Euro 2012 Previews: Group B

7 Jun

Group B has been given the traditional clichéd title of “The Group of Death”. But who will come out on top in this titanic battle, and can Denmark even get a point? 

Germany

1. Manuel Neuer, 12. Tim Wiese, 22. Ron-Robert Zieler

3. Marcel Schmelzer, 4. Benedikt Howedes, 5. Mats Hummels, 14. Holger Badstuber, 16. Philipp Lahm (c), 17. Per Mertesacker, 20. Jerome Boateng

2. Ilkay Gundogan, 6. Sami Khedira, 7. Bastian Schweinsteiger, 8. Mesut Ozil, 9. Andre Schurrle, 13. Thomas Muller, 15. Lars Bender, 18. Toni Kroos, 19. Mario Gotze, 21. Marco Reus

10. Lukas Podolski, 11. Miroslav Klose, 23. Mario Gomez

Joachim Low’s side suffered a setback in their first pre-tournament friendly as they were embarrassed 5-3 by an entertaining Swiss side. Whilst the manner of the defeat was somewhat humiliating, the Germans were unable to call upon the Bayern Munich contingent who had been defeated in the previous week’s Champions League final. Being shorn of eight key figures clearly had an effect, and demonstrated that whilst the talent pool is extremely exciting, many have much to learn before they will be able to push for starting berths. That friendly defeat has not dampened the spirits of a side who are seen by many as the favourites for the tournament. They possess flair in abundance, two proven finishers to chose from and have finally unearthed some defensive talent in Holger Badstuber and Mats Hummels.

NOTABLE ABSENTEES

            The only surprise when Low trimmed his provisional squad of 27 down to the final 23 was the absence of Stuttgart forward Cacau. The Brazilian born striker went to the World Cup in South Africa, and his inclusion appeared a formality, but Low clearly decided to sacrifice him in order to boost the midfield numbers. The heartache will be particularly painful as unlike the others cut, he probably won’t get another chance.

Simon Rolfes once again misses out on an international tournament, having been engulfed by the new generation, despite leading Leverkusen with distinction. Sven Bender and Julian Draxler were part of the plans but didn’t quite make it.

WILDCARD PICKS

            The standout name is that of Ilkay Gundogan. Another with Turkish heritage, the Borussia Dortmund midfielder, signed to fill the void left by Nuri Sahin, took a while to settle. However, he has blossomed in 2012 and deserves the recognition.

Excitement surrounds two young prodigies who should also be turning out for Borussia Dortmund next season. Mario Gotze is one of the most highly thought of players of his generation, with many comparing him to Lionel Messi. He has struggled for fitness for spells this season but could be a key impact man off the bench. The other player is Marco Reus, who will move back to the Westfalenstadion this summer for a reported fee of €17m, after dazzling the Bundesliga with overachievers Gladbach.

PREDICTION

            Experts of much greater standing than myself have tipped Germany as their favourites, and I am inclined to agree. Not just because of the sheer brilliance they possess in the attacking midfield positions, but because they have a solidified spine which will benefit from the pain of defeat to Spain in the last two major finals. Getting out of the group will be tricky but their class should tell and Poland should be a relatively straightforward quarter final opponent. Victory over Spain by two goals to one in a close final.

If they were a song they’d be… We Are Young – Fun

Portugal

1. Eduardo, 12. Rui Patricio, 22. Beto

2. Bruno Alves, 3. Pepe, 5. Fabio Coentrao, 13. Ricardo Costa, 14. Rolando, 19. Miguel Lopes, 21. Joao Pereira

4. Miguel Veloso, 6. Custodio, 8. Joao Moutinho, 15. Ruben Micael, 16. Raul Meireles, 20. Hugo Viana

7. Cristiano Ronaldo (c), 9. Hugo Almeida, 10. Ricardo Quaresma, 11. Nelson Oliveira, 17. Nani, 18. Silvestre Varela, 23. Helder Postiga

 The reign of Carlos Queiroz ended in furious mud-slinging and controversy. The recovery job was left in the hands of former Sporting boss Paulo Bento, and he manfully transformed the Portuguese side back into something resembling Luiz Felipe Scolari’s 2004-2006 incarnation. He managed to draw the best from captain Cristiano Ronaldo, whose international form had often paled in comparison to his breathtaking club displays. Bento has also seemingly solved the midfield conundrum which has been present since Deco’s decline, by putting together three central players with different styles. Miguel Veloso’s position is the least secure but a growing maturity has arrived in his game and his positional play has dramatically improved. Raul Meireles has been somewhat hit-and-miss since his arrival in England, but he found himself a fan in Roberto Di Matteo and has subsequently flourished in a box-to-box role. His passing is at times erratic. The same can’t be said of the third component, Joao Moutinho, who is probably the most accomplished player in the domestic league. He dictates the game, allowing the stars on the wings, Nani and Ronaldo, to prosper but also puts in a shift for the side. Despite the positives, the age-old problem lingers over the side, with the lack of a top quality centre forward. Both Hugo Almeida and Helder Postiga remain inconsistent and don’t possess the true quality to trouble top class backlines.

