Thursday, 28 June 2012

Germany vs Italy Review

Tonight played host to the second semi final of the tournament and it was between Germany and Italy.

The Germans were favourites heading into the clash after winning all their games so far. Italy edged through their quarter final on penalties despite dominating their match against England. The Italian's dominance in that match gave them renewed optimism for this semi, however Germany have been hugely impressive and were expected to reach the final.

As the match began, the Germans appeared to be man marking Andrea Pirlo who is the vocal point of the Italian side, for some reason though they seemed to forget this plan in a matter of minutes. Early on Germany looked the better team but Italy seemed to get themselves together and took the lead on twenty minutes through a close header from Manchester City's Mario Balotelli.

The maverick striker doubled his side's lead with a fine finish after a swift counter attack sixteen minutes later. This period of play had left the Germans stunned as they had arguably been the better side, the team that had looked unflappable before the match went into half time trailing.

The second half saw Germany searching to get back into the game, despite a lot of possession they were really struggling to trouble Gianluigi Buffon. At the other end, Italy were squandering a number of chances to secure their victory. A 90th minute Mesut Ozil penalty gave the Germans hope however Italy held on to upset the favourites and secure their place in the final.

Not many people would have seen that result coming, Italy actually played very well and defended excellently. Germany will wonder how they didn't make the final with their current form, Spain haven't been at their best so the final should be a good game.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Portugal vs Spain Review

Wednesday evening saw the first semi final of Euro 2012.

The match saw Champions Spain take on neighbors Portugal, the Spanish were favorites for this clash however Portugal had really picked up form since their opening game and posed a real threat to their local rivals. It was going to be interesting to see which system the Portuguese would adopt to combat the Spanish.

The opening half surprisingly saw Portugal play their natural game, in their opening match they sat back against the Germans. Both sides came close as Cristiano Ronaldo and Andres Iniesta had efforts that narrowly missed the target, the teams went in level at half time.

In the second half, the Portuguese seemed to drop off a bit which allowed the Spanish to take a degree of control in the game. Neither side played as if they wanted to go out and win the match as they looked scared of losing the encounter, inevitably the game headed into extra time as despite the firepower on display, no one could break the deadlock. 

Extra time saw the Spanish pile on the pressure as Portugal began to tire, despite their domination in possession the champions could not create a clear cut chance as we headed to the dreaded penalty shootout. After the opening spot kick takers both missed, the pressure intensified with so much at stake. There was still no sign of Ronaldo stepping up as Bruno Alves smashed his effort against the bar leaving Cesc Fabregas to send the champions through. 

Spain will be relieved to reach their third consecutive major final and will fancy their chances of retaining the trophy. For Portugal it's a case of what might have been as they certainly pushed the Spanish all the way here, I feel this may have been their best chance to win a major trophy gone.

Hero: Fabregas scored the winning penalty in Donetsk
The Daily Mail

Sunday, 24 June 2012

England vs Italy Review

Today was the final quarter final of Euro 2012.

Roy Hodgson's England had surprised a few by reaching the knockout stages, particularly finishing top of their group. Italy managed to qualify through a tough group and were probably pleased to be facing England as opposed to the French. The winners of this match would have the tough task of facing the Germans in the semi finals.

England started positively with Glen Johnson forcing an early save from Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon, there were some decent build up play from both sides but with little end product in the opening twenty minutes. Italy began to take control of the match towards the end of the half as the likes of Andrea Pirlo had time on the ball, the teams went in level at the break.

The second half saw almost total domination from Italy, England brought on Andy Carroll to give them a bit of presence up front but the ball was given away far too often as Italy squandered a number of chances to score. Aside from a couple of last ditch tackles, the Italians couldn't find a way through as inevitably, the game went to extra time.

Extra time basically saw England holding on for penalties which was strange. Italy thought they had snatched it as Antonio Nocerino headed in, however the goal was rightfully disallowed for offside and the English held on for penalties. Of course we all knew deep down what was going to happen next, despite Riccardo Montolivo missing his spot kick, Ashley Young and Ashley Cole fluffed their lines as England succumbed to penalties once again.

Italy deserved the win as they bossed the game, I still think Germany will be too much for them in the semi final though. England showed spirit and heart in their performance, however they must improve immensely if they're going to do anything in the future, they looked ordinary at times.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Spain vs France Review

Today was the third quarter final of Euro 2012 and it was contested between Spain and France.

Champions Spain were favorites to retain their crown whilst France were an outside bet to win the tournament despite finishing second in their group. Without playing as well as usual, Spain topped their group by winning two and drawing one, whilst France lost their final game against Sweden to concede top spot to England.

France went for a defensive strategy, much like the Czechs and Greeks had done the two previous nights. Spain decided to start with Cesc Fabregas upfront instead of an out and out striker, these tactics were also used in their opening contest against Italy. France's ploy to keep the Spanish out seemed to be working in the first few minutes but all their work came undone thanks to Xabi Alonso's header, who was unmarked at the back post on nineteen minutes.

The French didn't appear to have an answer to the champion's possession and managed to keep the score down to one nil at the break. Their display in the second period was as unimaginative as the first, despite bringing on more attacking players such as Samir Nasri and Olivier Giroud, the French never really threatened Spain.

The Spanish were in cruise control for much of the game as they just held on to their lead by running down the clock, they were awarded a penalty in the 90th minute as Alonso celebrated his 100th appearance for the national team in style, by wrapping up a comfortable victory.

It's no real surprise Spain went through, France's performance was shockingly bad however and one deserving of their exit. The Portugal match will be much tougher for the Spanish however I expect to see them in the final against Germany, the French will be disappointed with the manner of their defeat and lessons will have to have been learnt.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Germany vs Greece Review

The Germans took on the Greeks in the second quarter final of Euro 2012.

Germany were overwhelming favorites going into this match after winning all three of their group games and topping the so called 'group of death'. Greece have surprised plenty by reaching this stage after stunning Russia in their final group game, they were big underdogs going into this match but have shocked Europe before by winning the competition in 2004.

The game went pretty much how everyone thought it would, Greece sat back trying to catch the Germans on the break as the favorites had the majority of the possession, Germany had rested their tournament top scorer Mario Gomez and were beginning to regret it as they missed a hat full of chances. It took a fantastically curled strike in the 39th minute, from skipper Phillip Lahm to give the Germans the lead going into the break.

