The European Championship in Ukraine and Poland started yesterday. And it’s the second biggest tournament in football after the World Cup. Spain won the last edition four years ago and expectations are high as to whether Spain will retain the trophy or not.
The tournament boasts of stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Mezut Ozil, Frank Ribery, Mario Gomez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thomas Rosicky etc. New stars will no doubt also emerge in the tournament while as usual; some of the established stars will flop. Others will show the stuff they are made of. Here, we look at some of the favourites to lift the European crown.
When Fernando Torres scored in the final four years ago against Germany, it was the beginning of Spain’s dominance in world football. They went on two years later to win the World Cup in South Africa for the first time in their history. It’s no coincidence that during that period, Barcelona won two Champions League titles and three straight league titles.
Spain is aiming to win their third consecutive tournament. Save for David Villa and Carles Puyol, majority of the World Cup winning players are in the Euros. Led by Vicente Del Bosque, the former Real Madrid coach has an impressive resume.
He won the Champions League twice with Real Madrid and then added the World Cup to his CV two years ago. Spain’s greatest strength lies in their passing game and ability to keep possession. Barcelona maestro Xavi is the key to Spain’s possession football.
They have a solid keeper in Iker Casillas. He is regarded by many as the best goalkeeper in the world. Their greatest strength lies in the midfield with the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Alonsa, Mata, Carzorla, Fabregas and Silva calling the shots. They all have the ability to unlock any defence in the world.
Their Achilles heel could be their defence as they lost Puyol to injury. They also suffer against teams who defend in enmass and play the high pressing game. They are still the favourites to still win the Euro, and if they are on song, no one can bet against them winning the tournament.
Germany remains the most successful European team of all time but has failed to win a tournament since 1996 after they won the European Championship. They were knocked out of the last World Cup and the European Championship by Spain. Germany coach Joachim Loew has changed the entire set up of the German team with more emphasis on youth and attacking football. Germany boasts of the best talents after Spain.
The greatest strength is the counter attacking football orchestrated by the likes of Mezut Ozil and Schweinsteiger. Germany boasts of other players like Mario Gomez who scored over 40 goals in all completion last season. Also in the pack are Mario Gotze, Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller and Lukas Podolski. Germany‘s success in the Euro arguably depends on Schweinteiger.
If he plays well, Germany wins. A lot will depend on him because he has the ability to orchestrate counter attack and has knack for accurate passes. But their defence just like that of Spain can be a problem. They were embarrassed by Switzerland in one of the warm up games to the tournament. Matt Hummels and Jerome Boateng were at the disaster best and need to pick up during the Euros.
Germany also tends to struggle against teams that keep possession which is why they found it difficult to beat Spain at the last two tournaments. Their key men also in the last tournaments failed to raise their game when it really mattered. Schweinsteiger and Ozil need to break that mental block for Germany to lift their first trophy since 1996.
Italy’s preparation for the Euro was rocked by match fixing allegation against some players, coaches and clubs. Something similar happened in 2006 and Italy went on to win the World Cup. Italy is always among the favourites to win any competition and the present squad is a blend of youth and experience.
With Buffon in goal for the Azzurris and Andres Pirlo who rolled back the years with some impressive performances for Juventus this season ready for action, the Italians will be no pushovers. In the attack, Mario Balotelli, the hugely gifted striker with attitude concern has an opportunity this time to show the stuff he is made up of.
It is also another chance for Giovinco who has had a wonderful season with Parma to impress. The Italian team has always been known for being defensive and that has always been their strength, but questions on the lips of many is as to whether this present Italian team has the character of past Italian teams to win this Euros championship.
The Dutch national team has always been perennial underachievers. They always boast of world class stars but at the same time falter in big tournaments. They made it to the finals of the world Cup in South Africa last year but lost to Spain. They boast of players like Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie,Wesley Sneidjder and Rafael Vander Vaart.
Their passing game is one of their greatest strengths and their wing play is unique. Robben is the key man for Holland. A fit and in form Robben will make the difference for or against the Dutch. Robben and Affellay in the wings will be a harmful for any defender but their greatest undoing has always been their mental strength.
They are yet to shed their underachievers status which means the players will need to believe they can win. And until they actually win, they will always be nearly men in competitions
France shot into prominence winning the World Cup in 1998 and the European Championship two years later. The last Euro and World Cup was a disaster for the French but they have had a good run of form of late winning their last 17 games. They have an outside chance of winning the tournament. Bayern Munich winger Frank Ribery and Karim Benzema are the two key men for France.
Ribery found his form back last season after some poor runs of form and the French fans will be hoping he replicate his club’s form for the national team. Also, Karim Benzema is in this tourney after an impressive season with Real Madrid. He found his goal scoring touch and confidence back last season and even his club coach admitted that the French striker has improved. Mourinho said: “Benzema has improved all-round, every aspect of his game.
He is stronger, both in his body and in his mind, and understands the game a lot better. We know that he can be a clinical striker of the ball, but he has also improved his defensive game. For me, finally the real Benzema is playing for Madrid. If both Ribery and Benzema replicate their club form for country, then France has an outside chance of winning the tournament.