Euro 2012 Match Predictions: Group Stage Picks and Projections
Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the past few months, you should be acutely aware that Euro 2012, hosted by Poland and Ukraine, kicks off on Friday.
Squads are finalised, training is well underway and the tacticians are working overtime.
Here are the group stage picks and projections.
Group A: Teams
Group A features Euro 2004 Champions Greece, co-host Poland, Russia and the Czech Republic.
Poland have won six out of their last eight matches heading into Euro 2012—but let's remember that those were all friendlies and they only qualified for this tournament by way of being co-hosts.
Their last result was a 4-0 friendly victory over Andorra in which star striker Robert Lewandowski got on the scoresheet.
Greece, on the other hand, have only mustered four wins from their previous nine outings—a combination of qualifiers and friendlies. Greece enjoy solid defensive options, but lack a player with real firepower—an issue that didn't seem to matter in 2004, however.
Greece will be well-organized and hard to break down. They won their last game, 1-0, in a friendly against Armenia.
Russia are my hot tip to win this group. Whilst not blessed with world-class talent throughout the team, they certainly boast a couple of players in each category that are extremely talented footballers.
Premier League football fans will know all about the likes of Andrei Arshavin, Pavel Pogrebnyak and Roman Pavlyuchenko in attack. Also keep an eye out for attacking midfielder Alan Dzagoev, who managed four goals in eight qualifying appearances.
Russia won their last match, 3-0, in a friendly against mighty Italy and are undefeated in their last nine games—winning five and drawing four.
I think the Czech Republic are going to have a tough time in this tournament. Their last match was a 2-1 defeat in a friendly against lowly Hungary—a team that didn't even qualify for the tournament.
With three defeats in their last nine games, Czech Republic will have to hope the likes of Tomas Rosicky and Petr Cech stay fit.
Group A: Results
Poland vs. Greece
Opening games can often be tight affairs, and co-host Poland will be trying to appease their fans' attacking desires whilst not falling in defeat to Greece.
Greece will be confident they can nick this result, but ultimately, I see a draw occurring.
Poland 1-1 Greece
Russia vs. Czech Republic
Russia could quite easily coast through this group going undefeated. They have too much quality for the Czech Republic and their form is too good for a slip-up this early on.
Russia 2-0 Czech Republic
Poland vs. Russia
If Poland survive their first game against Greece, they will find Russia a whole different animal. This is where the party stops for the co-host.
Poland 0-3 Russia
Greece vs. Czech Republic
It's anybody's guess where goals might come from for either of these teams. This match could be like a tactical game of chess; there is no clear victor.
Greece 0-0 Czech Republic
Greece vs. Russia
Another victory for Russia in this one, I'm afraid, but as always against Greece, they'll have to work for their points.
Greece 1-2 Russia
Czech Republic vs. Poland
Poland might find themselves leaving the competition early unless their home fans can garner some magical 12th-man spirit. Czech Republic—on paper—really ought to win this one.
Czech Republic 1-0 Poland
With all that said and done, my table sees Russia top the group on maximum points, with Czech Republic taking second place over Greece by a point.
The third fixture will be the crucial one for the Czech Republic, with Greece's best chance to pick up three points probably in fixture two.
Second place is certainly up for grabs.
Group B: Teams
Group B is the so-called "group of death" and features Germany, Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark.
Germany—as always—are one of the favourites heading into this tournament, but they have a tough group to get out of if they want to progress.
Their last nine matches have yielded five wins, but they have also suffered two sloppy defeats in their last three games—although both were friendlies.
Germany qualified with 10 wins from 10 qualifying games for Euro 2012.
Netherlands made it all the way to the World Cup final in 2010 and have quality players in every department.
Often nearly men, Netherlands have also made three semifinal appearances in the last five European Championships. They are worthy opponents and capable of going all the way.
Cristiano Ronaldo is naturally the player everyone talks about when referring to Portugal. The Real Madrid forward was in superb form domestically last season and will be looking to make a mark on the European Championships.
Portugal needed a playoff match in order to ensure their Euro 2012 attendance—a courtesy that Germany and Netherlands are unlikely to extend. Anything less than 100 percent performance will probably see them going home early.
Denmark may be wondering why they are even bothering to turn up, given the magnitude of the task they have.
Football can be a funny old game, though, and you can write Denmark off at your peril. Without even qualifying for the tournament, Denmark managed to win the Euros in 1992.
Group B: Results
Netherlands vs. Denmark
Netherlands should breeze through this game, as they seem to have an extra gear that Denmark don't possess. Quality always shines through.
Netherlands 3-0 Denmark
Germany vs. Portugal
Germany are favourites for this game, but Portugal are so dangerous on the counter attack with Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United's Nani that goals should be available.
Germany 3-2 Portugal
Netherlands vs. Germany
Two of the tournament favourites will go head-to-head in what is probably the most anticipated fixture in all four groups.
This game could really go either way and will come down to whoever gets their tactics right come kickoff. I just have a feeling about Netherlands.
Netherlands 2-1 Germany
Denmark vs. Portugal
Portugal should get their tournament up and running with a victory over Denmark. The Danes could be in for a pointless tournament—in more ways than one.
Denmark 1-3 Portugal
Portugal vs. Netherlands
This could be a goal-fest, with both teams enjoying counterattacking football at pace. Portugal could run the risk of being overreliant on certain individuals, whereas Netherlands can look across the pitch and cite various sources for goals.
