As the summer approaches and with the Olympics right around the corner we can't forget about the second biggest Soccer tournament in the world.
With one major powerhouse missing from the tournament, that being England. How will the rest of the tournament play out?
Here are my predictions of the 8 teams that will advance from group play to the knockout rounds.
Portugal (Euro 2004 Runner Up)
Group Winner: Portugal
Group Runner Up: Czech Republic
In a group that has two of the major powerhouses in the world and one of the host nations this group could be interesting.
Czech Republic and Portugal are the obvious favorites to advance from here but don't sleep on Switzerland or Turkey.
Switzerland is a host nation in this tournament and host nations tend to do pretty well because of the home field advantage they receive.
Turkey is another team that is dangerous because of how aggressive they can prove to be when needed.
I still see Portugal and Czech Republic advancing from this group as the Czechs have a lot to prove since their early World Cup dismissal and Portugal looks for some revenge since losing in the final of Euro 2004.
Group Winner: Germany
Group Runner Up: Austria
In what looks to be the weakest of the four groups I see Germany running away with this group by getting the full 9 points that can be received.
Their battle with Poland could be a very competitive match that could even turnout in a draw but I see Germany being able to go 3-0-0 here.
Austria, the second of the two host nations, like Switzerland will get a huge home advantage and that will push them through to the knockout round. They are a very good squad and could defeat any of those teams except Germany.
Poland and Croatia are quality teams that I don't think are playing their best soccer at this time, with so much time till the tournament begins things could change I just don't see it happening though.
Croatia and Poland will battle for who gets to be third in the group and who is the cellar dweller from Group B.
France (World Cup 2006 Runner Up)
Italy (Reigning World Cup 2006 Champions)
Group Winner: Italy
Group Runner Up: Netherlands
In a group that is arguably the toughest in the tournament next to Group D, Group C contains three world class teams and a Romanian squad that is on their way back up since falling so far since World Cup 94.
France has not been playing their best soccer since Zinedine Zidane retired from international play, they just don't have an offensive explosion even with Thierry Henry on the squad.
They struggled to get into the Group Play portion of this tournament as they barely snuck in over Israel. I see them continuing to struggle in this tournament and will not advance from this group.
Italy is the defending World Cup Champion and always play tough in big tournaments like this, I don't see it any different as Italy shows why they won World Cup 2006 and will win this group.
The wave of Orange for the Netherlands will be out in full force at this tournament. Netherlands fans always travel well and can turn a road or a neutral site game into a home field advantage for the Netherlands. Netherlands I feel is too quick for France and Romania and should advance to the knockout round.
Romania has been on the rise since having a bit of downfall since their good performance at World Cup 94. They won't advance from this group but will be competitive with these international giants in their group.
Greece (Euro 2004 Champions)
Group Winner: Spain
Group Runner Up: Greece
In the second of two power groups in this tournament, it contains the reigning Euro Champs in Greece. I see Greece sneaking by in a very competitive group and moving onto the knockout portion. Spain is playing great soccer right now and will win this group.
Russia, the team that knocked England out of advancing to this portion of the tournament is still a very underrated squad, they can surprise teams in this tournament but I don't feel they will have enough and will finish fourth in this group.
Sweden is a team that you can never predict how they will do, they are either very good or very average and in this stage I see them coming out as a very average team.
They could sneak past Greece and advance to the knockout stage but I just don't think they have it in them to have a breakout game over Spain or Greece.
Greece is the reigning champs of this tournament and should be able to defend their title in the knockout stage of the tournament. I don't know that if playing in what I thought was a relatively easy qualifying group will cost them in this tournament but they play great defense and can pounce quickly on offense. Coach Otto Rehhagel will have his team filled with veterans ready to play.
Spain is an extremely dangerous team and could prove to be the dark horse once advancing to the knockout stage. With tournament tested players and solid goalkeeping this team could go very far in this tournament. I see them getting 7-9 points from this group and advancing to the next stage.
Review of Picks
Group A: Portugal, Czech Republic
Group B: Germany, Austria
Group C: Italy, Netherlands
Group D: Spain, Greece
Players To Watch
Petr Cech, Goalkeeper, Czech Republic
Cristiano Ronaldo, Attacker, Portugal
Miroslav Klose, Attacker, Germany
Thierry Henry, Attacker France
Djibril Cisse, Attacker, France
Marco Materazzi, Defender, Italy
Fabio Cannavaro, Defender, Italy
Gianluigi Buffon, Goalkeeper, Italy
Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Attacker, Netherlands
Edwin Van Der Sar, Goalkeeper, Netherlands
Angelos Charisteas, Attacker, Greece
Angelos Basinas, Midfielder, Greece
Iker Casillas, Goalkeeper, Spain
Xavi Hernandez, Midfielder, Spain
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