has compiled a 1-3 record in the finals while Italy, Spain and the Czech Republic (including Czechoslovakia) each have 1-1 records in the finals.

Here’s a rough guideline to the groups for Euro 2008.

Please note FIFA followed by ELO rankings are in parentheses.

Group A

Portugal (9,14), Switzerland (48, 27), Czech Republic (6,8) and Turkey (25, 21)

Portugal, who reached the semi-finals in the last World Cup and was runner-up at Euro 2004, is considered among the favorites this summer – even if they did not win their qualifying group after playing some inconsistent soccer.

Naturally, many eyes will be on Cristiano Ronaldo. However, it will take more than Ronaldo to win this tournament. Players like forward Nuno Gomes, midfielders Nani and Pepe (sounds like a Portuguese comedy act) will have to step up as will the solid defensive duo of Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira. The question here is whether Portugal has the killer instinct to harness all their talent into one powerful force.

Sleeper player? Striker Ricardo Quaresma.

Always a threat, the Czech Republic is in the process of introducing another great generation of players in the post-Pavel Nedved era. The Czechs mix youth and experience led by the brilliant Petr Cech in goal, captain Tomas Ujfalusi in defense, and Jan Koller up front.

Offensively-challenged Switzerland is low in the rankings but do have world class players in their lineup including Alexander Frei (who’s just recovering from a difficult injury), Tranquillo Barnetta (his name translates into Calm Barnetta) and Philppe Senderos. The strength of this team is in goal and on defense.

Turkey struggled during the Euro qualifiers and did not participate in the last World Cup or Euro 2004, but Coach Fatih Terim believes his team can “be the surprise of the finals.” Indeed, Turkey is no stranger to surprises as they showed at Euro 2000 when they reached the quarter-finals and World Cup 2002 when they earned a semi-final placing.
Led by Villareal’s midfielder Nihat Kahveci, the Turks play a flexible formation that can pose problems for teams. Personally, I hope to see Emre participate.

Group B

Germany (5,7) Croatia (13, 12) Poland (27,25) Austria (101, 62)

Logically, the rankings seem to correlate with how they should finish.

Offensively-minded and coached by the innovative Joachim Loew, Germany is a perennial contender at this tournament. Midfielders Torsten Frings and Michael Ballack are healthy again and ready, along with Bastion Schweinsteiger, to lead the charge while forward Mario Gomes will look to make his name at Euro.

But Germany will have to battle technically gifted Croatia (just ask England) and well-coached Poland who won their qualifying group ahead of Portugal. Midfielder Wojciech Lobodzinki should be ready to go for the Poles.

Possible pivotal (and exciting) match: Poland versus Croatia.

Croatia was a good dark horse pick with Brazilian-born striker Eduardo, but he will not return from his injury until July, definitely hurting his team's chances.

It's safe to assume Austria will be the doormat of the tournament – let’s call them the Miami Heat. But be sure to keep an eye for Middlesbrough’s Emanuel “The Pog” Pogatetz and his intense approach to the game.

Group C

Italy (3,2) France (7,4) Netherlands (6,10) Romania (12 ,11)

In terms of where they rank in the world, this is indeed the toughest group. Some argue that despite the high rankings, it may be an impossible task for both the highly skilled
Romanians and the star-studded Dutch.

As if a lack-luster qualifier wasn’t enough for the injury-riddled Netherlands, international mainstay and AC Milan stalwart Clarence Seedorf has pulled himself out of the tournament. Team-spirit always seems to be an issue with the Oranje and it remains to be seen if Coach Marco van Basten (another AC Milan legendary alumni) can lead this team or divide it.

Key players for the Dutch include Arsenal striker Robin van Persie, Real Madrid’s gifted midfielder Wesley Sneijder and one of the world’s top keepers Edwin van der Sar of Manchester United.

Romania has injuries as well, as they will be without star defensive midfielder Ovidiu Petre. However, there’s enough depth to at least field a solid starting 11 led by Serie A players like Cristian Chivu (Inter Milan) and Fiorentina legend Adrian Mutu.

