Euro 2012 Preview
Petr Cech has re-established himself as one of the continent’s top goalkeepers following fine displays in the Champions’ League. His presence between the posts would rarely see the Czechs as second favourites in a penalty shoot out. He simply fills the goal. Milan Baros has performed memorably at this tournament in the past and a career scoring rate of around a goal in every two goals ensures that his side will always carry a threat in the opposition’s box. Tomas Rosicky has performed consisently for Arsenal this season but will need a bit of luck to ensure that he escapes the gruelling schedule unscathed. Left back Michal Kadlec is the usual penalty taker for the side and as result has accrued 7 goals in his 33 international appearances. Those in front of Cech will have to improve if his side are to progress seeing as the defence was far from watertight during the qualification rounds.
Qualified as an unbeaten side from their group and look to build on the foundation of their frugal defence. There is little to become excited about when sifting through their attacking options, but then again there were few highlights on the run-up to their tournament victory in 2004.
Boast a spectacularly bad chance conversion rate but this probably has something to do with the fact that they have only contested friendlies throughout the past two years. Their hopes will be pinned on the contribution of the Borussia Dortmund triumvirate of Lewandowski, Blaszczykowski and Piszczek. All three were highly influential in their club’s double winning season in which they saw off Bayern Munich on both fronts. If they can get back into the rhythm of playing competitive international football, they have at least half a chance of progressing out of the group.
Renowned for producing very skilful, technical players, this tradition is kept alive principally by the talents of Andrey Arshavin. It has to be questioned though, whether he is still the same player as the one that starred at the tournament four years ago. A gradual decline in level of performance has seen him leave Arsenal and head back home. Russia does have attacking alternatives in the form of the physical front men, Pavlyuchenko and Pogrebynak. Their efforts will be augmented by those of Dzagoev and Shirokov. The last named scored five goals in only eight appearances for Zenit Petersburg in last season’s Champions’ League. Goals are likely to be shared out amongst the various attackers and a moderate goal chance conversion rate suggests that there is not an over-reliance on any particular forward.
Finished ahead of Portugal in the qualification rounds where their success was founded on a 100 % home record where they only shipped one goal in the four games. Daniel Agger is the most recognisable of the defensive players and his presence is essential to steady the situation. They appear to favour a largely conservative approach and will probably allow some of their more illustrious competitors to make the running. Their goal chance conversion rate was more than passable throughout the qualification games eventhough the likes of Bendtner and Rommedahl wouldn’t be considered the most lethal of finishers. Christian Eriksen has immense potential and has an opportunity to seal a move to an elite club should things go his way.
Are proving to be a bit of a conundrum in terms of the potential of some of their players and the overall results. Bayern Munich will wonder for a very long time as to how they didn’t win the Champions’ League but it was hard to escape the fact that despite their overall dominance of the final, they went into that game as poor runners-up in two domestic competitions. Schweinsteiger is clearly carrying a serious ankle injury and it remains to be seen whether he can last out the intensity of this tournament. Gomez had a complete shocker in front of goal against Chelsea and his place in the national team has to be under threat especially in view of Klose’s form for Lazio. They will probably operate with a pair of deep lying centre backs shielded by Schweinsteiger and Khedira. Lahm will press on from full back. Ozil will probably be given a degree of freedom now he has become the player he promised to become following an excellent World Cup in South Africa. No one contributed more goal assists in La Liga this season than the Real midfielder. Lucas Podolski probably still has a role to play and remains both effective and efficient in attacking areas. Much will depend on how the Bayern contingent shake off the disappointment of the Champions’ League final loss because as always the Germans have the personnel to stay the distance in these championships.
Van Persie arrives into this tournament in far better form than he did before heading to South Africa and the same applies to Huntelaar. Both players were the leading scorers in their respective divisions this season. The defence includes many of the same names as it has done over the past few years and they rely on the protective influence of Van Bommel and De Jong. The former is in the twilight of his career and he will have to be at his most disciplined if he is to be available for every game. Sneijder has yet to recapture the form he showed in a standout year back in 2010. At that time the link between himself and Robben was incredibly effective and collectively they will have to scale similar heights if they are to make an impact this time around. Van der Vaart may be called upon for added attacking ideas but without the defensive diligence of Kuyt, Holland could end up stretched any time they field four attacking players. Kuyt is sure to see plenty of game time.
