Euro 2012: 10 Bold Predictions for European Championships in Poland and Ukraine
Spain's going down this summer.
Got your attention? Good, now here are 10 bold predictions for Euro 2012, which begins—believe it or not—in less than three months.
Just so you know, I'm not picking England to do anything. But I am picking the hosts to do well, and I like Spain to go far regardless.
What else? You'll have to read on to find out.
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England Will Crash out at the Group Stage
What is going on in the England camp lately?
The Three Lions still don't have a permanent manager, and their caretaker boss bafflingly appointed a captain who earned his 11th cap in the recent friendly with Holland.
In fairness, it's not like Scott Parker performed badly against the Dutch. Both he and the team played well enough. But as a point of comparison, consider that the Oranje's captain, Mark van Bommel, was making his 71st international appearance that day.
That's experience, and experience is worth its weight in gold during international tournaments. To snub Steven Gerrard—often injured or not—with all his international experience and talent, was shocking.
Whoever the next manager is, he should strongly consider making Gerrard captain.
Otherwise, it's hard to see the inexperienced Parker guiding England anywhere but to an early exit. And before you assume Parker would thrive under Harry Redknapp, consider this: Redknapp's captain at Tottenham Hotspur is not Parker. It's Ledley King.
With poor decision after poor decision, the Three Lions are inviting disaster.
France Will Reach the Semifinals
Sure, it was only a friendly, but France's recent 2-1 win in Germany showed they're ready for the big-time. Franck Ribery remains a recognizable star, but exciting up-and-comers like striker Olivier Giroud and defender Mathieu Debuchy give the squad depth.
France will ride the momentum from the win over Germany and capitalize on England's weakness by winning Group D. Then they'll face the Group C runner up in the quarterfinals.
There, France will probably play Italy, though Croatia and Ireland (and, technically, Spain) are also possibilities. No matter who they draw in the quarters, don't be surprised to see Les Bleus and their pajama-uniforms in the semifinals.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar for Top Scorer
Robin van Persie scores when he wants, but Klaas-Jan Huntelaar will finish as Euro 2012's top scorer.
The Dutchman can't stop scoring for Schalke in the Bundesliga, and he showed a complete disregard for his personal safety in scoring against England (see the video at left).
For a striker, that's a deadly combination. Opposing defenses should watch out.
Both Hosts to Make Knockout Stages
Hosting a tournament generally provides a boost on the field, even if South Africa didn't show it two years ago in the World Cup.
Still, Poland and Ukraine should benefit from co-hosting the event this summer. Since the tournament went to a group-stage format in 1980, seven of the nine hosts have advanced from their groups.
The only exceptions have been Switzerland in 2008 and Belgium, who co-hosted with Holland in 2000. On the other hand, Portugal (2004), Holland (2000), England (1996), Sweden (1992), West Germany (1988), France (1984) and Italy (1980) all advanced.
That bodes well for Poland and Ukraine. But so do the groups.
Poland was placed in Group A, the weakest of the tournament, with Russia, Greece and Czech Republic. And if Ukraine manages positive results against England and Sweden, they'll advance as well.
Ox for England
Arsenal's 18-year-old midfield sensation Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will make England's roster this summer. That's because, since breaking into the Gunners' first team, Ox has been thoroughly impressive.
If Ox doesn't make the roster, it's just another sign that the inmates have taken over the England asylum.
Croatia to Stun Italy
As their recent 1-0 loss to the United States showed, Italy could be vulnerable in Group C. For all their dominance in possession, the Italians couldn't find a breakthrough against the Americans on home soil.
Facing Croatia's talented attackers—I'm thinking of Nikica Jelavic, Eduardo, Ivan Perisic and Luka Modric, to name a few—Italy could find themselves in trouble.
Ireland to Come Close
If Italy stumble against Croatia, that could give Ireland a chance to progress. But it's hard to see the Irish stringing together results against both Spain and Italy.
The key will be the opener against Croatia on June 10. The loser of that match—if they don't draw—is out of the tournament.
If the Irish can win that one, a loss to Spain in the second game wouldn't be so bad. Then, the group finale against Italy would take on even more importance.
Portugal as the Odd Team out
This isn't too bold, admittedly. Portugal's group also contains Germany and the Netherlands. Getting past either of those teams—and Denmark—will take a minor miracle.
And yet, Cristiano Ronaldo plays for Portugal. That means it would be foolish to rule them out entirely.
But here's guessing Germany and Holland, with their balanced teams, will both have more than enough to overcome Portugal's superstar.
Greece to Shoot Blanks
Even when they won it all in 2004, Greece scored just seven goals in six games. In 2008, when they finished last in Group D, the Greeks scored once.
And at the World Cup two years ago, when they finished third in Group B, Greece scored twice.
So don't expect the Greeks to suddenly become attacking wizards. In fact, expect them to go scoreless.
For the whole tournament.
Germany to Win It All
Germany lost to France 2-1 in a recent friendly on home soil. That was only a blip, though.
Die Mannschaft and manager Joachim Löw will figure out a way to beat Spain this summer in the final.
The Germans have loads of attacking talent, led by Mario Gomez, Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil and Lukas Podolski. The midfield is powerful, led by talisman Bastian Schweinsteiger. And in Manuel Neuer, they have a top-class keeper.
Together with their customary amounts of efficiency and organization, Germany will end Spain's dominant run.