A couple of things to consider here: Italy is notoriously slow off the gates and historically does not perform well at Euro, while France didn’t have a strong qualifying campaign suggesting their form may be off. Furthermore, there is controversy and debate among fans of les bleus as Hatem Ben Arfa, Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna, Phillippe Mexes and David Trezeguet (to name a few)have all been left off the squad.

Given his outstanding season at Juventus, Trezegol’s omission could prove costly.

Still, there’s more than enough class for the controversial coach Raymond Domenech to work with including in goal. While he may not start, Sebastian Frey is coming off a superb season with Fiorentina and is arguably among the top six or seven goalies in the world.

The Azzurri for their part are stacked with talented and ruthless players who martial the pitch with a physical menace. National coach Roberto Donadoni has finally got his team headed in the direction he envisioned.

As World Cup champions, Italy comes in during a time when their domestic league no longer rules over Europe, but their national is extremely healthy (both present and future) with incredible depth and experience at every position. For example, Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso, Antonio di Natale and Luca Toni form a formidable back to front line.

Group D

Spain (4,5) Greece (8,13) Russia (25, 28) Sweden (23,24)

Spain and Greece look to progress but are confronted by two tricky squads.

Two of these countries are hockey powers. Can you guess which two?

Russia plays an open fluid style led by promising your strikers but could only muster 18 goals during the qualifying campaign. Inconsistent play continues to haunt them and they’re not a team that travels well.

Controversial pick? Despite a strong UEFA Cup campaign, Zenit’s Igor Denisov was passed over by Dutch coach Guus Hiddink.

As for Sweden, a nation with a rich soccer pedigree, they may be the weakest link in the group this time around – especially considering the injury to defender Erik Edman. Henrik Larsson has made the cut (for the first time since 2006), but one has to wonder how much influence he’ll have. In the end, this team will need Inter Milan’s wickedly talented Zlatan Ibrahimovich to lead them if they are to have a chance.

Spain is the Brooklyn Dodgers of soccer and will be looking to put an end to the “losers” tag for good. It’s a new era in Spain as standout striker Raul will not be present. But there’s more than enough depth to make up for his absence with wonderful players like keeper Iker Casillas, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and David Villa artistically roaming the pitch. The only weak spot that can be debated is on defense. Carles Puyol is an aging work horse and the athletic Sergio Ramos may not be enough to solidify the back line.

Another concern is that while talent-wise they match up well with any side in the world, can they respond when the play gets rough and tough?

The question often posed regarding Greece is whether 2004 was a fluke. While the Greeks played very well in the run up to the tournament, no one foresaw them pulling off what they did. It goes to show you what team unity can achieve. However, this year Greece comes in with the added pressure that comes with being champion, and they will now have to play with a bulls-eye on their backs. The road to becoming a soccer power is a long one.

The Greeks will come in with a little more depth on attack (for example, with the addition of Bayern Leverkusen’s dangerous striker Fanis Gekas) to complement a solid defense, but for Greece it all comes to consistency and experience – 10 players from the 2004 team are returning. Greece no longer has the element of surprise as leverage but has worked diligently to bolster their lineup and come into the tournament on an upward momentum swing.

Of the four groups, Group D seems to be the one capable of the least surprises.

All that being said, one thing is for sure – expect the unexpected at Euro 2008.

There you have it.

Enjoy Euro 2008.

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About Alessandro Nicolo

  • Alessandro

    Huge blow to Italy: Fabio Cannavaro is out with a leg injury sustained during practice today.

  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    But a real plus for the rest of Europe. Italy’s national team is one of the dirtiest and most negative in the world.

    I’d not heard of these ELO rankings before, in fact my first thought was “what the hell does the Electric Light Orchestra have to do with football?”

    Are the UEFA and FIFA rankings not enough or are you a stats addict?

  • Alessandro

    Patrick Vieira is out for France. Flamini will replace him.

    ELO uses a different formula.

    Nice comments about Italy. Ridiculous.

    I’ll assume tongue in cheek and move on.

