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Euro 2012: Group B Preview of Holland, Germany, Portugal, Denmark

Mr XSenior Writer IJune 3, 2012

There are no two ways about it. Group B is the toughest group ever conceived in world football. All four teams feature in both FIFA's and UEFA's top 10 rankings, and when it comes to separating them, it literally has to be done with a credit card.

Group B: Rankings

Holland (FIFA-4/UEFA-3)

Germany (FIFA-2/UEFA-2)

Portugal (FIFA-5/UEFA-4)

Denmark (FIFA-10/UEFA-7)

The Dutch come into Euro 2012 with one of the most frightening rosters in the competition.

They boast the likes of Robin van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, the top scorers in the Premier League and Bundesliga respectively. They also have Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Ibrahim Afellay and the future of Holland's midfield, Kevin Strootman. That list indicates strength throughout midfield and attack.

However, they do lack cover and class at the back with only Everton's Johnny Heitinga standing out. If any negative can be made about how domestic football has fallen, it is the fact that there is only one Ajax player in the squad, defender Gregory van der Wiel, and just seven home-based players all together.

Since the debacle and disgrace at the World Cup final in 2010 where Holland (3) were rightly lambasted for their tactics and shaming of the history of Dutch football, Bert van Marwijk has gone all out to reaffirm his team's standing in the pantheon of football.

Attack is now the name of the game, and it can be easily seen in the fact that Holland scored 37 goals in qualification and won nine out of 10, only losing to Sweden in the last game when their trip to the Euro's was already guaranteed.

Their strengths are obvious but finding a place for everyone may prove to be their weakness. Where do you fit Huntelaar, van Persie, Sneijder, Robben, van der Vaart, de Jong, Strootman, Afellay, Kuyt and van Bommel into a team that must have a goalkeeper and four defenders?

The answer is...you don't. And herein lies the headache for van Marwijk. He must find a balanced side that will protect his vulnerable defence, so big names will have to be sacrificed. That could even result in the Premier League's top scorer starting on the bench.

Like the Dutch, Germany (2) has one of the best squads in world football. However, unlike their near neighbours, only three of the 23-man squad is based outside their domestic league.

This familiarity with each other has fostered a team spirit and belief which provides all the foundations for one of the most exciting and youngest teams in international football.

The youngest squad at Euro 2012 is packed with flair, speed, skill and experience. Having been knocked out at the Semi-Final stage at the World Cup by Spain, the Germans bounced back by winning all 10 qualification matches en-route to the Euro's.

What makes this stat stand out though is the fact that it was the first time in Germany's rich history that they managed to achieve this feat.

Champions League finalists Bayern Munich contributes eight players to Joachim Loew's squad and are all certain starters. Each player will know his role intimately as Joachim Loew uses the same 4-2-3-1 formation that these players feature in for Bayern, so nothing will be taken for granted.

Like the Dutch, though, Germany are best on the front foot. Bar Philipp Lahm, they do not possess a top-class defender so Bastian Schweinsteiger, should he recover from injury in time, will have a huge job to do to protect his team's vulnerable point.

Despite the talent at his disposal, Loew's team will pick itself and the only real question he has to worry about is who to play up front: Mario Gomez or Miroslav Klose.

Gomez is the younger man at 26 but has always flattered to deceive at the highest level while putting in sterling performances against weaker opposition, while Klose, at 33, is the old man of the squad and saves his best game for the big matches, just like Didier Drogba...

German football has changed dramatically in the last 11 years (September 1, 2001 to be precise), and the progress they have made under Loew is gradually leading towards another final appearance.

Paulo Bento and Portugal (4) will know that they are in an incredibly tough group, but they will also know that they have in Cristiano Ronaldo a player that can light up any occasion and win any match.

Gone are the dark days under Carlos Queiroz with Ronaldo playing as centre forward as Bento has changed things around for the Selecao and uses a 4-3-3 formation that usually sees Helder Postiga at the pinnacle with Luis Nani and Ronaldo providing width, imagination and goals on either flank.

A highly underrated midfield comprising of Chelsea's Raul Meireles, Porto's Joao Moutinho and Genoa's Miguel Veloso underpins the attacking threat up front. While the guard dog that is Pepe patrol's defence in another change from Queiroz's tactics.

One other aspect of Portuguese play that has improved somewhat under Bento is the goalkeeping position. Rui Patricio of Sporting Lisbon fame is highly rated throughout Europe and could be the difference between an early exit and a quarterfinals berth.

The problem with Portugal is that they are far too reliant on the performances and goals of Ronaldo. Midfield hardly contributes anything in terms of goals or assists, and if the former world player of the year is tightly marked or having an off-day, then the task falls to Nani or Postiga, with neither player being what you would regard as a real threat on goal.

