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The VBR Euro 2008 Primer, Part I: Deutschland, Deutschland ¸ber alles
Eugene Karlik
| June 4, 2008
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There is nothing quite like major international soccer tournaments. The level of emotion, skill, and legend attached to them is just unmatched in any other competition. Although the World Cup is the one which attracts the most attention in the U.S., Euro in many ways is actually more entertaining. The field of teams is much stronger (no Caribbean minnows here!), and quality of play is higher, while rivalries are just as intense. Well, Euro 2008 starts this Saturday. The first match will be between co-host Switzerland and Turkey, on Saturday afternoon. That will not be among the more exciting matches the Euro has to offer, but the real action will begin soon afterward. The Euro tournament works similarly the World Cup. There is the group stage, and the knockout phase. There will be four groups of 4 (in the world cup there are 8 groups), and the top 2 in each group will advance to the quarter final, where they will be bracketed in a way that ensures that no two teams from the same group can meet each other in the final. I will take you through each group with a breakdown of the competition, and my very own predictions. Iíll let you have my prediction for Groups A and B tonight. Iíll spring Groups C and D on you tomorrow, and my predictions for the knockout stages will be out on Friday, on the eve of the tournament. Group A Switzerland Czech Republic Turkey Portugal This may be the weakest group of the four. Switzerland is the host, and should thus enjoy home field advantage, but it is a rather mediocre squadólike in war time, no one should be afraid of the Swiss. The Czechs have a very strong soccer traditionóthey reached the Euro final in 1996, and the semifinal in 2004. However, they are nowhere near as good today as they were then. Gone are stars like Nedved and Poborsky. Captain and Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky is out injured. The net will be secure with the great Petr Cech in goal and the likes of Zdenek Grygera (Juventus), Marek Jankulovsky (AS Milan), Tomas Ujfalusi (Atletico Madrid), and David Rozehnal (Lazio) in front of him. Still, the Czechsí top offensive threats are Jan Koller and Milan Baros. Their attack will be extremely weak. They are not a threat in this tournament. Turkey won a bronze medal in World Cup 2002, but it is no longer the same team. The star of 2002, Hakan Sukur, is gone, and the current Turks are inexperienced. They are a nice squad, but not a contender. Portugal stands out as the easy favorite out of this group. Led by Captain and no-brainer future FIFA World Player of the Year for 2008, Cristiano Ronaldo, with the likes of Quaresma, Simao, Deco, Carvalho, Pepe, and Ferreira around and behind him, and the great Luiz Felipe Scolari coaching, the Portugeezers are a serious contender in this tournament. Their major fault is a lack of a true striker to terrorize the oppositionís central defenseóbut that will not be a problem during group stages. Portugal advances from Group A easily, with the Swiss riding home-field to second place and a º final ticket. Group B Austria Croatia Poland Germany Austria, Switzerlandís co- host for the tourney, is also the weakest team in the field. They are only here because theyíre hosting, and they will get trampled. Croatia, on the other hand, is an exceptionally strong squad. With virtually all its players starring for some of Europeís top sides, the Croats dominated their Euro qualifying group, in the process shoving hapless England out of the tournament after shocking our friends 3-2 at Wembley. The big blow to Croatia will be the loss of their top scorer in qualifiers, Arsenal striker Eduardo. This could prove costly in the latter stages of the tournament, but for the group stages, the Croats are well equipped to handle this lossóMladen Petric of Borussia Dortmund and Ivica Olic of Hamburg are still a formidable duo up front. Poland is a squad that is devoid of any major star power; however, it plays an organized, disciplined, determined brand of soccer that should allow it to at least be competitive in this group. Finally, we get to Germany. Germany is not only the cream of the crop in Group B, but perhaps in the entire tournament. The Germans were the most dominant team through most of Euro qualifiers, and they will now enjoy the return to World Class form of their Captain and leader, Chelseaís Michael Ballack. Germany is as close as it gets to a complete teamówith Per Mertesacker (Werder Bremen), Cristoph Metzelder (Real Madrid), Phillip Lahm (Bayern), and Arne Friedrich (Hertha Berlin), their defense will be impenetrable. Ballack and Torsten Frings (Werder) will power a dynamic and strong midfield. Miroslav Klose (Bayern), Kevin Kuranyi (Schalke 04), and Lukas Podolski (Bayern) represent a versatile and scary attacking front. Beyond the individual talent, the Germans are the most tactically sound and disciplined team in the world; their team play is flawless. The weakest point will be 38-year old Jens Lehmann in goal; Lehman lost his starting spot with Arsenal this past season, and he is not in top form. Still, he is a highly experienced player with a history of performance in big tournaments. With Mertesacker and Metzelder directly in front of him, he might never even face a shot. With Croatia taking second, Germany will win this group. No team will want to face the Germans, who will also enjoy a friendly German speaking crowd in Austria and much of Switzerland, will be the team no one will want to face in the knockout stages.
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