Portugal 2-3 Netherlands
Denmark vs. Germany
It will be Auf Wiedersehen for Denmark if it wasn't already. Germany know they will have to win this match to ensure advancement to the next round, while Denmark will already know they can't progress. A formality for the Germans.
Denmark 1-4 Germany
If my maths is correct, my predictions see Netherlands topping the group on maximum points and Germany taking second place with six points.
Portugal have a chance of progressing if they can take down one of the big boys—a monstrous task.
Group C: Teams
Group C features Spain, Italy, Croatia and the Republic of Ireland.
Current World Cup and European champion Spain are indisputably favourites to win yet another major international competition.
Perhaps their biggest weakness this tournament is in attack, where they are missing an in-form goalscorer. With Fernando Torres, you never know what you might get.
Italy are going into Euro 2012 off the back of three straight defeats and some definite defensive issues due to injury.
The Italians are normally so assured at the back, but a 3-0 drubbing by Russia last week won't be good for the confidence factor.
Slaven Bilic's Croatian team could surprise a few people if they get their game together early. Boasting the seemingly prolific Premier League striker Nikica Jelavic in attack, Croatia will be confident going forward.
Last game was a 1-1 draw with Norway.
Republic of Ireland
With some acclaim as giant killers when it comes to the World Cup, the Republic of Ireland will be hoping to ruffle a few Euro 2012 feathers also.
Robbie Keane was scintillating in qualification, netting seven goals in 11 appearances.
Group C: Results
Spain vs. Italy
This match is probably the biggest opening fixture of the lot, and Italy will be worried. Their form isn't great and they're facing the world and European champions. Spain will win this comfortably.
Spain 3-1 Italy
Republic of Ireland vs. Croatia
This game could really be entertaining. Republic of Ireland aren't expected to progress, but they won't turn up just to lie down, either. I see a draw in this one—a result that only benefits Italy and Spain.
Republic of Ireland 1-1 Croatia
Spain vs. Republic of Ireland
Another walk in the park for Spain, unfortunately. Ireland will give them a tough, physical game, but it won't be enough for the slick football that Spain offers.
Spain 3-0 Republic of Ireland
Italy vs. Croatia
On paper, Italy should take this match, but they aren't playing good football right now, and the predicted result against Spain in fixture one could rock them further. Croatia will know that this result would be huge if they were to pull it off—and they may just do that.
Italy 0-1 Croatia
Croatia vs. Spain
Two giant killings are too much to ask for Croatia, and their exertions against Italy will ensure Spain can sweep them aside without too much trouble.
Croatia 0-3 Spain
Italy vs. Republic of Ireland
Going into this game, Italy may already be out of the competition, with Ireland hoping for a goal-difference advancement. Despite the requirements, Italy have too much ability for Ireland to overcome.
Italy 2-1 Republic of Ireland
Spain should qualify comfortably, while there will be a big scrap for second place. Italy are my favourite "big" team to crash in the tournament. I think Croatia could tip them over the edge and send them packing along with the Irish.
Group D: Teams
Group D features Sweden, England, France and co-host Ukraine.
Ukraine—since separating from the Soviet Union—are in their first ever European Championship, with qualification assured by way of hosting the tournament.
Their last two friendly matches have resulted in defeat, undesirable form when entering into a major competition.
Sweden, on the other hand, have found their form at the right time. Four straight victories, including a 2-1 win over Serbia last time out, have probably made France and England sit up and take notice. They have the quality to do some damage.
There is form, and there is great form. France are undefeated in their last 21 matches under Laurent Blanc and will not be an easy team to beat. They are a far cry from the disillusioned France team of World Cup 2010.
England are under new management with Roy Hodgson, and once again, there is no major tournament without a major headline to boot. This time, it's Rio Ferdinand's exclusion that has stolen the spotlight from general footballing topics.
England have enjoyed two 1-0 victories under Hodgson since his tenure began.
Group D: Results
Ukraine vs. Sweden
Ukraine's Euro 2012 celebrations and festivities might take a knock if Sweden win this game as expected. The Swedes know that victory will be a valuable three points in what looks like a tough group for them.
Ukraine 0-2 Sweden
France vs. England
England will be up against an in-form French team that could signal a tight match indeed. France will be reluctant to give up any goals in the opening game, which could lead to a drab affair. England would feel like a more satisfied team with a point.
France 1-1 England
Sweden vs. England
If England want to progress, they know they'll need to pick up some points against Sweden. A defeat would lead them adrift and ensure Sweden's progression. Expect goals and thrills in this one.
Sweden 1-2 England
Ukraine vs. France
There's just no way that Ukraine are going to end France's unbeaten run in what should be the easiest game of the lot for the French visitors.
Ukraine 0-3 France
Sweden vs. France
France will know that victory will likely send them through against Sweden, but the Swedes will need points also. This could be a nice goal-getting final fixture for somebody—probably France.
Sweden 2-3 France
England vs. Ukraine
England will go into this game knowing that Ukraine will provide an easier test than the previous two outings. Ukraine will probably be already out of the competition, allowing England to go through the motions.
England 3-1 Ukraine
With two wins and a draw each, France and England are my favourites to progress, with France topping the group on goal difference.
Ukraine will enjoy their brief time in the finals, but even a win in this tournament would be a shock.
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All statistics taken from www.UEFA.com.