Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Euro 2008 Preview: Group C

France, Italy, Netherlands, Romania

Ah yes, the infamous group of death. Italy and France – the World Cup champions and runners-up, respectively – also met in the qualifying stages, and they've been matched up yet again here. Both teams are packed with talent from front to back, and they'll probably be the ones to get out of the group stage, but you can't discount the other two teams either. Romania did very well in qualifying, while the Dutch would be one of the favourites in any other group and just happen to be one of the top four seeds, thanks to the vagaries of UEFA coefficients.

FIFA rank: 7
Odds of winning: 15-2
Coach: Raymond Domenech
How they got here: Finished second in their qualifying group, just edging out Scotland – despite losing to the Scots twice
Past record: Lost to Greece in the quarter-finals at Euro 2004; finished second at the 2006 World Cup
Questions to ask:

  • Can they find the right balance between youth and experience? (Karim Benzema vs. Thierry Henry; Patrick Vieira vs. Jeremy Toulalan, etc., etc.)
  • Will Raymond Domenech regret leaving behind players like David Trezeguet or Philippe Mexes?
  • Is Franck Ribery really the new Zidane?
Why to cheer for them: You like to pick players based on their astrological signs. (No Scorpios, please!)

FIFA rank: 3
Odds of winning: 7-1
Coach: Roberto Donadoni
How they got here: Struggled initially in qualifying, but ended up topping their group, ahead of France
Past record: Finished third in their group at Euro 2004; 2006 World Cup champions
Questions to ask:
  • How much will the loss of captain Fabio Cannavaro hurt them? And isn't it dangerous to rely on Marco Materazzi to hold your defence together?
  • What kind of formation will they go with, and will it mean too many square pegs in round holes? (Alex del Piero, I'm looking at you.)
  • Will they rue bringing nutcase Antonio Cassano when he throws a wobbly in the middle of a game and gets sent off?
Why to cheer for them: Love them or hate them, they do know how to win. Plus, it would piss off the French.

FIFA rank: 10
Odds of winning: 12-1
Coach: Marco van Basten
How they got here: Qualified easily, but ended up second in their group behind Romania
Past record: Lost to Portugal in the semi-finals at Euro 2004, and again in the Round of 16 at the 2006 World Cup
Questions to ask:
  • Can they get through the whole tournament without fighting with each other?
  • Will the move away from their traditional 4-3-3 to a set-up with two defensive midfielders work? Especially since they have no real defense to speak of?
  • Why does Ruud van Nistelrooy look so much like a horse? (Van Persie, too, come to think of it.)
Why to cheer for them: Despite supposedly being so good, they've never really won anything, so they're due.

FIFA Rank: 12
Odds of winning: 40-1
Coach: Victor Piturca
How they got here: Finished top of their qualifying group
Past record: Didn't qualify for Euro 2004 or the 2006 World Cup – this is their first major tournament since 2000
Questions to ask:
  • They beat the Netherlands head-to-head in qualifying; can they do it again?
  • Can former cokehead Adrian Mutu keep up the good form he's shown with Fiorentina this season?
  • Really, do they have a hope in hell of getting out of the group?
Why to cheer for them: You're hoping for someone to play the spoiler and knock one of the so-called big teams out.