Continuing with our Don Best group previews in the run-up to Euro 2012, we present our forecast for Group B, the unquestioned “Group of Death” for this event with heavyweights Germany and Holland, two of the last four participants in the last World Cup, along with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and dangerous Denmark, which has surprised in this event before.
We’ll proceed with Group C and D previews next week before getting into specific match analysis beginning the week of June 4.
Following is our Group B preview, with group win prices included in parentheses.
Germany (11/10): Just Germany’s luck to get drawn into the “Group of Death” alongside Holland, which, along with Spain and the Germans, comprise the top three picks in this event.
Mention of Spain might send chills down the backs of Die Mannschaft after losing to La Seleccion in both Euro 2008 (final) and World Cup 2010 (semifinals) in a pair of 1-0 results. But the Germans must first deal with duties in this testy Group B.
There are so many dimensions to Jogi Low’s sides, however, that it is a chic pick to win the entire event. While many believe World Cup 2010 was probably a tourney too soon for the new wave of German stars to win, the side figured to have matured into a powerhouse force by 2012. Which it has, sweeping to wins in all ten qualifiers by a 34-7 aggregate.
Look for Real Madrid midfielder Mesut Ozil to pick up where he left off in 2010 and dominate proceedings from the center of the pitch; indeed, Ozil has always looked more creative for the national side as opposed to his duties with the Galacticos at Real Madrid. Another youngster, Bayern Munich winger Thomas Muller, only won the Golden Boot at World Cup 2010, and vet Lazio striker Miroslav Klose scored nine goals in the qualifiers. Germany are now a team of “young veterans,” with Klose the only likely featured performer beyond 30 years of age. Bayern Munich components Muller, midfielder Bastian Schwensteiger and defender Philipp Lahm are all still in their 20s, while Ozil only 23 and Real Madrid midfield teammate Sami Khedira just 25, but all have plenty of experience on the top international stage.
Low is also a veteran of Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010, and likely sticks with his time-tested 4-2-3-1 formation emphasizing a collective pressing game, slick circulation of the ball, and the ability to change the attacking tempo on short notice.
As long as Bayern Munich GK Manuel Neuer has recovered from his Champions League final disappointment, this is the team to beat...in the entire tournament. Group forecast: Winners.
Netherlands (9/5): The Dutch are no more excited about being placed in the “Group of Death” than are the Germans. The questions around Europe surrounding Bert van Marwijk’s side involve whether this side collectively peaked at the last World Cup, when the Dutch were four minutes away from forcing a penalty shoot-out against Spain in a testy finale.
We would not read too much into a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Germany in a recent friendly; van Marwijk was minus key offensive components winger Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich) and striker Robin Van Persie (Arsenal) on that night. Remember, the Dutch were still the highest-scoring team in the qualifiers (27 goals in 10 matches) when Schalke striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar emerged as a powerful force with 12 goals. Van Persie, off a stellar campaign at Arsenal, has also evolved into one of the most-dangerous goal-scorers on the continent, although the Dutch engine is still mostly powered by Robben and his raids from the flanks.
Van Marwijk likely opts for a 4-2-3-1 formation with Persie (likely picked over Huntelaar) as the targetman, with support from Robben, Inter Milan maestro Wesley Sneijder and Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt. This collection is one of the most-feared attack groups in the tourney.
Van Marwijk also has plenty of tactical options in his midfield, but look for the hard-edged tandem of AC Milan’s Mark Van Bommel and Man City Nigel “Kung Fu” De Jong to be featured. Goalie Maarten Stekelenburg is a veteran of the World Cup 2010 wars. Group forecast: advance to second round.
Portugal (4/1): Are the Portuguese ready to make some noise? A difficult qualifying run that began with a shock 4-4 draw vs. minnow Cyprus and a loss at Norway paved the way for the exit of manager Carlos Queiroz, but the squad responded to the coaching switch to former Sporting Lisbon gaffer Paulo Bento, who was able to reinstall the attack mentality that was sorely missed at World Cup 2010 when the Portuguese scored goals in only one of their four games.
A 4-0 friendly win over Spain has buoyed Portuguese hopes, although Portgual’s ticket to Euro 2012 wasn’t punched until a playoff win over Bosnia-Herzegovina. Still, there has been some turbulence on Bento’s watch, with longtime defensive ace Ricardo Carvalho and Jose Bosingwa both sent packing after disputes with the new coach.
In the era following Rui Costa and Deco, Portugal’s problem remains a lack of a classic midfield Svengali; instead, most of the creative runs are generated from the flanks with the ball at the feet of Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Man United’s Nani. But central striker Helder Postiga had an indifferent season in Spain with Real Zaragoza, and memories of Ronaldo over-dribbling continue to haunt from 2010. Ronaldo, of course, had a wondrous 40-goal campaign at Real Madrid, but Bento’s 4-3-3 alignment could fall into he same trap in Poland and Ukraine as it did in South Africa two years ago if Ronaldo is asked to do too much.
In another group that might not prevent Portugal form advancing; but in this quartet, with the Germans and the Dutch, it likely spells a quick exit. Group forecast: out in first round.
Denmark (16/1): Those with long memories know that Denmark should not be discounted. Remember, the Danes were even longer shots in this event back in 1992, when a Peter Schmeichel-inspired side swept to a shocking tourney win.
Twenty years later, no Schmeichel is around to similarly distort proceedings, but keep in mind that the Danes did finish ahead of Portugal in Group H qualifying and are ranked ninth in the current FIFA World Rankings. Indeed, this might be the best Danish team since 1992.
Long-serving national coach Morten Olsen has been on the job for 12 years (an eternity for an international manager), has a settled squad, with no real selection issues. Olsen’s pet 4-3-3 lineup likes to spread the field width-wise and attack from the flanks, where wingers Dennis Rommedahl and Michal Krohn-Delhi (both at Brondby) can wreak the most havoc. Both can cross into the box in hopes of locating target man Nicklas Bendtner, who proved more adept scoring goals in the qualifiers than he did on loan this part term at Sunderland (from Arsenal). Copenhagen’s Lars Jacobsen and AZ Alkmaar’s Simon Poulsen are attack-minded fullbacks.
Our main question with the Danes is if this might be a tourney too far for vet 35-year-old Stoke City GK Thomas Sorenson, Schmeichel’s successor who has been top choice for his country for the past decade. Don’t be surprised if Olsen opts for Evian’s Stephen Andersen in goal at some point.
Like Portugal, Denmark likely advances from any of the three other groups, but probably won’t from this quartet with Germany and Holland in the way. Don’t be surprised if the Danes outperform the Portuguese, however. Group forecast: out in the first round.