Sunday, 3 June 2012

Euro 2012 roundtable #3: Group B preview

If you are late getting to the party, you can read about how we all felt Group A would work out here, and an introduction to proceedings here. And here is a story that people just seem to like. (Cheap plug!)

And given I have a healthy sense of self-depreciation, here are some of the best moments from my Euro 2008 preview. You could see it on the old blog, but I'd rather you didn't - that place is home to quite a lot of pretentiousness. I was younger!

"But to the neutral, a warning: any money spent on Spain is likely to be wasted, yet again.They wont win it. They'll get through this group, dazzle us all with some fine attacking play, and then capitulate to the runners up of the Group of Death. Its the Spanish way. "

"David Villa is likely to stay on the bench..."

"Now this may toy with your expectations of Euro 2008, but my mysterious sources (ie, magazines, experts and fans from Greece, yeah, I know my sources aren't all that mysterious after all) tell me that, faced with elimination in the Qualifiers, Otto Rehagal dropped his defensive tactics and opted for a attack minded offence, leading to Greece qualifying with easy and lots of goals. Now, will this change continue to the Euros? I have my doubts, but it would be nice to see some of this new Greek outlook." (Oh dear)

A wonderful bit where I point out Guus Hiddink's habit of taking teams to a Semifinal, then backtrack over Arshavins suspension and say Russia will finish 3rd in their group.

"Expect big things from Sweden"

"This called the group of death, and with good reason. However I am going to say - perhaps controversially - that there are, in my mind, 1 spot for 3. Because I cannot see Italy failing at the group stage. The Italians have a great record against Holland (havent lost to them since 1978, only lost twice in their history) and then take on Romania. It should be all done and dusted before France."

"Failure. With everything being so tight in this group, Holland are the only team who have proven they will probably fall to Romania. That, and France and Italy have far superior squads to the Dutch. Also, its a tight group: who cracks under pressure fastest? The Dutch." (Ok, I was actually right. It just happened AFTER the group stage)

France "will be semifinalists at worst".

Based on that, I have no idea why people listen to me. As bad as ITV. Oh well, hopefully I've gotten wiser in the subsequent four years!

Group B

"Anyone who bets against Germany in a tournament is a fool and an idiot."

Granda George.

Despite the best efforts of Sweden and Croatia to claim otherwise, Group B is the one with the Group of Death tag. Or the Group of Mortal Ceasing to Be Forever and Ever and Ever (until the World Cup qualifiers start in August). Three of the biggest nations in Europe, and three former European Champions. Those lists aren’t mutual, as Portugal has never won the Euros. And Denmark did, though they probably still don’t quite believe that one. Even if we were to exclude Denmark right from the off however, three into two don’t go.

The Group of Death often produces some lovely football. In 2002, we saw Englands narrow win over Argentina sandwiching the Argentine flurry against Sweden and Nigeria which produced four points and an early exit for a side showing the first glimpses of the impact Marcelo Bielsas footballing philosophy would have on the game. In 2004, everyones eyes were on Holland v Germany, only for the Czechs to astound the world with three straight group wins. Then, a limp German side fell home, and Rudi Voller got the axe. In 2006, Argentina and the Dutch narrowly beat a naive Ivory Coast, then easily beat Serbia Montenegro. In 2008, Holland took advantage of French disarray and the Italian habit of retreating in a conspiracys shell to take control of their group. Was there even a group of death at the last World Cup? Oh yes, Group G. Brazil won the group, Portugal bored us all to death outside thumping the minnows, and the Ivorians, cursing their luck for a second consecutive World Cup, narrowly crashed out.

In all of the Group of Deaths, we see a recurring trend. And no, not just Holland being in them. The underdog alternate at the bottom of the pile (Nigeria, Latvia, Serbia, Romania, North Korea) turns heads for a while, sometimes for the wrong reason, but never qualifies. With the exception of 2006, the team who does go out has never lost their opening match. Also, the team who luck out in the final standings need not get too worried about the future – all the others bounced back, and sometimes much better than they were before.

Thoughts on Germany?

"A wise man once said to judge a team on recent friendlies is a foolish errand."

Me in 2008, in a rare moment of sense.

