Perennially mediocre co-hosts. A ragtag bunch of half-Poles. Lewandowski banged them in in Der Bundesliga, their great hope will be that he can transfer that to the Euros. With the in form Szczesny likely to provide some heroics at the back. Not much familiarity or quality in the rest of the line-up, a team of grafters. Blaszczykowski could be their one ray of quality in midfield. The Poles will need to start well, or it could get ugly – this team has not been wholly embraced by the populous.
Still all the same players. Some have drifted across the Premier League with varying levels of success: Bilyaletdinov, Pavlyuchenko, Zhirkov, Arshavin, Pogrebnyak. Others have been solid (and at times catastrophic) Champions League performers for the big Russian sides: Akinfeev, the Berezutskys, Kerzhakov. Possible reason for concern is that Akinfeev is only just back after a broken leg, and hasn’t quite regained his previously impressive form. But it’s basically all the same old faces. A generally solid back line anchored by CSKA players, and a rotating forward set-up predominantly linked to Zenit. An unpredictable bunch who could destroy their group, or who could implode at the first hurdle. May be helped by thinking they still run Eastern Europe and feel like they are playing at home.
Underwhelming euro 2004-lite shower. Reliant on a bunch of aged average players, including a few survivors from 2004. Samaras will slog around up-front, a few jinky wingers on the fringes, and a number of workers. You never know…. But you do, they’re poor.
They still have Milan Baros up-front! Rosicky always plays craftily well in the hole behind Baros, and Cech has been in inspired Chelsea form. Not a huge amount of experience in the rest of the team, tend to be conservative in their approach. (Dishonourable mention to Kadlec for his impressive penalty box acrobatics, ensuring the Czech’s unjust euro 2012 presence at the expense of Scotland, the cunt.-M)
Mightily impressive squad, especially in forward areas. Stekelenberg’s their #1 keeper, despite Vorm and Krul carrying better form. Not the most accomplished of defences, though Heitinga marshals well. Tend to sport two crunching tacklers in Van Bommel and De Jong: real tough. Then a dizzying array of glorious talent in attack: Robben, Sneijder (on form now) and Van Persie. Huntelaar sniffs around the starting XI with his deadly form, though his inclusion has been seen to rock the tactical boat. There’s then also the sumptuous talents of Afellay and Luuk De Jong. The Oranje will be fun to watch, but under enormous pressure and expectation back home.
A team where Nicklas Bendtner is your key goal-getter is always going to carry some degree of unpredictability. Likely to play on the counter attack. A solid defence anchored by Sorensen and Agger. Christian Eriksen will spray the ball around with beautiful precision in midfield, inching his price up with every pass. Then old man Rommedahl will bomb forward to supply ‘The Greatest Striker In The World’.
Don’t be fooled by their pummelling at the hands of Switzerland, but do be fooled by it. That was their reserves, but their real defence is a touch ropey too. Mertesacker is in awful form, and Jerome Boateng never quite convinces. Neuer in goal lurches between months of world class form, then a sudden shocker of a match. The midfield is awash with talent. Schweinsteiger will anchor in his time-honoured fashion. Ozil and Khedira will provide the flair (with the options of Kroos, Reus, Gotze and more). Podolski and Muller provide the attacking drive, and Gomez the goals (when his confidence is there). Löw may flit to the tried and tested and throw in Klose with his 60+ international goals in place of a fragile Gomez.
A solid but unspectacular team with a seasoned defence and midfield of the likes of Pepe, Coentrao and Meireles. The effervescent Nani and Ronaldo will provide the spark, imagination and drive. Postiga acts as the pivot and occupies the opposition centre backs to clear the path for Ronaldo and Nani. If Ronaldo and Nani’s radars are on, Portugal’s simplistic methods could do some damage.
A stunning depth of talent. Ice cool Casillas in nets. The defence could be vulnerable, particularly without Puyol. Though the likes of Ramos and Pique are no mugs. Tend to have two holding midfielders, though somewhat more cultured than the Netherlands’ versions, Busquets and Xabi Alonso. Then Xavi, Iniesta and David Silva are likely to get the creative nod, with Cesc, Cazorla, Mata waiting in the wings. The midfield areas are ridiculous. Villa misses out with injury. My choice would be Llorente to provide a forward pivot and focal point, Del Bosque may be loyal to Torres. Goal machine Soldado will be disappointed to miss out.
