Friday, June 8, 2012

Euro 2012 Predictions

We're fast approaching the start of Euro 2012 and I felt the need to write up something about how I thought the tournament would go. There are many scenarios at play here and numerous storylines that people are watching, but rather than highlight all of that and build the narrative before the play actually happens, I kind of prefer to just let things unfold and react rather than shove things into prearranged packages. But still, predictions! This is the bit of fatalism that I can't hope to turn down. So, here are my soon-to-be-proven-wrong picks for the tournament.

Group A: Russia and Poland

The weakest group of the bunch, Group A features host country Poland, Russia, Greece, and the Czech Republic. It's not that any of these teams are bad (they wouldn't be here if they were) but none are terribly enticing. Greece and the Czechs have been on the downslide over the years, Poland is interesting but incomplete, and Russia is steady but not impressive. Due to that consistency and the solid groups of players used to playing with each other for club as well as country, I think Russia will have a relatively easy time of it getting through. The unpredictability of the second spot is only outdone by the general clusterfuck that is Group D (more on this later, obviously) but I think that when it doubt, go with the home side. Poland has an excellent keeper in Wojiech Szczesny (Gunners!) and a possible breakout star in striker Robert Lewandowski. It may not be the most beautiful soccer in the tournament, but Group A should certainly be compelling.

Group B: Germany and Holland

The deathiest Group of Death that ever deathed. Well, according to FIFA rankings at least with all four teams (Germany, Holland, Portugal, and Denmark) among the top ten in the world. Now, FIFA rankings are known to be highly problematic as they take into account who you play in the last year, but leave out any real context or analysis. It's not a coach's poll (which has it's own problems; ask any college sports fan) but it's not a simple "they have the best record so they're the best" poll either. But all of those problems can't change the fact that these are four very, very good teams. Denmark seems like the odd man out at first glance, but they have a very solid squad built around midfield playmaker Cristian Eriksen. Eriksen could very well end up being the star of this tournament if Denmark is able to flourish, but look at the other countries in this group. Portugal are a solid side but lack creativity as well as a defining push from Cristiano Ronaldo, the otherwise all world winger/striker/ponce. In such a tough group it seems risky to pick chalk, but I truly believe that Germany is the team to beat in this tournament (I SAID IT, SPAIN!!) and Holland is just too talented not to make it through. I'll go with what is right on paper.

Group C: Spain and Italy Ireland

More chalk, I know, I know. This, however, I feel even worse about than Group B. Spain is kind of a given at this point. They're lacking the superb goal scoring talent of David Villa and I doubt an international squad has been more worn out going into a major tournament than this one, but I still can't see them bowing out in the group stage. This is a dynastic, all time legend side and they will be fighting until the end. It's the second spot (yet again) that I am having so much trouble with. I went with Italy to start and I believe that with players like Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo, they will find a way to win. However. Italy isn't that great right now. They're kind of a mess at striker, their midfield doesn't really work well together, and their defense is shockingly just a bit above average. That's not to say it can't come together of course, but it's lacking the classic figures it has in the past and seems very un-Italian because of it. A disciplined squad like Ireland could realistically sneak a draw from Spain, beat Italy on one counter, win against Croatia, and suddenly find themselves in the quarterfinals. I really could see it. You know what, fuck it, I'm going with it. Who likes rooting for the Italians anyway?

Group D: France and Sweden

Ahh, the aforementioned clusterfuck. This really is a complete toss up; a bunch of middling teams that could randomly coalesce and go on to be a true threat. In fact if there is an upset winner of this tournament, I predict that it will be from Group D as each team has the capability of somehow putting it all together to win, but could also lose all three games and be the worst team in the tournament. In my book, France has the highest upside of any team. You look at their roster and see names like Benzema, Nasri, Ribery, Cabaye, Evra and you think "why isn't this team one of the favorites?" Then you remember the disaster that was the 2010 World Cup with half the team quitting before the tournament was over. But, this is a different French side. There is a focus on the core group of players and they come into Euro 2012 on a 21 match unbeaten streak under "new" coach Laurent Blanc. I see this team as the surprise of the whole tournament and I do think that they will impress as time goes on. Then it's down to an interesting but incomplete Sweden, a boring but possibly consistent England, and an over-matched but not completely lost Ukraine. Despite being one of the home sides, I can't see Ukraine going through. Aside from having half of their team out with a stomach bug, they just don't have the talent that these other teams have. England is going to play boring, grind it out soccer (think Chelsea in Champions League this past year) and while it may end up being effective, I can't bring myself to root for it. So I'm going with the attacking Sweden team that at the very least should be fun to watch (not only for ZLATAN this time).

Holland over Russia
Germany over Poland
Spain over Sweden
France over Ireland

Holland over Spain
Germany over France

Germany over Holland

Germany is the most entertaining, talented, free-flowing team in this tournament. Spain are the defending champions and are looking to make history, but I think they're just too worn down by all the games and all the pressure. Holland will get their revenge for 2010 but will fall short to the best team at Euro 2012. Thanks to you all for reading and look for new posts every day throughout the tournament. Get excited. This is going to be an amazing couple of weeks.

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