Michael: I’ve never seen the point in disliking Germany. The Voller side was a bit dull, but effective, until it wasn’t. Then Klinsmann came in, and was slated all the way until the opening match of the 2006 World Cup. Do you remember some German fans fearing they’d crash out in the group stage? Some crash that was! Five straight wins was a run only ended by the eventual World Champions, Italy, in a glorious Semifinal. In 2008 they got to the final, though I’m not sure they hit the heights of 2006 in their run. Though the never say die attitude that got them past Turkey in the Semis was something to behold.

2010 put both of those in the shade though. The Germans were good. Very good. I am ashamed to admit I thought that being injury ridden and focusing on the kids, an early exit would happen. Those kids came ever so close to winning the whole tournament, dispatching the ego driven superstars of England and Argentina with exquisite football. Then they hit a roadblock called Carlos Puyol.

This was the same roadblock they met in 2008.

In 2012, we might see Germany v Spain for the third time in successive tournaments. The rule of three in movies suggests this time the Germans finally vanquish the unbeatable Spaniards. However, to do that, they have to qualify first!

They have a team oozing with quality though. My 2nd favourite player at the tournament, Thomas Muller, had a sensational World Cup, and so nearly won the Champions League in May, but for a bizarre substitution by his manager once he’d scored his goal. Miroslav Klose needs no introduction, he is simply one of the finest international strikers in football today. Even at the age of 33, I wouldn’t bet against him adding to his phenomenal tally, and he will surely aim to continue on to the World Cup where he is one goal off the record of Top Goalscorer in World Cup history. Schweinsteiger, the man who until May I had never seen miss a penalty. When he scores, Germany never loses. When Klose scores, Germany never lose either. Thats a wonderful psychological advantage to have.

They also have Mario Gomez, one of the most frustrating men in world football. If he scored half his chances, he’d be the greatest striker alive.

You could see goals from all over the pitch, another strength. The defence might not be as strong as it ought to be though.

Gav: Germany are quite good at football. I seem to remember tipping them as tournament winners (until I saw who was in the Czech Republic squad). They are a disciplined side and are better than England at taking penalties. What else can I tell you that Adrian Chiles probably already has a 100 times? Germany get an insular rating of 4. Not quite as insular as the Russians, but very close. Germany have Phillip Lahm who I love. He’s one of my favourite defenders and I’ve always wanted him in my Football Manager games but have never managed to sign him. How sad. They also have Ozil who was one of the standout players in the 2010 World Cup – it’s such a shame he went to Real Madrid. Still, he’s only 23, plenty of time to join Southampton at some point in his career.

I’m going to stick my neck out on the line and say that I think Germany will do well this year.

Jon: Things I like about not being English – I can quite happily admire the qualities of the Germans and enjoy. Schweinsteiger, Khedira, Kroos, Ozil, Lahm, Muller, Podolski… this is what a real golden generation looks like. It’s largely the same team as two years ago but two years older and wiser. The only question is have they closed the gap with Spain enough in two years? That they’ve only won one of their three matches so far this year is frankly irrelevant.

Keld, Denmark: A great team with immense depth in the offensive sector. Müller and Podolski can be replaced by creative players like Götze, Schürrle and Reus if Germany has any trouble in breaking up defences. They will probably try to adopt some of the Bayern München-forces in possession to become more than a predominantly counter-attacking team. The composition of the defence hasn’t been very stable; Philip Lahm is the only dead-certain starter, while Mats Hummels and Holger Badstuber have decent chances as well. The last spot is up for grabs, and this uncertainty combined with a Manuel Neuer, who has had some lapses of concentration in the past months, suggests potential defensive troubles against quality opponents, like the one’s waiting already in the group stage.

Joao Diogo Reis: Germany was great in the 2010 World Cup. Their starting XI two years later is pretty much the same. Their “reserves” are highly praised, although they have a lot to prove at this level. They are basically the Borussia Dortmund legion (Hummels, Schmelzer, Gotze, Sven Bender, etc.), players who won two German Leagues, but did nothing relevant at higher levels (Europa League and Champions League).
Based on expecting a lot from these players, the Germans think that they have a super squad. They may find out that their expectations were unreal.

Although Germany was fantastic in the 2010 World Cup, they lost two of their 3 games against European opposition – Serbia and Spain (and they defeated England). The other 4 wins were against Australia, Ghana, Argentina and Uruguay. 

The quality of their reserves isn’t the only problem. Who should be their striker, veteran Klose who may be past his best but has a fantastic record of 16 goals in 27 games at Euro or World Cups, or younger Gómez who has a great record at club football (12 goals in this Champions League edition) but never scored a goal for Germany in 8 games at Euro or World Cups?

