Friday, June 8, 2012

Euro '12

Here comes them Euro’s. Every four years, Europe’s finest match up against each other for continental dominance on the football field. The most beautiful war ever fought out. This edition, co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine, should prove to be particularly interesting because, there are a fair few teams that have the fire power and sheer grit to pull off a trophy laden run. As an ardent couch critic, and because my article for a sports website is still pending, I’ll indulge in some analytical work here. Also, I have nothing better to do right now. So, here goes.

Let’s start off with the tournament  favorites,

Spain: Defending Euro champions, defending World champions and masters of the tiki-taka football, there is little doubt that the Spanish Armada is expected to steam roll opponents on their way to a successive Euro crown. Boasting of the likes of Xabi Alonso, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Torres, Casillas amongst other such luminaries among their ranks, they are the punters and most football fans choice to win the tournament. They have a relatively easy group, with Italy being the only major threat, but with the Azzurri’s  recent form, they are expected to be easy meat for the Red Army. Only a shock result against Ireland and Croatia, would stop the La Roja from ascending the ladder into the knockout stage. However, complete as the team may look, they will likely miss the presence of David Villa in attack. With Torres’s recent dip in form, and Llorente mostly untested for the national squad, a proven goal scorer of Villa’s stature is likely to be missed. Another absence that could really hurt the Spanish team would be Carles Puyol. Tireless defender and leader, he is the spine of their defence, and without him, they could be caught off guard at the back as the tournament progresses. As it stands though, they are likely to make the finals.

Germany: Not far behind on the favorite’s list lie ze Germans. With their high tempo, counter attacking game, striking fear into the hearts of the opposition defences. A moment’s lapse against them could lead to a flurry of chances and before you know it, you could be a few goals down and out. Consistent performers at every national level footballing event in the recent past, the German National Team are expected to make it to the finals for a show off against the mighty Spain for the crown of European football. Another team that is, like Spain, attack heavy, with the likes of Schweinsteiger, Khedira, Ozil, Podolski, Muller, Klose and Gomez expected to knock in the goals by the gallon. Defensive duties would rest on the leadership of Phil Lahm and Manuel Neuer. Potential pitfalls for the squad are a not-so-outstanding defence, as well as being pitted in the tournaments group of death. Group B, with the likes of Netherlands, Denmark and Portugal all vying for the two spots in the knockout phases. So they have to go in all guns blazing from the start and hope that they do not lose momentum as the tournament progresses. A challenge definitely, but one, any top team should be confident of overcoming. An appearance in the tournament finals is on the cards.

Holland: The inventor’s of Total Football, the current Dutch squad has been delighting the world, with its slick play that was rewarded with a spot in the finals of the World Cup in 2010. Though they could not cross the final hurdle there, they are very capable of emulating that success this time around and go on to win the tournament. Like their counterparts in Spain and Germany, they too are top heavy with the likes of Sneijder, Robben, Van Bommel, Van der Vaart, Van Persie (whew! Lots of Van’s there and more) carrying the major burden of goal scoring. Though a weak defence could be their downfall. They too are pitted into the group of death, and have to negotiate the likes of Germany, Portugal and Denmark early on, to pave the way ahead. So there remains the threat of the team peaking too early should they reach the latter stages. As it stands though, on merit of strength, they are likely to make it to the semi finals.

England: Ever present as contenders but very unlikely victors, the England National Squad proves to be a consistent disappointment for its fans. On paper, with the personnel that they boast of, they can easily challenge any of the top teams in the world, but a combination of misfortune and average footballing displays, they continue to thrill and then chill. This time around, it seems to be the same story, re-told. Injuries to the likes of Jack Wilshire, Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry, Gary Cahill has the squad massively depleted. Combine that with the ban on Wayne Rooney and with the managerial appointment saga that preceded the tournament, this squad has the look of an underprepared team going into a major tournament. That being said, the squad does still have the players to make a major impact on their day. With many hopes lying on the shoulders of Steven Gerrard, Terry, Joe Hart, Ashley Young and Rooney(once he serves out his two game ban). Grouped in a rather tricky draw with high flying France, underdogs Sweden and Ukraine(buoyed by home support) England would consider a quarter final spot as a par performance with anything above that an achievement.

