Thursday, 7 June 2012

The 14th European Championships

Torres & company list the Henri Delaunay trophy
Four years ago, we all thought that Spain could win this championship.  The nagging doubt that we all had was that Spain were the epitome of so near and yet so far.  As we approach these championships, we are still asking questions about Spain, they are different ones though.  Ones about history being re-written.

There are only four sides who have won two championships in a row, yet the odds are firmly on Spain becoming the first team to retain the European Championships, as well as to win three Championships in a row.  Spain though are not without their problems.  They will be missing Carlos Pujol at the heart of their defence as well as David Villa up front.  There are also signs that this Spain side are a tired side – after all shape based teams only last so long.  Spain’s biggest problem will be up front, they will miss Villa cutting in from the right and they will have to figure out whether to start with Torres (who has been out of form for the best part of two years now), or Llorente (who has been spearheading Athletic Bilbao’s Europa Cup run).  Spain start with a Sunday teatime kickoff against the side they beat in the quarter finals four years ago, Italy.  If they finish top of their group (ahead of Croatia, Italy & Ireland), they are seeded to face either France or Sweden (though could conceivably face England), and will possibly face the runners up from Germany’s group in the semi final – either the Netherlands or Portugal.

If Spain do fall short, the next in line looks to be Germany.  Many people think that they are overdue another championship – it will be 16 years since they last won this tournament and 22 since as West Germany they lifted the World Cup.  They look as ominous as they did during Italia 90, while their young side that reached the World Cup semi final two years ago has…  yes…  two years experience under their belts.  Much though will rest on how Low handles his Bayern Munich contingent, who lost both the German Cup and the European Cup finals in the final weeks of the season.  Germany don’t exactly start with an easy tie either. In a tough group that features The Netherlands and Denmark, Germany start off with the side they beat in the Quarter finals four years ago, Portugal.  Finish Top and they will face either The Czech Republic, Poland or Greece with a possible semi final against England, but more likely to be against France, Italy or Croatia.  If they finish Runners up in their group, they will be in the same half of the draw as Spain.
Torres scores the winning goal four years ago, can Germany turn the tables on Spain this time?

The last side you can put into the heavyweights category is the Dutch, who are currently ranked fourth in FIFA’s rankings (behind Spain, Germany & Uruguay).  They have been remarkably consistent over the past four years, losing in the Quarter finals to Russia four years ago before reaching their third World Cup final (the less said about that game the better…).  Like four years ago, The Dutch have drawn a rotten group (Germany, Portugal and Saturday’s opponents Denmark, four years ago they had Italy, France and Romania).  Four years ago they faced Russia in the quarter finals and were in the same half of the draw as Spain, should they finish behind Germany they are seeded to face Russia in the quarters and are seeded to be in the same half as their World Cup final opponents.

There are quite a few possible dark horses, France look as if they have seriously re-grouped since the disaster that was the last World Cup for them, Russia have pretty much the same side as four years ago while from the hosts the best placed country to progress may well be Poland, who have three members of Borrusia Dortmund’s double winning team in their squad.  Representing the British Isles will be our friends from the south and our “cousins” from across the water. 

England has made a sensible judgement call in appointing Hodgson.  One of his problems though will be quelling the ego’s that rampage through England away days – witness Ferdinand’s unwillingness to accept that there may actually be footballing reasons behind his omission.  I actually suspect that England will do OK in this championship, sure they’ll get knocked out in the quarter finals but I think they’ll get out of their group.  The other team representing these isles is Ireland, who with typical luck of the Irish…  er… play Italy, Spain and Croatia.  I suspect that a lack of experience of this level will do for them.

Come the end of the month though, the last four will be The Netherland’s, Spain, Germany and France with Germany beating The Dutch in the final.

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