Dave Beattie: Thoughts on Germany? Germany have been terrific to watch ever since Klinsmann had his stint in charge in 2006. Bit of an English-centric rant here but in 2000 Germany & England were equally awful. Germany might have been outrageously fortunate to reach the World Cup Final in 2002 - given that they were still fairly awful then - but since that their production of new young talent has been impressive to say the least. In England we still seem to be talking about the need to get the kids playing the right way at an ever younger age.

Thoughts on Holland?

Michael: I’ve never been a fan of Holland. I know, that’s practically a crime against football fandom, and the police will be around to send me to the Hague ASAP. But, for all the talk of the wonderful Total Football side, the Dutch side of my generation have been a bunch of grafters. They can play when they want to, but they had plenty of opportunities to do that in 2006 and 2010 and somehow managed to fail to live up to expectations. They always fail to live up to expectations. Even in 2008, when the entire world was waxing lyrically about the side, when all they’d done was use a sneaky tactic to catch Italy off guard, then thump a disinterested France. Against Romania they were pedestrian, and then they were out Total Football’d against the first team that tried playing them at their own game in Russia! They were a Euro 2008 footnote, spoken about at great length.

So, if they were to hammer a fragile Portugal and Denmark here, I’d expect the exact same praise. I feel a bit jealous of those who have 1970s and 80s Orange-tinted glasses, really. I wasn’t there, its all history to me. I go back and try and appreciate it, and come away going “Wow, Franz Beckenbauer invented Total Football, what a genius!” Or maybe I’m just contrarian like that.

They can be a nice side to watch when they feel like it though. Some of the football they produced against the French was admittedly very pretty, and against the Uruguayans and Italians in recent years they’ve shown lovely counter attacks. They were also one half of my favourite match ever, Holland v the Czech Republic at Euro 2004. A match I hear isn’t too popular in the Netherlands since Holland give up a 2-0 lead in it!

Here, I expect them to be a bit dour. The match against Denmark at the World Cup was a snooze, and though fiery, Germany/Holland could well be akin to the World Cup final.

They’ll get through, because they always seem to. They will probably get lots of credit for doing so. They might even meet Russia again in the Quarters. Don’t be surprised if they crash out much sooner than some expect, and in the usual cynical way.

Keld, Denmark: Will be interesting to see whether van Marwijk keeps the double lock with Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong, or whether he goes with a more creative player like Kevin Strootman or Rafael van der Vaart to partner one of them. Wesley Sneijder hasn’t been superb for the last two seasons and if he fails to hit the standard of the 2010 World Cup, Holland will hope that Robin Van Persie can continue his goal bonanza.

Joao Diogo Reis: Like Germany, Holland was also great in the 2010 World Cup. 6 wins in a row until they lost the final against Spain (Denmark, Japan, Cameroon, Slovakia, Brazil and Uruguay). They also had 9 wins in a row in Euro 2012 qualifiers, until they lost the last game against Sweden when they were already qualified. 

While Holland doesn’t have some of Germany’s problems, they have one big problem – the left back position. 

The only left back in their squad is 18 years old Willems. Bouma can also play there although he plays as central defender for PSV, Schaars is a left footed midfielder who may be adapted to play there… and there are also the possible adaptations of Heitinga or Boulahrouz. Too many doubts, Holland doesn’t have any more the security that Van Bronckhorst provided 2 years ago. 

They don’t have Germany’s striker problem (Van Persie and Huntelaar seem good enough, and there’s still Luuk De Jong as third choice), and their “reserve” is also reliable. 

Only 6 players in Holland squad never played in a major tournament: Krul, Willems, Vlaar, Strootman, Narsingh and Luuk De Jong.

Jon: The Dutch weren’t overly fancied by anyone to reach the World Cup 2010 final yet they did thanks mainly to Wesley Sneijder’s goals and much hard work from the likes of Van Bommel and Kuyt. The big question mark over them this time is their stamina – can the likes of Robben (after going all the way in the Champions League) and van der Vaart and an aging defence stand up to the rigours of tournament football? And will van Bommel’s inevitable slowing thanks to age mean he’s going to commit even more fouls which he’ll somehow escape punishment for? Plenty of goals at both ends of the pitch in their matches likely with a selection of forward players who’re the envy of probably every other competing nation.

