The time has come. EURO 2008 is set to be an excellent tournament. Top League players from around Europe are all pulling on their shirts for their nations is something we are all able to enjoy, but who will win this years tournament? The competition is strong (even though England is missing), and so in this article I will have a look at the groups, the players, and general title contenders.
Group A Prediction
2. Czech Republic
-----The pre game favourites for group A will of course be Portugal, hosting Ronaldo, Quaresma, Deco, Nani, Simao they have a vast array of attacking talent, though questions could be asked of their defensive options, and the fact that they don't have a recognised striker. It is expected that Ronaldo will fulfil the forwards role, being supported by Quaresma and Nani from wider positions, how effective this will be, we will have to wait and see. The defence, featuring Chelsea's Ricardo Carvalho, could be seen as the weak link of the side. Full back Miguel is a prominent international figure, but Portugal do lack serious quality support for Carvalho in the centre of defence.
-----I thoroughly expect the Czech Republic to take second place in this group, with Arsenal star Tomas Rosicky leading the line. With striker Jan Koller, they have a big target man up front, partnered with the pace of Milan Baros. With Cech in goal, they wont look to concede many, though a fragmented defence could lead them to slipping easy goals, and finding themselves with a lot of work to do.
-----Switzerland, co-hosts of the tournament, are my dark horses for this group. In the world cup two years ago, they became the first team to be sent packing without conceding a goal, as they went out on penalties in the last 16 stage. They boost a strong defence, with Arsenal centre half Phillipe Senderos at the heart, and in Alex Frei up front, they have a potent goalscorer, and I could really see them surprising people with how well they do, and perhaps even progress to the second phase.
-----Propping up the group, I expect will be Turkey, retirements and ageing players have weakened them over past years, though with Tuncay Sanli up front they do have a genuine goal threat. In prospective though, I expect a weak Turkey team and fully expect them to finish with the wooden spoon, as they cant compete with their more illustrious rivals.
Group B Prediction
-----In this situation, the team I see topping the group will be Germany. There squad is very strong, and they have quality players in every position. The likes of Ballack, Schweinsteiger, Frings in midfield, Lahm in the wing back position, and strikers such as Klose, Podolski and Kuranyi. They really do have top quality players in every position and they will be a formidable opposition to anyone. They were the first team to qualifty for the tournament and I really do see them topping the group, and perhaps going all the way and lifting the tournamet trophy.
-----Croatia will be tough opposition for anyone, and while the loss of Eduardo Da Silva will be a prominent one. they still have a good squad, and a lot of internationally rated talent. Players such as Corluka, Modric and Petric have become quality players over the past year, and the superb qualifying campaign of the Croatians overlays the talent they have been able to build up, and I fully expect them to continue this form into the tournament and qualify for the second round via second place.
-----Austria and Poland will be two teams who are going to find it difficult in the group. Neither of the sides have any real quality players who will be able to help them to progress to the second stage. The home atmosphere could count somewhat for Austria, but they do seriously lack any potent talent to form any sort of attempt to move on the the second round. Poland will also face a problem, though I do expect them to finish third in the group. They have performed well internationally over the past few years, and if they manage to carry on this form, they could very well challenge Croatia for second place.
Group C Prediction
-----Group C - this years group of death, featuring both of the finalists of the last world cup. Italy have a great team, very balanced, and are not likely to concede many goals with Alesandro Nesta, their key figure in defence, protected by the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Genarro Gattuso. They also have a lot of attacking talent through Alberto Gilardino, as well as Rolando Bianchi, Toni, Vincenzo Iaquinta and even Di Natale. Italy will be a strong team within the tournament and I realistically see them capturing first place in the group with relative ease.
-----The Netherlands will find it tough in this group despite being a top quality side themselves. The likes of Wesley Sneijder and Van Bommel will provide a strong midfield line up, with great attacking options such as Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben and even Roy Makaay. The dutch will be able to score goals, but they must ensure that they keep a strong defence in order to attempt to progress onto the second stage of the tournament.
-----France are another top team in the group, another balanced team who will compete well through the tournament. Key players for them will be Thierry Henry and Frank Ribery attacking wise, as well as William Gallas and Patrice Evra in defence. The French have proved themselves a top quality international side over the past ten years, however they have struggled recently, and I actually believe that they will have to settle for 3rd place and an early exit from the tournament.
-----I have no doubt that Romania will go out at the first stage, they've been placed in the group of death and I can only see them finishing bottom of the group with likely no wins.
Group D Prediction
-----I expect Spain to take victory in this group, their team is very strong, full of young talent. The midfield of Cesc Fabregas and Xavi will be sure to create attacking opportunities for the striking talent of Fernando Torres and David Villa, as well as the veterans of Raul and Fernando Morientes. Spain will be a strong side in the tournament and their ability to score goals could see them progress through the first round with relative ease, assuming the young players can cope with the pressure.
-----The rest of the group will really be about how the teams perform in the tournament. Russia, Sweden and Greece are all roughly similar in terms of quality and a lot will depend on how they perform. I expect Russia to snatch the second place spot, they proved in beating England that they can defeat the European "giants" and with players like Arshavan and Smertin they have a strong midfield, with Pavlyuchenko up front to knock the ball into the back of the net, and earn a second place spot for Russia.
-----The third and fourth places could be very close, with both Sweden and Greece likely to end up on the same amount of points. The star man for Sweden is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and his goals will be vital to Sweden's push for a place in the second round. Whereas Greece, winners of the tournament the last time it was played out in 2004, have lost a lot of their side from back then, and will find it difficult to compete in the way they did. The way I see it, the toss up for second, third and fourth place is going to be a very close affair.
All in all, I expect Euro 2008 to be a great tournament, forgetting the fact that England are not competing. My favourites for the tournament are the Germans, as I can see them winning the tournament, with Spain, Italy and Portugal to finish off the top four of the competition.