Euro 2012: Breaking Down the Anatomy of a Successful Underdog

Wes ODonnell@wesodonnellFeatured ColumnistJune 8, 2012

WARSAW, POLAND - JUNE 07: Nikos Liberopoulos and team mates chat prior to a Greece training session ahead of the UEFA EURO 2012 Group A match against Poland at National Stadium on June 7, 2012 in Warsaw, Poland.  (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)
Alex Grimm/Getty Images

There is no way to pin an underdog's success down to just one thing. I hate to use the word "impossible," but, in this sense, it is exactly that.

Every underdog is different and there is no legitimate recipe for creating success. Game-planning, coaching and execution certainly play their role, but it goes deeper than that.

With Euro 2012 getting underway today, we can't help but wonder which underdog nations have the potential to spring upsets. Again, there is no foolproof system here, but we can break down some of the components that make an underdog team successful.

Everything to Gain, Nothing to Lose

Looking at Euro 2012 in particular, it is obvious which nations have the most to lose. While every team is out to win this tournament, some have more than just wins and losses on the line.

Spain has everything to lose
Spain has everything to loseDenis Doyle/Getty Images

Spain, for instance, is the defending Euro and World Cup champions. Germany and Netherlands have ridiculously strong squads with a fantastic combination of youth and experience. Anything less than a semifinals appearance for any of these squads is a complete disappointment.

The same cannot be said of either one of the host countries, Poland or Ukraine, or Greece or Ireland or even Denmark.

These squads, the true underdogs in the competition, have everything to gain and nothing to lose. 

Even as the host countries, Poland and Ukraine aren't being held to a higher standard—anything beyond group play would be a success for them.

Greece shocked all of Europe with their Euro 2004 win and then took three steps backward by failing to qualify for the 2006 World Cup. They notched their first World Cup win in 2010, but pushing through to the knockout phase here would be a huge triumph for them as well.

Robert Lewandowski of Poland
Robert Lewandowski of PolandAlex Grimm/Getty Images

And Ireland, well, they haven't played in an international competition in 10 years. They're not only here to make a statement, but they're still livid over the hand ball fiasco in 2010 World Cup qualifying.

Just arriving at this tournament was a big step for them.

Team Composition

There is something to be said for a veteran squad making one last stand, but we cannot ignore the younger squads attempting to prove a point either.

For instance, Poland's captained by 26-year-old Jakub Błaszczykowski of Borussia Dortmund. Greece, Ireland and Ukraine, on the other hand, are captained by 35-year-old Giorgos Karagounis, 31-year-old Robbie Keane and 35-year-old Andriy Shevchenko, respectively.

Guys like Karagounis, Keane and Shevchenko don't know if they'll get another opportunity like this on the international stage.

And younger players such as Błaszczykowski don't know if they'll ever be back.

Their respective squads show much of the same. Poland is younger while Greece, while Ireland and Ukraine are littered with experienced senior players.

Success for either type depends heavily on how they embrace the situation placed before them.


These squads don't necessarily control their seeding at all, but a favorable draw makes a huge difference.

Portugal is not technically an underdog, but both they and Denmark drew the short end of the stick. The two European nations will play in what is known as the "Group of Death" along with Germany and Netherlands.

Ireland, Croatia, Greece, Poland and the Czech Republic, on the other hand, were fortunate to land where they did.

Ireland and Croatia will play in Group C with Spain and Italy. The Spanish are a lock to advance, but the Italians have plenty of turmoil surrounding them thanks to match fixing scandals in their top league. The 2006 World Cup winners have also been on a steady decline and are as vulnerable as any squad in the competition. 

The Irish and Croatians are more than capable of making something happen in their less-than-stellar group.

Greece, Poland and the Czech Republic may take a backseat to Russia in Group A, but one of them is guaranteed to advance to the knockout stage—and Russia is no lock like Spain, either.

Although it isn't entirely within their own control, seeding plays a huge part in the potential success of underdogs at Euro 2012.


Last, but certainly not least, is luck, something even the favorites need from time to time. We've all heard the saying "sometimes it's better to be lucky than good," and that is never more true than in these type of international extravaganzas. 

Shevchenko of Ukraine
Shevchenko of UkraineBen Radford/Getty Images

Even the best-struck ball can find the woodwork and even the best-laid game plans can go to ruins with one boneheaded play.

Luck is not the most important thing, but it can be the most helpful.

16 different nations will be on hand for this tournament, but only one can win. It remains to be seen whether an underdog will make noise, but it is hardly out of the question.

Keep an eye on open for all these things and don't be surprised at all when an unlikely squad makes a run.


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