NOTABLE ABSENTEES 

            The omission of Manuel Fernandes drew the most gasps of disapproval, particularly in Turkey, where he has been the star of a rather disappointing campaign for Besiktas. He even failed to get the call-up when Carlos Martins withdrew injured. It seems there are still questions over Fernandes’ reliability. The fullback Silvio broke into the side after impressing with Braga but his move to Atletico Madrid has been marred by injuries. Malaga player Eliseu can count himself unlucky but fell short due to Fabio Coentrao’s quality and the wide range of options on the wing. An interesting pick would have been Ricardo Vaz Te who led West Ham back to the Premier League with a fine goalscoring campaign. Somewhat unfortunate that this tournament is not next summer when he could have proved himself in the top division.

WILDCARD PICKS

            Miguel Lopes and Custodio were the surprise inclusions, benefitting from Braga’s sterling form. Ricardo Quaresma managed to make the squad despite still being one of the most infuriatingly inconsistent players around. Has consistently failed at the top level, whether with Barcelona, Chelsea, Inter, or indeed Portugal. It’s alright being able to cross/shoot with the outside of your boot, but there’s more to football than just showboating. The most exciting prospect in the 23 is Benfica’s Nelson Oliveira. A product of the successful U20 World Cup campaign where the Portuguese took second place, and he received the Silver Ball for the tournament’s second best player, his lack of exposure on the world stage may come as a plus, if he can surprise his unwitting opponents. Offered enough in a brief cameo at Stamford Bridge to suggest that he won’t be overawed by the occasion if called upon.

PREDICTION 

            By rights, Portugal’s role in the Group of Death should be to play second fiddle to the expression and artistry of the Dutch and the Germans. However, something about Bento’s side gives me the impression that they can sneak through ahead of the Dutch, particularly if Nani and Ronaldo can find some form. Expect a straight shootout for second place between Holland and Portugal in the final game, with Portugal exposing their opponent’s defensive deficiencies. After that, victory over Russia in the quarter final will set up a repeat of the World Cup last 16 match against Spain, and this is where the Portuguese shall bravely fall.

If they were a song they’d be… Underdog – Kasabian

Holland

1. Maarten Stekelenburg, 12. Michel Vorm, 22. Tim Krul

2. Gregory van der Wiel, 3. John Heitinga, 4. Joris Mathijsen, 5. Wilfred Bouma, 13. Ron Vlaar, 14. Stijn Schaars, 15. Jetro Willems, 21. Khalid Boulahrouz

6. Mark van Bommel (c), 8. Nigel de Jong, 10. Wesley Sneijder, 17. Kevin Strootman, 23. Rafael van der Vaart

7. Dirk Kuyt, 9. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, 11. Arjen Robben, 16. Robin van Persie, 18. Luuk de Jong, 19. Luciano Narsingh, 20. Ibrahim Afellay

Bert van Maarwijk’s side are many people’s tip for the tournament, but there is another line of thought that South Africa saw this side’s peak, and that the same deficiencies that have let them down in the past could resurface. Conflict in the camp isn’t a problem on the scale that many associate with a Dutch travelling party, but there is some friction when it comes to selection. Rafael van der Vaart and in particular Klaas-Jan Huntelaar feel that there performances over the past two seasons have been good enough to warrant selections, but Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie already occupy their roles. This has led van Maarwijk to experiment with different styles to try and incorporate all of his attacking jewels into a top heavy crown. The results have been mixed, with the expression ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ coming to mind. The problem is that whilst Arjen Robben’s place in the side is guaranteed, there is no standout candidate to fill the opposite flank. Dirk Kuyt has endured a difficult season at Liverpool, despite contributing key goals in the cup competitions. Meanwhile, Ibrahim Afellay has been sidelined for much of the season with a knee injury, only returning in Pep Guardiola’s final few games in charge at the Camp Nou.

NOTABLE ABSENTEES 

            The biggest issue surrounds the injury to Erik Pieters, who looked set to be Gio van Bronckhorst’s permanent replacement on the left side of the defence. This left van Maarwijk with many options, none of whom are top level performers. He chose to discard the services of the versatile Vurnon Anita and Urby Emanuelson, despite both having impressive campaigns. Ryan Babel and Eljero Elia suffered due to their lack of consistency after their respective transfers, whilst there is plenty of time for the likes of Georginio Wijnaldum and Adam Maher to impress in the coming years.

