Euro 2012 Bracket Narrowed To Four:
Portugal find themselves as the surprise team in the Euro 2012 Cup. Portugal is actually a team most would consider a world power, but based on their group of death draw they were only given an outsiders chance to get by Germany and Holland.
Even more intriguing is the Cristiano Ronaldo chapter that has played out over the years with the Portuguese National Side. Cristiano's meteoric rise was initiated with his National Team performances where he outclassed many of the world's strongest defenders and demonstrated enthusiastic creativity. Chapter two of his National Team performances were slightly different. Now as one of the world's highest paid Footballers, Ronaldo's Portuguese team outings started to look a bit more like those of a player who is looking to protect his investment avoiding on field challenges and potential injuries that could sideline a profitable career. This became a point of criticism for the media and tipped the scale to Leonardo Messi getting the nod over Ronaldo as the World's best player. This criticism of Ronaldo became prevalent even in the local press.
This Euro 2012 Ronaldo made a pledge to his fellow Countrymen during a Presidential send off to the tournament. He ensured that the Portuguese team and the Portuguese people would get the best he had to offer as a player. So far he has not disappointed. Ronaldo has entered into this new chapter in his National Team playing career as he started way back when. Creating chances with creativity and finishing when called upon at the net. He currently is tied for the most goals for the Euro 2012, and may bring home the MVP honors if his play stays at this current level.
Portugal is one of the few European soccer powers to have never won the Euro Cup. Maybe this 2012 will give both Ronaldo a chance to become the World's undisputed best player and his Portuguese team their first Euro Cup championship. Portugal will take on Spain in the Euro 2012 Semi-Finals.
Spain, Germany, and Italy make up the remaining teams in the Euro Cup Semi-Finals.
Spain will get the duty of derailing Ronaldo and Portugal on their way to their first Euro Cup Championship. Spain who came in as the world's number #2 ranked team has moved through the tournament without a lot of fan fare or drama. They have put themselves in a position to win three major tournaments in a row starting with the 2008 Euro Cup and the 2010 World Cup, and now this 2012 Euro Cup. Spain is set on demonstrating their choke-hold over Global National Team supremacy.
Germany has probably been the most dominant side in the tournament. They have been able to move past opponents with relative ease (including Portugal) into their semi-final match up. The Germans do have a tough date with a very defensive and game Italian team that seems to thrive off of controversy.
Italy's last big tournament win came in the 2006 World Cup amidst a plethora of match fixing incidents. This Euro 2012 has the same overtone to it as the Italian squad has several star players in the middle of match fixing investigations. Maybe this will be the key ingredient to another major tournament championship for the Azzure.
Notes* This is the second time in the history of the Euro Cup that the host nation did not make it past the group stage of the tournament. It is also unique in that there were two host teams; Poland and the Ukraine. Neither squad was able to advance to the knock out stage of this year's tournament.
Holland came in as the World's number #1 ranked team and finished without a victory in this Euro Cup.
Spain Euro 2012 Preview
Group: C Coach: Vicente Del Bosque
The reigning Euro Cup champions are returning the same team from their 2008 Championship act. The very experienced Spaniards currently hold the world's number 2 ranking and come into this Euro 2012 competition as the favorite to win it all. Spain has probably too many strengths to mention in this small excerpt. They are the complete package on offense with a style that focuses on time of possession and well defined small space control. The defense consists of three of the world's top players with Sergio Ramos, Gererd Pique and goal keeper Iker Casillas of which all play for two of the world's top professional clubs.
Spain has not been so Super Human over the last several months with some lack luster showings in International friendly competition including a late draw versus Costa Rica.
Injury will keep striker David Villa off of the pitch for Spain. The goal scoring antics of Villa are at their best when he is playing for his flag, but a broken leg will give opposing defenses at least one less thing to worry about this Euro Cup.
Age is another concern for the Spanish side. Many of the focal points on the Spanish team have high mileage on them. While experience is a strength, age can be a Weaknesses.
Spain's Euro Cup Outlook
Spain is the tournament favorite for all of the right reasons. They will attempt to become the first team to repeat as Euro Cup Champion ever. Look for Spain to get very deep in this competition.
Spain's Previous Euro Cup Performances
1964 Euro Cup Champion, 1980 Eliminated Round 1, 1984 Finalist, 1988 Eliminated Round 1, 1996 Quarter-Finalist, 2000 Quarter-Finalist 2004 Eliminated Round 1, 2008 Euro Cup Champion.
Germany Euro 2012 Preview
Group: B Coach: Joachim Low
Joachim Low has a very offensive minded philosophy. German teams have always been technical, but this German squad also has great athletes that provide a physical element that not always been a German trademark. Under this new German prototype team, the result has been impressive winning 52 of their last 75 outings.
