Euro 2012 Preview: Group B

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Netherlands
The start of the Euro 2012 campaign presented Bert van Marwijk the opportunity to restore Oranje’s credentials as a side that play swift, attractive football. That they are a European and world powerhouse is undeniable, but their method to success during World Cup 2010 was simply, from the mouth of Johan Cruyff, “not the Dutch way.” And with an abundance of suitable players at his disposal, van Marwijk brought the high-scoring, intensive attacking swagger back during qualifying.
Europe’s highest scorers with 37 goals in qualifying will no doubt be aiming to go one better than two years ago. The question is, will they transform their qualifying form into the tournament and can they get the most out of what seems to be an endless line of attacking potential. It is no secret that the prolific club form of Robin van Persie is not always emulated at international level. On the other hand, Wesley Sneijder, a key piece of the 2010 jigsaw who almost single-handedly eliminated Brazil in the quarters, is playing well below expectations at Inter.

But perhaps the biggest indication of how far van Marwijk and the Dutch team have come since their pragmatic approach in South Africa is the inclusion, or lack thereof, of defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong. The man better known for using his body rather than head to stop the opposition remains a stronghold alongside characteristic twin Mark van Bommel, amidst calls to introduce a more creative tactician in the fold of Rafael van der Vaart in the middle of the park. The teamsheet against Denmark on 10th June should tell us a lot into how the Netherlands will approach this Euro.

Squad:
Goalkeepers:
Tim Krul (Newcastle United FC)
Maarten Stekelenburg (AS Roma)
Michel Vorm (Swansea City AFC)
Defenders:
Khalid Boulahrouz (VfB Stuttgart)
Wilfred Bouma (PSV Eindhoven)
John Heitinga (Everton FC)
Joris Mathijsen (Málaga CF)
Ron Vlaar (Feyenoord)
Gregory van der Wiel (AFC Ajax)
Jetro Willems (PSV Eindhoven)
Midfielders:
Mark van Bommel (AC Milan)
Nigel de Jong (Manchester City FC)
Stijn Schaars (Sporting Clube de Portugal)
Wesley Sneijder (FC Internazionale Milano)
Kevin Strootman (PSV Eindhoven)
Rafael van der Vaart (Tottenham Hotspur FC)
Forwards:
Ibrahim Afellay (FC Barcelona)
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (FC Schalke 04)
Luuk de Jong (FC Twente)
Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool FC)
Luciano Narsingh (sc Heerenveen)
Robin van Persie (Arsenal FC)
Arjen Robben (FC Bayern München)

Key Trio:
Heitinga – Sneijder – van Persie
Heitinga’s potential has shone through since his early years, but now a seasoned international at 28 he has truly matured and become a leader from the back. Sneijder will once again be pulling the strings for the Dutch from a trequartista role and his partnership with van Persie should yield goals.

Key to Success:
Hit the ground running and maintain form throughout tournament. Oranje are never slow starters. Four years ago they blitzed through Italy and France, only to be outwited by Russia. It’s been the story of their tournaments over the past two decades. After breaking that duck and reaching the World Cup final, they will this time be expected to repeat their feats but go all the way; something their fans feel a long time coming.

Best Euro Memory:
Euro 1988 – the Dutch’s only real success to date, when a van Basten and Gullit golden generation introduced sexy football at its best to Europe.

Most likely to leave heart on the field…
Mark van Bommel. Not only his heart, but also his studs in oppositions’ legs and mouth in referee’s ears.

Most likely to spit the dummy…
Arjen Robben (right). A feisty character on and off the pitch, he hates being substituted and often gets into scuffles…with his own teammates.

The crowd will sing…
Huntelaar! The goal hunter scores for fun and he’s odds on to bag plenty in Poland and Ukraine.

Verdict:
Expected finalists, but will again stumble along the way.

