Euro 2012: 5 Most Interesting Group Stage Matches
It's just about here. Football's second biggest international tournament is just about to kick off, so there are no shortage of predictions regarding who will win, who will surprise and who will just plain embarrass themselves.
Actually, the group stage might be interesting than the knockout rounds. Here are the five most intriguing matches of Euro 2012's group stage.
Group A: Poland vs. Greece
Group A is very much for the taking, as there is no clear favorite—which may help the co-hosts advance. For what it's worth, the co-hosts are the lowest-ranked FIFA-ranked team in the tournament. But neither Greece, Russia or the Czech Republic should scare Franciszek Smuda's squad, and the Poles can rely on Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski, whose 22 goals in the league sparked Dortmund to a Bundesliga title.
In addition, his clubmate Lukasz Piszczek and Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny will anchor the back. If Poland beats Greece, that should be the spark the co-hosts need to reach the second round.
As for the 2004 champions, they're an unspectacular side that went 17 matches without a defeat (and undefeated in qualifying) after Fernando Santos took over the side just after the 2010 World Cup. But they have struggled in friendlies and with the exception of Theofanis Gekas, they lack goalscoring threats. But who knows? There'll probably be one team that will shock people at Euro 2012, and maybe the Greeks will make another 2004-like run.
Group B: Germany vs. the Netherlands
Germany is widely considered to be a favorite to lift the trophy in Kiev, and Die Mannschaft should be. They are deep in attacking talent, with Mesut Özil, Lukas Podolski and Thomas Müller, and coming off a World Cup in which they reached the semifinals. Despite the squad's youth, many pundits see Euro 2012 as a tournament they can (and perhaps, should) win.
But they do face another serious title contender in their group—the Netherlands. The Dutch are lead by Robin van Persie, who notched 37 goals in all competitions this past season for Arsenal. But he is far from the only threat in the Dutch attack, as Klaas-Jan Huntelaar recorded 12 goals in eight qualifiers. If the Netherlands can get the best of Arjen Robben, they could possibly win the Euro 2012 title.
Group C: Spain vs. Italy
Widely considered to best team in Europe, the world champions Spain are tipped by many to successfully defend their European title. But they do have several concerns—namely the absences of Carles Puyol and David Villa and Fernando Torres' lack of form. While getting out of the group stage should be no concern, it will be interesting to see who starts for Spain up front and how they handle the loss of Puyol.
Even if Spain has experienced some difficulties leading up to Euro 2012, their preparations have been smooth compared to Italy's. Let's see—an earthquake caused the cancellation of one friendly match and Italian football has been hit again with another scandal.
As for the team on the pitch, manager Cesare Prandelli has pledged to play more of an attacking brand of football. It remains to be seen how that will turn out, but maybe Mario Balotelli will live up to his immense potential. If he does, they should definitely reach the second round and watch out from there.
Group D: England vs. France
In a colossal understatement, England's preparations have not gone smoothly. Let's see—Frank Lampard, Gary Cahill and Gareth Barry are all out due to injury. There's the huge controversy regarding Rio Ferdinand's omission. John Terry may be sidelined by a hamstring injury for England's opener against France, and the English attack seemingly scares no one (of course, not helped by Wayne Rooney missing the matches against France and Sweden).
(At least, the good thing is that Roy Hodgson's squad isn't burdened by high expectations).
As for les Bleus, they are entering Euro 2012 feeling much better about themselves than they did prior to the 2010 World Cup. Their attack is led by Karim Benzema, who scored 32 goals this past season for Real Madrid, and also features the dangerous Samir Nasri. While it remains to be seen how will the back-line copes with the absence of Bacary Sagna, France certainly should get out of the group.
Group D: Ukraine vs. Sweden
While Poland can feel hopeful (if not confident) about getting out the group stage, very few if anyone except Ukraine to see the knockout stages. The good news is that Andriy Shevchenko is still around. The bad news is that he's 35. If the Ukrainians have any hope of making this a successful tournament on the pitch, they need three points against Sweden.
As for the Swedes, if Zlatan Ibrahimovic can have a big tournament (and prove he's one of the elite players in world football), they could potentially reach the semifinals. A victory against Ukraine and a result against England should see them on their way to the quarterfinals.