The success of this team will rest with the creativity of Mesut Ozil. Ozil contributed to nearly half of Germany's goal scoring in Euro Cup qualifiers. Beyond Ozil you have the goal scoring prowess of Miroslav Klose and Lucas Podolski. Throw in the athleticism of Mario Gomez on the front line and it becomes a very scary affair for opposing defenses.
Despite all of the talent the German side brings to the table, they seem to be in perpetual bridesmaid mode. They have lacked that extra push to win the big game when it masters most. In their Last Euro Cup appearance Germany lost in the finals with a 0-1 result versus Spain.
The other knock on the German side is on the defensive end of things. A slow backfield in Mertesacker and Badstuber makes them vulnerable to smaller quick counter attacking teams. Against German tradition, their goal keeping has also been suspect at times.
On paper they look like a solid bet. Will that be the case on the field? Their grouping also makes for one of the more difficult paths to the Euro Cup Championship with Holland, England and France as potential pitfalls to the title. Anything less than Semi Finals appearance would be a big disappointment for this German side.
Germany's Previous Euro Cup Performances
1972 Euro Cup Champion, 1976 Finalist, 1980 Euro Cup Champion, 1984 Eliminated Round 1, 1988 Semi-Finalist, 1992 Finalist, 1996 Euro Cup Champion, 2000 Eliminated Round 1, 2004 Eliminated Round 1, 2008 Finalist.
Holland Euro 2012 Preview
Group: B Coach: Bert Van Marwijk
Bert Van Marwijk has brought cohesion to a talented but often unsettled Dutch side. Stars Van der Vaart, Van Persie and De Jong have learned to share the spotlight and this new attitude Holland team has catapulted to the Number 1 world ranking ahead of Spain. Holland is packed with enough talent and momentum to win the 2012 Euro Cup.
Holland's Midfield is creative and progressive with the likes of Sneijder, Robben and Van der Vaart. The Dutch squad should be able to parlay that into goals with striker Robin Van Persie and Euro Cup qualifiers top scorer Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
The younger Dutch players bring something to the table as well. Holland is deep in talent and the quality of the side does not drop off much beyond the starting 11.
If Holland has a downside it would be their defense. They have experience in the back, but age and athleticism are question marks. Van Bronckhorst, Heitinga, Boulahrouz, Ooijer and Mathijsen are all older players that will have to cope with a tough tournament schedule.
Holland's progressive mid-field play does leave them susceptible to counter attacking tactics. They will need to put up solid goal production to get deep in the tournament. This is not the type of squad that excels in grinding out close games.
Group B is a tough draw, and past round 1 the road to the Championship game most likely includes England and France. There is not a lot of room for error for the Dutch side.
Holland may end up winning it all. They were the best looking team throughout the qualifiers and have momentum coming into the Euro Cup competition. Their key to success will be "a great offense is the best defense" mentality. This Holland team looks to be a real contender, and they could hoist their second Euro Cup trophy in 2012.
Previous Euro Cup Performances:
1976 Third Place, 1980 Eliminated Round 1, 1988 Euro Cup Champion, 1992 Semi-Finalist, 1996 Quarter-Finalist, 2000 Semi-Finalist 2004 Semi-Finalist, 2008 Quarter-Finalist.
England Euro 2012 Preview
Group: D Coach: Roy Hodgson
Talent is by far their biggest strength. The English soccer league is by far the most balanced and competitive in the world. England has the size, athleticism, and the technical ability to win any game they are in.
Hodgson needs to focus on creating from midfield to capitalize in the Euro Cup. The English side has had a tendency for low scoring affairs which has come back to haunt them in big tournaments. Using their size in the attack could get them over the top for once.
"Under New Management" is typically the battle cry for a group trying to change an image. Will Hodgson be able to right the English national Team's ship in as little as 6 weeks is probably their biggest question mark? A chaotic locker room more often than not leads to early exits in big tournaments.
To add to England's troubles, their star Wayne Rooney will miss two group games due to suspension.
England has never won the Euro Cup. Their most notable showing was Semi-Final appearance at home in 96. Close games have been their enemy with several exits in the form of penalties. England did not even qualify for the 2008 Euro Cup.
England qualified for the 2012 Euro Cup at the top of their group, but in non-exciting fashion. England did score victories over Spain and Sweden in recent friendly matches which may bolster their confidence and momentum heading into this tournament.
England will need a strong start out of the gates. Anything short of that could lead to another embarrassing exit for the notorious underachieving side. If all falls well for England they have the talent to make a finals run.
England's Previous Euro Cup Performances
1968 Third Place, 1980 Eliminated Round 1, 1988 Eliminated Round 1, 1992 Eliminated Round 1, 1996 Semi-Finalist, 2000 Eliminated Round 1, 2004 Quarter-Finalist.
