With the first phase of the group stages now over, we take a look at each team – what we have seen of them so far, and what we can expect from them in the competition.
- Czech Republic – Good going forward, but very vulnerable on the counter attack. The
Russian forwards tore them apart on the opening day. More worrying was that Chelsea goalkeeper, Petr Cech, did not look comfortable in the net and should have done better with certainly one of Russia’s goals. However, they will bounce back quickly against Greece.
- Greece – Gradually came into the game against Poland and by the final whistle were unlucky not to take all three points. Their next game against Czech Republic will decide their fate in this years tournament.
- Poland – The hosts only have a few well known players within their squad – and unfortunately it was one of those players who cost them in their opening game. Arsenal goal keeper, Wojciech Szczęsny – who has enjoyed another good year in England – did not have his finest game against Greece. After his poor decision making led to Greece’s equaliser, he then gave away a penalty and was subsequently sent off. Luckily his replacement, Przemysław Tytoń, saved the penalty and Poland saved a valuable point. They will struggle against tougher opposition in Russia, though.
- Russia – Have had a superb start the the tournament. After a poor season at Arsenal, Andrei Arshavin found the form that brought him to the Premier League three years ago, tearing apart a weak Czech Republic defence. Providing Russia maintain their form they should qualify from Group A as group winners.
Player of the Group: Alan Dzagoev, Russia. The 21 year old scored twice in Russia’s first game and looks to have a bright future. For his stature, he is strong and finds himself in dangerous positions. If he gets chances, he’ll score.
Group Prediction: It remains fairly open, with only Russia looking certain to qualify. Czech Republic have shown great attacking play but conceded more goals than any other team in the first game of the group stage, and will have to be better defensively if they are to qualify. To Qualify: Russia, Czech Republic.
- Denmark – Tipped by many as the whipping boys in what is the toughest group in the championship. However, Denmark surprised many with a win against Holland in their first game and they will hope that result triggers a huge upset in the tournament.
- Germany – A vital three points in their opening game against Portugal. At least a point against Holland will put them in an excellent position to top the group. With almost an identical squad to what we saw in South Africa two years, the squad looks to be have matured well. Germany winning the this summers tournament would not be a surprise.
- Netherlands – The Dutch had 20 shots on target in their game against Denmark, but produced no goals. The quality of their performance cannot be questioned, their finishing however was dreadful. They will need to bounce quickly against Germany but will still be confident of progressing in Ukraine.
- Portugal – Having lost to Germany, they will need to beat Denmark to keep their dreams of qualification realistic. They’ve got big game players that will shine at some point over the next two games. With players like Ronaldo and Nani, it’s hard to completely rule them out.
Player of the Group: Mario Gomez, Germany. The striker showed his ability to finish against Portugal. In a tight game, he made the difference when called upon. Providing Germany progress as they are expected to, he will be in the running for the tournaments Golden Boot award.
Group Prediction: This is tough to predict. Despite their loss I still think Holland will qualify from the group. It cannot be long before Robin van Persie and Jan Huntelaar find the form that has haunted their opponents all season. However Denmark and Portugal will feel they have something to say about that. Group B is no doubt the toughest group and will go down to the wire. To Qualify: Germany, Holland.
- Spain – It is quite a remarkably period in the history of Spanish football. On paper they should win every tournament for the foreseeable future – but upsets can aways occur. Against Italy we saw them play with no obvious striker – why not when they have six of the best midfielders in world football? However, they only managed a draw in that game, failed to create many chances and were certainly not at their best against a well organised Italian team. If they aren’t to win the tournament it will be down to not having an in-form striker.
- Croatia – The Croatian’s looked good in their first game but with all respect to Ireland, they were playing Ireland. The match between them and Italy will decide who else – other than Spain – progresses to the quarter final. With Jelavic in fine scoring form and Modric pulling the strings in midfield, Croatia have reason to be confident in their chances.
- Ireland – Unfortunately, the Irish Luck will not be enough to save them from being the whipping boys of Group C. The Croatian front line picked them apart in Poznan and I predict a Spanish rout in Gdansk. For me, Ireland will be the first country out of the tournament.
- Italy – After a troubled build up to this tournament, the Italian’s have started well with a point against Spain. Andrea Pirlo looked as good as any midfielder in world football and he will relish more possession against Croatia and Ireland.
Player of the Group: David Silva, Spain. Executed a perfect pass to assist Cesc Fabregas’s equaliser against Italy in the first game. Ireland and Croatia will struggle to keep the creative midfielder at bay in the next two fixtures.
Group Prediction: Spain will surely get maximum points from their next two games and finish top of the group. I can only see Ireland losing to Spain and Italy. Leaving Italy and Croatia to battle for second place. Croatia are yet to be tested but if they can create chances, they will score. However, Italy, I think, will be strong for them. To Qualify: Spain, Italy.
- England – Although the low expectations of England have been widely circulated, it would still be an upset if they don’t progress from the group stages. And so they should do, particularly after a well earned point against the French. As a defensive unit they look excellent but their attacking flare and possession retention is lacking. Players like Oxlade-Chamberlain, Young and Welbeck should thrive against the weaker oppositions of Ukraine and Sweden.
- Ukraine – A comeback in Kiev gives the hosts hope of getting out of the group but the real test will come next against England. A good result their and their hopes may become reality. However, this will be no easy feat against a tactically better English team.
- France – Giving the possession they had against England, they will probably feel they should have won the game. However they failed to create many clear scoring opportunities – often settling for long ranged shots – and this will worry manager Laurent Blanc. Although their defense look suspect at times, their front three should prove too much for Sweden and Ukraine.
- Sweden – Losing the first game gives Sweden little chance of qualifying from this group. However, if Ibrahimovic plays as he did against Ukraine, they could play a key role in deciding the fate of those above them. The striker out-powered all of his opponents in Kiev and looked a constant threat.
Player of the Group: Samir Nasri. His superb strike against England helped France earn a point in their first game. The attacker had an excellent pass completion rate and will unlock more doors against the weaker defenses of Sweden and Ukraine.
Group Predictions: I expect France to take maximum points from their second and third games – and with several goals as well. England should over come their remaining opponents and qualify, but will need to play with a far more attacking style if they are to top the group.
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