My Euro 2012 Preview Part 1: The grudge matches
by rick olivares
In the 13 stagings of the European Football Championship, nine countries have won the Henri Delaunay Trophy. Germany has won the competition three times while France and Spain have two a piece.
What does this mean? Simple. It is the most unpredictable major football championship on earth.
In contrast the Africa Cup of Nations (held every two years), has played 27 times and produced 15 different winners. Egypt has dominated the tournament with seven trophies with a string of three straight from 2006-10.
The CONCACAF Gold Cup is contested by 12 teams with Mexico winning the cup six times. The United States has four titles.
The Copa America, the tournament for South American countries is at best, a tri-partite competition where Uruguay (the most successful with 15 titles), Argentina, and Brazil oft dispute the crown.
The Asian Cup, like the Euros, are played every four years. Japan has won the competition four times with three coming in the last four years. Iraq barged into the picture in 2007 with a 1-nil win over Saudi Arabia.
So the Euros. No country has won back-to-back tournaments meaning any of the 16 nations participating can win it. Spain will make a case for that as they are they are not only the defending champions but also the current World Cup kings.
Europe may be unified but that doesn’t mean the old grudges will not be brought out come match day.
Here are some matches that bear intense scrutiny during the group stages:
Russia vs. Czech Republic (June 8)
This one is a blood feud. Ever since the Soviet invasion of what was then known as Czechoslovakia, any meeting – not just in football -- between these two nations has been intense.
Hockey star Jaromir Jagr wears #68 on his jersey as a tribute to his country’s rebellion against the hated Soviets in 1968. Prior to the invasion, Czechoslovakia beat the USSR 5-4 in the hockey competition of the 1968 Winter Olympiad. Months later, Russian tanks were rolling in the streets of Prague.
On the football front, the first and last time these two met in the Euros was in 1996 with both sides playing to a thrilling 3-3 draw. But previously, the two squared off in the European Nations Cup in 1960 with the old Soviet Union winning 3-0.
In all competitions (including the Euros, Russia has won six times, the Czech Republic four times, while there have been two draws).
Look for goalkeeper Peter Cech (goalkeeper), defenders Theo Gebre Selassie, Michal Kadlec, and Roman Hubnik, midfielder Tomas Rosicky, and forwards Milan Barros and Tomas Neecid to play crucial roles for head coach Michal Bilek.
The Narodak play a 4-3-3 albeit in a more defensive fashion.
Russia was one of the surprises from Euro 2008 as they made it all the way to the semifinals before they bowed out to eventual champion, Spain. They have plenty to prove after not making it to the World Cup in South Africa. Even worse, many Russian players have not really done well outside their country.
The question here is can Andrei Arshavin reprise his role from Euro 2008 where he was everything to former coach Guus Hiddink’s side? Aside from Arshavin, other returnees from that tournament include goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev; defenders Aleksandr Anyukov, Sergei Ignashevich and Yuri Zhirkov; midfielders Igor Semshov and Konstantin Zyryanov; and forward Roman Pavlyuchenko who like Arshavin, left England to return back home to play.
Dutchman Dick Advocaat also employs a 4-3-3 formation with 21-year old Alan Dzagoev pushing up that ball.
My take is the Narodak will pip Russia.
Poland vs. Russia (June 12)
Looks like Russia will have its share of grudge matches in Group A stemming from its Cold War days. Or in the case of Poland, an old hatred dating back to World War II when the Poles were first invaded by Germany then later on by Russia that sought to carve up the spoils of the fall of the Third Reich.
Poland will want to play well more so since they are co-hosting the Euros. But they really have not made a good account for themselves as they were quickly bought a ticket out of Vienna (they only won one point out of the possible nine from Group A play).
Really, the Bialo-czerwoni (the white and reds) do not have any stars. The only difficulty anyone expects with them is the pronunciation of their names. Does keeper Wojciech Szczesny and Borussia Dortmund’s two stars – Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski. Well, there’s midfielder Ludovic Obraniak who played with Lille last season. I think I’m the only one here in the Philippines who actively follows the French Ligue 1 so I know him.