France Euro 2012 Preview
Group: D Coach: Laurent Blanc
France is fielding an excellent line up of starters for this 2012 Euro Cup campaign. While they are not considered a favorite to win the Euro Cup, they do have the chops to get deep in the tournament. The team is littered with European Club star players. The midfield package consisting of Nasri, Ribery and M'Vila, combine experience and youth in a very forward attacking system. Throw in English Premier League defenders Evra and Sagna and you have a team looking to push the tempo from an offensive perspective. Lastly, the playmaking and scoring prowess of Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema gives their front line world class quality.
Weakness number 1 is the man in the mirror. France has suffered from self destruction over the last 4 years. If the trend continues, an early exit is imminent. This puts a lot of pressure on new coach Laurent Blanc. He does not have deep coaching experience and managing this locker room is a challenge to say the least.
France does not have a true identity. Frank Ribery is often considered their best player, but he is not much of a leader and tends to be a bit selfish with the ball on the offensive side of the field.
The defensive unit of Evra, Sagna, Mexes, and Koscielny give France a quality defense, but also a very offensive minded one that will be prone to counter attacks. This defensive unit will need to keep themselves in check to keep opponents out of their goal.
French soccer has imploded in the post-Zidane years. After nearly winning a The 2006 World Cup, the French National Team has flopped in Major Tournaments. Their 2008 Euro Cup and 2012 World Cup performances were not a battle first, but rather a battle for worst.
Despite the drama, France has managed to win and perform well in Euro Cup qualifiers. This team is a pure crap shoot and if you like value in a bet, their on-field experience and talent is hard to overlook. The question is can they hold it together for a month at this level of competition
Look for France to escape the first round. After that anything can happen.
France's Previous Euro Cup Performances
1960 Fourth Place, 1984 Euro Cup Champion, 1992 Eliminated Round 1, 1996 Semi-Finalist, 2000 Euro Cup Champion, 2004 Quarter-Finalist, 2008 Eliminated Round 1
Italy Euro 2012 Preview
Group: C Coach: Cesare Prandelli
New Coach Cesare Prandelli has the Azzurri back believing in defense. Italy has won Ugly for years and if they are looking to win this 2012 Euro Cup, it will be doing what the defensive minded Italians do best. After their World Cup run in Germany 2006, the Italian side had suffered from poor performance issues leading to a first round exit of the 2010 World Cup and a National team shake up. The shake-up has restored the boring yet successful style of strong defensive Italian soccer.
If you are going to win, goal keeping is essential and Italy's captain Gigi Buffon is an essential piece to the puzzle for this team.
The experienced Andrea Pirlo is creative at midfield. He has the experience and ability to create opportunities for the squad in the counter attack and will be paired up with the explosive and enigmatic striker Mario Balotelli.
Distraction is the number 1 issue heading into the 2012 Euro Cup. Several of the Italian footballers are in the midst of investigations for match fixing.
Offensive injuries are also a question mark. Italy has lost some players to injury over the course of qualifiers including starting striker Cassano. Balotelli and Barzagli both have some nagging injury issues and will be playing, but possibly not at 100%. This could hurt them in front of the net.
Age at mid-field could also bite the Azzurri. Andrea Pirlo is a magnificent creator, but how well he holds up to the youth and rigor of the Euro Cup schedule remains to be answered.
Italy's defense has been impressive allowing just 2 goals over the course of the qualifying rounds. After a disappointing exit from the World Cup this team will be looking for redemption in this tournament. They recently beat Spain in a warm up, and if the Italians stay focused they can be considered a dark horse to lift the 2012 Euro Cup. Anything less than Semi-Finals will be a complete fail.
Italy's Previous Euro Cup Performances
1968 Eliminated Round 1, 1980 Fourth Place, 1988 Semi-Finalist, 1996 Eliminated Round 1, 2000 Finalist, 2004 Eliminated Round 1, 2008 Quarter-Finalist.
Portugal Euro 2012 Preview
Group: B Coach: Paulo Bento
Cristiano Ronaldo is any teams' biggest strength.
Offense is key for the Portuguese side and CR7 will be joined by Man U star Nani for goal scoring responsibilities. The midfield duties go to another Premier League star in Raul Meireles. He will be paired with Joao Moutinho who will have to assume the attack creativity role. The Portuguese squad should have no shortage of opportunities to score goals in this 2012 Euro Cup competition and sports perhaps the most potent offensive punch in the tournament.
Grouping will be the Portuguese side's biggest weakness. They are in the group of death and face matches with Germany and current world #1 ranked Holland. Their easiest match will be with Denmark which is still not a push over game for Portugal.
The dependence on CR7 is great for this team, but often it looks as if Cristiano is doing more to avoid injury in National Team competitions, than to win games at any cost.
