Welcome back to my guide to the teams competing at this years European championships. Today I’ll be looking at group B. This is one tough group to try to qualify from and lends weight to my argument that the European championships is a better tournament than the world cup due to the quality of the teams competing. Widely regarded as the “group of death”, it has all the ingredients for some mouth-watering clashes. I’ll begin with Joint favourites Germany.
The most successful team in the history of these championships and seem to be maturing at just the right time. They are ranked 2nd in the world and managed by Joachim Low. He has Germany playing a brand of exciting football that’s not generally associated with them. For all the success they have had at both the World and European stages words like efficient, reliable, aggressive and experienced would be best used to describe them in the past. A young team that were so exciting to watch at the 2010 World cup, they definitely deserve the tag of co-favourites. They qualified at a canter winning 10 from 10 but for all the praise being bandied about, it’s highly unlikely they will qualify for the quarter-finals at such a canter. An ability to produce such fine players time after time has enabled them to reach the final on no less than 6 occasions winning the trophy in 1972, 1980 and 1996 while finishing as runners-up in 1976, 1992 and 2008. The players that stand out for them amidst an array of talent are Manuel Neuer who is without doubt one of the top ‘keepers in the world today and talisman Mario Gomez who finished the champions league as top scorer. Both play for Bayern Munich who lost the final to Chelsea on penalties in front of their home support. Another to pay close attention to is Mesut Ozil of Real Madrid who was probably the best player at the 2010 world cup. They will be many people’s idea of champions but they have to get through this minefield first and no team has the god given right to in this group. They are available at a general 3/1 price.
The Netherlands are next team we will look at. They are currently ranked number 3 in the world and will be led by Bert Van Marwijk. He is a relatively young manager but has been successful in European competition winning the Europa/UEFA cup with Feyenoord. He proved to have the uncanny knack of being able to bring a Dutch team together that in the past proved their own worse enemy with numerous internal feuds proving counter-productive. He brought them to the 2010 world cup final but were unlucky again to lose out for the 3rd time. The Dutch have produced some of the greatest players the world has ever seen and continue to do so with a squad packed full of talent from back to front. They are former champions having won in 1988 with a wonderful team and a goal that many consider to be one of, if not, the best ever scored when Marco Van Basten volleyed home from an acute angle in the final against the Soviet Union. The players are well scattered throughout Europe and my 3 to watch are Arjen Robben, a winger of sensational talent and burst of speed. Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan) has had a relatively quiet season due to injury but always comes to light on the big stage proving his pedigree at the last World cup while being the driving force behind Inter’s charge to Champions league glory the same year. Robin Van Persie of Arsenal is without doubt one of the most devastating strikers in world football at the moment and will prove a menace to any team with Klaas Van Huntelaar beside him. Will be one of the best supported teams at the finals with the blindingly colourful and charming “Oranje” cheering them on. Again even with all the talent at hand they know getting out of this group won’t be easy. At 6/1 with the bookies you can be sure they will have a lot of followers.
Next up in the group of death are Portugal. They are managed by Paulo Bento who took over from Carlos Queiroz after they only managed 1 point from their first 2 qualifying games. They are currently ranked 5th in the world and have always been a team that played football with a large dose of style and panache. Surely the nation would have been left wondering what could have been of their “golden generation” that were world champions at under-age level in the 90s and so much was expected of them. They went close in a lot of tournaments and when they were pitted against the Greeks in the 2004 final in front of a fanatical home support they could have been forgiven for thinking Figo, Gomez, Costa et al were going to finally come good with their promise. Famously it wasn’t to be. A slight concern about this Portugese team is the real lack of strength in-depth. But the big guns they have contain the biggest one of them all on show at these finals and will play their hearts out for each other. My players to watch are who else but Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid. A true goals machine averaging just over 1 a game who is blessed with vision, speed, touch and trickery. Who will forget his tears as he left the pitch as a loser in the 2004 final. Luis Nani of Manchester United and former team-mate with Ronaldo is the other big gun. Really starting to deliver now and his crosses into the box regularly end in goals. Fabio Contreao is Ronaldo’s Real Madrid team-mate and is unfortunate to be playing at a club blessed with so much class but is a vital cog in the Portugese team. Will need to be at their very best to navigate these tricky waters and if one of their 2 true world-class players get injured they may find things getting a whole lot harder. Still for a team ranked 5th in the world they represent excellent value at 18/1. Very tasty indeed!The last team in group B are Denmark. They are ranked 10th in the world and managed by Morten Olsen a man who has played 100 times and managed 100 times for Denmark. To be honest not many people will be giving them a chance but this tournament is famous for shocks and upsets big time. In fact they really don’t come much bigger than the one pulled of by none other than Denmark in 1992. Called up at the last-minute to replace Yugoslavia who were expelled by UEFA due to the civil war that ripped the country apart, they had little time to prepare but took it all in their stride and were to prove to be the only thing worth remembering from one of the dullest European championships ever. Always a team to punch above their weight a lot of people will tend to forget they finished ahead of Portugal in the qualifying groups. Not being disrespectful, they are a squad that doesn’t contain too many household names but the players I have chosen to keep an eye out for are Christian Erikson of Ajax who is one of their best players and technically very gifted, he could be one of the dark horses of the tournament (you know where you heard that first). Daniel Agger of Liverpool is the Danish captain who is a solid and competent defender, fearless in the challenge and will provide leadership from the back. Nicklas Bendtner who is currently on loan at Sunderland from Arsenal has definitely proven to be a more accomplished international than club player but he does have an eye for goal and is a good team player. For a team regarded as the 10th best in the world I think a price of 80/1 is a tad disrespectful but you never know, they have made everyone eat their word’s before.
Predicting this group is very difficult but I will have to make my choice at some time so this is what I reckon.
Group winners: Germany
3rd place: Portugal
Wooden spoon: Denmark
Now I’m glad that’s out of the way I will take a well earned break before I give my guide to group C. Just making a prediction here is hard enough imagine what it must be like to play against these teams. Hope my guide has been of some interest to you.