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|SoccerAnchor experts have their say: Who will win, shock & flop at EURO 2012?|
With the biggest footballing tournament of the summer upon our doorstep, the SoccerAnchor experts have been asked to give their opinion on how they see the EURO 2012 tournament panning out...
ADRIAN DEL MONTE
WINNER: NETHERLANDS - The Dutch have a brilliant record in the European Championships since 1988, when they won their first and only crown. And this certainly is the best opportunity they will get to win their second. On the back of losing the 2010 World Cup to Spain, the Oranje are primed for another solid showing at an international tournament, and if their key players can avoid injury, they will surely go very close to winning this tournament.
Many have highlighted the nation's weakness at the back, however having conceded only eight goals in 10 qualifying fixtures for this tournament, it shouldn't be an area of concern. With the likes of Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart hitting top form at the right time of season, as well as three capable goalkeepers and a number of young emerging talents, including Luuk de Jong, the immediate future looks bright for the Netherlands.
Throw Nigel de Jong, Mark van Bommel, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Dirk Kuyt and Ibrahim Affelay into the mix, and you have a very solid squad, that deserve to win their second European crown. The game against Germany in the groups will go a long way to determining their chances, but expect them to go one better than 2010 this time around.
DARK HORSE: ITALY - To call the four-time World Cup winners a dark horse is a strange declaration to make. However on the back of immense improvement under Cesare Prandelli over the past 24 months, since the debacle that was South Africa 2010, the Italians are looking very good heading into the finals. With Juventus back on top of Italy, and a number of key players at the peak of the powers, combined with a few x-factors - mainly Mario Balotelli, Sebastian Giovinco and Antonio Cassano, do not be surprised if we see the Azzurri in this year's final.
TOP GOALSCORER: Miroslav Klose (Germany)
WINNER: ITALY - One word encapsulates it all: Juventus. History has shown that whenever the Bianconeri infiltrate La Nazionale to the extent they have this time around, it can only spell trouble for all the other 15 nations. Seven of Cesare Prandelli's starting XI are Juventini - or have had a past link to the Turin giants - which means that everyone - past or present - understands how to play football with one another.
And with the Old Lady dominating Italian football this season, watch out.
Add into the equation that another troublesome summer lay ahead of Serie A fans due to Calcioscommesse, meaning that the Azzurri are in the box seat to capitalise and prove all the doubters wrong. They did it in 1982 with the Totonero scandal hanging over their heads, and 2006 with Calciopoli, granted both were at the FIFA World Cup.
DARK HORSE: SWEDEN - if Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Co. can turn it on, they could be destructive. The Yellowblues are renowned for getting results against England, have history against Spain and Italy, and can play very tactical football against the big nations.
TOP GOALSCORER: Karim Benzema (France)
WINNER: GERMANY - Joachim Löw’s team have been very impressive and consistent in qualifying and friendly matches. Also, they are a team that’s often come very close to winning a major tournament in recent years: 2nd place at Euro 2008, 3rd place at the last two World Cups. Their strongest competition seems to be Spain and Holland, however Spain are missing a couple of key players and might not be as motivated after winning both the World Cup and the Euros in the last few years, while Holland were beaten emphatically by the Germans in a recent friendly.
Then there’s Italy, a team Germany have never beaten in a major tournament, but the Azzurri are a bit of a question mark as they have many new players and a new coach, Cesare Prandelli, who has never managed a big club. They did well in qualifying, but they’ve also failed to impress on a number of occasions. It also remains to be seen whether ‘bad boys’ Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano will make an effective pairing in attack.
DARK HORSE: ENGLAND - Could it be that not having that much expectations on them this time around, will be a good thing for England? Roy Hodgson is a capable and very experienced coach, but he will have to be wary of avoiding an early elimination in a fairly tough group including France and Sweden, a team they have always had problems with. However, if they can do that, they might just finally make an impression at a major tournament.
TOP GOALSCORER: Thomas Muller (Germany)
WINNER: SPAIN - A lot of people have been put off Spain recently by the withdrawals of key men David Villa and Carlos Puyol due to injury, but at the end of the day Spain are the World and European champions and still have more than enough quality to take out their second straight championship. They currently have the best talent pool in the entire world and there is simply too much quality in their side for there to be major issues.
Sergio Ramos may not have the same on-pitch presence as Puyol, but he's still one of the best defenders for one of the best teams on the planet and would walk into the majority of the other top teams' starting 11 without too many concerns. The same could be said of Fernando Llorente, who will be filling David Villa's shoes. While it will be a challenge for the big spaniard to match his countryman's feats, the Bilbao forward is in career best form and has become one of the most coveted strikers on the planet.
Ultimately of course, the majority of the squad have done it all before and know what's expected. The fact that many are saying Spain won't be the same without Villa and Puyol will do little to disrupt their preparation and if anything, will help to alleviate pressure.
Oh and their midfield consists of Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Silva with Cesc Fabregas, Juan Mata and Jesus Navas on the bench. Enough said.
DARK HORSE: RUSSIA - Solid qualifying form coupled with an experienced manager, an excellent draw and a knack of turning it on in major competitions all point to the Russians causing a few upsets. They also have the advantage of a squad that is relatively unknown around the rest of Europe, in which several hidden gems will be given the perfect chance to announce their arrival to the big time. If they can find their feet early then they have every chance of repeating their heroics from 2008 and may even fancy their chances of going that next step.
TOP GOALSCORER: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Netherlands)
WINNER: ITALY - Turmoil regarding match fixing scandals, key players missing and to be frankly honest not a great side, why not eh?