The loss of defenders Ricardo Carvalho and Jose Bosingwa to retirement before the 2012 Euro Cup leave the Portuguese defense in a weakened condition. Portugal is left with Real Madrid's Fabio Coentrao, as their defensive bright spot. Defense is not even his natural position.
Despite having the best player in the tournament in CR7, it is a team sport and one where defense wins games more often than not. Their group will more than likely do them no favors in round 1, but a big win and a little help might move them on to the Quarter Finals.
Portugal vs Holland may be the most exciting game of the first round matches. Expect 90% offense and 10% defense in that match from both sides.
Portugal's Previous Euro Cup Performances
1984 Semi-Finalist, 1996 Quarter-Finalist, 2004 Finalist, 2008 Quarter-Finalist.
Russia Euro 2012 Preview
Group: A Coach: Dick Advocaat
Russia got a great draw and their grouping may be their biggest strength.
Russian Coach Dick Advocaat will go with experienced players. He has several world class players including the Premier League duo of Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko who tend to excel in international competition. Throw in Aleksandar Anyukov from Zenit and you have a formidable defender at the right back position.
Newcomer Alan Dzagoev, a 21 year old Russian playmaker who is being sought out at the major international level has great talent and could bring a fresh creative style and much needed new energy to Advocaat's experienced starting eleven.
The Russians are experienced, but again with that comes the age factor. The Euro Cup has a tough schedule which could be hard for some of Advocaat's older players.
Injuries to stalwart central defender Vasily Berezutsky create a lot of issues up the middle for the Russian side. They have yet to announce who will be startimng in his place which will probably be a game time decision on the day of their first match.
After an easy group phase, Russia is looking at Germany or Holland as their most likely Quarter Finals match up. Getting through to the Semis will be long odds for the Russian squad.
The Russians went deep in the Euro Cup in 2008 before being eliminated by tournament champions Spain. Barring any First Round errors, their success in this Euro Cup tournament will hinge on their Quarter Final performance.
Russia's Previous Euro Cup Performances
1960 Euro Cup Champion, 1964 Finalist, 1968 Fourth Place, 1972 Finalist, 1988 Finalist, 1992 Eliminated Round 1, 1996 Eliminated Round 1, 2004 Eliminated Round 1, 2008 Semi-Finalist.
Croatia Euro 2012Preview
Coach: Slaven Bilic
Croatia is currently ranked 8th in the world and sports a hard working and well balanced side. They look tactically perfect and field talent on every part of the pitch.
Defensively they are laden with experience which will be tough for opponents to crack.
Offensively Croatia is driven by Tottenham star Luka Modric who is capable of finding the back of the net at any level of competition. Pair him with Nikica Jelavic who scored 11 goals in 16 matches for Everton in the Premiership this past season and Ivica Olic who has the ability to create and you have a team that is going to put up some points regardless of what team stands in front of them.
Croatia has a good draw and will play Ireland first which should allow for 3 points and some goal differential in their favor. They will more than likely finish in second place in group C.
You don't see any glaring chinks in the armor. But, this team has struggled to get out of their own way at times. Despite looking great on paper and their world #8 ranking, they finished behind Greece and struggled with games at home over the course of the qualifying round.
Team defensive speed could cause Croatia some issues, especially versus the Spanish side.
Bookmakers have set odds that they will finish 3rd in the group stage. Odds makers are usually better at pricing the sport than we are at picking who wins. Their match with Italy will more than likely be the deciding game for Croatia's Euro 2012 aspirations.
According to popular media sources, Croatia is the tournament dark horse to win it all. With a good mix of youth and experience, the current 8th ranked team in the world should be able to slide into the knock out rounds if they handle their business.
Croatia has never won a major tournament despite being regular participants in major competition on the world stage. This might be their year for a finals run. If you like dog action, this squad may be your best bet.
Croatia's Previous Euro Cup Performances
1996 Quarter Finalist, 2004 Eliminated Round 1, 2008 Quarter Finalist.
Ukraine Euro 2012 Preview
Coach: Oleg Blokhin
Home field advantage is the Ukrainian Nation Teams' biggest strength. Support from the home crowd and packed stadiums will serve the experienced team well.
Coach Oleg Blokhin will capitalize on experience. The Ukraine side still has some remnants from their 2006 World Cup Quarter-Finalist team.
Offensively, front man Andriy Shevchenko still has a lot of influence for this team. His ability to perform is paramount to this team’s success. Shevchenko will be supported by talented and veteran midfielders Anatoliy Tymoshchuk (Bayern Munich), midfielder Oleksandar Aliyev, (Dynamo Kyiv) and Andriy Yarmolenko. Young left winger Yevgen Konoplyanka looks promising and could benefit from attention paid to Shevchenko..
Depth will be