It’s an even-numbered year which means we have some top-notch international football competition to look forward to once the European season concludes this weekend with a final round of matches in France and, of course, the UEFA Champions League finale at Allianz Arena in Munich between Chelsea and Bayern Munich.
In a few weeks, however, attention will focus upon Poland and the Ukraine, which are playing a joint-host role for fast-approaching Euro 2012. Beginning next week, we’ll provide group-by-group previews of the upcoming competition before we get into the match previews when action begins on June 8, when Poland faces Greece and Russia faces the Czech Republic.
But as we take a quick overview at pricing to win Euro 2012, we must make extra mention of a Spanish side that is on the cusp on an unprecedented third consecutive major tournament victory. La Seleccion, of course, rolled to triumphs Euro 2008 in Austria/Switzerland and in South Africa’s World Cup 2010.
Some accomplished sides have tried for the “three-peat” in the past and failed. Included were the great West Germany sides of 1972 (Euro) and 1974 (World Cup), led by Gerd “Der Bomber” Muller and Franz Beckenbauer. West Germany got close in Euro 1976, taking the final into penalty kicks before losing on a famous chip by Czechoslavakia’s Antonin Panenka.
France was the most recent to attempt at international three-peat after a Zinedine Zidane-influenced side won World Cup 1998 on home turf at the Stade de France and succeeded to prevail in a pulsating Euro 2000 final at Rotterdam, leveling the match at the death of added time vs. Italy on a goal by Sylvain Wiltord, then winning on a “golden goal” by David Trezeguet thirteen minutes into overtime. World Cup 2002 in Japan/South Korea, however, proved a disaster for Les Bleus, who couldn’t score a goal in three group matches and were unceremoniously eliminated.
Now, how about Spain in 2012?
Already, however, there are concerns in the camp of La Seleccion, due mostly to injuries. Following are quick rundowns on some of the higher-profile sides and their current odds to win the whole ball of wax at Euro 2012.
SPAIN (5/2): La Furia Roja enters Euro 2012 with some legitimate questions, fueled mostly by the aforementioned injury situation. Key Barcelona striker David Villa, who scored plenty of big goals at both Euro 2008 and World Cup 2012, is still rehabbing a knee he shredded this past season, and his status is very questionable. Longtime defensive ace and team spiritual leader Carlos Puyol is also unlikely, at least for the group phase, after recent knee surgery.
Striker Fernando Torres has not been as influential in his current stint at Chelsea as in years past. The midfield axis of Barca’s Xavi and Andres Iniesta also showed signs of slowing down this past season. We’ll find out early if Spain is up to the task when it faces Italy in the first group match on June 10 at Gdansk.
GERMANY (3/1): No one has to remind the Germans that Spain blocked their way both at Euro 2008 (final) and World Cup 2010 (semifinals) with a pair of 1-0 wins. Many are openly pining for a reboot at some point in Euro 2012. And the Germans might like their chances in a rematch.
Die Mannschaft is a squad on the ascent, which wasn’t necessarily the case in 2008 when a more-plodding German version, still featuring Michael Ballack at midfield, was comfortably seen off in the finale. Blooding several youngsters for World Cup 2010, Germany might have arrived a bit early. Now, however, Jogi Low’s squad has two more years worth of experience, and Mesut Ozil is a more-mature catalyst in midfield, having spent the past two seasons at Real Madrid. Another confrontation vs. nemesis Xavi already has the football world salivating.
Remember, too, that winger Thomas Muller won the golden boot at World Cup 2012, and there remains a nice blend of experience and youth on the squad, with the likes of Bayern Munich midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger entering his fourth international competition and lending a steady hand, while veterans such as defender Philipp Lahm and striker Miroslav Klose (who scored nine goals in the qualifiers) are still present. Is Bayern Munich GK Manuel Neuer up to the task? Drawn, however, into the obvious ”Group of Death” with Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark.
NETHERLANDS (7/1): The runners-up to Spain in a bitterly-fought World Cup 2010 finale, the Dutch believe this might be their time to claim their first international hardware since the Marco Van Basten/Ruud Gillit-led side won at Euro 1988. The Dutch were the highest-scoring team in the qualifiers (27 goals in 10 matches) when striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar emerged as a force with 12 goals. Arsenal striker Robin Van Persie has also evolved into one of the most-dangerous goal-scorers on the planet, although the engine is still mostly driven by Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben.
ENGLAND (10/1): We’re not sure how seriously we should take the English, especially with Fabio Capello having stepped down as coach in the qualifiers and veteran Roy Hodgson now behind the bench. Hodgson, however, is no stranger to these international events, leading teams in Euros as far back ad 1996 when he managed the Switzerland side. Moreover, Man U striker Wayne Rooney is suspended for the first two group play games against France and Sweden due to a red card late in the qualifying phase.
Meanwhile, Aston Villa striker Darren Bent is nursing an ankle sprain, and his fitness for the early matches remains in doubt. There are not many reliable attacking options at the disposal of Hodgson, who might have to opt for Chelsea’s Daniel Sturridge or Stoke City’s Peter ”The Stork” Crouch, both of whom were not in top form over the last half of the just-completed EPL campaign. The likes of Steven Gerrard and John Terry (stripped for the second time of team captaincy) have never been able to translate their club success into the national team.
For the moment, we have a hard time envisioning any other than Spain, Germany or The Netherlands winning this event. Although we were saying the same things eight years ago when Greece came out of nowhere to win at Euro 2004.
Next update: Group A preview