Next Friday, European Championship number 14 will get underway.
The tournament will be hosted in Poland and Ukraine with the likes of champions Spain, Germany and the Netherlands among the favorites for the trophy. There are sixteen teams split into four groups as 14 sides qualified for the competition along with the two host nations.
We start with Group A which contains co-host Poland along with the Czech Republic, Greece and Russia. The Polish will be feeling confident as they are in by far the easiest group and although they are not a team full of stars, they will feel that home advantage will see them through. The Czech Republic are not the same team as they once were, however they are a solid side and may not concede many with the likes of Petr Cech in their team, their problem is that they struggle to score goals so may miss the cut. Greece of course won the tournament eight years ago, surely though lightning cannot strike twice can it?. Like the Czechs they struggle for goals but seem to be less stable at the back than they once were, like four years ago, they may struggle to get out of their group. Finally there is group favorites Russia, unlike the other teams in the group they have a decent attacking threat with the likes of Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavluchenko in their ranks, you'd be brave to back against the Russians qualifying from the group. I feel that Russia will top the group and I am backing Poland to pip the Czech Republic to the second spot, I can't see the Greeks winning a game to be honest.
By contrast Group B seems to be the hardest group of the four, with Germany, Portugal, Netherlands and Denmark in there, it sets up some mouth watering contests. Lets start with the losing finalists from four years ago Germany, the Germans are always there or thereabouts in every tournament and have class all over the park with the likes of Neuer, Lahm, Schwinsteiger, Ozil and Arsenal bound Lukas Podolski. Germany are tournament players and by or hook or by crook, should go through. We then have Portugal who will cursing their luck after getting a tough group at the last World Cup as well, one man of course that stands out is the name of Cristiano Ronaldo. They are not as strong as they have been over the last few years and although they have other decent players, I can't see them beating the Germans or the Dutch. Now onto the Dutch themselves and I feel that the World Cup runners up will again be a force in the Euros, they have pure attacking class with the likes of Sneijder, Robben and of course Robin Van Persie. The Netherlands will be there or thereabouts in the latter stages of the competition. Finally you have the Danish who are a solid side however you feel that they lack the quality and attacking prowess to beat the other sides in the group. I predict that Germany and the Netherlands will qualify leaving the Portuguese and Danish trailing.
You then have Group C containing reigning champions Spain with Italy, Croatia and the Republic of Ireland. You'd be brave to bet against World champions Spain who have class throughout their squad, the couple of issues they do have though is the absence of Carlos Puyol and hitman David Villa who may be big misses for them. We then have 1968 winners Italy who will have a point to prove after a terrible 2010 World Cup, the Italians have a lot experience with the likes of Pirlo, Buffon and Di Natale. Also there will be the Man City maverick Mario Ballotelli, he may be the wildcard for them as he could either cost them or lead them to success. Next there's Croatia who are always a tricky side to play, although their squad may not look great, they have a few gems in there with the likes of Luka Modric and the extremely impressive Everton striker Nikica Jelavic. They will fancy upsetting the odds and by nicking the second qualifying place. Making up the group will be the Republic of Ireland who are playing in their first tournament in ten years. The Irish may not be a team of star players but what they do have is a great work ethic and fantastic tactical organisation under experienced manager Giovanni Trapattoni. Each player knows their role and this helps them play as a team, I fancy the Irish to cause a few upsets as they did back in the 2002 World Cup. I can't see past Spain topping this group, however I am backing the Irish to pip Italy and Croatia to the second qualifying spot, I feel that they are more organised defensively than the other two and that will decide it.
Finally we have Group D with the other co-host Ukraine in with France, Sweden and of course England. Ukraine seem to look a bit of a one man team with the great Andriy Shevchenko leading his country, home advantage will make games against them intimidating however I feel the home crowd may be disappointed at the end of the group stages. We then have group favourites France who have really picked themselves up after a dreadful World Cup in South Africa, Laurent Blanc has united the team as they made it through the qualifying stages. They have good attacking options with the likes of Nasri, Ribery and Benzema, who should see them qualify top. You then have Sweden who are not the force they once were, like Ukraine they have one player who really stands out and that is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. A lot depends on his form and temperament, if he is in the mood they could cause problems, if not they could easily exit the competition with a whimper. Last of all you have Roy Hodgson's England who again, haven't had the easiest of build ups with the Terry allegations leading to Fabio Capello's resignation. No really knows what to expect from England who for once have low expectations going into a tournament, Wayne Rooney missing the first two games is a huge blow as they now seem toothless up front. Their qualification may depend on the final game. I feel that France will top the group with England scraping second by pipping Ukraine. I can't see Sweden doing much in the group (famous last words).
Once the groups stage is over with it's anyone's game, Spain will be the favourites but no team has ever retained the title. If I had to back any team to go out and win it, I would have to back the Germans however it may be too close to call.