Euro 2012: Favorites and Long Shots for Each Group
The anticipation is ever growing for Euro 2012, as some of the world's best players will descend on Poland and Ukraine to decide which nation is the football king in Europe.
Spain is looking to defend its European crown, while 15 other nations are looking to knock the Spaniards off their perch.
Some have a legitimate shot to top the ultra-talented 2008 Euro champs—others, not so much.
It all starts with group play, however, where even Spain won't have an easy road early on.
Here are the favorites and long shots in each group:
Group A: Czech Republic, Greece, Poland, Russia
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Group A will likely come down to Greece and Russia. Both have seen recent Euro success, with the Greeks taking the Euro 2004 title and the Russians advancing to the 2008 semifinals.
I see both advancing to the Round of 16, but I think the Greek defense gets it done to take the No. 1 seed in this group.
Greece was undefeated in qualifying and knows how to keep opponents out of the net.
Russia can play some defense as well, but I foresee their offense quickly becoming frustrated in a primarily defensive-minded group. They'll advance past group stage, but the Greeks are my favorites in Group A.
Long shot: Czech Republic
I say that the Czechs are the long shot, but perhaps they are better tabbed as a dark-horse contender.
Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech proved over the last season that he is one of the best keepers in the world. That alone could propel them past the group stage.
Czech striker Milan Baros and midfielder Tomas Rosicky could link up and put some points on the board.
But, outside of that trio, the Czechs probably won't have the strength to put up enough positive results to make it out of the group stage.
Group B: Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal
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Led by two squads that are famished for a title, Group B is undoubtedly the strongest group in Euro 2012.
Netherlands, the second-place finisher at the 2010 World Cup will certainly be looking to make the jump and claim the European crown—and they have the talent to do it.
Meanwhile, the Euro 2008 runner-up, Germany is also starved for a title, and they too have enough firepower to win it.
Let's not forget about Portugal, led by one of the world's best in Cristiano Ronaldo, who was the Euro 2004 runner-up.
Group B is going to be fun to watch, but I see the Dutch taking down Portugal and exacting some revenge from both the 2006 World Cup and the 2004 Euro, in which Portugal knocked them out.
But I think Germany just has too much talent for the Dutch to handle and makes it out of the group stage with the top seed.
Long shot: Denmark
Poor, poor Denmark. They absolutely have some talent of their own, being currently No. 9 in the FIFA world rankings.
In another group, the Danish just might have made it to the Round of 16, but in a stacked Group B, I don't see that happening.
At the 2010 World Cup, they failed to advance in a weaker group, falling 2-0 to the Dutch and then 3-1 to Japan.
Denmark isn't a bad team and could give some of their strong opponents in Group B some fits, but I doubt it will be enough to advance.
Group C: Croatia, Ireland, Italy, Spain
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Spain is the clear-cut favorite in Group C, if not the whole tournament. They are the defending Euro and World Cup champions and enter this year's tournament ranked No. 1.
Their only problem, at least in group stage, will be deciding what to do with all of that talent.
Italy will likely advance as well, on the back of their strong defense Juventus goalkeeper Gigi Buffon, but in the end the Italians are no match for the quick and intelligent Spaniards.
I expect Spain to cruise through group stage and, eventually, onto the finals.
Germany, Netherlands and possibly France are the only squads who have a legitimate shot at topping Spain, and none of them are in Group C.
Long shot: Ireland
Back into a major tournament field for the first time since the 2002 World Cup, the Irish are a long shot to make it out of Group C.
Forward Robbie Keane of the LA Galaxy could find the net for Ireland in the group stage, but he may be the only one.
Outmatched by juggernauts in Spain and Italy, the Irish should be content with their Euro 2012 qualification.
Ireland could find a way to manage a positive result against Croatia and perhaps a draw against Italy, but it likely won't be enough to make it to the Round of 16.
Group D: England, France, Sweden, Ukraine
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France has the talent to make it to the Euro final and probably has more talent than any other squad in Group D.
The French have the ability to score in bunches and should easily make it out of the group stage, especially with all of the problems England has been having.
The English simply can't catch a break as more of their players continue to be ruled out because of injury.
This opens the door for Sweden to possibly top England and advance past the group stage.
But either way, France has to be the outright favorite to be the top seed out of Group D because of their sheer talent.
Long shot: Ukraine
It's unfortunate that the two hosts of Euro 2012, Ukraine and Poland, are also the two lowest-ranked squads.
Ukraine came in at No. 52, far below all of its Euro guests, other than Poland.
They have an long, outside shot to advance, but I just don't see that happening.
They could ride the emotion and enthusiasm of the home crowd and muster enough positive results to advance, but they don't exactly have the talent to back up the emotional boost.