  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    Flamini for the ageing Vieira is a plus point for France.

    I know ELO uses a different formula, but to what benefit?

    C’mom, everybody knows Italy are the most negative team in Europe. You’re not just a tad biased there, eh, Alessandro?

  • Ally Brown

    great article Alessandro! I didn’t know Frey had had a good season for Fiorentina, but he is still third choice for France I believe? The strength of their squad is ridiculous.

    Yes, the French did not have a good qualification campaign, can I mention why? Because Scotland beat them twice. I just wanted to mention that.

    And sorry but I am in no mood to be cheering on the Italians. After the game in Glasgow where they were awarded a last-minute free-kick when it should have been a SCOTLAND free-kick, and then scored from it and knocked us out. For that reason I hope Holland or Romania can knock them out of Group C.

  • Alessandro

    Ally, thanks. And back at you. I think BC will have soccer covered.

    I watched all of France’s matches. Yes, they lost to Scotland twice but they did not play with any authority in most of the other games except for the first match against Italy. Truth be told, their offense is not firing accurate shots. I noticed that against Paraguay too.

    France is good with the ball movement but fail to punish. Italy is the opposite, no ball possession but are lethal.

    Of course, that can all change.

    Yes. That was tough for Scotland. A little back drop to that game. All week prior to the match Italian soccer commentators were in fact concerned. They were aware, as Lippi said, that Scottish soccer had improved.

    But Italy played with spirit in a tough environment – even the weather was brutal. While the call against Scotland was an odd one, recall that di Natale had a goal that was over turned. Replay clearly showed he wasn’t off side. If he scores the game is over and Scotland is spared the drama.

    Furthermore, as we know, you can’t drop points to Georgia in qualifications. They always come back to haunt you and Scotland learned the hard way. I watched Scotland intently as well.

    The free kick wasn’t why they lost. And besides, they could have defended it, but Panucci is brilliant in the air and they failed to mark him.

    Frey is in better form to any of the first two goalies in my opinion. He was simply unreal this year. I get to watch Ligue Un and he can easily be #1. That he’s not starting bodes well for the other three teams.

  • http://www.myspace.com/x15 Douglas Mays

    hhhmmm…I say let the chips fall where they may. there will be some good play.

    My head is into Sounders FC 2009.

    DM

  • Alessandro

    Yes, I heard. That is great news. Soccer has roots in Seattle.

    As for your comment about Euro, that is precisely how I see it. Just watch and enjoy.

    And that’s why I relish any victory from any country.

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ Elliott

    Good article, Alessandro.

    I know almost nothing about soccer…but I’ll still make predictions based upon what you wrote and their rankings.

    (I’m assuming that this is like the World Cup, where each team in a group plays every other team in their group once, and the top two advance? And then it’s win-or-go-home after that?)

    GROUP A: Portugal and Switzerland(!) advance.

    GROUP B: Germany and Poland advance.

    GROUP C: Italy and France advance (although maybe the Dutch shock France…is that at all realistic?).

    GROUP D: Spain and Sweden advance.

    After that, I have no idea because I don’t know who would play who…

  • Alessandro

    You got it and your picks are not crazy.

    I especially like the Sweden one. I can’t see Spain slipping no matter how much we talk about their under achieving ways.

    Poland is certainly looking to force their group to take them seriously. I still think Croatia is a dark horse.

    Switzerland are at home so maybe home field can push them through the Czechs. Then again, Portugal had a hard time scoring goals during qualification and needed a 0-0 draw against Finland to confirm their place. But this was before Ronaldo’s high form so we shouldn’t put too much emphasis on quali’s.

    As for Group C, it screams upset.

    Do the Dutch (or even Romanians) have enough to take advantage of some issues in both the Italy and France camp? Possibly. Why not?

    My concern with Holland is not the talent (it never is) but with the lack of strong presence on the defensive side of the equation in the mid position and defence.

    You should read Ronald de Boers recent comments. Priceless stuff and very interesting.

    As Douglas says, let the chips fall where they may and may the best team win.