Dave Beattie: Thoughts on Holland? Every instinct tells me that in a Holland-Germany head-to-head I should always root for the Dutch. But given how much I've enjoyed watching the Germans play in the past few years - at least when England aren't the other team - and the bitter taste left by the Dutch in the 2010 World Cup Final. Oh - & they were on the pitch in that awful game with Portugal in 2006 too...

Michael: Contrarian alert. I loved that 2006 game. 16 yellow cards, 4 reds, Figo headbutting folk, Ronaldo having to leave the pitch in tears after being hacked down, and in the middle of all that, a brilliant Maniche goal. Whats not to love? By the last five minutes, it was 6 attackers v 6 attackers, and I was desperate for extra time! The image of Deco and Von Bronckhorst, Barcelona buddies, sitting in the stands together having both been sent off, lives long in the mind too.

Gav: They wear orange. They’ll do well as usual, but don’t deserve it after their performance in the 2010 World Cup final. They are Chelsea to me.

Thoughts on Portugal?

Michael: No decent strikers, squad disharmony, a coach infamous for eccentric tactics, a star player who believes his own hype. If Portugal make it to the Quarterfinals, expect to see Mother Theresa reading the Six O’Clock news in the near future, as miracles have started happening.

Joao Diogo Reis: Portugal qualified for its 7th major tournament in a row. The last time that they missed one was the 1998 World Cup. In Europe, only Germany, Italy, Spain and France have been qualifying for more tournaments in a row. France’s last miss was the 1994 World Cup (9 in a row), Italy and Spain missed Euro 1992 (10 in a row), while Germany has been qualifying for every tournament since 1970 (22 in a row! Their last miss was Euro 1968, when it only had 4 teams). 

Unlike Germany and Holland, Portugal’s qualification was problematic. They only had 1 point after two games, where the coach was still Carlos Queiroz, but was suspended by the Portuguese Federation, so Agostinho Oliveira was the caretaker. After this bad start, a lot of things changed - new coach (Paulo Bento), some different players, and 5 wins in a row. Defeat against Denmark in the last group game forced Portugal to play a playoff, where they met Bosnia again (just like two years earlier in a World Cup playoff). Once again Portugal prevailed. 

Things haven’t changed from chaos to harmony with the new coach, though. Paulo Bento had problems with Bosingwa and Ricardo Carvalho, and none was included in the Euro 2012 squad. 

Like Holland, Portugal’s squad also has only 6 players who never played a major tournament: João Pereira, Miguel Lopes, Custódio, Rúben Micael, Varela and Nélson Oliveira.

Dave Beattie: Thoughts on Portugal? Portugal always seem to suffer from the lack of a real world class centre forward. On paper - with Ronaldo able to provide goals - they ought to be able to overcome this deficit but they always seem more like a talented bunch of individuals than a team to me.

Jon: I know football’s an eleven man game but I can’t enjoy any team which contains Ronaldo, the apotheosis of everything I dislike in a player. He’s one of the best in the world I grant you, but there’s a selfishness and arrogance to his game which is off-putting. And then they’ve got Nani, who’s undoubtedly talented but seems to spend more time working on his celebration than on his teamwork and I’m still to mention the most liked man in La Liga *cough* Pepe. Still, maybe this will be the tournament where they don’t play dead against good teams…

Keld, Denmark: The same old forward problems remain in Portugal, who will play one of Hélder Postiga, Hugo Almeida and Nélson Oliveira up front. Neither seems up to the job, so the Portugese will again put their goal-scoring faith in Christiano Ronaldo and Nani.

Gav: They have Ronaldo. Whenever I hear ITV football pundits talk about Ronaldo I think of this song - .

I am actually surprised that Paulo Bento has been brave enough to select any other strikers in the squad, presumably Ronaldo will see this as a bit of a snub?

Thoughts on Denmark?

Michael: Denmark is a lovely country. I’ve been there twice. One time, I was five and we went to Legoland. Which was brilliant. The second time, mum was at a conference, so me and dad spent the entire time eating Yorkies and telling each other ghost stories in the middle of Kobenhavn square. That was also brilliant. They also have laws designed to protect hedgehogs. Thats the kind of country I can’t help but root for: it’s a bit like a foreign Scotland!

(Last time I was there, they were also bloody expensive! But one can’t have it all!)

