Sweden celebrates their goal in a friendly against Croatia
With Euro 2012 quickly approaching, it's not sides like England, Spain, and Italy that could be taking home the trophy this summer but rather the smaller, overlooked sides (Croatia, Sweden, etc) that could be impressing the critics this June.
It can't be denied, the favorites for the tournament are the same: Spain, Netherlands, Germany and the like. But what about sides like Sweden that have an attack of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rasmus Elm, and Elmander who can all turn deadly at any moment?
Another good example of a side that could prove themselves are Croatia. True, the announcement of the absence of Olic at the Euros is a big blow for the side, but Everton striker Nikica Jelavic and former Arsenal striker Eduardo could prove to be too much to handle for Group C, which has now seen an Italy team look very doubtful to pass on.
Let's look more in-depth at one team in each group that could be the surprising side:
Group A: Czech Republic
Few know of the secret weapon the Czech's have in Galatasaray striker Milan Baros. The 30-year-old No. 9 is the side's top scorer, enjoying most recently four goals in four games. Tomas Necid is right behind Baros with two goals, and the CSKA Moscow performer is looking to prove himself this coming Euros.
More than the Czech strikers, it's the midfield that helps move the ball to goal, with Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky leading the way. Look for Rosicky to help the Czech Republic move on.
Most importantly though, the man who could undoubtedly boost the squad is Chelsea goalkeeper and Champions League winner Petr Cech. Granted, Cech did let in two goals in the Czech Republic's most recent game, a 2-1 loss in a friendly against Hungary. However, Cech is definitely one of the world's best keepers.
The Czech Republic may not have the toughest test in the world facing Greece, Poland, and Russia in their respective group, but look for them to be the side fighting for that second spot in Group A behind Russia.
Group B is a difficult group to pick a "surprising" side out of, because this group of death has four squads that could show up and really make a run towards making it out. Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark are all quality sides that could push one or another out.
However, Denmark is the side that I see most likely to try and bully one of the bigger sides into sneaking past. A stronger side than initially seen, Denmark has experienced players, many in the Premier League, that could potentially gel together to make them difficult to beat.
In goal, Thomas Sorenson of Stoke City is top dog, allowing no goals in Denmark's most recent friendly against Australia. Although the side had previously suffered two defeats to Russia and Brazil, their opener against Holland could very well show their readiness to play.
In defense, Denmark has two very experienced defenders in Simon Kjaer, the AS Roma starter, and Liverpool rock Daniel Agger. The problem here though lies in Agger, who has repeatedly been known to succumb to injury.
In midfield, they are nothing special with Christian Eriksen being the only bright spot, but at forward Nicklas Bendtner will look to continue his run that has been quite impressive scoring five goals in eight matches.
Although Germany and the Netherlands are definitely the more likely ones to advance out of this group of death, Denmark has the next best shot.
Does Croatia have a shot to make it out of Group C?
Another tricky group, it initially looked like Spain and Italy would have the pass out, but now that the potential worst scandal in Italian soccer history has been blown up, it seems there is only one real lock for that spot: Spain.
This leaves Croatia as the most likely team to take that second spot should Italy fail to impress yet again. No great goalkeeper and only one solid defender in Vedran Corluka is a weak spot for the Croatian side, but great midfield play by Luka Modric and Niko Kranjcar linking up with forwards Nikica Jelavic and Eduardo could definitely see this side go on.
Croatia was one of the surprises of Euro 2008, and could very well repeat their heroic run of four years ago.
There is no question that England and France look to move on from this group, but the multitude of English injuries coupled with France's troubled past opens the door for an odd-out side like Sweden to take charge.
True, England and France are the strongest sides in the tournament, but Sweden is a side not to be taken lightly. Their opener against Ukraine could set the pace for their tournament and if England lose to France and lose confidence, Sweden could continue a run against England and potentially take one of the advancing positions.
Premier League defenders Martin and Jonas Olssen will be the strong set in the back for the Swedes, but it's the midfield and attack of the team that will really open some eyes. Midfield names like Rasmus Elm, Kim Kallstrom, Sebastian Larsson, Anders Svensson, and Emir Bajrami could be very difficult to handle for any side that comes up against them.
Not just the midfield, but the attack of Ola Toivonen and Johan Elmander coupled with the extreme powerhouse Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be extremely dangerous for European defenses. If there's one team that could easily make it out of Group D, it'd be Sweden taking advantage of an English or French mistake.
There are many teams that will look to prove themselves this coming week, but the squads mentioned above might just have the best chances. Don't get me wrong here—I'm not guaranteeing that one of these teams wins the Euros, but if there is a side that could surprise, look for their name here. Enjoy the European Championship and you'll hear more from me soon.