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Denmark
The Great Danes always seem to make up for what they lack in individual brilliance and flair with collective strength and unity. Perhaps the biggest indication of that is the twelve-year tenure of coach Marten Olsen. A true patriot of Danish football, the 50-cap ex-international has been at the helm for six qualification cycles; time not afforded to any other coach at the highest international level these days.

But it’s time well justified. Olsen has qualified Denmark to four of those six tournaments, along the way evolving their game-play and injecting youth where need be. Christian Eriksen has a $50 million price tag and is now the pivotal creator in Denmark’s midfield. Dennis Rommedahl still threatens opposition defences at 33. Nicklas Bendtner undeniably performs better in the red of Denmark than of Arsenal. Olsen knows how to get the most out of his team.

On paper, Denmark look well out of their depth amongst this company. They lack a truly reliable goalscorer, an exuberant winger and probably a solid centre-half to partner Daniel Agger. But that certainly doesn’t deter their self-belief. It showed in their last qualifying match when they beat Portugal to top their group. If they’re still within a shot of qualification come their third game against Germany, they may well spoil someone’s party once again.

Squad:
Goalkeepers:
Stephan Andersen (Évian Thonon Gaillard FC)
Anders Lindegaard (Manchester United FC)
Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City FC)
Defenders:
Lars Jacobsen (FC København)
Daniel Wass (Évian Thonon Gaillard FC)
Daniel Agger (Liverpool FC)
Simon Kjær (AS Roma)
Andreas Bjelland (FC Nordsjælland)
Simon Poulsen (AZ Alkmaar)
Jores Okore (FC Nordsjælland)
Midfielders:
Christian Poulsen (Évian Thonon Gaillard FC)
Jakob Poulsen (FC Midtjylland)
William Kvist (VfB Stuttgart)
Niki Zimling (Club Brugge KV)
Thomas Kahlenberg (Évian Thonon Gaillard FC)
Christian Eriksen (AFC Ajax)
Michael Silberbauer (BSC Young Boys)
Lasse Schøne (NEC Nijmegen)
Forwards:
Dennis Rommedahl (Brøndby IF)
Nicklas Bendtner (Arsenal FC)
Michael Krohn-Dehli (Brøndby IF)
Tobias Mikkelsen (FC Nordsjælland)
Nicklas Pedersen (FC Groningen)

Key Trio:
Agger – Eriksen – Bendtner
A rock at the back for Liverpool and Denmark, Agger instills mental and physical toughness throughout the team. Christian Eriksen is the new hope of Danish football and with comparisons to Michael Laudrup raining in, expect the unexpected. NicklasB endtner doesn’t possess the most lethal scoring ratio but he’s made a habit of netting at vital times.

Key to Success:
Defensive stability. In a group containing an abundance of firepower, Denmark may need to play three perfect matches to have a chance of progressing. Don’t count on them scoring too many – which means they must concede close to none.

Best Euro Memory:
Euro 1992 – Late invitees to the tournament due to Yugoslavia’s dismissal, Denmark stormed the Swedish party and all of its more illustrious guests by going all the way.

Most likely to leave heart on the field…
Michael Krohn-Dehli. A late bloomer at international level, the Brondby flanker will get through more defensive work than any of his fellow attackers.

Most likely to spit the dummy…
Nicklas Bendtner. Over-confident and often in the headlines for the wrong reasons, Bendtner must avoid boozy nights, including damaging cars, if he’s to shine at Euro and be offered a new contract by Arsenal.

The crowd will sing…
Dennis! Rommedahl’s (above) 12-year love affair with the Danish team has made him a fan favourite.

Verdict:
A solid team hard-done by an almost impossible draw.

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Germany
15 May 2010 – FA Cup Final. The day Michael Ballack was the recipient of a crude challenge from Portsmouth’s Kevin-Prince Boateng. The day when German fans trembled at the thought of their team lining up at the upcoming World Cup without their veteran skipper, became the day when a new philosophy was born.

