To say i'm excited about the upcoming Euro 2008 soccer championship would be an understatement. Back in 2004, I watched the France vs England game, where England was leading 1-0 late in the game, in the 3 minutes of extra time, France well actually Zidane managed to score on a free kick and a penalty kick to snatch the victory. I was hooked on this sport soccer. I had not really followed or watched a match since the 2002 World Cup where the USA had a great showing. In the 4 years since, well i've become a total fan of the world game, including a life changing trip to the 2006 World Cup in Germany.. So now on the eve of the 2008 version of the tournament i'm excited for the games to play out.
For those at home not sure what all this hype is about, the Euros are a once every 4 year tournament matching 16 of the best national teams in Europe. This year the big surprise team that did not make it are England. This should not really be a surprise, as well England is just not that good. The English Premier league while the best in the world, has more foreign born players than Brits, this hurts the national team in that one week Rooney, Lampard, Gerrard will be playing with the best in the world during games with their club teams, but when national team duty comes up, getting 11 talented players to play together seems like an excerise in futility.
Ok enough about those over-rated and over-talked about English players, The tournament is broken into 4 groups of 4 teams. THey will play 3 games in a round-robin format and then the top 2 finishers of each group will advance on to the knock out stage games. The tournament runs from June 7th to June 29th, and all the games will be broadcast in the USA on ESPN family of networks. This is a huge change from 2004, where you either had to pay $20 PPV to watch at a bar, or buy the game at home for $24.95.
My predictions for how the tournament will turn out.
Group A - Czech Republic, Portugal, Switzerland, Turkey. This should be a fairly simple group to pick. The Czech has a disappointment at the World Cup 2006, not making it out of the group round despite beating the shit out of my USA team in the opening game. Turkey had a very good 2002 World Cup, but i have not watched much of them and few of their players play overseas in big leagues, yet I might pick them as a dark horse team for this group. Switzerland suprisingly had a great 2006 World Cup winning their group and not giving up a goal in the process, yet I don't see their luck carrying on from that tournament. Portugal has to be one of the few teams that can honestly be looked at winning the whole thing. Cristiano Ronaldo is easily the best player in the world, and having a total cracking season, there will be pressure on him to produce, especially if he wants to validate the rumored $150 million US Dollar transfer fee to Real Madrid that is being talked about in the press. I pick Portugal to win this group and Turkey to be in 2nd place.
Group B - Austria, Croatia, Germany, Poland. This is a rather easy group to pick. Austria simply SUCK, they only made it as one of the 2 host teams, and are ranked well over 100 in the world, I dont expect them to score at all, and watch teams run up the goal difference in games with them, which will be important as the other 3 teams could easily end up tied in points and need a tie-breaker to determine who goes thru. Germany is the favorite to win the group, and I think will as they are loaded with talent and experience in big time international tournaments. Croatia is the suprise team that is loaded with young talent, they beat England at Wembley to knock England out and make sure Croatia won their group. I'm picking them to go thru in 2nd place but could easily be tied with Poland on points.
Group C - France, Holland, Italy, Romania. The proverbial group of DEATH, every tournament has to have one of these both for the press to soak it up and the fans. This is a hard group for sure. My heart and jersey will be with the Dutch, thanks to some shopping my mother did in Amsterdam last month with an official KNVB Dutch jersey. Romania is a good team, and won their qualifying group, don't sleep on them, the French seems to start out slowly and that first game of the group could be a tough one on the French. They have amazing players, a great strike force but their players are spread all around the world, playing in France, Italy, Germany, England, Spain and all sorts of leagues thus each playing a different sort of football for most of the year and taking some time to gel with their national teams. I predcit the Dutch to win the group, and world champs Italy to go thru in 2nd place. But this group is a total toss up considering its strength.
Group D - Greece, Russia, Spain, Sweden. Could be the easiest and least interesting group. Yeah Greece won the whole thing back in 2004 tournament, but it was hard to be a fan of them, as it was not exciting football to me in the least bit. Russia made it due to England's crashing out, and Russia is a talented team with a bit of confidence and a good coach. Spain is everyone favorite to finally lift the monkey off their back and go far and win a tournament. The team is totally STACKED with talented players but are known as choke artists. After watching their poor showing vs the USA this past Wednesday, they have to be at a low on confidence, and look for them to make it out of the group stages only to crash and burn in the next round. Sweden is a team I don't know much about, and many of their players who i have followed in the past like Lunjberg, and Larsson are a bit long in the tooth. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a stud upfront, but does he have the rest of the team to support him? I'm picking Spain to win the group and Russia to come in 2nd and make it out.
Now that will leave some interesting match ups in the knock out round. Of the teams I picked and if they finish in that order you will come out with the following knock out matches.
Portugal vs Croatia - Should be a good game, but the pressured and experienced Portugal team should win it.
Germany vs Turkey - Easily Germany would win this game, would be an intersting match up considering the tensions between Germans and the millions of Turkish immigrants living in Germany
Netherlands vs Russia. Gotta go with my Dutch, the Orange...
Spain vs Italy. This would be an amazing match, have to say the experience and international pedigree of the Italians win out.
So now the Semi-Finals would be as follows
Portugal vs Germany - Wow a rematch of the 2006 World Cup 3rd place match, one which I watched in the awesome town of Bratislava, Slovakia. Germany won that match but I would have to say everything is falling for Portugal this season with the wicked season Ronaldo is having.
Netherlands vs Italy - Wow another awesome match, I would have to keep on going with my Dutch, plus I have a problem with Italy for their dirty tactics in the 2006 WC game vs my USA.
the Final - Portugal vs Netherlands.. Hard to pick an honest winner, I might have to put the Orange away for this one, as I think it would be Portugal to win the whole thing...
Those are my predictions, and I'm sure they will be horribly wrong, but neverless tune in for some great soccer!!