Euro 2012: England and 5 Teams with Most Momentum Heading In

Neri SteinFeatured ColumnistMay 29, 2012

Euro 2012: England and 5 Teams with Most Momentum Heading In

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    According to most football fans, Germany and Spain are the overwhelming favorites to meet in the final of Euro 2012. While they might be the most talented and complete teams in the tournament, they are both hobbling into Poland and Ukraine.

    Other teams, like England, are full of players riding high after successful club campaigns and looking to keep it going this summer.

    Typically, the best team is the most talented team, but in a knockout competition—and sometimes even in the group stages—momentum can be the ultimate difference-maker.

    So which teams have that all-important drive on their sides as they prepare for Euro 2012?

Netherlands

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    Whether you call it momentum or call it Robin van Persie, Netherlands has a huge advantage few other teams can boast this summer.

    Arsenal's star striker is on the hottest possible streak right now, and his team is looking to avenge a World Cup final loss from two years ago. They'd also like to show the world they're better than how they played in South Africa.

    In addition to RvP, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart will be tough for any defense to contain this summer. Not to mention teams will have to fight past, maybe literally, the likes of Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel if they hope to get near the Netherlands goal.

    The Oranje has a hard road right from the start, but with many of Germany's players ailing from Bayern Munich's Champions League final loss, Netherlands has the upper hand.

    Netherlands is a stacked team, and the already loaded striking options are riding huge waves of momentum at the moment.

France

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    France crashed out of the 2010 World Cup in fantastic fashion, but they've collected themselves nicely since then. Les Bleus also have a nice group of young stars ready to shine this summer.

    Yann M'Vila is one of the most talked about midfielders on the market these days, and if he hasn't left Rennes before June 8, a strong performance in Poland and Ukraine could seal his fate with one of Europe's top clubs.

    France's squad is packed with players coming off a great season and looking to prove they're the world's best.

    Hatem Ben Arfa, Florent Malouda, Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery will be too much for any of France's Group D opponents to deal with, and after a great season with Real Madrid, Karim Benzema won't be slowing down at all this summer.

Ireland

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    After being cheated out of the 2010 World Cup, Ireland will be out to show everyone what they missed this time around.

    This is only Ireland's second appearance in the Euros (the other time coming in 1988), and though they've got a tough draw against Italy and Spain in Group C, they may be coming up on those teams at just the right time.

    Spain are missing key players due to injury, not to mention everyone knows their playing style now (and how to stop them). Italy, meanwhile, are still finding their feet and also have some big pieces missing, and Ireland have an Italian manager who can figure them out.

    Giovanni Trapattoni has been a welcome addition to the Ireland squad ever since he took over four years ago, and he'll be key to any Irish upsets this summer.

    Ireland have nothing to lose, and they're going to play like it. Don't be surprised if they manage to sneak into the knockout stages.

Portugal

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    Much like Robin van Persie and Netherlands, Cristiano Ronaldo will be looking to continue his very hot streak this summer with Portugal. And we'll get to see them go head to head.

    Ronaldo scored 60 goals in 55 games this past year, and he says he's better than Lionel Messi. The Euros will be his best and possibly only chance to prove it.

    Portugal are by far the third-best team in a very tough Group B, and if they have any hopes of pipping either Germany or Netherlands to the next round, Ronaldo will have to step up big.

    He played a huge part in Madrid's La Liga victory and also should've done enough to get Madrid through to the Champions League final.

    Ronaldo is riding a confidence wave even higher than normal these days, and Portugal should hop on quick.

England

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    Even though England won't have Wayne Rooney for their first two matches and they're led by a new manager who was clearly everyone's second choice at best, the Three Lions are by far the hottest team heading into Euro 2012.

    Chelsea players like John Terry, Ashley Cole, Gary Cahill and Frank Lampard just lifted the Champions League trophy. Joe Hart, Joleon Lescott and James Milner were just crowned champions of England with Manchester City.

    Then there are the young studs out to prove they belong, like Danny Welbeck, Andy Carroll and Phil Jones.

    The Three Lions may have lost midfielder Gareth Barry to injury (and replaced him with defender Phil Jagielka), but that won't slow them down too much.

    No one is expecting much out of England next month, and that could play right into their hands. Just like Chelsea.

    No way to get around it. Even though they've crashed out of recent tournaments in spectacular fashion and never play as well as they should, England have more momentum than anyone else on their way to Poland and Ukraine.

    Better watch out.