Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Euro 2008 Preview: Group A

Ah yes, it's that time again, when I decide to make predictions about the outcome of a major tournament and invariably turn out to be completely wrong. Woo.

The Euros are interesting because you don't get too many small teams who are just there to make up the numbers, like you do in a World Cup – indeed, the weakest team here are probably co-hosts Austria. That makes it more likely that some of the big teams could be knocked out in the group stages, while an underdog goes on to win it all, like Greece did in 2004. (Although I don't think that's likely this time.)

One other point to note is the bizarre way that the teams have been seeded in the groups: The four seeds are Switzerland and Austria, the two co-hosts; defending champions Greece; and the Netherlands, based on the unfathomable UEFA coefficients. With Switzerland, Austria and Greece all guaranteed a top seed, it was actually better to finish second rather than first in your qualifying group, because it gave you a chance of drawing them in the group stages. Anyway, on to those groups:

GROUP A: Czech Republic, Portugal, Switzerland, Turkey

Portugal should be able to win the group without too much trouble, and will probably make it as far as the semi-finals. On paper you'd expect the Czech Republic to finish second, but Switzerland could ride their home support into the knockout stages. Not that it matters much anyway, because whoever comes second will probably just lose to Germany in the quarter-finals.

CZECH REPUBLIC
FIFA rank: 6
Odds of winning: 18-1
Coach: Karel Bruckner
How they got here: Qualified first in their group, surprisingly ahead of Germany
Past record: Lost to Greece in the semi-finals at Euro 2004; eliminated in the group stage at the 2006 World Cup
Questions to ask:

  • Who will step up to replace injured captain Tomas Rosicky?
  • How important will Petr Cech's performance be? And will he make it through the tournament without being kicked in the head?
  • Will we get the Euro 2004 Milan Baros – the tournament's top scorer – or the more familiar Premiership Baros, who tends to run around like a headless chicken and miss easy goals?
Why to cheer for them: You have a soft spot for big Jan Koller, an old-fashioned target man who is basically the Czech version of Danny Dichio

PORTUGAL
FIFA rank: 9
Odds of winning: 7-1
Coach: Big Phil Scolari
How they got here: Qualified second in their group, behind Poland
Past record: Lost to Greece in the final of Euro 2004 and to France in the semi-final at the 2006 World Cup
Questions to ask:
  • Can Cristiano Ronaldo carry the team, or will he collapse under the weight of his own ego?
  • With Pauleta's retirement, do they have anyone who can lead the line effectively?
  • Will Deco pull himself away from partying for long enough to pull the strings for them in midfield?
Why to cheer for them: You have fond memories of their game against Holland at the last World Cup and are hoping for similar fireworks this time. Maybe Phil Scolari can punch somebody again.

SWITZERLAND
FIFA rank: 48
Odds of winning: 25-1
Coach: Kobi Kuhn
How they got here: Qualified automatically as co-hosts
Past record: Bottom of their group at Euro 2004; went out in the round of 16 at the 2006 World Cup
Questions to ask:
  • Can they reproduce their defensive form from the World Cup, when they didn't concede a goal in open play?
  • Have they gotten any better at penalties since then? Because that penalty shootout against Ukraine was the worst I've ever seen, and I say that as an England fan.
  • Actually, do they have anyone who can score goals, period?
Why to cheer for them: You want to see Philippe Senderos smile for once.

Turkey
FIFA rank: 25
Odds of winning: 40-1
Coach: Fatih Terim
How they got here: Qualified second in their group, just ahead of Norway
Past record: Didn't qualify for Euro 2004, and lost to Switzerland in a playoff to qualify for the 2006 World Cup
Questions to ask:
  • They shocked everybody by finishing third at the 2002 World Cup; could they do that again?
  • Do they have enough quality in midfield and up front to compensate for their dodgy back line and erratic goalkeeping?
  • Will they start another post-game rumble with the Swiss, like they did after that 2006 playoff game?
Why to support them: They probably have the most insane fans, so that's always fun.

1 comment:

sp3ktor said...

The group stage should be pretty good for your part of the world. For us in the UK, most of the decent games at this stage kick off at 5pm - about 10pm for you, I guess.

Case in point, for Group A - the best match is Czech Rep v Portugal on Wednesday 11 (5pm BST).

Group B: Best game is Germany v Croatia. Which is 5pm on the Thursday (12th). Group C at least has their best game, France v Italy at a reasonable time (for us) but it's the last game of the group anyway, on at the same time as Netherlands v Romania which I reckon will be a cracker. Group D sees Spain kick both their opening games off early - and, to be honest , they are the only team worth watching in the group.

So will you be staying up until 2am for the duration of the tournament?