Czech Republic: The Czechs, coming off a 2004 tournament that saw them fall victim to eventual champions Greece, will be confident heading into the tournament after qualifying with relative ease and enjoying good form in pre-tournament friendlies. Jan Koller and Milan Baros are both proven international finishers, Petr Cech remains one of the game's finest goalkeepers, and the Eastern Europeans are loaded with experience across the pitch. One concern for the Czechs are the losses of Pavel Nedved and Tomas Rosicky, both out injured. On the whole, though, this squad is too deep and has too much class to be denied entry to the quarterfinals. Also watch for this team to compete with Greece for the "most mispronounced names per broadcast" award.
Portugal: The Iberians are looking for retribution after being denied the trophy on their home soil in 2004, and return a lineup that is more skillful and experienced than ever in quest for their first major title. Young talents like Nani, Deco, and of course Cristiano Ronaldo link up with veteran players such as Chelsea's Ricardo Carvalho and Benfica's Nuno Gomez. Portugal also has one of the most proficient penalty-savers in the world between the sticks in the form of Ricardo, which could prove vital should their hopes come to rest on penalties. They have enough talent to get through, but that may be offset by the collective will of the entire world hoping to wipe that sick smirk off of Cristiano Ronaldo's face. Look for them to battle with the Swiss for the second spot in this group.
Switzerland: The eternal neutralists are nearly the polar opposite of the Portuguese: conservative, defensively-minded, emphasizing efficiency over beauty. The Swiss lack a star in the midfield, are short of depth at forward, and have to contend with either advanced age or inexperience in their goalkeeperss. That said, the Swiss have been producing results for years now, playing opportunistic counterattacking soccer, and that strategy, combined with home-stadium advantage, should be enough to push them into contention for the quarterfinals
Turkey: The Turks are certainly the underdogs of this group. Composed nearly entirely of domestic players, the team has been struggling to find the form it maintained when finishing third in the 2002 World Cup. Unfortunately, they probably won't find it, and will finish in the cellar of the group despite putting up a plucky effort.
Austria: By far the worst team in the tournament, the hosts will most likely get stomped on in every match, except perhaps against Poland. The best one can say for this team is that their games will be entertaining: copious amounts of goals are always likely to be seen.
Croatia: Croatia is a puzzling team: no true international stars, no real domestic league, and yet consistent qualification for major tournaments and good results. The Croats are strong and experienced in the back, with nearly 300 caps among their defenders, and have a solid goalkeeper in Stipe Pletikosa. Their main challenge will be putting the ball in the net: nobody in their front line has broken into double figures in career goals yet. Look for Croatia to nondescriptly slide into the second quarterfinal spot, behind Germany.
Germany: The Deustchlanders are one of the favorites of the tournament, playing the direct, straight ahead football that has served them so well throughout the years. Jens Lehmann is a very qualified goalkeeper, which may prove important behind a young defense (no fullback on the team is over 30). Michael Ballack will spark the midfield and create for the team's leading strikers of Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski. Germany should win this group, easily.
Poland: The Poles have a decent defense, centered around goalkeeper Artur Boruc and defender Jacek Bak, but just aren't going to create enough offense to be a serious threat to advance. Watch out for them to try and sabotage or kidnap the German forwards: both Klose and Podolski are natural-born Polish.
France: France shouldn't have any worries bulging the old onion bag in Austria this year, with names such as Makelele, Viera, Ribery, Henry, and Anelka on the roster, and aren't too shabby in defense either. Gregory Coupet is a competent goalkeeper, and William Gallas and Patrice Evra lock down a solid defense. The defending world runners-up should advance, albeit not easily, out of this brutal group.
Italy: The reigning world champs are a solid team, from Buffon in goal through Zambratta and Materazzi in the back four to Pirlo in the center to Del Piero up top. The Italians should take the top spot in this group.
The Netherlands: The Netherlands really got hosed with this draw. They're definitely a competent team, with a rock named Edwin van der Sar in goal and some skill in the front third with Arjen Robben and Ruud van Nistelrooy suiting up in the orange, but this group will just prove to be too tough. Watch the Dutchmen battle France for the second quarterfinal spot, but come up just short. Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink is also on the short-list for most amusing name in the tournament.
Romania: Poor Romania. A promising young team by all accounts, with plenty of hope for the future, drawn into the melee pit with the big boys. The Transylvanians will play some exciting football and may throw a scare or two into the juggernauts, but in the end will be nothing more than an also-ran.
Greece: The Cindarella team of Euro 04 is still waiting for the clock to strike midnight. Unfortunately, it's about half past eleven for them right now. They won't be overlooked this year, and lack a player who can throw the team on his back during a tight game. The Hellas are competent all around, and play greater than the sum of their parts, but don't look for lightning to strike twice. They may make it out of this relatively weak group, but don't expect anything further than the quarterfinals from the Greeks.
Russia: When your leading international scorer heading into a major competition is a 32-year old domestic player with a whopping total of four (ladies and gentlemen, Sergei Semak!) you may be in a spot of trouble. Russia will be feisty and may scrap a point or two off of Greece or Sweden, but to see anything beyond the first round for the Russians would be quite optimistic.
Spain: By far the most talented team in the group, Spain should use their technical prowess to roll into the elimination rounds. Be sure to catch their game against Greece: the Greeks ended their tournament in the group stages four years ago and the Spaniards will be looking for revenge.
Sweden: Sweden will compete with Greece for the second spot in this group, but probably won't do much more than that. Andreas Isaakson is solid in the goal, and Henrik Larson seems to have found the fountain of youth somewhere in the fjords of Scandinavia, but this team doesn't have either enough flair or enough depth to do any real damage.
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