Warm greetings once more.
My favourite football tournament outside of the World Cup kicks off this Friday – The 2012 UEFA European Football Championship or just simply Euro 2012.
My first Euro came in 1996 when England hosted. I had read up on the previous Euro’s, most notably Denmark’s shock triumph at Euro 92. Given that I have no allegiance to any country other than South Africa I tend to pick and choose my team for a Euro, Copa America or World Cup based on what the teams are like at the time.
In 1996 I was an England supporter. It had everything to do with them having Alan Shearer. Gareth Southgate missed a penalty in a shootout loss to Germany and Shearer was the top scorer as the Germans took the trophy.
The Netherlands were my darlings for Euro 2000. A midfield comprising Boudewijn Zenden, Marc Overmars, Ronald De Boer and Edgar Davids was something to behold and how could I not mention the sensational Patrick Kluivert up front? My favourite moment was when the Dutch beat France in the group stage. But then Ronald’s brother Frank AND Kluivert missed penalties in the semifinal before eventually exiting to Italy. This was the beginning of my dislike of the Azzurri. In the other semifinal Portugal went from pretty to pitiful as Abel Xavier disgraced himself against the French who would go on to win the tournament.
Four years later and I was backing the Portuguese on home turf; the third Euro in a row that I was backing the hosts. Nuno Gomes, Ricardo Carvalho, Rui Costa, Luis Figo and a very young Cristiano Ronaldo dazzled after an opening game slip-up against Greece. The two sides were destined to meet again in the final. Surely this time the hosts would win, right? Wrong. The Greeks rocked up in Iberia and employed the most defensive, negative and direct strategy that Stoke City aspire to. I call this anti-football. When Angelos Charisteas scored on 57 minutes I turned to my mate and glumly said, “That’s the winning goal.” He looked at me mortified and said, “I know.” It didn’t matter that there were 33 minutes left. You just knew the Hellenic Republic would win 1-0. Eight years on and I am still bitter. For the record I thought the Czech Republic played the best football at the tournament.
Four years ago in Switzerland and Austria I was endorsing the Germany ticket. I had become a big fan of the Mannschaft when they hosted the world cup two years earlier. Jürgen Klinsmann had turned them into an attacking unit and Joachim Löw was continuing the good work. While the Germans were good and reached the final, Spain, with the likes of Fernando Torres, David Villa, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Iker Casillas were just too good and deservingly won the competition.
In 2012 I will once again be backing Löw’s side. Here is my crystal ball look at Euro 2012.
Easily the most open of the four groups in my view. I am going to tip Russia as the highest-ranked of the four sides to go through. Host nations traditionally do well and I’m willing to pick Poland to qualify for the quarterfinals in spite of being the lowest-ranked team at the tournament. Greece and the Czech Republic to exit.
At a Euro all four groups could be a group of death. This one could qualify as the toughest of them all. When you’re ranked 7th in a 16-team competition you’d fancy a quarterfinal berth. Sadly for Denmark they pulled Europe’s 2nd, 3rd and 4th-ranked nations; Germany, Holland and Portugal respectively. While on paper it looks extremely difficult to call, for me it is quite easy. Germany first and Netherlands second.
Defending champions, world champions and number one Fifa-ranked side Spain headline this pool. In spite of being ranked lower than Croatia in the rankings I fancy the Azzurri to go through ahead of the Croats, but behind La Roja. Republic of Ireland to go home early.
England are Fifa’s highest-ranked team in this group. Roy Hodgson’s side will also bomb out in this group. I predict a resurgent France to take this group. Laurent Blanc has done a fantastic job with Les Bleus. As co-hosts I’ll grant Ukraine a quarterfinal berth. As for Sweden … well I can’t wait to see who wears the away kit when they play the joint-hosts.
Thus my quarterfinal line-up looks as follows:
Russia vs Netherlands, Germany vs Poland, Spain vs Ukraine, France vs Italy.
I expect the Dutch to avenge their Euro 08 last eight exit at the hands of the Russians. Germany to overcome the Poles, Spain to do the same to the Ukrainians and France to be too good for the Italians.
Netherlands vs Spain, Germany vs France.
This is where it’s all about hunger. Spain’s players have won everything. The Dutch want revenge for the 2010 World Cup final and I’m tipping the men in orange to do it.
A semifinal represents an excellent showing for the French, who beat Germany recently in a friendly but this is the real McCoy. Farewell France.
Netherlands vs Germany.
Who wants it more? Germany were third in 2006, second in 2008, third in 2010 and will be first in 2012. As for the Dutch, well they will once again be nearly men Netherlands.