On the note of all the internationals going on at the moment, UEFA Euro 2012 is rapidly approaching. As the June 8, 2012 start date slowly approaches, more and more predictions about the tournament are sure to pop up. This is an early read for those still impatient.
Here are six of my predictions for the Euro 2012 tournament in Poland and Ukraine.
These teams have been brilliant. Spain is currently the world champion, and if you have seen Germany play since the World Cup, it's been like watching a combination of Brazil and the usual Germany, with Mesut Özil, Thomas Muller and Lukas Podolski playing the kind of passing game you'd expect from Barcelona and the classic organized German back line.
Also, Germany has already all but qualified for the tournament, and Spain remains unbeaten in its qualifying group.
When have they not underperformed, with the kind of expectations on them? Probably not since 1990. I have no idea how Fabio Capello is still manager because he seems to be totally unfit for the job. He managed to get one win during the World Cup, failed to beat Montenegro and Switzerland at Wembley and can't seem to get his squad together. If he is still manager, then you can predict an English lapse.
This slide needs the least explanation. The Montenegrins have shocked many with their superb results in Group G, and it would be great to see them qualify for only the second international tournament they have entered. I expect to see them not only qualify but perform well in the tournament and defy more expectations.
The Norwegians have been similarly outstanding in Group H, and seeing how the Portuguese have been playing badly, a first qualification for a major tournament since Euro 2000 seems imminent.
The Netherlands' Robin Van Persie has been outstanding for Arsenal since his return from injury, and it seems as if he will keep on scoring for his North London club. (He's got 18 goals since January.) He will also be looking to come back after a difficult World Cup 2010.
Another Dutch candidate for top scorer could be the man who has been banging the goals with the Dutch national team, often injured Schalke 04 striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. As we have seen with Miroslav Klose, you don't need to be playing well at the club level to succeed at the international level, and the Oranje might be able to rely on this man as a much needed goal poacher. (He's already got 8 goals in the qualifiers, too, which is level with the aforementioned Klose.)
Polish 'keeper Wojciech Szczesny
Let's face it, the host nations don't have the best teams. Poland and Ukraine can be expected to pull off a performance like that of South Africa during the World Cup at first look, but a closer look at the Polish reveals more. Poland has very good goalkeeping options in Artur Boruc, Lukasz Fabianski and his fellow Arsenal man, the young star Wojciech Szczęsny. In the Polish forward line is a very skilled striker named Robert Lewandowski, supported by midfield dynamo Ludovic Obraniak.
The other host, Ukraine, has a rather weak squad. It has been years since Andriy Shevchenko was in his prime, and Andriy Voronin's terrible three-year spell with Liverpool means he isn't the player he was. Anatoliy Tymoschuk may be too old, and that leaves the team with Andriy Pyatov and Olexsandr Aliev, who just won't be able to compete with the best of Europe alone.
This is probably my most bold prediction of them all, but it seems far less bold when you look at one man.
That man is Dutchman Guus Hiddink, currently the manager of Turkey's national team. Idolized in South Korea and pretty much every other country he's managed, the manager has an incredible record on the international stage.
His legend started in 1998 when he managed a Dutch team into the semifinals, beating Argentina on the way and making his name known to all.
Then in 2002, he gave an incredible performance as manager of co-hosts South Korea. Not only did he take them to the semifinals, which was far better than everyone expected, but he also revolutionized the Korean team into the powerhouse it is today. With the help of some (shall I say questionable?) refereeing decisions, the Koreans truly shocked the world, making Guus a national hero.
He could have done a repeat performance in 2006 with the Australians, but he went out in the second round thanks to a last minute (again, shall I say questionable?) penalty against eventual winners Italy.
In Euro 2008, he defeated his Dutch countrymen with Russia and made stars of Roman Pavlyuchenko and Andriy Arshavin, reaching the semifinals in the process.
Who says he can't do it again?