Euro 2012 - time for the Germans to deliver
After a long and tiring season of club football, the national sides take over as the best 16 teams in Europe gather in the cities spread across Poland and Ukraine.
I am looking forward to weeks of good tournament football. However, I find it somehow insulting when I read European footballers and commentators make statements where they imply that this, their continental championship, is stronger and therefore more difficult to win than the Fifa World Cup. It makes no logical sense when you consider that Czechoslovakia in ’76, Denmark in ’92 and Greece in ’04 have all won this competition. Anyway, I digress.
There many good teams at this tournament, at least in terms of personnel and records. However, I think this one tournament too far for the reigning champions Spain and I expect and hope that Germany will win.
The Germans are the serial winners of Europe and since 2006 they have been close in all the major tournaments. To understand how the mind-set of the average German international works, this is what Bayern Munich’s midfield conductor Bayern Schweinsteiger said after the team came third at the last World Cup. “There eventually comes a time when I need to start winning international titles as well. I don't want to win 20 doubles and then retire without having won a major trophy with Germany. I just don't want to."
The team, coached by Joachim Loew, is now ready to win a trophy. The have a fantastic team and set-up and are fluid in their play. Unlike in the last World Cup, when the team suffered because of suspension to Muller and the youthfulness of the side in the semis against Spain, they are ready.
Toni Kroos has shown during the Champions League that he has grown up. Miroslav Klose, the captain and voracious goal scorer, has had a very good season in Italy with Lazio and just loves to play International football. The only question mark might be the absence of Per Mertesacker in defence but Jerome Boateng and Badstruber will compensate adequately.
Spain will suffer from the twin absences of Puyol and David Villa. It is still a mystery to me how they managed to win the last World Cup scoring so few goals. Teams are going to defend deep against them and so coach Vincente del Bosque will have to find a plan B.
With David Villa’s absence I think it careless that Roberto Soldado has been overlooked. Negredo and Llorente were preferred instead. The Bilbao striker is an obvious plan B striker with his height but what Negredo offers ahead of Soldado I am not too sure. The squad, as expected, is heavy with fantastic ball players in midfield while the young highly-rated Javi Martinez can also play at the back to cover the absence of Puyol. I think it is expecting too much for them to win a third straight tournament and I do not expect them to.
The team that could easily win, at least by virtue of the quality of personnel, should be Holland. What might hold them back will be how they utilise the fantastic goal scoring abilities of Huntelaar. It is bordering on criminal how this goal machine is treated by his home country. Dutch journalists have been quoted as saying, “he only scores goals…”. Erm, he is a striker and he is in the team to score goals. Also (news flash), goals win football matches.
Robin van Persie has had a fantastic season for Arsenal in the English Premier League but he is not on the same consistent goal scoring level as Huntelaar. Coach van Marwijk is a pragmatist and likes to have Kuyt in his side because of the industry of the Liverpool man but he also needs the speed, trickery and match-winning abilities of Robben.
Is Sneijder able to reprise the form of two seasons ago or is it time to allow Van der Vaart of Spurs in England the time to shine. It is at the back that Holland will struggle as there is really not one player they have in defence that other countries might be casting envious glances at. If the team is set up properly, they should make the semifinals at least.
For the first time in living memory England go into a tournament where they are not even slight favourites. This has been incredible for me to observe living here in London. Strident, jingoistic tabloids are so upset that Harry Redknapp did not get the job ahead of Roy Hodgson that they have been rather subdued. In truth they have had little reason to shout to the roof tops in previous tournaments but this one especially so.
However, England are entering as dark horses. Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard have both dropped out because of injuries – not sure Barry will be a miss; Lampard’s experience and goals will be. Wayne Rooney has not lit up any tournament since his first in Portugal in 2004 and here he will be suspended for the first two games.
On his return England might well be out or he can galvanise them. Such is tournament football that momentum is everything. Nobody expected Denmark to win in ’92. Greece were not even considered a threat in ’04 but these two teams won it out of the blue – a testament to good coaching and luck.
All it takes is for an unexpected win in the opening game and momentum can gather. The downside is that any team prepared to rely on Andy Carroll to lead their line cannot be taken seriously as a tournament winner. He is certainly no Angelo Charisteas, who led the line for Greece and carried the team to triumph in ’04.
Portugal, with Ronaldo and Nani in the wide positions, Meireless, Countinho, Quaresma and all the other fabulous ball players will still suffer what previous Portuguese teams have suffered: a lack of a goal scorer.
Perhaps coach Bento should play Ronaldo as central striker so that Nani and Quaresma play the wide positions. Unless they find goals another knockout exit awaits.
The French team under Laurent Blanc is still a work in progress. They have recovered from the shameful debacle of the World Cup and have qualified for this tournament. For Blanc, progression to the last four will be a success. His biggest problem will be finding a balance with how he protects his very vulnerable back line and the creative force to get the ball to the likes of Ben Arfa and Benzema.
Overall, I am hoping it is a good tournament and one that produces a first-time winner. Hopefully nothing off the field will mar the competition.
How big a shock will it be if Spain do not make it out of their group? Am going to check the odds on that as stranger things have happened in football.