France:  Went through a debacle at the last World Cup, with players protesting and a series of underperforming tournaments under the eccentric and controversial Raymond Domenech, France has re-emerged from the flames with passion anew under the coaching of Laurent Blanc stringing together a series of impressive performances with a young and energetic squad of technically gifted players. Benzema, Giroud, Ribery, Nasri, Cabaye and captain Lloris will all be players to look out for along with a host of young but talented footballers in the side. Draw wise, they face the same challenges as England, drawn in the same group, but with a combination of flair and energetic displays, they should be looking at a spot in the semi-final. Experience though could prove to become an issue in the latter half when up against the heavyweights, but this tournament would be France’s chance to show to the world that they are past all the problems that have plagued them in the recent past and are ready to play football again.

Potential Jack in the Boxes:

Like any other sporting event, the thrill is always in the surprises. Not everything goes as per plan and upsets only make us love the game more than ever. Recent ones would include, Uruguay’s golden run in the World Cup,  South Korea lugging it to the semi’s in 2006 and Greece lifting the Euro crown in ’04 amongst others.
This time too, there are some teams that are more than capable of upsetting the odds and landing a sudden killer blow on one of the tournament heavyweights.

Italy:  This is a side that has pulled off one of the major sporting upsets in recent football history. Winning the World Cup in 2006 when no one gave them a chance with an ever ageing squad.  Well, lets do a round-up of what’s in store this time. No one giving them a chance-check. Ever ageing squad-check. The famed Italian defence and its wall like characteristics may no longer be their strength but they have a solid arsenal going forward, with the likes of de Rossi, Pirlo, Motta, Cassano, Di Natale. Their defence too though lacking the aura of old, is disciplined and with the ever reliable Gianluigi Buffon between the posts, count on the Azzurri to provide some of the upsets of the tournament. Group wise, overcoming Spain could be a hiccup of epic proportions, but wins over Croatia and Ireland could provide them with the impetus going into the latter stages with the win in’06(from which enough players still play in the team) motivating the team going forward. Could Italy be the Trojan horse once more? 

Russia:  After failing to qualify for the World Cup in ’06, Russia put together a dream run in Euro 2008, reaching the semi finals in true giant killing fashion, before being put down by eventual champions Spain. After failing to qualify for the 2010 World Cup will it be déjà-vu for the Russian side this time around? Drawn in Group A without any major heavyweights, they sure have a chance to do so. Only time will tell.

Czech Republic: A team of ageing stars, but definitely stars, that can, on their day change the complexion of a game completely. Similar advantages as Russia with an easier route into the knockout stages, the Czech National side, do have the ability and the experienced war hero’s to cause some major heartache and damage some reputations. Can the old guard, pull together, for one more battle? That would be the question.

Portugal: Given the squad, in any other circumstances, one could have safely put down Portugal as sure shots to reach the knockout stages. Given their rather luminous record at the Euro’s and with the likes of arguably one of the best players on the planet, Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks, it would make it all the more certain of their progress. However, contrary to that, they are stuck with the rather unenviable task of qualifying from a group that has the likes of Holland, Germany and Denmark in it. What could count in their favour, is the low expectations from a more than decent team, which could lead them to play with more freedom that would surely cause their opponents major problems. There are high chances, that before the tournament is done, Portugal would have had some major scalps in their list.

This would conclude a basic rundown of the major teams, going into the Euro’s. The ones not mentioned here, could well, assuming they read this blog(which they don’t) take great offence at my disregard for their chances and get spurred on to scale great, unexpected heights, and I for one, shall be thrilled if that happens. It can only add to the excitement and unpredictability of the tournament. So, here’s hoping that the teams in Poland/Ukraine put up one hell of a show and make it a memorable month of high action adrenaline pumping football, before Batman takes over that responsibility. More on that later.

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