As the early showing of summer arrives, with it comes the latest installment of the UEFA European Football Championship or more commonly known as the Euro. The 2008 edition will be hosted by Switzerland and Austria and will feature 16 of Europe’s supposed best teams.
This year's competition marks the second time that two countries are co-hosting the event since 2000 when Belgium and the Netherlands hosted the first ever joint bid. Before the group-by-group analysis, let us have a moment of silence for the 2007-2008 England National Qualifying Team who will be on holiday throughout this year’s tournament.
Group A features the Czech Republic, Portugal, Switzerland, and Turkey. The standout teams are obviously the Czechs and the Portuguese who both boast some of the football’s biggest names. The Czech’s have arguably the world’s best goalkeeper in Petr Cech along with Jan Koller and Marek Jankulovski however will be without captain Tomas Rosicky who was injured with Arsenal this past season.
Like the Czechs, Portugal too has some big guns such as Ricardo Caravalho, Paulo Ferreira, Nani, and somebody named Ronaldo. The two teams will most likely come into the competition ranked 5th and 9th in the world according to the FIFA World Rankings.
While they might be the favorites there is no guarantee that they can't be upset by either Switzerland or Turkey. The Swiss seem to have a better chance to play spoiler than their Turkish counterparts seeing how they let up zero goals in regulation in the 2006 World Cup. However, the downside can be that they have not played any important fixtures since they automatically qualified by being one of the host nations. Turkey meanwhile did not make the past World Cup nor have they qualified for the past Euro in 2004.
Being as how they are ranked so high in the World rankings it would not be all that surprising to seeing either the Czech Republic or Portugal go deep in the competition.
Group B includes Austria, Croatia, Germany, and Poland. It would be very surprising to see Austria pull off a win let alone a tie seeing how they are ranked 101st in the world and only obtained a spot for being the other host country. Croatia come into this summer’s Euro having won their qualifying group against the likes of Russia, England, and Israel. Croatia defeated England twice including the deciding match at Wembley where they eliminated England’s hopes of qualifying and ended the Steve McClaren era. The team features many unknown players but their low key adds to their danger as they scored 28 goals in the qualifying group. However, they will have their hands full with the likes of Germany and Poland.
Germany boasts some of the world’s deadliest strikers in Miroslav Klose and Lucas Podolski along with midfielder Michael Ballack who have combined for 98 goals for their country between them. Meanwhile Poland has three young solid keepers in Artur Boruc, Lukasz Fabianski, and Tomasz Kuszczak who can all contend for the top spot and give any offense a tough time of beating them.
The edge should go to Germany for their high-powered strikers and the second spot is up for grabs for Croatia and Poland.
Group C features Italy, France, the Netherlands, and Romania. Coming into the competition ranked among European teams first, second, fourth, and eighth, the group has been dubbed as the “Group of Death.”
France and Italy have quite the history between them as not only having been in the same qualifying group, but also meeting in the 2000 Euro final and the 2006 World Cup final. However, this time they will be without the legendary Zinedine Zidane who retired after 2006. That said, they still remain dangerous with the likes of Thierry Henry, Franck Ribery, and William Gallas.
Italy come into the tournament as the obvious favorite and brings with them an almost identical roster from the World Cup with Luca Toni, Alessandro Del Piero and Gianluigi Buffon all of whom played vital roles in their past success.
The Netherlands also feature a star-studded line up with Edwin Van der Sar, Arjen Robben, Ruud van Nistlerooy, and Robin van Persie. Romania enters the group having won their qualifying group and can too provide a tough task for any of their competition. They should have an advantage against the Dutch since they both qualified from the same group. A winner or runner up from this group is anyone’s guess and this should be the most interesting group to watch.
Group D features Greece, Russia, Spain, and Sweden. Greece come in looking to defend their title against a very strong group. With them they bring the same team from their past major tournaments in hope of retaining the coveted Euro trophy. In their way stands Spain, Russia, and Sweden.
Spain bring with them two of the worlds best keepers in Iker Casillas, Jose Reina, along with Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas all of whom boast strong club performances. Russia come into the Euro having missed out on the last World Cup but having beaten Greece in the last competition in their only win. This time around, the Russians have a formidable offense with Roman Pavlyuchenko and Andrei Arshavin. They are more than likely to play a spoiler role as they vie to make it out of the group stage for the first time since 2002.
Sweden, too can play a spoiler role as they too look to re-enter the quarterfinals and perhaps go the distance.
The winner of the competition will represent UEFA at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa.