Saturday, June 07, 2008

Euro 2008 Preview - Part 1

WHILE the Socceroos qualifying campaign continues to grab most of the attention down-under, most of Europe is about to embark on a month-long fiesta of football. Don’t know if anyone else has noticed it, but England’s absence has meant a distinct lack of English press and analysis on the Euros and an email yesterday from and EPL obsessed mate of mine confirmed where most of the English press has been focused this week; Cristinao Ronaldo and the will-he, won’t-he move to Real (as opposed to how he will perform at Euros), Jose Mourinho joining Inter, Mark Hughes joining Man City and Ronaldinho’s links to the same club. In his email, my mate touched on all the above club issues, with no mention of the Euros. ESPN Press Pass last night went along the same lines, burying its tournament preview towards the end of its 30 minute slot.

It’s a shame really, but hardly a surprise given the amount of football available these days. This week, having just subscribed to Setanta for the Euros, I was able to get the Copa Libatedores semi finals, Euro warm-ups involving the Czech Republic, France and Spain, friendlies involving Argentina (Messi and Aguerrro in tandem, watch out Olyroos) and Brazil. Last week, on ESPN, I caught the Germans twice. It’s mayhem, football everywhere.

But for every EPL obsessed fan, like my above-mentioned friend, there’s another five or six who just can’t wait for the tournament. This week I’ve been inundated by mates, all with a vested interest, Greeks, Italians, Croats and Czechs alike, all wanting to share thoughts ahead of the event, and chat about the Roos.

Hectic times indeed. Without further to do, here’s a look at the pluses and minuses in groups A and B, with the remaining groups to follow.


Assets; home advantage is a big one that might just be enough to get them through this even group. Not many goals in this side, but keep an eye on the work of Barnetta and Behrami in midfield.
Deficits; the lack of a genuine goal-getter or craftsman. Frei has been around the traps, but isn’t a guy who’s going to get many, so the Swiss will compete and try and pinch goals at set-pieces and the like. Senderos is often ponderous at the back, so defending high could be a sin.
Conclusion; reckon they’ve done a great job if they can sneak past the Czechs and Turks for second.

Czech Republic
Assets; Karol Bruckner is a very thoughtful and highly respected manager and generally pulls the strings well. The Czechs invariably turn up and play in-synch, stylish, attractive football, some of the best around, and have remarkable team spirit. They are adaptable in that they can play patient build-up or rapid attacks. Ujfalusi is strong at the back and Sionko should catch the eye attacking from midfield.
Deficits; without Nedved, Rosicky and Poborsky, the midfield looks the weakest it’s been in a very long time, but Bruckner will still get the best out of his men, despite some criticism for sticking with the old guard at the expense of the likes of Fenin. He’s hinted that he’ll only play one up front (Koller), with Baros more likely to play on the left, but the Czechs are adaptable.
Conclusion; with this midfield, I’d be very surprised if they got beyond the quarters.

Assets; Ronaldo is the obvious one and Scolari will do well to give him license to roam wherever he likes. No point constraining him to one of the wide spots in his 4-3-3. Elsewhere, Portugal is very strong in the wide areas, with not only Ronaldo, but Quresma, Nani and Simao. In Carvalho they have one of the best defenders in the world.
Deficits; Deco has been ‘off’ for the past two seasons, a shadow of the player that went to Germany ’06, and other than Ronaldo, they don’t really have a gun goal-getter among Gomes, Almeida and Postiga. Without Maniche and Tiago, they don’t look as strong in the engine room. However, their biggest question mark is temperament, how they handle the big occasion.
Conclusion; should at least get to the quarters, possibly the semis, but doubt they’ll make up for losing to Greece four years ago. That was their chance.

Assets; they look strong in central midfield with Brazilian Aurelio and Emre, and according to regular TRBA reader Pinuts Pethia, who watched a few of their qualifiers and has been pestering me to pop up a Euro preview, they offer plenty on the counter, with “skillful and intelligent midfielders able to execute precise passes to hit a team on the break”…couldn’t have said it better myself. Nihat and Tuncay are the quick blokes up front hoping to profit from these passes. Mobility in transition will be the key.
Deficits; by my reckoning, they were in one of the softest qualifying groups along with Greece, but they’re still a big chance to get out of this group. Can’t really see a massive striker to convert their chances, and they look a little soft at the back. No massive personality, like a Sukur,
Conclusion; playing Portugal first doesn’t help, but if they can get a result, get in the mood and build some momentum, they could be the group giant-killer.

Group Prediction; Portugal to finish top, with not much separating the rest. I’m seeing the home ground advantage getting the Swiss through.


Assets; their playing at home, that’s about it. Looking forward to seeing Ivanschitz, who I’ve heard a bit about.
Deficits; should be outclassed, but hopefully, for them, not embarrassed.
Conclusion; would do well to score a goal or two, even better to score a point or two.

Assets; very impressive in qualifying and in Bilic they have a manager on the rise. He is adaptable and, like the Czechs, can play patient ball-possession build-up or rapid counter. One of the most pleasing aspects of their play will be the skill, interchange and mobility in attacking third between Modric, Krancjar and Olic. Particularly looking forward to seeing Modric.
Deficits; the big one is the loss of Eduardo, their main man in the quals. Petric and Olic, the latter especially, will need to step up. There is an old guard including the Kovac’s, Snra, Simic and Simunic, so it’ll be interesting to see if they can still cut it at this level.
Conclusion; should get off to a great start and, if they can top the group and avoid Portugal in the cross-over, are capable of making the semis at least.

Assets; Ballack, what a player. Has been in magnificent form for both club and country over the past couple of months. I watched both their recent friendlies and while others struggled, Ballack ran the show in both. When he came off against Belarus, Germany was 2-0 up, and fell to pieces. Then he single-handedly won the games against Serbia. Klose always does well at the big tournaments and Germany, when things are working, have the mentally to handle the bigger games.
Deficits; Lehmann looks shaky between the sticks and while Mertesacker looks good, his side-kick Metzerlder has struggled since coming back from injury, and even looked a liability in the two above-mentioned friendlies. Meanwhile, Loew is unknown at this level and has shown signs of frustration lately. He has some major decisions to make in a number of positions, like who plays with Klose up front (Gomez, Podolski, Kuranyi or Neuville). On the evidence I’ve seen, I’d go for Neuville, who’s more likely to be used off the bench. Another big one is the right side of midfield where Schneider will be missed. Does Loew go for the attacking but enigmatic Odonkor, the defensive but steady Fritz, or does he shift Schweinsteiger to the right and draft in Podolski on the left? Headaches already for Loew.
Conclusion; two weeks ago, they were my tip to win it, until of course I watched the two recent friendlies. Courtesy of a good draw, I still think they’ll be there or thereabouts, in the final even, but at this stage there are enough questions to make me look elsewhere for an eventual winner.

Assets; extremely competitive and physical, they will be tough to beat in every game. Smolarek was a shining light in qualifying, bagging nine, the best record at this tourni, and is adaptable enough to play anywhere in the front third. A dangerous, counter-attacking unit, Germany will need to be wary in game one. Expect them also to be a threat at set-pieces. Successful Leo Beenhakker is a great man to have on the bench.
Deficits; given they don’t have a deep squad, losing winger Blaszczykowski (thankfully I no longer have to type his name) doesn’t help their cause. While they’re good on the counter, they generally don’t have a lot of craft in the front and middle thirds, thus don’t create that many chances. Seeing how they handle their first Euros will be interesting.
Conclusion; if Croatia or German slip-up in any way, Polska won’t need a second invitation, just ask Portugal.

Group prediction; Poland will be thereabouts, but I’m seeing Germany and Croatia go through. The question being, in what order? Ballack and Klose give the Mannschaft the edge, but their defence will need to gel quick. If it does finish that way, in the cross-over I’d expect Germany to knock-off Switzerland, and wouldn’t be surprised to see Croatia do Portugal.

Coming up in the second part of my Euros previews, I go through the group of death that is Group C and spring a couple of surprises in dissecting Spain’s group.


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