Greece needed to find a goal from somewhere in order to keep their dream alive and did just that ten minutes into the second half, Celtic's Georgios Samaras completed a sharp counter attack to stun Germany and draw his side level. The Germans were having none of it though as Sami Khedira restored their lead just six minutes later, Miroslav Klose and Marco Reus secured the game for Germany before Greece brought a bit of respectability to the scoreline as Dimitris Salpingdis converted a penalty a couple of minutes from the end.

Germany have surprised no one by winning this game and I fully expect them to go on and win the tournament as I believe they are best side in this competition. Greece worked very hard and will be happy with their tournament performance overall given that no one thought they would reach the knockout stage.

Germany v Greece - UEFA EURO 2012 Quarter Final, Reus and Lahm

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Czech Republic vs Portugal Review

Tonight saw the opening match of the quarter final stage at Euro 2012.

The Czech Republic and Portugal was opening match of the quarters, both teams have surprised a few by getting to this stage with the Czechs topping Group A whilst Portugal came through the so called 'Group of Death'. Portugal were favorites for this clash with Cristiano Ronaldo leading the side, the Czechs were missing captain Tomas Rosicky.

Portugal were on top for most of this game with the Czech Republic looking to sit back and catch them on the break, the opening half was a bit of a stop start affair with the Portuguese failing to create any clear cut chances. The Czechs arguably came closest as Milan Baros nearly latched on to a cross after good work down the right, the teams went in level at half time.

The second half was much of the same as Portugal looked for a way through, the Czechs were particularly negative which was reminiscent of the Dutch performance against Spain in the 2010 World Cup final. The inevitable happened eventually as Cristiano Ronaldo headed in eleven minutes from time to book his side's place in the semi final.

Portugal deserved the win as they were by far the better team, the Czech Republic did well to get to this stage but clearly missed Rosicky's influence. I think Portugal will have a real chance of reaching the final as they seem to be playing as well of Spain and France. Could this be Cristiano Ronaldo's tournament?

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Group D Review

Tuesday saw the final group games of this year's tournament.

The day's play saw Ukraine take on England whilst Sweden took on France, Ukraine needed to win in order to reach the quarter finals whilst England and France knew a draw each would be enough. First place in the group was also up for grabs which would mean avoiding champions Spain in the next round.

I will start with hosts Ukraine taking on England which saw the return of Wayne Rooney from suspension. The opening half was a cagey affair with chances being few and far between, mid way through the half though England created a clear cut chance as Rooney was left unmarked at the back post, but failed to even hit the target as the sides went into the half time interval level.

Four minutes in to the second half saw the breakthrough England had been hoping for, man of the match Steven Gerrard whipped the ball in causing chaos in the Ukrainian's box, Rooney was again at the back post and this time made no mistake. Ukraine were dealt a massive blow minutes later, Marko Devic's shot was cleared by John Terry despite it crossing the line, the officials were unmoved and the goal line technology calls will grow louder.

England went on to seal the game without much panic and secured their place in the quarter finals, who they would play would depend on the French result. France were taking on a Swedish side who had lost both of their opening games and were already out of the competition.

This match was even throughout as France tried to edge the game much like England had done on Friday, Sweden knew they had nothing to lose and tried to play with more of an attacking threat. Despite the odd half chance the opening period ended level with both sides feeling confident that they could nick the game.

The Swedish were brought to life nine minutes into the second half as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, scored possibly the goal of the tournament so far. He latched onto a cross with a superb first time volley on the edge the box to stun the French. France tried to get back into the game but couldn't find a way through with substitute Olivier Giround, missing the side's best chance. Sebastian Larsson wrapped up the game in stoppage time as Sweden took the three points.

These results mean England finish top of the group and will play Italy on Sunday, the French will be disappointed not to finish top of the group and will have to get past World and European champions Spain, in order to reach the semi finals.

Wayne Rooney England

Monday, 18 June 2012

Group C Review

Today saw the final round of games from Group C.

I will start with Spain taking Croatia with both teams starting the game on four points, they knew that Italy would be huge favorites to beat the Republic of Ireland and that would take them to five points. The match played out as expected with Croatia sitting back as Spain kept possession, the news of a Italian goal meant that Croatia had to find a goal or they would be out.

Despite their best efforts, Croatia struggled to cause the Spanish any real panic and were left heartbroken as Jesus Navas tapped in the 88th minute, to take his side through top and send the Croats home. Croatia have performed admirably in this tournament and have no shame in failing to qualify from this group, despite finishing top Spain have been far from impressive and will have to up their game in the latter rounds.

As I hinted at earlier, Italy secured their needed victory over the Irish to qualify for the quarter finals. It was not straight forward for the Italians as the Republic of Ireland put in by far their best performance of the tournament and more than held their own in the match. They were still shaky at the back though as Antonio Cassano headed in from a corner 36 minutes in.

The Irish were arguably the better side in the second half, but got no reward for their efforts and even lost Keith Andrews as he was sent off for a second bookable offence. Mario Balotelli capped off the win for the Italians as they secured their place as the second placed team in the group. Italy will have expected to go through so anything else from now on will be a bonus, the Republic of Ireland performed admirable in this game but will be disappointed with the their first two matches.

Italy’s Mario Balotelli (R) scores a goal past Ireland's John O'Shea during their Group C Euro 2012 soccer match at the City stadium in Poznan. (Reuters)
Al Arabiya News

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Group B Review

Tuesday saw the final round of matches in Group B.

The first game i'll talk about will be Germany vs Denmark, the Germans were big favorites after winning their opening two matches whilst Denmark knew a win could see them unexpectedly through to the quarter finals. Germany controlled the majority of the game and were rewarded as Arsenal bound Lukas Podolski, gave his side the lead on nineteen minutes. The Danish then surprised Germany as Michael Krohn-Dehli capitalized from poor marking to level the scores just six minutes later.

Denmark's hopes of qualification were eventually dashed with ten minutes to go as Lars Bender, finished from close range to send Germany through with an 100% record. Denmark put up a good fight in each of their matches and have no shame in their defeat whilst Germany are now odds on favorites to win the tournament.

Portugal knew that victory would probably take them through to the quarters whilst the Netherlands knew a win by at least two clear goals, would be their only hope of progression. The Dutch got the start they wanted as Rafael Van Der Vaart, curled in beautifully to give his side the lead. After this the Netherlands seemed to switch off and looked like a team deserving to be bottom of the group.

Portugal took control of the game and arguably world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo, scored twice as Portugal progressed leaving the Dutch with no points at the end of the group stage. Portugal will be pleasently surprised to see themselves through and will be confident against the Czechs whilst the Netherlands have had a competition they will want to forget.

Group A Review

Saturday saw the final round of matches from Group A.

Both games were played simultaneously but I will start with Poland vs the Czech Republic which was billed as the main match. The Czech Republic were on four points and it seemed that a draw should be enough as opponents Poland were only on two points. Being a co-host of the tournament, they would have been backed to get the win to send them through.

The Polish really gave it a go first half and came close a few times to nicking the lead, the Czech Republic seemed happy to sit back and hold on for the point to take them through. As half time arrived, both sides were still in with a great shout of winning the game and reaching the quarter finals.

Poland seemed to run out of energy second half and let the occasion get to them, the Czech Republic began to take control of the match and got the breakthrough as Petr Jiracek, scored in the 72nd minute to put his side through. The Czechs will have surprised a few people in going through after their opening day defeat whilst Poland will be devastated after drawing a seeming easy group.

This result meant that Russia needed just a point to qualify whilst Greece needed to win the game in order to progress. The opening half saw Russian dominance without creating any clear cut chances, it felt like 2004 again as Greece capitalized on a Russian mistake with Giorgos Karagounis finishing well to take a lead into the break.

The second half saw more of Russia trying unsuccessfully to break through the Greek defence, part way through the half Greece were denied a clear cut penalty and Karagounis was booked which meant he would miss a possible quarter final. The Greeks managed to hold on and shock everyone by qualifying whilst sending Russia home.

Russia will wonder how they failed to qualify from such an easy group whilst Greece will be wondering how on earth they managed TO qualify from the group.  


Friday, 15 June 2012

Group A Finale Preview

Day nine of the championships will be the last games in Group A. The matches will be Czech Republic vs Poland and Greece vs Russia.

Firstly I believe the Czech Republic vs Poland game has a draw written all over it, this will see the Czechs through and I feel they have enough quality to at least get a point. Having said that Poland were very impressive in their game against the Russians and will feel confident going into the game. I feel it will be a one all draw.

I can only see one winner in the Russia vs Greece match, Greece have barley turned up so far and were dreadful first half against the Czechs whilst Russia look an excellent side despite the Poland game. I feel Russia will have a comfortable evening and run out three nil winners.

Euro 2012 Day 8 Review

The eighth day of the championships saw the second round of matches for Group D.

First there was the game between Ukraine and France where there was some unexpected drama. The players had to go off after just four minutes due to lightning and heavy rain much to the confusion of the supporters and the rest of the team's squads. There was about a thirty minute delay before the match was able to continue.

Once the match restarted it was clear that Ukraine were applying similar tactics to which England applied on Monday, they were trying to keep the French out whilst catching them on the counter attack. This worked pretty well throughout the first half as they kept the score level going into half time.

The start of the second half is where the game changed, Jeremy Menez finished well in the 53rd minute to make the breakthrough for his side. Just three minutes later, Newcastle United's Yohan Cabaye double the French's lead and put them firmly in control. Ukraine tried to put some pressure on the French but posed little threat as the game got away from them.

I expect France to beat Sweden and qualify top of the group, I can't call the Ukraine, England match but it will be a great contest.

The second game of the day featured Sweden and England in Kiev. Sweden came into the match after a disappointing defeat to Ukraine whilst England had a point on the board after battling to a draw against France. England controlled the opening half which they were rewarded for by a goal from Andy Carroll on 23 minutes , yes I said Andy Carroll. This gave the English the edge at half time.

Nobody could have predicted the second half, England practically fell asleep as former Aston Villa man Olof Mellberg, scored two in ten minutes as England failed to deal with set pieces. This called for Hodgson to make a change as Theo Walcott came on for James Milner which turned out to be key. Walcott scored from outside of the area to level the game up before setting up a fantastic Danny Welbeck finish to give the English the win.

Sweden are now out of the competition and will be very disappointed with both performances, England must be better if they are to get the point needed to qualify on Tuesday.

Sweden vs England Preview

The final match in the second round of group games, will be between Sweden and England in Kiev.

Sweden let a one goal lead slip as they fell to a two one defeat against co-host Ukraine, England gained a point against group favorites France and will take some confidence into this game. The two sides were expected to battle it out for the second placed spot but a win for England here will surely knock out the Swedish.

Sweden never really got out of first gear on Monday and were all over the shop after the Andriy Shevchenko show, they know they're going to have to perform much better in order to get anything from this match. The English were very defensively minded against the French and seemed happy with the point, they're going to have to play a lot more expansively in order to win this one.

For me, this game's got a draw written all over it, it's a match both sides dare not lose and I think no one will go out a win the game for their side. I can see England having to beat Ukraine in their final game and Sweden having to beat France in their finale.


Ukraine vs France Preview

The first game on day eight of the championships, will be between co-host Ukraine and France in Donetsk.

The hosts go into the game top of the group after a fantastic win against Sweden, hero Andriy Shevchenko will again spearhead the attack as they aim to become the first team to qualify for the quarters. France picked up a draw against England last time out and are expected to win this one, Ukraine shouldn't be as defensively minded as the English so it should make for a good game.

France's build up play looked good against England and I expect them to have more goal scoring opportunities this time around, Ukraine will have their chances but apart from Shevchenko, where's the quality going to come from?.

I think the French will edge this, it'll be close but I think they'll have too much for the hosts, I can see France qualifying top with Ukraine having an all or nothing clash with England.

Euro 2012 Day 7 Review

Day seven of the championships saw the teams from Group C play their second matches.

First up we saw Italy take on Croatia in Poznan, the Italians held champions Spain to a draw in their opener and looked really good on the day, Croatia were also impressive in their comfortable victory against the Republic of Ireland. This was a game that promised much but in truth delivered very little.

The opening half seemed to drag as both teams struggled to make use of their possession, Italy were the best out of the two but couldn't find the break though, until a moment of brilliance. Andrea Pirlo proved once again that he is the man for the big occasions as curled in a fantastic free kick to give his side a vital lead, six minutes before half time.

Italy started the second half knowing that if they could hold on to their lead, then they would be huge favorites to qualify. They couldn't seem to grad hold of the game though as Croatia came back into it, they leveled the scores in the 72nd minute as Mario Mandzukic, fired in from close range after the Italians failed to deal with a cross. The game then petered out to a draw.

Croatia will be satisfied with the result but may need to gain something out of the Spanish game, Italy would have been very disappointed not to get all three points however they have the weakest team in the group (Republic of Ireland) to face next so will be confident.  

The second game was between champions Spain and underdogs the Republic of Ireland. Spain gained a point from their opener against the Italians and surely could only get better The Irish came into this game after being soundly beaten by Croatia in their first match, they were hoping for a major upset.

Like the Croatia game, the Irish made a poor start as Fernando Torres defied his critics with an unstoppable strike after just four minutes. The game looked like a training match as the Irish couldn't get the ball off the Spanish, they managed to keep the score to one going into the interval but it just seemed a matter of time.

It was important for the Republic of Ireland to make a good start to the second period, unfortunately this again wasn't the case as Manchester City's David Silva passed delicately into the far corner leaving the Irish with a mountain to climb. Credit to the Irish though, they kept battling although another goal from Torres and  a goal from Cesc Fabregas, rounded off the game for Spain.

I expect Spain to beat Croatia next and qualify for the quarter finals, the Republic of Ireland who are now the first side to exit the tournament, have a tough game next against the Italians which I can't see them getting anything out of to be honest.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Spain vs Republic of Ireland Preview

The second game of the day will be between champions Spain and group underdogs the Republic of Ireland in Gdansk.

The Irish will be licking their wounds after being soundly beaten by Croatia last Sunday evening, Spain will also be looking for their first win of the tournament after sharing the spoils with Italy in their opening game. Spain are massive favorites for this clash, but didn't look anywhere near their best last week and will have the World Cup game against Switzerland, at the back of their minds.

The Republic of Ireland are used to being the underdogs so that won't faze them, however they must improve massively from their opening game when they barley turned. You can never bring into question the heart and passion from an Irish side, but they must retain possession better and pose more attacking threats. Spain will have to decide whether to go with an out and out striker with Fernando Torres being in such poor form, this seems be an area of weakness for them at the moment.

You never know in football as it's a game full of surprises, however I just can't see an upset here and I feel that Spain will run out comfortable winners. There will have plenty of effort and endevour from the Irish, however I don't think this will be enough on the night, I expect Spain to qualify and the Irish to catch the early flight home.

Italy vs Croatia Preview

The first match of tomorrow's play will be between Euro 2000 runners up Italy and Croatia in Poznan.

The Italians drew their first game game one all against the champions Spain and were more than worthy of the point, Croatia eased to a three one victory of the Republic of Ireland and will be confident of qualification to the quarter finals. Italy are favorites for this game and they themselves will fancy their chances of reaching the knockout stages.

Croatia retained possession well against the Irish and will have to do similar here to get a result, another thing they did well was take their chances, as the Dutch have proved this isn't always easy. Italy saw more of the ball against Spain than I expected, for most of the game they kept their discipline and shape well, they could have easily won the game and will look to build from that performance.

I can see this game ending in a draw to be honest, I feel the Italians may underestimate the Croats and miss out on all three points. I expect Italy to go through as I think they will beat the Irish in their final match and I can't see Croatia getting anything from the Spanish match.

Euro 2012 Day 6 Review

Day six of the championships saw the second round of matches from the so called group of death.

First game of the day saw Denmark take on Portugal, the Danish came into the match on the back of a shock one nil victory against the Dutch whilst Portugal were edged out by Germany. Portugal knew that this was probably a must win game and would have targeted this match as their most likely victory, Denmark had the chance to all but secure qualification to the quarters with a win.

The game started on a even keel before defender Pepe, headed in from a corner to give Portugal the lead in the 24th minute. Things got even better for the Portuguese as Helder Positga fired in from close range to seemingly put his side in the driving seat, twelve minutes later.

People wondered whether a defensively minded Danish team could respond but they did four minutes before half time as Arsenal's Nicklas Bendtner pulled one back for his side, Portugal were good value for their lead going into half time and were glad for it after conceding so late in the opening half.

The second half consisted of Denmark trying to break through the Portugal defence but struggled to make any impact, at the other end however Cristiano Ronaldo had what a mate of mine described as a 'Shocker'. The Real Madrid hitman, missed chance after chance including a one on one with the keeper and should have put the game out of sight.

His team were punished ten minutes from time as Bendtner headed in his second goal which seemed to have secured at least a point. Although Denmark had the better of the play after this, it was Portugal who found the winning goal as substitute Silverstre Verela, smashed in from inside the area to get the Portuguese's campaign up and running.

I felt this game deserved to be draw, in the final games I can see Portugal drawing with the Netherlands and Denmark losing to Germany, therefore I believe that Portugal will go through to the quarter finals.

Today's second game was built up as the biggest of the tournament so far. The Netherlands who surprisingly lost their opening game, were to take on Germany who saw off Portugal in their first contest. The Netherlands knew that defeat would leave them with an uphill task to qualify whilst the Germans could leave themselves needing just a point to qualify with victory.

Like their opening game, the Dutch had plenty of possession but failed to make it count as once again Robin Van Persie fluffed his lines. Germany seemed comfortable in possession and in general as they took the lead on 24 minutes through Bayern Munich's Mario Gomez. More was to come from the in-form striker as he doubled his tally seven minutes from half time, with an excellent finish across the keeper to put the Germans in utter control.

The Dutch needed to respond as they brought on Rafael Van Der Vaart and Klaas Jan Huntelaar at the start of the second half. At times they struggled to get the ball from Germany and when they did they were usually wasteful, it took until the 73rd minute when finally Robin Van Persie, scored in this year's championships to give his side hope.

The Orange men kept banging on the German door but never really threatened, as Jochim Low's men surely booked their place in the knockout stage. The Netherlands now need results and goal difference to go their way in the final group game, I feel they will struggle and be on the early plane home.

Germany's Mario Gomez, second right, scores a goal during the Euro 2012 soccer championship Group B match between the Netherlands and Germany in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Netherlands vs Germany Preview

The second game of the day will be between two of the tournament's favorites, the Netherlands and Germany.

The Netherlands suffered a shock opening day defeat to Denmark after missing a host of chances, Germany squeezed past a determined Portugal side in their first game. The two sides have a long and historic rivalry, so the opportunity for the Germans to effectively knock out the Dutch will be a delight for them.

In their opening game, Germany did their usual thing of getting the win by hook or by crook, their performances should only improve however they did lose their second game of the World Cup in 2010, shockingly to Serbia. In 1988 (the year the Netherlands won the competition), they lost their opening game of the tournament to the Soviet Union so not all hope is lost.

To win this match the Dutch will have to take their chances (unlike against Denmark), don't be surprised if they hit back and prove themselves to be the contenders they were tipped to be. Germany have three points in the bag but Denmark could be three points clear by the time they play, so they will want to take control of the group and end the hopes of their long time rivals.

Like the other game, I can see this being a draw, it's a match where both teams dare not lose and I can see the Netherlands going into the final game needing a favour from the Germans. I fully expect Germany to qualify and get to the final of the competition, then who knows.

Denmark vs Portugal Preview

The sixth day of the finals will contain the second round of matches in Group B.

The opening game will be between surprise package Denmark and 2004 runners up Portugal in Lviv, the Danish shocked the Netherlands in a backs to the wall one nil victory to make a fantastic start to the tournament. The Portuguese tried similar tactics against Germany, but to no avail as the Germans came away with a one nil victory.

Denmark will take a massive amount of confidence into this game knowing that a repeat performance and a win almost guarantees qualification to the quarters, Portugal on the other hand know that this is a match they cannot lose, if they become more expansive this game (which I suspect they might), they have every chance of winning this contest.

I'm struggling to call this game, I can see it being a draw to be honest with a goal each from both. I don't think Portugal will qualify for the quarter finals but after their opening match, the Danish have a real chance of reaching the next stage of this tournament.

Euro 2012 Day 5 Review

Today saw the opening matches of the second round of games in this year's tournament.

The opening game was contested between Greece and the Czech Republic, the Greeks drew against co-hosts Poland on day one whilst the Czechs were thumped 4-1 by Russia. The game started in dramatic style as the Czechs scored two goals in the opening six minutes, first Petr Jiracek netted after three minutes before Valclav Pilar doubled their lead in the sixth.

The Greeks were all over the place and were extremely fortunate not to be more goals behind after the first twenty minutes, they battled back towards the remainder of the half as the Czechs took their foot off the gas and even had a goal disallowed.

The start of the second half brought some success for Greece as a rare Petr Cech mistake, saw Fanis Gekas bring the Greeks back into the game in the 53rd minute. Greece tried break through the Czech's defence for the remainder of the game but found the task too much against a determined side. The Czech Republic seemed happy to sit back and were confident of keeping the Greeks out.

I can see the Czech Republic just doing enough in their final game, to qualify for the quarter finals. Although Greece are mathematically still in the competition, they need to beat Russia to qualify and with a strike force that deosn't looking like scoring goals and a defence that looks likely to concede at any given moment, I don't know how they can win.    

The second game of the evening was between co-hosts Poland and top of the group Russia. Poland drew their opening game against Greece despite being a goal and a man up at one point, Russia are massive favorites for this match, helped by the their stunning first day win against the Czech Republic.

Poland started the match really brightly as they surprisingly had Russia on the back foot early on, this was the game that would clearly mean most for the Polish and they started at a very high tempo. Despite their excellent start and having a goal rightfully disallowed, it was Russia who struck first when Alan Dzagoev scored his third goal of the tournament in the 37th minute.

There was a fear that Poland would lose their belief after the goal but they proved that theory wrong in the second half, skipper Jakub Blaszczykowski scored the goal of the competition so far to almost blow the roof of the place. The Poland fans were absolutely fantastic and it was clear what the goal meant to them, the game could have gone either way after that but Poland more than deserved the point.

Russia will see off Greece in the final game and top the group, as for the hosts, I still think the Czech's will edge through but as a neutral it would be brilliant to see Poland go through, they really impressed me tonight.

Jakub Blaszczykowski

Monday, 11 June 2012

Poland vs Russia Preview

The second game of the day will be held in Warsaw as co-hosts Poland, face top of the table side Russia.

The Russians were very impressive on the opening night and looked contenders for the title, they were lethal in front of goal and their performance would have made the other nations sit up and take notice. Poland drew their opening game with Greece, despite an impressive first half display they were made to pay for their missed chances as the Greeks battled back in the second half.

Russia are massive favorites for this game and with Poland missing Wojciech Szczesny through suspension, the hosts could be even more exposed at the back. The Polish will have to perform the way they did in the first half of the opening game, to stand any chance of an upset here, even then the Russians would need to have an off day.

I can't see past Russia to be honest, they are by far the best team in this group and will have too much firepower. Poland will be in the mix for the second spot with the Czech Republic and Greece but I feel that the Czechs will also be too much for them in the final game.

Greece vs Czech Republic Preview

This will be the first game of the second round of matches and both teams will be looking for their first win of the tournament.

Greece played in the opening match of the competition against co hosts Poland, they battled to a draw that day and would have felt they should have nicked all three points following their missed penalty. The Czech Republic were hammered by Russia in their opening game and know that they will need to get something from this game to stand any chance of progression.

The Czechs actually started pretty well against the Russians and looked a threat on the attacking front, this complied with the Greek's defensive worries, will give them confidence going into this clash. Greece will take confidence from their second half performance against Poland, they really should have won the game after creating a number of chances but the same old problem of not scoring goals came back to haunt them.

I think the Czechs will win this, they pose much more of an attacking threat and I see them qualifying behind Russia in the group. Greece will probably be beaten by Russia in the final game so they need to win this one and I can't see them doing that, I see them on the plane home before the quarters.

Euro 2012 Day 4 Review

Day four of the tournament saw the introduction of the final four teams to play.

First up was France against England, the French were big favorites for this match after a great run of form under Laurent Blanc, England had problems with both injury and selection concerns. Both sides are tipped to qualify for the quarter finals with this game going a long way to deciding the top two places.

The match started slowly with England perhaps edging it, the first chance of any note came curtsy of a through ball to James Milner, the Man City midfield rounded the keeper but failed to guide the ball into the open net. It didn't take long for the English to make up for the miss, as on the half hour mark, Steven Gerrard's free kick was met by Joleaon Lescott who scored his first international goal.

After the goal, England began to sit back which allowed France more possession and they soon punished the English as Samir Nasri fired a shot past club team mate Joe Hart, to level the game up nine minutes later. The second half was pretty much all French possession but les bleus were reduced to long range shots as England kept them at bay.

England will be satisfied at gaining a point against a good French side, the performance of Danny Welbeck was particularly pleasing as he led the line well. France won't be too disappointed and will expect to win their next two games.  

The final match in the first round of games, featured co hosts Ukraine, taking on Sweden. The is the host's first European Championships since gaining their independence, they are the underdogs coming into this group and were dreaming of causing some surprises in order to at least reach the quarter finals. The Swedes are along with Ukraine, much fancied to not make the quarters so had a point to prove.

The less said about the first half the better to be honest, aside from the chances for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Andriy Shevchenko, the lack of quality prevented any real cutting edge chances as both sides went into half time level. The second half was a different story as the deadlock was broken by an Ibrahimovic tap in on 52 minutes, following some sloppy defending from the hosts.

After falling behind, Ukraine looked to their talisman to rescue them and boy did he deliver, golden boy Shevchenko scored two goals in the following ten minutes, to give his side a surprising lead. Sweden looked stunned and were on the ropes for a good period of time, they began to create chances themselves towards the end but former Bolton man Johan Elmander, squandered their best opportunity.

Ukraine will be rocking after this result and their dream of qualify just got a lot more real, as for Sweden, they know that defeat against England would surely seals their fate.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Ukraine vs Sweden Preview

The final game in the opening round of matches sees co-hosts Ukraine take on Sweden in Kiev.

Ukraine have had to wait patiently for their moment in the spotlight, now the wait is over and they will be hoping to get off to a good start against a Sweden side who are not as strong as they once were. The Swedes will be relying heavily on talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic and may struggle in this year's tournament.

The hosts have their own talisman in all time top scorer Andriy Shevchenko, the former Chelsea man will be hoping to lead his side to glory in what will surely be his last international tournament. Ukraine will of course have huge home support, which could carry them to a quarter final place, much like South Korea in the 2002 World Cup.

Sweden maybe outsiders to qualify, but are higher ranked them than the hosts and have a fantastic record against England in international tournaments. With pundits not expecting much from them, maybe this could have a positive effect and help them onto a fine run. As I stated earlier, a lot will rely on the form of Ibrahimovic, if he plays as he can, there's no reason why they can't qualify.

I see the match heading for a draw, both will want something from the game and I can see it being a match full of heart and passion but with no real end product. Both sides will feel they have a decent chance of reaching the quarters and will carry that hope into the second game.


France vs England Preview

The fourth day of the championships sees the introduction of the final four teams to play, Group D.

The opening game will be played in Donetsk and sees 2010 meltdown kings France take on a team that tried to run them close for that title, England. The French are favorites after manager Laurent Blanc has completely turned them around from the shambles at the last World Cup, headed by former gaffer Raymond Domenech. England on the other hand have been all over the place after Capello's exit, injuries ect.

Since Roy Hodgson has taken over, England have been the talk of controversy following their original squad announcement and the call ups following injuries. With expectation lower than ever, many have said that this could work in the team's favor, however they miss Wayne Rooney for the first two matches and the group is not an easy one, with the Swedes and the co-host Ukraine to follow.

Although the French just pipped Bosnia and Herzegovina to qualification, they have become one of the world's in form sides and are tipped to do well in the tournament. With the likes of Samir Nasri, Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema, England will be facing a tough night at the back. Especially given that they will be missing Gary Cahill and obviously Rio Ferdinand.

I think the French will win this game to be honest, England are not so strong and France have a good attacking presence. I think England will have a tough task to qualify and may have to beat Ukraine in the final match in order to reach the quarters.

Euro 2012 Day 3 Review

Day three of the Euros saw the introduction of the teams from Group C.

First up was Champions Spain against Italy, the two teams are favorites to qualify and wanted positive starts to the championships. As expected, the Spanish dominated possession but seemed to really miss an out and out striker with Cesc Fabregas starting as the main forward man.

The opening half contained a lot of keep ball by Spain, with the Italians seeming happy to sit back and soak up the pressure. The main threats were from long rang efforts which were easily dealt with by both keepers, the sides went into half time with much to think about.

The second half started pretty much the same way with Spain keeping the ball, that was until, Man City man Mario Balotelli, gained the ball from a Pique mistake but failed to capitalise as he held onto the ball too long. He was substituted for Antonio Di Natale who made an almost instant impression, the striker timed his run to perfection in order to latch onto a through ball and neatly finished in the corner to give his country the lead on the hour mark. 

It didn't take the champions long to strike back as former Arsenal skipper Fabregas, finished off a great move to level the game just four minutes later. The game then saw the introduction of Fernando Torres who squandered chance after chance, the Chelsea man could have had a hat trick but looked short of any confidence. I think the Italians will be delighted with this result and confident of progression, the Spanish won't be too disappointed and should win their next two games.

The second game of the day featured the Republic of Ireland taking on Croatia. Both sides would be confident going into the match after a good run of form and knew that a win would be crucial with the games that will follow. This was the Republic's first major finals in ten years and brought a large number of supporters with them.

The match started disastrously for the Irish, who went behind after three minutes thanks to a goal from Mario Mandzukic. The Irish hit back a few minutes later when Leicester City's Sean St Ledger, headed them level on nineteen minutes, the Croatian's were on top for most of the game though and were rewarded as Nikica Jelavic scored with two minutes till half time.

The second half started the same as the first, with Mandzukic's header rebounding of the unlucky Shay Given to make it three for Croatia just four minutes in. Following the goal, the Irish made changes and tried to become more attacking, they should have had a penalty in the 64th minute when captain Robbie Keane was hacked down in the area, but nothing was given.

The Republic kept pressing but only came close through a couple of Keith Andrews' efforts. Despite an awful refereeing performance, the Irish can have few complaints as Croatia were much the better side. I can't see the Republic qualifying with the games that follow, the Croatians have a real chance now and were very impressive tonight.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Republic of Ireland vs Croatia Preview

The second clash of the day will be between the Republic of Ireland and Croatia.

The Irish will be quietly confident after reaching their first major finals in ten years, under Giovanni Trapattoni the Republic of Ireland have become an organised, compact unit who are very difficult to beat. They will feel that with skipper Robbie Keane leading the line, there will always be a chance of scoring goals to back up their strong defense, helped of course by the great Shay Given (passed fit for the tournament).

This will be the last hurrah for Croatia manager Slaven Billic who will leave the role at the end of the competition, he will lead a side who along with the Irish, will be underdogs to qualify. With the likes of Luka Modric and Nikica Jelavic in their team, Croatia will take some confidence going into the tournament, however the loss of Ivica Olic to injury is a huge blow, as would be his rumored retirement.

With these teams being so well organised, I can see the game ending in a draw which will leave both sides facing an uphill battle to qualify you would have thought. I don't think either team will get a result against Spain but I can see upsets against the Italians.

Spain vs Italy Preview

The opening game of Group C and day three of Euro 2012, will be between champions Spain and finalist of 12 years ago Italy.