  • Alessandro

    make that de boer’s (with an apostrophe)

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    You’re probably pretty much on the money, RJ, except that Switzerland will only be able to advance from Group A by employing their usual tactic of boring their opponents into submission; and Croatia, not Poland (who have tended to disappoint in major tournaments recently), will escape from Group B. Plus, in Group D, Greece, who are the reigning champions, can never be ruled out and could beat Sweden (or even Spain) to the second qualifying spot.

    It’s a distinct possibility that we could see the rather embarrassing scenario of neither of the host nations making it past the first round.

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ Elliott

    “It’s a distinct possibility that we could see the rather embarrassing scenario of neither of the host nations making it past the first round.”

    See, that’s the thing.

    I recall from following the last four World Cups that the host teams tend to exceed expectations (the USA in 1994, and South Korea and Japan in 2002, especially).

    But, judging from the FIFA rankings, Austria doesn’t have much of a chance. That’s why I picked the Swiss to advance.

    Is that silly? :-/

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    No, not at all. I’m by no means a fan of the way they play, but sometimes what works ain’t pretty.

    Austria are rightly being written off by most pundits. Austrian football, like that of their erstwhile imperial partner Hungary, is a pale shadow of what it once was.

    Nevertheless, home advantage will give both the Swiss and the Austrians a huge lift and I’m sure at least one of the two teams will surprise us.

    BTW, the Swiss player Tranquillo Barnetta is known fondly by the BBC website’s live text commentary team as ‘Silent Hair’.

    It’s a very loose translation of his name which invokes Cockney rhyming slang…

  • Alex

    Doc, I would add, in defense of Austrian soccer, there is a strong youth movement under way. I think they won their U-21 group for UEFA.

    It may not revive those greats teams of the 20s and 30s but it’s a start.

    Greece “should” get by. Although they feel they have a better team than 2004, it’s all relative. Italy, Germany, Portugal and Spain are all stronger than they were in 2004 too.

  • Alessandro

    By the way, I made a small error: the tourney started on the 7th not 9th.

    RJ, if both Austria’s and Swtizerland’s start are any indication, the host countries will not embarrass themselves. They may struggle to qualify but they (specifically Austria) will not be laughed off the pitch – at least for now.

    The Austrians looked completely out of their league in the first half but I was impressed by how quickly they adjusted in the second half. Their positioning was solid and they never let Croatia’s solid midfield dictate the game.

    Now they can go into the next game in a better frame of mind – amazing considering the poor preparation by the Austrians leading up to the tournament.

    Once again proving how tough Euro is.

    On a side note, Venezuela beat Brazil 2-0. How big was this win? Since 1969, Brazil was 13-0 against Venezuela outscoring them 60-2 in the process. Make that 60-4.

  • Alessandro

    France was awful but Italy without Cannavaro was plain ugly.

    Donadoni could not have picked a worse line up.

    Full marks to Holland on this one. There was controversy on the Van Gol goal but hey.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    This one’s in response to Alessandro’s #16, which I wasn’t able to post earlier due to the entire site going temporarily AWOL…

    Austria impressed me too and I thought they were desperately unlucky. Croatia showed them way too much of the ball though, which is not a mistake that the Germans – their next opponents – are likely to make. To have any chance of progressing they’ll have to try and hold on for a draw against Germany and then hope the Poles will be going down with all hands (as usual) by the time they play them.

    Switzerland were a match for the Czechs but they’re not pretty to watch. Without Frei, their inspiration, I can’t see them improving. Both Portugal and Turkey in that group are much better teams, for my money.

    On the other side of the planet, an impressive result for Venezuela – especially considering it’s the only country in South America without a footballing tradition (thanks to the popularity of baseball (and, for some weird reason, air hockey)). But they have improved in leaps and bounds in recent years and can no longer be relied upon to be found propping up the foot of the World Cup qualifying table.

  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    Portugal and Holland have been the best so far and either one would be a deserving winner. Still can’t rule out the Teutonic machine though and I for one would love to see Spain do well.