Ronaldo remains the most talented current European player and at club level he continues to excel. Unfortunately fate has been less kind on the international stage. Portugal limped into the finals via the play-off route and finished as runners-up behind group opponents Denmark in qualification. Nani adds weight to the attack but it is defensively where things seem to fall apart. Pepe and Meireles are amongst those who relish a tackle but frequently their challenges result in the yellow card being produced. Coentrao is another who will dive in without considering the consequences and his unsuccessful lunge at Lahm in Munich essentially cost Real Madrid a berth in the Champions’ League final. Their encounters this Summer will prove to be robust in nature and sparks could fly.
Typically play in an attractive style but unfortunately more often than not the end product comes up short. Modric remains high on the wish lists of the leading Premier League clubs and much will be expected of him here. His club mate and long time international collegue, Kranjcar, will be missing from the event and this is a significant setback. It will be interesting to see if Jelavic’s flurry of goals at the end of the season will be enough to convince Bilic that he’s worth a starting place. It would be unlikely that both Eduardo and Jelavic would start together. This would be a major divergence from the Croats’ traditional formation.
Qualification was gained largely due to a series of disciplined defensive displays and unified efforts. The squad is showing a few signs of wear and tear heading into the finals and some of the injury situations are having to be monitored on a day to day basis. Defensive mainstays Dunne and Given will have to be in working order for Ireland to have any chance of gaining a result at this tournament. Their overall goal chance conversion rate was respectable during qualification but this probably had something to do with adopting a policy of only shooting when there was a very decent chance of success.
Juventus prevailed in Serie A this season chiefly due to their compact and mean defence. Pirlo was outstanding in his distribution to the forwards with long passes. This is very likely to be basis of the strategy for the national team. The striking options are largely of a similar ilk, mobile and skillful players. Balotelli would lend a physical presence to the forward line but his temperament remains questionable. The more progressive the opposition, the better the Azzurri will look but it will be interesting to see if they can deviate from ‘plan A’ should the need arise.
It has to be wondered if the national side’s fortunes will follow those of Barcelona where the expected excellent results have not been forthcoming this season. Injuries to key players have to play a role in the way events will pan out. David Villa’s goals will be missed, as will the presence of Puyol in the centre of defence. Xavi has continued playing with a chronic injury and others have lost form at some time or another over the past months. Pique will have to recover his form in order for the defence to have a solid base, especially as Ramos is so much more effective at right back. Silva is another to be carrying a long term injury, so it can be expected that Juan Mata will get a run in the side at some time. The strikers in the squad all have only tenuous claims to starting spots in the team. Torres has improved his prospects in recent weeks and there is the feeling that Pedro’s star has begun to shine more brightly just as that of Llorente has started to fade a little. An inform Pedro would fit back in nicely with the other Barcelona representatives and he did his chances no harm recently when opening the scoring in a major final for the second season running. Their overall dominance may be questionable, but Spain still possess as many talented players as any of the other squads expecting to progress to the knockout stages.
The change in management has seen a shift in emphasis when the opposition has the ball. Against Norway they seemed more content to stay compact rather than press the ball high up the pitch. With Terry at centre back England are never likely to push up from the back too far. They look alot more dangerous in attack when Gerrard is able to support and interchange with the forward players. It has to be asked whether they would have deserved to be early favourites to win the group with Rooney available. Without him their claims are more tenuous as there isn’t a reliable source of goals amongst the strikers.
As ever they have a very useful set of players on paper but whether it will all come together in a tournament is another consideration. Defensively they are most likely to set up with a high line with both Evra and Debuchy looking to get forward from the full back positions. Mexes is part of a Milan back four that looks to play the opposition offside at every opportunity. Les Bleus will look to compress the play and back their technical ability to outplay the opposition in the midfield area. Cabaye is a very accomplished holding midfield player who can contribute significantly to the attack. Benzema has had to improve significantly at Real in order to convince Mourinho that he is right man for the number nine shirt. This is a challenge he has more than successfully met both with his goalscoring and allround play and now ranks as one of the best forward players in the game.
Start as fourth favourites to win their group but must rate as a live danger should one of the more fancied teams comes up short. They had little difficulty scoring throughout qualification and even managed to down Holland in the final game. The line will be lead by Serie A’s leading scorer, Ibrahimovic and his presence will give any of the centre backs in the group plenty to think about. There has been concern over the fitness of instrumental midfielder and set-piece taker, Larsson. He has been struggling with a groin injury over the past few weeks.
The co-hosts have shown patchy form over the past couple of years but the return of Blokhin to the helm has steadied the ship. Without home advantage they would be long odds against to qualify for the second round and as it stands they face an uphill battle. The national team probably suffers due to the fact that the core of the dominant domestic side, Shakhtar, is Brazilian produced.