Four years ago, Spain lived up to expectations and defeated Germany to gain their second European crown. They are favorites again this time around, however no team has ever defended the crown and they must surely slip up at some point.

Italy on the other hand, will want to banish the demons of their disastrous World Cup performance of two years ago where they finished bottom of their group. They qualified with easy for this competition which is always a positive and it's not often that Italy have two poor tournaments in a row.

Spain are huge favorites for this game, but they should't be overconfident, Italy are not often a poor side and have some decent players in their ranks, such as the unpredictable Mario Balotelli and Daniele De Rossi. Remember Spain's opening World Cup game where they suffered a shock defeat to Switzerland?, They will have to be on their guard this time around to make sure the same doesn't happen.

I think that lessons will have been learnt from the Switzerland game and the Spanish will come out on top. It will be a close game but I feel that Spain will edge by a goal, Italy will be very defensive and excerpt a lot of effort, the next two games will be key for them.  

Euro 2012 Day 2 Review

Day 2 of Euro 2012 featured the Group B sides, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and Portugal.

First up was the Netherlands taking on Denmark. The Netherlands were big favorites for this clash but were left stunned by a resilient and determined Denmark side. The Danish had to hold off the Netherlands for the majority of the game but somehow managed not to concede, whilst Michael Krohn-Dehli made the most of a rare Denmark chance to give his side the lead in the 23rd minute.

The second half contained more Netherlands dominance with the usually lethal Robin Van Persie fluffing his lines on numerous occasions, the Arsenal striker looked a mere shadow of the man who topped the Premier League's scoring charts this past season. Other top hit man Klass Jan Huntelaar, missed a glorious chance late on as he was denied by keeper Stephan Anderson.

This result sets up an exciting clash between the Netherlands and Germany next time out, with the Dutch knowing that they will need to get something from the game. Denmark will obviously be delighted with this result and will be dreaming of a 1992 repeat.

The second game of the day was contested between finalists of four years ago Germany and finalists of eight years ago Portugal. This game did not live up to the hype with both sides taking a cautious approach and seemed unwilling to get many men forward.

The Germans who had the better of the play, seemed to look toothless upfront. Portugal looked to be happy to settle for a point and rarely threatened. Cristiano Ronaldo looked nothing like the player that drove Real Madrid towards the Spanish title and made no real impression on the game.

Germany were eventually rewarded for their possession as striker Mario Gomez, put his Champions League disappointment behind him as he gave his side the lead in the 72nd minute. Only after this did Portugal wake up with Nani's blocked shot being the closest they came to an equalizer. 

As I thought the Germans won the game by hook or by crook and will probably go on to really challenge for the tournament. The Portuguese will have to become a more attacking threat to progress, with the likes of Ronaldo and Nani in the side, this can be achieved. I don't think they will qualify but I also couldn't see Denmark winning, so you never know in football.

EURO 2012 LIVE: Germany vs. Portugal




Friday, 8 June 2012

Germany vs Portugal Preview

The second game of the day will be contested between three times winners Germany and 2004 runners up Portugal.

The Germans are my pick to win the tournament and their 100% record in qualifying speaks volumes. Portugal will be no pushovers though, with Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks, who practically won La Liga for Real Madrid on his own. Despite this the Portuguese seem to be a shadow of their team from eight years ago, with Ronaldo lacking adequate support.

Germany have matured in the last four years, when they took a very young side to the tournament and were pipped in the final by Spain. They also had a good showing at the World Cup two years later, again being pipped by Spain, this time in the semis after dismantling England and Argentina along the way.

Portugal in contrast, seemed to make little impact at the World Cup and had to rely on the playoffs to qualify for this year's Euros. Being drawn in this group has not helped them whatsoever and I don't expect them to qualify for the quarter finals.

I do feel however that this game will be close, with Germany's know how seeing them over the line, but you can't rule out Portugal who aren't a bad side and you never know in tournament football.

Netherlands vs Denmark Preview

The first game on day two of Euro 2012, will be the Netherlands against Denmark in Kharkiv.

World Cup runners up the Netherlands will be favorites against an unfancied Denmark side, who are not expected to qualify. In 1992 Denmark were again unfancied and didn't initially qualify for the competition, however they went on to win the whole thing so the Netherlands better be on their guard On a serious note, hopefully the racial abuse they received in Thursday's training session, hasn't affected them too much.

You feel that the Netherlands will have too much fire power though, with the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie in their ranks. The Danish will miss experienced keeper Thomas Sorensen, however I am looking forward to seeing sought after youngster Christian Eriksen, who was so impressive against England last year.

Both teams qualified for the tournament pretty comfortably so they are quality teams, as I said before I believe that the Netherlands will be too much and run out easy winners. I feel they will come out of the group and maybe reach the final whilst Denmark will catch the early flight home.

Euro 2012 Day 1 Review

So today Euro 2012 got under way.

The first game featured co-hosts Poland, taking on 2004 winners Greece. This game was better than expected with Poland dominating the opening half which lead to them taking a deserved lead after 17 minutes, thanks to Robert Lewandoowski's goal. Greece's half went from bad to worse as Sokratis Papastathpoulos was harshly dismissed for second bookable offence.

The second half was a different story as Greece began positively and were rewarded with a goal from substitute Dimitris Salpingidis after 51 minutes, following a mistake from Arsenal's Wojciech Szczesny. Greece piled on more pressure and gained a penalty after Salpingidis was brought down by Szczesny who was immediately red carded. This brought on sub keeper Przemyslaw Tyton, who's first action was to save the resulting penalty from Giorgos Karagounis. There were half chances for both sides in the last few minutes, however a draw was probably a fair result on the balance of play. I think both sides will take this result.

The second game was between Russia and the Czech Republic. The Czechs started the brightest but they were hit on the counter attack by Alan Dzagoev. This was followed nine minutes later, by a goal from Roman Shirokov, this seemed to leave the Czechs shell shocked as the limped towards the half time interval.

Like the first half, the Czechs started the second the brightest with Vaclav Pilar pulling one back on 52 minutes. For a long period of time there seemed to a bit of cat and mouse about the game with both teams knowing that the next goal would be crucial. It would be Russia though who would get it through Dezagoev's second of the evening. The best goal was saved till last though, with former Spurs striker Roman Pavlyuchenko holding off two defenders before smashing the ball into the back of the net. Russia seem to be too strong for the others teams in the group and I think the Czechs will have to bounce back quickly in order to progress.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Russia vs Czech Republic Preview

The second game of the tournament will be between Russia and the Czech Republic in Wroclaw.

