Euro 2012: Ranking the 10 Biggest Group Stage Matches
One of the great things about the European Championships is the great matchups that we get to see. Because there are 13 berths that will be given to European teams, there will be at least three of these sides that will not feature in Brazil two years from now.
The 2010 World Cup highlighted what exactly makes the European Championships so great. Two of the teams that reached the semifinal, Turkey and Russia, didn't qualify to play in South Africa.
The Euros provide us with a great opportunity to watch the best football that Europe has to offer. Considering that the last two World Cup finals featured two nations from Europe, the quality of football that is being played in Europe is better than anywhere else.
With Euro 2012, we will get to see some outstanding group stage matches. The ten best group stage matches look like this.
No. 10: Germany vs Denmark
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Germany vs Denmark—June 17: Arena Lviv, Lviv.
Having two nations that share a close geographical border is always an intriguing matchup. Even though Denmark and Germany are on two different skill levels entering this tournament, this match provides us with a historic rematch.
Twenty years ago, Germany faced a Denmark side that did not even qualify for the European Championships in the Euro 1992 final. Denmark were allowed to enter the tournament because Yugoslavia (who did qualify) got involved in a civil war.
Denmark went on to reach the final against Germany, where Peter Schmeichel and goals from center midfielders John Jensen and Kim Vilfort led the Danes to their first and only European title.
This match will be the first match that both sides will play each other competitively since that final.
No. 9: Italy vs Republic of Ireland
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Italy vs Republic of Ireland—June 18: Stadion Miejski, Poznań.
Italy and Ireland have faced each other several times in the last several decades in some important matches.
Italy knocked out Ireland from the 1990 World Cup, but Ireland famously defeated Italy in the 1994 World Cup, nearly causing Italy to get eliminated from the tournament. These two sides also met in 2010 World Cup qualifying, where Italy secured their passage to South Africa from a late goal Alberto Gilardino goal.
This matchup also is the final group stage match for both sides. It could easily be a must-win match for the Italians or the final match of the tournament for a veteran-laden Irish side.
No. 8: Poland vs Russia
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Poland vs Russia—June 12: National Stadium, Warsaw.
Poland and Russia have long been connected throughout their respective histories in both political affairs and in sports.
Now these geographical neighbors will get to play their first competitive match against each other since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Considering that this is the second match of the group stage, both sides could see this fixture as an opportunity to clinch a spot in the quarterfinals with a strong result.
No. 7: England vs Sweden
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England vs Sweden—June 15: Olympic Stadium, Kiev.
England and Sweden will meet each other in their second group stage match. But this shouldn't be a surprise considering that the two sides have met each other in two of the last three tournaments that both nations achieved qualification for.
In both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, both matches that these two sides met in ended in draws. In their only European Championship matchup, Sweden did defeat England 2-1 in Euro 1992.
History will not be the most important facet of this match. England will probably need a win after a tough opening match against France, while Sweden will look to build upon their match with Ukraine.
No. 6: England vs France
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England vs France—June 11: Donbass Arena, Donetsk.
England and France have been longtime rivals in many different ventures, and will once again spark this rivalry in each side's first group stage match of the tournament.
Both sides have met each other twice in the European Championships, with France winning their most recent encounter in 2004 thanks to a brilliant free kick from Zinedine Zidane.
This match will be the first of two matches for England without Wayne Rooney due to his suspension. Meanwhile, France will be looking to rebound from a weak Euro 2008 and their embarrassing 2010 World Cup.
No. 5: Denmark vs Portugal
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Denmark vs Portugal—June 13: Arena Lviv, Lviv.
During the qualification cycles for the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, Denmark and Portugal were paired with each other. During each cycle, the Danes were able to pull out a surprise win against Portugal in a critical situation, which allowed Denmark to earn automatic qualification while Portugal had to go into a playoff against Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Now Portugal will have a chance to earn revenge against their qualification foes.
Considering that this is their only contest between Germany and the Netherlands, this will be a critical match for Cristiano Ronaldo and co. to pick up points to secure advancement into the next round.
No. 4: Italy vs Spain
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Italy vs Spain—June 10: PGE Arena, Gdańsk.
The last two winners of the World Cup, Italy and Spain will renew their rivalry in their first group stage match in what could easily be the contest that determines who wins Group C.
These two sides did meet in the quarterfinals of Euro 2008, where Spain defeated the Italians on penalties after a scoreless draw.
Italy were able to get retributions of sorts by defeating Spain in a friendly last year. But this match will be much more important than that friendly and there will be some important storylines coming out of this fixture, including a rebirth of the Italian squad following disappointment in the 2010 World Cup, while Spain will look to again repeat as European champions.
No. 3: Germany vs Portugal
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Germany vs Portugal—June 9: Arena Lviv, Lviv.
Two sides that met in the knockout stages of two of the last three international tournaments that both sides were in, Germany will look to extend its recent success against Portugal through their first group stage match.
The last time these two sides met was in the quarterfinals of Euro 2008, where a goal from Michael Ballack secured German advancement into the semifinals.
This match will be the first one in which Cristiano Ronaldo participates in. Considering how poorly Ronaldo played in Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, it will be interesting to see how he will play after putting together a season with Real Madrid that he has completely dominated.
No. 2: Portugal vs Netherlands
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Portugal vs Netherlands - June 17: Metalist Stadium, Kharkiv.
Two of the most beautiful sides to watch in the competition, Portugal and the Netherlands will meet in the final group stage match of the tournament. The winner of this match will probably advance into the knockout stage, while the loser will probably get sent home.
The last time that these two sides met was in the round of 16 at the 2006 World Cup. This match saw a record 16 yellow cards and four reds in what would become known as the Battle of Nuremberg.
It will be interesting if we see another match that is similar to the one in 2006, or if we see a match that exhibits the strong brand of football that we know both sides can exhibit.
No. 1: Netherlands vs Germany
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Netherlands vs Germany - June 13: Metalist Stadium, Kharkiv.
When you get two sides that exhibit the quality that the Netherlands and Germany have, you will always make a list like this. But when you add in the rivalry and history between these two, then you get a matchup that is worthy of a final.
The Netherlands and Germany have met each other in World Cup finals and in the semifinals of the European championship, but the Dutch and Germans have only faced each other twice since the reunification of Germany in the early 1990s. The Dutch were able to win their match in Euro 1992, while both sides played to a 1-1 draw in Euro 2004.
This match will give blood to this rivalry. With both sides among the top four sides in the world according to FIFA's World Rankings and with many of the world's best on both squads, this match could easily be the best of the entire tournament.