The game, however, is not about stars as England can attest.
Poland has to grab some points in a group where Russia and the Czech Republic look to advance.
My take is Russia will defeat Poland.
On a closing note, does anyone want to take Greece lightly?
Netherlands vs. Germany (June 13)
Here’s another of those feuds with wartime overtones (although it has greatly lessened since 1988). Over 250,000 Dutch died during the five-year German occupation of the Netherlands. There’s also what the Dutch call, “the mother of all defeats” when they lost the 1974 World Cup Finals to West Germany. Their national side led by Johan Cruyff lost to a Ger Muller-Franz Beckenbauer-led team. The Dutch got a measure of revenge when they defeated Germany in the semifinals of Euro ’88. The two countries have faced each other 37 times with Germany winning 14 and the Netherlands 10 (the rest are ended in draws). So it is apt that both play in one of the two groups of death.
The Dutch will be eager to show that they did not pioneer Jose Mourinho’s tactics against Barcelona in La Liga’s El Clasico.
It has been a good year for their strikers Rob van Persie and Klaas Jan Huntelaar. Others who have had good years include Gregory van der Wiel who won with Ajax and Nigel de Jong who helped Manchester City to its first Premier League title.
In the last World Cup, it was said that it was the time of two previously underachieving teams in Spain and the Netherlands to shine. Unfortunately for the Oranje, their finely tuned game degenerated into an absurd show of tackling and fouling on the grandest stage of them all.
Nevertheless, it is a talented Dutch team that coach Bert van Marwijk will bring to Euro 2012. The core is reaching their prime and this might be their best chance to win a major trophy for their country.
Germany has finished third in the last two World Cups and was second to Spain in Euro 2008. The team is now ready to take the next step after its young stars of the 2010 World Cup – Thomas Muller, Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil, Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, and Mats Hummels – have played well with their clubs and with the national team. Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski somehow always come through when on an international stage. Now add to that the massive dose of confidence that Mario Gomez go this past season with Bayern Munich, the Germans are top favorites to win their fourth European title.
My take on this match up? Germany will win this and top their group.
France vs. England (June 11)
Do you even have to ask about this? These two teams have their own internal issues to be concerned about old foes. They'll sort that out on the field.
This is the last hurrah for the Golden Generation. But they are kicking off their campaign on a sour note. John Terry has been stripped of his captain’s armband. Wayne Rooney is suspended for the first two matches of the competition. And they’ve got a new coach in Roy Hodgson. They have really not played well at all in the last two World Cups with players like Frank Lampard firing duds.
Does that mean we write them off? I expect them to stick to former coach Fabio Capello’s 4-2-3-1 since Hodgson has not had enough time to sink his teeth into the team. They played well on their way to Euro ’12. I’d say that the lower expectations will help (I don’t think the British press rates them highly). Fly under the radar and carry a big stick.
But it is a veteran team with some new talent. I do not expect them to go gently into the good night. Some guys with plenty to prove in the international stage: Terry, Lampard, Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole, and Glen Johnson.
For the young guns, Joe Hart gets the nod as starting keeper. Andy Carroll will hope his fine form towards the end of the season will carry over to European play. Danny Welbeck hopes that he can get the kind of crosses served up to him from the wingers with Manchester United to be effective.
Fortunately for the Three Lions, they aren’t the only ones with the same concerns and problems. England has had a better international showing than Les Bleus who exited South Africa with all sorts of controversy dodging them.
Laurent Blanc has been a steadying force behind the rejuvenation of France. They lost their first two matches before embarking on an 18-game win streak. They even beat Germany 2-1! Blanc has made good on his promise to start from scratch. Even Youann Gourcuff has been cut. But the newbies have been good – there’s Valencia’s Adil Rami, Rennes’ Yan M’Vila, and Newscastle’s Yohan Cabaye. They should be national mainstays for years to come.
Franck Ribery was the breakout star of the 2006 World Cup. Without the old hands, this is now his team. If he plays well, this squad will follow.
In this match-up, the first of their group, France will prevail. But England will play with a sense of urgency. maybe Andy Carroll can be a game changer in the absence of Rooney.
End of Part 1