The two teams are favorites to qualify from the group so there will be a lot of pressure on both sides to make a positive start to the competition. Out of the two, Russia will be the favorites as they seem a much stronger side on paper, however football is not won or lost on paper and the Czech Republic have a number of match winners in their squad.

There will be exciting talents on both sides with the likes of Andrei Arshavin, Tomas Rosicky (who has been passed fit), Milan Baros (also passed fit) and Roman Pavlyuchenko. Despite this the Czech's joined Greece in scoring the fewest amount of goals in qualifying, but they often seem to up their game for the big tournaments. Russia will take a fair amount of confidence into the Euros after their semi final effort from four years ago and may be dark horses for this year's trophy.

I think that this will also be a close game with Russia coming out winners, I feel that it will be cagey early on then the tempo will pick up as the match progresses. Whichever team wins this match, will surely qualify for the quarter finals.

Poland Vs Greece Preview

Euro 2012 gets under way in Warsaw with co-hosts Poland taking on 2004 winners Greece.

Poland are the lowest ranked side in the competition but having been drawn into a seemingly weak group, they will fancy their chances against a Greece side who scored the joint fewest amount of goals in qualifying. This will encourage the Polish to take the game to the Greeks, in front of a bumper home crowd. Greece will take some confidence from the fact that the last time they played the host nation in the opening tournament game, they went on to win the competition (Portugal 2004).

This game may come down to a mistake or a moment of individual brilliance and will go a long way to deciding if either makes it through the group stage. Despite the ranking of each side you would have to fancy Poland to nick it in a closely fought game, I struggle to see where the goals are going to come from for Greece and I feel adrenalin alone may get the hosts over the line.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Euro 2012 Preview

Next Friday, European Championship number 14 will get underway.

The tournament will be hosted in Poland and Ukraine with the likes of champions Spain, Germany and the Netherlands among the favorites for the trophy. There are sixteen teams split into four groups as 14 sides qualified for the competition along with the two host nations.

We start with Group A which contains co-host Poland along with the Czech Republic, Greece and Russia. The Polish will be feeling confident as they are in by far the easiest group and although they are not a team full of stars, they will feel that home advantage will see them through. The Czech Republic are not the same team as they once were, however they are a solid side and may not concede many with the likes of Petr Cech in their team, their problem is that they struggle to score goals so may miss the cut. Greece of course won the tournament eight years ago, surely though lightning cannot strike twice can it?. Like the Czechs they struggle for goals but seem to be less stable at the back than they once were, like four years ago, they may struggle to get out of their group. Finally there is group favorites Russia, unlike the other teams in the group they have a decent attacking threat with the likes of Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavluchenko in their ranks, you'd be brave to back against the Russians qualifying from the group. I feel that Russia will top the group and I am backing Poland to pip the Czech Republic to the second spot, I can't see the Greeks winning a game to be honest.

By contrast Group B seems to be the hardest group of the four, with Germany, Portugal, Netherlands and Denmark in there, it sets up some mouth watering contests. Lets start with the losing finalists from four years ago Germany, the Germans are always there or thereabouts in every tournament and have class all over the park with the likes of Neuer, Lahm, Schwinsteiger, Ozil and Arsenal bound Lukas Podolski. Germany are tournament players and by or hook or by crook, should go through. We then have Portugal who will cursing their luck after getting a tough group at the last World Cup as well,  one man of course that stands out is the name of Cristiano Ronaldo. They are not as strong as they have been over the last few years and although they have other decent players, I can't see them beating the Germans or the Dutch. Now onto the Dutch themselves and I feel that the World Cup runners up will again be a force in the Euros, they have pure attacking class with the likes of Sneijder, Robben and of course Robin Van Persie. The Netherlands will be there or thereabouts in the latter stages of the competition. Finally you have the Danish who are a solid side however you feel that they lack the quality and attacking prowess to beat the other sides in the group. I predict that Germany and the Netherlands will qualify leaving the Portuguese and Danish trailing.

You then have Group C containing reigning champions Spain with Italy, Croatia and the Republic of Ireland. You'd be brave to bet against World champions Spain who have class throughout their squad, the couple of issues they do have though is the absence of Carlos Puyol and hitman David Villa who may be big misses for them. We then have 1968 winners Italy who will have a point to prove after a terrible 2010 World Cup, the Italians have a lot experience with the likes of Pirlo, Buffon and Di Natale. Also there will be the Man City maverick Mario Ballotelli, he may be the wildcard for them as he could either cost them or lead them to success. Next there's Croatia who are always a tricky side to play, although their squad may not look great, they have a few gems in there with the likes of Luka Modric and the extremely impressive Everton striker Nikica Jelavic. They will fancy upsetting the odds and by nicking the second qualifying place. Making up the group will be the Republic of Ireland who are playing in their first tournament in ten years. The Irish may not be a team of star players but what they do have is a great work ethic and fantastic tactical organisation under experienced manager Giovanni Trapattoni. Each player knows their role and this helps them play as a team, I fancy the Irish to cause a few upsets as they did back in the 2002 World Cup. I can't see past Spain topping this group, however I am backing the Irish to pip Italy and Croatia to the second qualifying spot, I feel that they are more organised defensively than the other two and that will decide it.

Finally we have Group D with the other co-host Ukraine in with France, Sweden and of course England. Ukraine seem to look a bit of a one man team with the great Andriy Shevchenko leading his country, home advantage will make games against them intimidating however I feel the home crowd may be disappointed at the end of the group stages. We then have group favourites France who have really picked themselves up after a dreadful World Cup in South Africa, Laurent Blanc has united the team as they made it through the qualifying stages. They have good attacking options with the likes of Nasri, Ribery and Benzema, who should see them qualify top. You then have Sweden who are not the force they once were, like Ukraine they have one player who really stands out and that is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. A lot depends on his form and temperament, if he is in the mood they could cause problems, if not they could easily exit the competition with a whimper. Last of all you have Roy Hodgson's England who again, haven't had the easiest of build ups with the Terry allegations leading to Fabio Capello's resignation. No really knows what to expect from England who for once have low expectations going into a tournament, Wayne Rooney missing the first two games is a huge blow as they now seem toothless up front. Their qualification may depend on the final game. I feel that France will top the group with England scraping second by pipping Ukraine. I can't see Sweden doing much in the group (famous last words).

Once the groups stage is over with it's anyone's game, Spain will be the favourites but no team has ever retained the title. If I had to back any team to go out and win it, I would have to back the Germans however it may be too close to call.