By Nate Jacobson
Here are three teams that will surprise and three that will play below expectations at Euro 2012.
Poland: The host country in Group A is gaining momentum with each friendly they play. They won their last three friendlies by a combined score of 6-0 against Latvia, Slovakia and Andorra. All three matches were wins and Poland hasn’t conceded a goal in four total friendlies in 2012. Poland is fortunate to be in a wide open group that consists of Greece, Russia and Czech Republic. The Borussia Dortmund trio of defender Lukasz Piszczek, midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski and striker Robert Lewandowski all had great seasons for the German league and cup champions. Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny is a top-level goalkeeper.
Prediction: Poland will win Group A
Croatia: This is another team that has emerged as a dark horse for Euro 2012. Croatia won their group in Euro 2008, but lost a heartbreaking quarterfinal match to Turkey. Croatia’s group will be an adventure with Spain, Italy and Ireland. However, Italy has faced some trouble on and off the pitch prior to Euro, and Croatia has a golden opportunity to make a statement with a victory against Ireland in their opening match. Croatia possesses one the most talented midfielders in the world in Tottenham’s Luka Modric. Keep an eye on Everton forward Nikica Jelavic, who had a superb run of form in the second part of the EPL season.
Prediction: Croatia will finish second in Group C
Ukraine: The other host country has an old team with many players past their prime. However, Ukraine’s roster consists of many players who ply their trade for Ukrainian clubs Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donestsk, so the chemistry is there. The home field advantage should help Ukraine against Sweden, France and England. Former great AC Milan and Chelsea striker Andriy Shevchenko will hope to go out with one last success as the captain of Ukraine.
Prediction: Ukraine will finish second in Group C
Portugal: They are ranked fifth in the FIFA rankings, but there are two teams who are ranked higher than them. Portugal is part of “The Group of Death” with Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. The Portuguese have played discouraging in the last two weeks. They had a scoreless draw against Macedonia and were defeated by Turkey 3-1. Both friendlies were at home. Cristiano Ronaldo might be the best European player, but he has faltered in international matches before and he will need help from his teammates against powerhouses like Germany and Netherland. The match against Denmark won’t be easy, as the Danes finished ahead of Portugal in Euro qualifying Group H.
Prediction: Portugal will finish last in Group B
Italy: The build up to the tournament has been a nightmare for the Italians. There were rumors they were going to drop out of the tournament when another match fixing scandal hit their domestic league. The other match fixing scandal occurred while Italy won the 2006 World Cup, but that winning team was filled with veterans. This Italy team has some question marks especially in their defense. Italy lost a friendly last week to Russia 3-0. Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli is a great talent, but is an odd character that could cause problems in the Italy dressing room.
Prediction: Italy will finish third in Group C
England: Maybe the unluckiest team in the last two weeks because of injury. Manchester City Gareth Barry and Chelsea players Frank Lampard and Gary Cahill were all ruled out of the tournament in a week span. Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney is suspended for the first two games of the tournament after a moment of stupidity and red card in the last qualifying match against Montenegro. Danny Welbeck, Andy Carroll and Jermain Defoe will need to fill the void of goal scoring with Rooney out. New manager Roy Hodgson has his work cut out for him.
Prediction: England will finish third in Group C
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