WILDCARD PICKS 

            Jetro Willems. Unfamiliar to many, he has benefited both domestically and internationally from Pieters’ injury. Having made his professional debut just 18 months ago, van Maarwijk has shown huge faith in the 18 year old to select him ahead of other more famous names. He will fight with Stijn Schaars for that left back spot – and it is a spot which will no doubt be pinpointed as a weakness by their Group B opponents.

            Luciano Narsingh is the other surprise choice who appears likely to be travelling for the experience, but he has pace in abundance and could be heading to the Premier League this summer, with rumours abound that he will join compatriot Martin Jol at Fulham.

PREDICTION 

            To put it simply, I have much less confidence in this Dutch side than many others. Whilst the attacking qualities look fantastic, with world class options on the bench, the defence looks highly suspect. Joris Mathijsen has never been the best defender, and two years on from South Africa, his legs are even slower, whilst John Heitinga has a mistake in him. My biggest worry comes in the aforementioned left back spot, and I feel it is this which will let the Dutch down in the crucial game against the Portuguese, where, if Bulgaria’s approach is anything to go by, the wide men could run amok.

If they were a song they’d be… Ego – Beyonce ft Kanye West

Denmark

 

1. Stephan Andersen, 16. Anders Lindegaard, 22. Kasper Schmeichel

3. Simon Kjaer, 4. Daniel Agger (c), 5. Simon Poulsen, 6. Lars Jacobsen, 12. Andreas Bjelland, 13. Jores Okore, 18. Daniel Wass

2. Christian Poulsen, 7. William Kvist, 8. Christian Eriksen, 14. Lasse Schone, 15. Michael Silberbauer, 19. Jakob Poulsen, 20. Thomas Kahlenberg, 21. Niki Zimling

9. Michael Krohn-Dehli, 10. Dennis Rommedahl, 11. Nicklas Bendtner, 17. Nicklas Pedersen, 23. Tobias Mikkelsen

 Denmark topped their qualification group ahead of Portugal, but much of the optimism which that generated was dampened by December’s draw. They find themselves in Group B alongside Germany, Holland and Portugal, and a group stage exit appears a certainty. This will be coach Morten Olsen’s fourth time leading his nation at a major championship, in a managerial tenure which has spanned twelve years. The World Cup two years ago was a huge disappointment, as defensive errors in the decisive group game against Japan saw them exit at the first hurdle. The aim this time round is to leave everything on the pitch, and realistically, hope for the luck which deserted them in South Africa, as Keisuke Honda managed to dash their hopes. Much will depend upon the prodigious skills of Christian Eriksen. The Ajax youngster is the creative fulcrum of the side, and will hope to banish the memories of last year’s U21 tournament, when his performances were very underwhelming.

 NOTABLE ABSENTEES

            The glaring disappointment arrived on the eve of the squad announcement, as it became apparent that first choice goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen would have to withdraw due to injury. With a century of caps under his belt, Sorensen’s experience will be a huge loss, although between them Stephan Andersen and Anders Lindegaard have a reasonable amount of top level knowledge.

            Raiding Ajax left back Nicolai Boilesen has not sufficiently recovered from a hamstring injury to take part, which is a shame given the promise he offered at last summer’s European U21 Championship, leading to rumours of an impending transfer to Barcelona.

WILDCARD PICKS

            Jores Okore has enjoyed a breakthrough season with Nordsjaelland and is the youngest member of the 23. The Ivorian born centre half moved to Denmark as a youngster and has come on in leaps and bounds over the past twelve months. Daniel Wass can play anywhere on the right hand side and has benefitted from a loan spell in Ligue 1 with Evian, after signing for Benfica this time last year. A decent option to replace Lars Jacobsen when chasing the game.

            Thomas Kahlenberg was once Denmark’s next big thing, but he has failed to live up to all of his early promise. A creative playmaker, who, at his best, can unlock the tightest of defences, his career has drifted and he’s lucky to find himself in the squad.

           The fairytale selection is Sorensen’s replacement Kasper Schmeichel. He will be third choice but his inclusion will bring back memories of his father’s heroics twenty years ago in Euro 92.

PREDICTION 

            Nil points. In any of the other three groups they could have troubled sides, but overcoming three of European football’s superpowers appears an impossible task. The best they can hope for is that the others take points off each other and leave an opening.[Soft Break]

 If they were a song they’d be… Bad Luck – Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes
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