Out with the old, in with the new. Sami Khedira, Mesut Özil, Thomas Müller and co. would begin a youthful transformation into a fluid machine that embarrassed England and Argentina (and just quietly Australia) before falling just short of the Spanish hurdle. A reborn Germany has arguably never looked so good.


Joachim Low has got the Mannschaft playing mesmerising attacking football, irresistible to the eye and ruthless towards opponents. A perfect record in qualifying has been coupled with some questionable results in friendlies, including losses to Australia and France and most recently a 3-5 thumping at the hands of Switzerland. But it is an understatement to say Low has experimented a lot; changing and chopping formations and players has become the norm in friendlies. And with endless lines of up-and-coming talent at his hands, who can blame him?

Going through the squad and finding names such as Boateng, Özil, Khedira and Gündoğan (not to mention the Polish attacking contingent) speaks volumes of Germany’s ethnic diversity. But come finals time, there is unlikely to be a team hungrier and more able to finally overcome Spain’s resilience to claim a first major trophy in 16 years. It has been a long time coming.


Squad:
Goalkeepers:
Manuel Neuer (FC Bayern München)
Tim Wiese (SV Werder Bremen)
Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover 96)
Defenders:
Holger Badstuber (FC Bayern München)
Jérôme Boateng (FC Bayern München)
Benedikt Höwedes (FC Schalke 04)
Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund)
Marcel Schmelzer (Borussia Dortmund)
Philipp Lahm (FC Bayern München)
Per Mertesacker (Arsenal FC)
Midfielders:
Lars Bender (Bayer 04 Leverkusen)
Toni Kroos (FC Bayern München)
Thomas Müller (FC Bayern München)
Mesut Özil (Real Madrid CF)
Sami Khedira (Real Madrid CF)
Marco Reus (VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach)
André Schürrle (Bayer 04 Leverkusen)
Bastian Schweinsteiger (FC Bayern München)
Mario Götze (Borussia Dortmund)
İlkay Gündoğan (Borussia Dortmund)
Forwards:
Miroslav Klose (S.S. Lazio)
Mario Gomez (FC Bayern München)
Lukas Podolski (1. FC Köln)

Key Trio:
Lahm – Özil – Podolski
The industrious qualities of the German skipper are second to none. He’ll often parade up and down the flank linking up with the prodigious Özil, but it’s Germany’s golden boy Lukas Podolski who is sure to fire in the goals. He has scored at every major tournament since showcased to the world at the Confederations Cup 2005 and about to hit the big stage at Arsenal after the Euros, he’ll want to impress Arsene Wenger.

Key to Success:
Putting domestic blues behind them. As much as they wouldn’t like to admit Bayern Munchen’s influence on the national team, the fact is the Bavarian club supply potentially eight starters in the Mannschaft. A heartbreaking season of finishing runners-up in three competitions is sure to linger in the back of their minds.

Best Euro Memory:
The two cups by West Germany in 1972 and ’80 were matched by the triumph of a unified German team at Euro ’96.

Most likely to leave heart on the field…
Sami Khedira (right). A box-to-box midfielder who will not grab the headlines but always puts the team ahead of himself.

Most likely to spit the dummy…
Thomas Müller. The Bayern attacker plays with his heart on his sleeve and is not afraid to get stuck into his teammates when the chips are down. A few days ago he was involved in a training ground bust-up with Holger Badstuber after nearly taking his legs out with a crunching tackle.

The crowd will sing…
Schweinsteiger! It really does sound good, doesn’t it?

Verdict:
Winners.

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Portugal
Portugal represents the age-old challenge of bonding a team full of individual brilliance. Characters such as Ronaldo, Nani and Ricardo Quaresma are all similar in traits and certainly enjoy hogging the limelight. But in Paulo Bento, Portugal has found a pragmatic man-manager who has put the difficult days of Carlos Queiroz’s cautious demeanour and over-reliance on Ronaldo to bed.

