It seems like it is clear how Euro 2012 is likely to turn out. Spain and Germany are very strong, with Netherlands and others close behind. The winner likely will be one of the serious contenders.
This tournament can, from time to time, turn out shocking upset winners. Nobody could have seen Greece coming when they won in 2004—beating the home team Portugal in the finals, no less.
Denmark was just as unexpected in 1992. Even the 2008 edition had a surprise, despite the chalky finals of Spain and Germany as Turkey massively overachieved to reach the semifinals.
So, which team could be the big surprise this time around? There are five that stand out as potentially live longshots (all odds are from Bovada):
Russia (20/1 to win the tournament)
If Russia was in any other group than Group A, they likely wouldn’t be on this list. Russia is as well-positioned as any to win that group.
They only have Poland, Greece, and the Czech Republic to contend with, and by any measure they are more talented than any of those teams. They have three forwards who are successful in the English Premier League, and they often seem to find a way to overperform in big tournaments.
Former Dutch coach Guus Hiddink had some success with this team, so they have turned to another former Dutch manager, Dick Advocaat, to lead the way. A potential quarterfinal matchup with his former squad stands as one of the possible highlights of the schedule.
Like Russia, Greece could also benefit from playing in (the very weak) Group A. On paper they don’t really have enough to be competitive here in a serious way. Of course, the same was true in 2004, and they won the whole tournament.
They still have three players remaining from that squad, so they aren’t short on experience. They quietly went through their 10 qualifying games without a loss, and they play a relentless, frustrating style of defense that can be very tough to play against.
If they can move on to the second round, then anything can happen—and they are well poised to do just that.
Denmark is the longest shot in the tournament at 80/1. It’s hard to argue too much with that, but they do have a couple of things going for them.
For one, they have a nice duo up front: playmaker Christian Eriksen of Ajax and striker Nicklas Bendtner of Sunderland. Those two have the ability to make a difference. They also have a tendency to play well when games are at their toughest—they pulled off a surprising win over Portugal in qualifying, for example.
The biggest thing they have going for them is that they are the fourth team in a three-team group of death. Portugal, Netherlands and Germany are all unquestionably better than them, but they will have to beat each other up in round-robin play and can't let up against Denmark.
It wouldn’t be the first time that a weaker team has snuck through in such a tough group. If the team was in any other group, their odds would be a lot lower than 80/1, so you could argue that there is some sort of value here as a result.
This team is the definition of gritty. Like others on this list they have a shortage of talent compared to the top teams, but they are always very well-prepared. They play relentlessly with or without the ball, and Coach Slaven Bilic is definitely among the top half of managers in this tournament.
They also have Luka Modric, an underrated, impressive player . He’s a magician of a playmaker, and makes a nice complement to Darijo Srna.
Spain will cruise through Group C. I don’t have a lot of faith in Italy right now, because of their uncharacteristic defensive weakness, so the second spot in the group is up for grabs.
That second-place team will play the winner of Group D, which is likely to be either France or England. Neither of those teams is anywhere close to perfect right now, so anything could happen if Croatia plays well and gets lucky.
The biggest asset this team has is that they will play their three preliminary games—and potentially their elimination games as well—at home. That could be a huge boost for them, especially as this is their first time in the field as an independent country.
Legendary star Andriy Shevchenko will also be playing in front of his home crowd, in a major event for the last time as his career winds down. This could be an emotional rallying point for the squad.
They have had some solid results recently—including a surprising 3-3 draw with Germany in November. With all the distractions surrounding England and the defensive vulnerability of France, there is a chance they could advance out of their group.
Once that happens, the rabid home crowd could really make some noise and push them forward.