Italy enter the tournament with what is no doubt soon to be labelled Calciopoli 2 hanging over their heads, with players such as Giuseppe Rossi (injury) and Domenico Criscito (alleged match-fixing) absent and with a side lacking any real spark, that is of course unless Mario Balotelli decides to bring some fireworks to the party. The situation Italy find themselves in now is that not too dissimilar to the situation they were in, going in to the 2006 World Cup.
The toughest part of the tournament for Italy will be progressing from the Group C, a Group containing Croatia, Republic of Ireland and Spain. The reigning World and European champions are obviously heavy favourites to finish top of the group, so Italy may have to settle for second place. If this was the case they would most likely be facing England or France in the quarter-finals and I believe that the Azzurri would overcome either of those sides with relative ease.
Once a team reaches the semi-finals anything can happen. If Prandelli’s side defend well and keep the door shut at their own end they do have players such as; Balotelli, Cassano and Di Natale at the other end who are capable of producing moments of magic to win them games.
DARK HORSE: POLAND- Despite not having the talent that the likes of Spain possess at their disposal the Poles have adopted a very effective way of playing and will be a tough side to beat. This along with the fact that they have home advantage will give them a great chance of making it to the later stages of the competition. Also in Robert Lewandowski, who has been on fire for Dortmund in the Bundesliga this season, they have someone who is capable of finding the net. The link between Lewandowski’s club teammates Lukas Piszczek and Jakub Błaszczykowski down the right hand side could also be a key weapon for the Poles.
TOP SCORER: ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI (currently 26.00 @ Sportsbet, so get your money on now)
WINNER: SPAIN - While many will point to the personnel missing from Spain's squad this campaign, with both David Villa and Carlos Puyol set to miss the tournament due to injury, this side is still without question the team to beat.
Above all else, the Spanish have the greatest cohension off all teams in the tournament. Not only are they the reigning European and world champions, but they possess a squad that is a very familiar to one another and understand what is required on the big stage.
As previously mentioned, Sergio Ramos will be capable of filling Puyol's shoes, while Fernando Llorente has the form and confidence to ease the loss of Villa. Add to that the best midfield in the tournament that not only creates countless chances, but also protects the defence through possession dominance, and it's hard to pick against mighty Spain
DARK HORSE: FRANCE - After their recent failures at international level, there isn't any great expectation on the French to do some major damage in this tournament. With that burden lifted, and a very talented and dangerous squad from midfield to attack on the pitch, Les Blues have the potential to make a meaningful run in this campaign. If the likes of Nasri, Ribery, M'Vila and Benzema can find the right balance, they are capable of causing an upset.
TOP SCORER: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Netherlands)
WINNER: GERMANY - The Germans are always amongst the tournament favourites and Euro 2012 is no exception. Their squad is full of superstars with big tournament experience and you can expect Joachim Low to have his boys primed for European glory.
Low can call upon some of the best midfielders in the business, including Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Ozil and future superstar Mario Gotze. The only question for Low is who does he leave out? With a plethora of options, the Germans will have one of the strongest midfields in the tournament.
Up forward it's a similar predicament. The Germans possess the ageing but prolific tournament scorer Miroslav Klose, who will be a handy player to bring on if a goal is needed. The main man will be Bayern Munich monster Mario Gomez. The burly German has been in prolific form domestically for quite a few seasons but has question marks over his national team performances, particularly in big tournaments. If Gomez fires and the supporting cast of Arsenal-bound Lukas Podolski and Bayern's Thomas Muller provide some quality performances, then we will see the Germans lift the European Championship for the fourth time.
DARK HORSE: ENGLAND - As Danilo Pochini also said, I believe the English will benefit from the low expectations placed on them for this tournament. Andy Carrol reached a decent level of form at the end of the English domestic season and should be fresh to lead the attacking line. If the Poms can gather some points before Wayne Rooney returns, then they could slip through to the knockout stage and be a surprise.
TOP SCORER: Andy Carroll (England)
WINNER: GERMANY - Runner's up last time around I expect Joachim Löw’s side to go one step further this year and win Euro 2012. Spain, who beat them in the final of Euro 2008, remain their strongest rivals in Poland and Ukraine perhaps along with the Dutch. It was always going to be difficult for Spain to retain their European crown and their task was made even harder when Carles Puyol and David Villa were ruled out. This bodes well for Germany, who will head into the tournament with a fully fit squad and one that will have a great hunger for success given how close they came four years ago; not to mention their third-place finishes at the last two world cups.
Young yet experienced, technically talented yet physicaly strong, the Germans boast one of the best squads on paper, too. The experienced Philip Lahm will lead from the back alongside Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummel. The midfield is where Löw has the luxury of real strength in depth. Real Madrid playmaker Mesut Ozil, coming off a great season in Spain, will provide the creative flair going forward while club mate Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger will provide the mettle. There are alternatives to Ozil also, such as Mario Gotzee and Toni Kroos, a player who has established himself as a first team member at Bayern Munich the past two seasons.
Up front the Germans are again spoilt for choice. Mario Gomez will likely lead the line and he will be aided by the likes Patrick Muller and Lukas Podolski. Miroslav Klose provides an experienced option should Gomez fail to fire.
The Germans have not lifted a major international trophy since 1996 when they won the European championships in England. For a team that performs so consistently well in major tournaments, I expect them to end their drought and deliver this summer.
DARK HORSE: FRANCE - Like England, there is little expectation surrounding Laurent Blanc's side. Yet, unlike England the French possess an array of quality players, many of them having had fine seasons with their clubs. Franck Ribery remains the ace in their pack, yet, Samir Nasri, Hatem Ben Arfa and Jeremy Menez could all make an impact. In attack Blanc can call on one of the best in the business, Karim Benzema. If Blanc can find the right mix and if he can get the best out of his players, the French could be set for a return to the big time.
TOP GOALSCORER: Thomas Muller (Germany)