The Portugese look like a team, even if results don’t indicate it. A less than flattering qualification group campaign that began with a home draw with Cyprus and ended in an away defeat to Denmark left them having to once again secure qualification through a playoff with Bosnia and Herzegovina. It all clicked for Portugal in a 6-2 second-leg home win, but such a performance is not enjoyed as often as should be. Failures to beat Macedonia and Turkey in pre-tournament friendlies has certainly not breathed optimism in the camp.

Deploying a hard-running, possession-style midfield comprising Miguel Veloso, João Moutinho and Raúl Meireles, the Portuguese will enjoy their fair share of possession against group rivals. In centre forward Nelson Oliveira, perhaps they have finally found a reliable source of goals, although at 20 it might not be his time yet. But Portugal undeniably play their best football against more illustrious opponents. For all their struggles against the likes of Denmark and Poland in recent qualifying campaigns, Portugal always produce at the initial stages of big tournaments.

Progressing through the group of death at World Cup 2010 was no exception. In fact, local journalists are optimistically comparing this year’s draw with the group which they topped in Euro 2000 before reaching the semis – containing England, Romania and Germany. The real question is, can they break the mould and go on with it. The years pass by and Ronaldo’s international tournaments always end in tears – he’ll be most desperate to make those tears of joy.


Squad:
Goalkeepers:
Eduardo (SL Benfica)
Rui Patrício (Sporting Clube de Portugal)
Beto (CFR 1907 Cluj)
Defenders:
João Pereira (Sporting Clube de Portugal)
Fábio Coentrão (Real Madrid CF)
Bruno Alves (FC Zenit St Petersburg)
Rolando (FC Porto)
Ricardo Costa (Valencia CF)
Pepe (Real Madrid CF)
Miguel Lopes (SC Braga)
Midfielders:
Raúl Meireles (Chelsea FC)
Miguel Veloso (Genoa CFC)
João Moutinho (FC Porto)
Rúben Micael (Real Zaragoza)
Hugo Viana (SC Braga)
Custódio (SC Braga)
Forwards:
Nani (Manchester United FC)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid CF)
Hugo Almeida (Beşiktaş JK)
Ricardo Quaresma (Beşiktaş JK)
Silvestre Varela (FC Porto)
Hélder Postiga (Real Zaragoza)
Nélson Oliveira (SL Benfica)

Key Trio:
Pepe – Moutinho – Ronaldo
A fiery character just as comfortable in midfield as at the heart of defence, Pepe will get stuck into his opponents from the outset. The other livewire in Portugal’s team is midfield dynamo Joao Moutinho. The box-to-box tactician oozes exuberance and will take a lot of creative responsibility off Ronaldo’s shoulders.

Key to Success:
Realising their scoring potential. Portugal have an attacking line-up the envy of most national teams. The talents of Ronaldo, Nani and even Ricardo Quaresma are well known, as is their lack of a true centre forward. But for all that firepower, Portugal so often fail to shine and 0-0 draws have become second nature.

Best Euro Memory:
The Portuguese summer of 2004 is as close as the Iberians have come to getting their hands on the Henri Delaunay trophy. They were somehow, just as the rest of Europe, undone by Greece.

Most likely to leave heart on the field…
Miguel Veloso. The unsung hero of the team, a deep-lying figure of composure takes enormous defensive responsibility through his tireless attitude.
Most likely to spit the dummy…
Ronaldo, Pepe, Quaresma, Nani…and the list goes on. One of the most pretentious squads in the world leaves Paulo Bento with the unenviable task of trying to manage a host of egos. Simply put, if the chips are down – the tears and red cards start streaming out.

The crowd will sing…
Bruno! No, the Portuguese faithful haven’t taken a liking to male Austrians in tight leather, they’re simply cheering for their free scoring centre-half.

Verdict:
Will rise to the occasion and pip Netherlands to the quarter-finals in the last group match.

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