Rocked by Scommessopoli directly disrupting their Euros training camp. The loss of Criscito at left back will be felt, but the well-worn concept of turmoil bringing a team together is quite likely to ring true. Russia exposed them last week, but Buffon and the defensive statistical colossus Chiellini should prove a solid foundation, well guarded by midfield. Pirlo will still spray with style, arguably still the best in the business at the age of 32. Prandelli is overwhelmed with forward options (even without Giuseppe Rossi), Balotelli looks likely to be key, with Di Natale surely springing from the bench. Diamanti and Cassano will be interesting wildcards. Italy will either blow it in the first round, or go deep into the tournament, a side of extremes in testing circumstances.
Republic Of Ireland.
A side as deeply likeable as an ultra-defensive side can be. Marshalled by the super sage Trapattoni, they boast a near-peerless defensive record in qualification. Given and Dunne herd a backline of seasoned versatile Premier League performers, all clear on their roles. A generally combative central midfield of two battlers. The consistent Duff and McGeady ,both in electric form, have been given the nod on the wings (McClean awaits on the bench, with the potential to be a Euro star). Then the evergreen Robbie Keane in the hole behind Doyle. Doyle will lumber, fail to score, and then be replaced by Walters or Long. It might just work.
Not the team they were a few years back. Still talented, though lacking the verve and thrust of yesteryear. Modric is there to pull the strings, jink and battle. The majority of the side is experienced, a little sluggish and generally defensive-minded: Corluka, Srna, Simunic. The powerhouse Jelavic could hit a hot streak as their lone front man, but it would be a surprise to see the increasingly-maligned Bilic go out on a high.
Who knows. With the newly-appointed gaffer Hodgson preaching organisation and solidity and some sound plans continually disrupted by injury, England will arrive with a patched up back four and central midfield. The Hodgson philosophy would hint that it may not matter that those defensive slots are occupied by the understudies’ understudies, as long as the organisation is there. Who knows. The hope will be that the likes of Young, Welbeck and Gerrard can spring from that defensive platform to exceed expectations, then Rooney will come in to lift everything after serving his suspension. Nobody knows, and for once nobody expects. This should lift the burden of incredible pressure forced on to an over hyped squad and may give them the freedom to succeed.
Riddled with defensive frailties: Mexes and Evra to name but two. This French team is weak at the back, despite Blanc’s very best efforts; and those weaknesses will be further exposed by the injury induced absence of Yann M’Vila from defensive midfield. Cabaye will do his best to shield the defence. Despite the defensive frailties a gorgeous array of forward talent is at their disposal: Marvin Martin, Ribery, Mathieu Valbuena, Menez, Ben Arfa. All could light up the tournament. There is then a debate around Giroud and Benzema up-front, but Blanc is truly spoilt for choice in the forward lines. Les Bleus will be fun to watch.
Co-hosts and a fairly poor team. Arguably weaker than Poland, as their Lewandowski is a 35 year old Shevchenko. They tend to go with a majority Shakhtar defence: a sound plan. Shielded by Tymoshchuk, still a battler. Milevskyi and Yarmolenko will provide the attacking flair behind Shevchenko, but tend to underwhelm. The crowds may lift them, but they’ll need it.
Not as defensive as the Sweden we are all used to. Bearded hero Olof Mellberg and lank-haired Jonas Olsson provide the centre back foundation for the team. A crafty set of midfielders, with Kallstrom and Larsson, capable of guile and impressive set piece creation, which could be a game changer. Zlatan plays as a number 10, usually behind the [skilful for a big man] Elmander. Though the on-fire Guidetti could nab Elmander’s spot. Zlatan and Guidetti would be sensational to watch. Sweden could be fun for once.
An undoubtedly wide open tournament, as is almost always the case with the tightly-matched Euros. Spain have to be favourites, with the Netherlands and Germany likely to run them close. Ireland and Portugal would be my dark horses. It’ll be glorious.
by Tom Pearson, @tom7p