Height at the back is also a negative against Portugal, as neither Pepe nor Pereira are commanding in the John Terry sense and that could prove to be a problem against three physically powerful teams.

Denmark (7) finish off the group of death with Morten Olsen wondering what he must have done in these past 12-years as manager to upset the gods to deserve a group such as this.

It really says something when the seventh-best team in Europe come into a competition as rank outsiders to progress from their group.

For their part, Olsen, the longest serving manager at the Euro's, employs a workmanlike 4-3-3 that shifts into a 4-2-3-1 at the flick of a switch. Both full-backs, Jacobsen and Poulsen, will be expected to push on as Kvist drops in to make a three-man defence with Agger and Bjelland, while Zimling will never be too far away, either.

The attacking impetus comes from the overlapping defenders, the eternal Rommedahl on the right and the hottest Danish prospect since Brian Laudrup, Ajax's Christian Eriksen.

The attacking midfielder was instrumental in helping Ajax regain their Dutch title this season and has served a top class apprenticeship at the Amsterdam-based club. He was already on the radar of most of Europe's top clubs before stepping his game up in the last 12 months and many now feel that Euro 2012 will provide the shop window for him to step his game up yet again.

Unlike the other teams in this group, they come in as complete underdogs and as a result, they are under no pressure whatsoever. They recently beat Portugal 2-1, and drew with Germany 2-2, though Holland beat them 2-0 in the group stages of the World Cup in South Africa.

A repeat of those results might just be enough to see them through to the quarterfinals.

Conclusion

Portugal are the only team in this group never to have won the European Championships. Denmark come in as rank outsiders while the two superpowers, Holland and Germany, will expect to carve up the group between them.

Travel could become a factor in a group where none of the four teams has chosen their base intelligently. Between all three games, Denmark must travel 3,000 miles, Portugal 3,400 miles, Germany 2,400 miles and Holland 4,300 miles.

When you look at the last group games where Germany play Denmark, it is the little factors that really come into play. Fatigue caused by travel will be one of them. This is especially so when you realise that the Danes could have been based in Lviv and only flown to one game instead of all three.

Overall, none of the four teams have great defences, with Germany and Holland shading that by having the best midfield and attacking options.

Portugal are over-reliant on Ronaldo. Denmark rely heavily on teamwork; against lesser opposition, this is usually enough to get them over the hill. Not so against two teams who can match them for work rate and top them for skill.

Winners: Germany 6/5 to win Group B - 2/9 to qualify

Runners Up: Holland 15/8 to win Group B - 4/9 to qualify

Group B Fixtures

Match (03) June 09- Holland vs. Denmark (Metallist Stadium, Kharkiv—38,000)

Match (04) June 09- Germany vs. Portugal (Arena Lviv, Lviv—35,000)

Match (11) June 13- Denmark vs. Portugal (Arena Lviv, Lviv—35,000)

Match (12) June 13- Holland vs. Germany (Metallist Stadium, Kharkiv—38,000)

Match (19) June 17- Portugal vs. Holland (Metallist Stadium, Kharkiv—38,000)

Match (20) June 17- Denmark vs. Germany (Arena Lviv, Lviv—35,000)

Players to Watch

Holland: Where do you start with this Dutch side? They just drip sheer class and magic throughout, and they have so many game-changers that your head literally spins. Each and every one of them is a world-class talent.

However, I'm going to go for Kevin Strootman. The 22-year-old may not start a game at Euro 2012 but has gone from the Dutch second division to PSV and the European Championships in just six months. His intelligent runs, passing ability, box-to-box energy and vision mark his out as a real find, even for Holland. He may not feature much, but when he does, the Premier League scouting network will go into overdrive.

Germany: Being as stacked as Holland, it is almost impossible to find a player who could outshine the rest! Mario Goetze is an obvious start, but the highly talented Dortmund star may not even make it out onto the pitch. Such is the Germans' awesome strength in depth.

Bayern Munich's Toni Kroos has all the tools needed to succeed at the highest level, as he has in club football, and now is his time to shine for his country. He will probably play a little deeper than normal and partner Schweinsteiger in place of Khedira but even slightly out of position, he is class.

Portugal: Rui Patricio will be Portugal's most important player in the Euro's. If he plays well, they could progress. The same cannot be said about any other player in the squad, Ronaldo included. He was given his break at club level by Bento. Now the same manager has parachuted the Sporting Lisbon 'keeper into the international side. In 11 caps he has yet to disappoint.

Denmark: There is only one player to watch in Morten Olsen's team, and that is the aforementioned Christian Eriksen. The 20-year-old is creative, tenacious, quick in movement, quick of feet and quicker of the mind. If he shines in the Euro's, the world is his oyster.

Interesting Fact

Bayern Munich provides more players to Euro 2012 that any other club, with 13 in total.

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