The European Championship. The second biggest international tournament in the World behind the World Cup.
16 European teams will fight for glory beginning on June 8 for Euro 2012.
The tournament contains four of the top five ranked national teams in the World and to extend that even further, nine of the top 12. It’s not hard to see why this is one of the biggest events in the soccer realm.
To become acclimated with what will be happening on ESPN from June 8 to July 1, RotoExperts is here to give you a quick rundown of the teams and players you’ll have to pay attention to.
BEST OF THE BEST
I was going to write about the top four teams in the tournament, but then I realized Group B is just too good and I couldn’t write about three teams in one group. So instead, I’m writing about the top team in each group along with some of the higher competition.
Russia, Group A, No. 11 (Rank in World)
While Russia isn’t ranked very high, the rest of their group isn’t the greatest. Their biggest competition will be against Greece who is No. 14 in the World Rankings.
Russia is led by the likes of past and present English Premier League players. Andrei Arshavin, Yuri Zhirkov, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Pavel Pogrebnyak will be the ones that deserve the most attention. Unlike the other teams, Russia is very old with most of their starters being over 28 years old. Still, that’s not a reason to take them lightly.
Their recently friendlies have shown this as they just beat Italy 3-0 on the first day of June. Prior to that, they drew with Uruguay and beat another Euro team, Denmark, 2-0.
However, whether they win Group A or are runners up, they will have to face a team from the Group of Death (Group B) in the Quarter-Finals. The odds aren’t good for them to advance past that.
Germany, Group B, No. 2
There’s no question that Group B will be the fiercest competition of the bunch. Germany’s first match against Portugal on June 9 will be a must see as they go against Mr. Superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo.
In recent years, no matter what competition, Germany is always ready to play. They come out scoring and scoring plenty. Youngsters Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil led the headlines in World Cup 2010, and that just touches the surface. Bastian Schweinsteiger leads the team in midfield while Lukas Podolski, Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klose will all find time up front. The defense is led by Philipp Lahm and Per Mertesacker. That’s where their experience ends though with the rest of their defenders coming in under 24 years old. In net, Manuel Neuer is one of the best.
No matter, Germany’s scoring prowess is what team’s fear. Expect goals, goals and more goals.
Netherlands, Group B, No. 4
The Dutch are no slouches either and have just as good of chance at winning this group as Germany does. Remember, Netherlands made it to the final in 2010 World Cup after beating Brazil.
Like Germany, Netherlands plays a fast-paced game, although with a little less attacking mindset. Arjen Robben will surely make a few highlight reels along with Wesley Sneijder in the midfield. Nigel de Jong keeps things in check as the defensive midfielder, much like what he did for Manchester City all season. Up front, you can’t go wrong with Robin van Persie, the best finishing forward in the World at the moment. The Dutch defense isn’t to die for, but they will have some experience. The younger Gregory van der Wiel will probably be the name you need to know as he makes plenty of runs down the side of the field. Maarten Stekelenburg is lengthy in goal, yet very agile.
Portugal, Group B, No. 5
Here’s yet another team in Group B. Portugal has fire power, but will play a little different game as they won’t be able to keep up with Germany and Netherlands on the score sheet.
That is unless Ronaldo is on his game. He’ll be flanked by Nani and Raul Meireles in the midfield. Where the other teams lacked in defense, Portugal has more depth with big, experienced players across their back line. Pepe and Fabio Coentrao are teammates at Real Madrid while Bruno Alves was a stake in defense for previous Portuguese teams.
Spain, Group C, No. 1
The Spaniards will try and make it three straight tournaments that they have won, dating back to Euro 2008 when they beat Germany. Not much has changed as Spain and Germany are once again favorites to play in the final.
Even with injuries to two of their top players (defender Carles Puyol, forward David Villa), Spain is still the best team from top to bottom. Replacing Villa up front, they have the likes of Pedro and recently in-form and Euro 2008 hero, Fernando Torres. Their defense is still stocked with big center backs (Piqué) and speedy ones (Sergio Ramos). They still have the best midfield that all play together at Barcelona in Xavi, Cesc Fábregas, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets. Oh yeah, they also have David Silva and Juan Mata, two of the best players in the English Premier League. And of course, their goalkeepers are top class.
They have the athleticism to play quick and have the skill to play conservative. They can do it all.
England, Group D, No. 7
While injuries are decimating the English back line, the Three Lions have fallen from favorites to a head-to-head battle with France to win Group D.
England has always had plenty of big names and able players; the problem has just been putting it all together to form a cohesive unit. They only made it to the Round of 16 in the last World Cup and didn’t even qualify for the last Euros.
The first problem is Wayne Rooney, who is banned from England’s first two games against France and Sweden. The forward spot will likely be occupied between Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll. Their midfield includes three Liverpool players which is not a good thing. Scott Parker will have to control things in the back for England to be able to do anything up front. Their defense has been what’s keeping them alive lately though, even without a definite lineup.
France, Group D, No. 16
The French have come a long way since the World Cup. They are winning games and playing together. They’ll be a big problem for England and it shouldn’t be a surprise if that match comes to a draw.
Frank Ribéry is the main threat in the midfield, but he’s also surrounded by speedsters Florent Malouda and Samir Nasri. If they can hook up with Olivier Giroud and Karim Benzema up front, they’ll be tough to stop. France’s defense has plenty of outside backs with Patrice Evra and Gael Clichy. The problem falls in the middle. Can Laurent Koscielny and Phillipe Mexés get the job done, or will Adil Rami be needed?
No matter what happens in the group stages in Group A, I believe Germany and Netherlands will both advance to the semi-finals. The same can be said about Spain as their quarter-final matchup should go fine. The question will revolve around England and if they can start winning important matches. I believe whoever wins Group D will advance to the semi-finals against Germany.
A rematch of the last World Cup will take place in the semi-finals with Spain beating Netherlands once again. Without Puyol in the middle, Spain’s biggest task will be to stop Robin van Persie. That’s a big task, but I think it can be done as long as Piqué and Ramos can get along. In the other semi-final, Germany will again beat England like they did in the last World Cup.
It’s no surprise, but I don’t think Spain and Germany can be beat if they are on their game. It will be Euro 2008 all over again, with Spain playing the position game and beating the Germans by one goal to make it three straight Championships.
Adam Zdroik is a member of the RotoExperts staff working mostly on Football, Soccer and Basketball, but loves watching any kind of sport on TV. Need to talk sports or argue with him about SFTC picks? You can email Adam directly @ zdroik@RotoExperts.com or follow him on Twitter @ RotoZdroik