Danish Dynamite. They looked so good at the 1986 World Cup, then got thumped by Spain. They didn’t look so good in qualifying for the 1992 Euros. I’m being cruel, they finished a point behind Yugoslavia, but only the top team advanced so that was it. Then a little something called the breakup of Yugoslavia and the Balkan War happened. You may have heard of it. As a child of the time, the carnage and of Sarajevo is the first things I think of when I hear of the city. But here is not the place to go into the murky and many issues in that time period, bar one. Yugoslavia were disqualified from Euro 1992 as a result of the issues, and runners up Denmark invited to take their place. Many scoffed, Michael Laudrup in fact refused to return from his holidays for the tournament, which Denmark promptly won. Their 2-0 sensational win over Germany in the final sealed by Kim Vilfort, a man surrounded by tragedy: he had left the bedside of his dying daughter as she wanted to see him play in the final. Sniff. I think I have something in my eye.

Tragedy has stalked the Danish sides of recent memory: I think of Stig Tofting’s tragic early life, and of course, the poor manager, Olsen, who lost his wife several years ago when she fell overboard from a Germany to Denmark ferry.

Such events make a mockery of those who view “football isn;t a matter of life and death, its more serious than that” with a straight face. It also grounds the Danish side. This is not a country prone to egotistical huffs, they work with what they have. All for one and one for all, that even produces some nice flair at times.

Dave Beattie: Thoughts on Denmark? Denmark have largely slipped under my radar to be honest but the first line of WS's tactics section: "Olsen favours a flexible, attacking 4-3-3 system, with a view to using the wide players as much as possible" suggests they ought to be a team to watch. Shame they have such a tough draw.

Gav: Do I need to comment on Denmark? I guess it depends which Nicklas Bendtner turns up. If he hasn’t got his scoring boots on then Denmark will finish rock bottom of this group. If, however, the goal scoring Bendtner turns up then I can easily see Denmark finishing rock bottom with a goal to their name.

Jon: Along with Ireland the Danes must’ve been cursing the luck of their draw. Portugal again after they’d seen them off in qualifying and then the second and third place teams in the World Cup. But they’ve a lot to recommend them. There’s a solid spine to Morten Olsen’s team, despite long term first choice Sorenson being ruled out – Agger and Kjaer are one of the finest defensive pairings at the tournament, Kvist’s prospered in his step up to German football and ahead of him the is probably the most exciting Danish player since Michael Laudrup was in his prime, Christian Eriksen. If self belief equated to talent Nicklas Bendtner would dwarf the talents of Messi, Maradona and Pele combined but he’s good enough to do the job Olsen wants him to.

Joao Diogo Reis: Denmark qualified for 5 major tournaments in a row (1996-1998-2000-2002-2004), then they missed two (2006-2008), and now they’ve qualified for their second in a row (2010-2012).
They kept their coach Morten Olsen since the 2002 World Cup qualifiers. Many would have fired their coaches after failing to reach one or two final tournaments, or even for reaching it (in 2010) but not getting through the group stages. But not Denmark, they have a different way of doing things. 

People are talking about the “group of death” because of Germany, Holland and Portugal… but Denmark is quite big as well. They are the 10th in the Euro Cups all time table, only behind Germany, Holland, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Czech Republic, Russia and England. 

11 players of Denmark’s Euro 2012 squad never played a major tournament, while 8 only played one, the 2010 World Cup, where things didn’t went as expected. They reached the third game with 3 points (a defeat against Holland and a win against Cameroon), a win against Japan was necessary in order to progress. Instead they lost 1-3 and were eliminated – the first time that they couldn’t progress from a group stage in a World Cup. 

This time they’ll meet Holland again in the first game, but now the other opponents are Portugal and Germany, not Cameroon and Japan.

To try and top Group A, this time we have two Group B home perspectives. Step forward Keld:

Keld, Denmark: Our team should definitely be better than at the 2010 World Cup, but the opposition is dramatically stronger as well. The World Cup taught Morten Olsen an important lesson, which he has repeated several times: The players should be in match fitness. At the world cup several players had just returned from injury, but were pushed right into the starting line-up. So this time we should be fresher, younger, and more match fit. 

Old profiles like Jesper Grønkjær, Daniel Jensen, Martin Jørgensen, and Jon Dahl Tomasson all retired, or were omitted from the squad shortly after the World Cup. Especially the latter's retirement meant a quite significant change for the Danish Team. We kept the 4-2-3-1 system, but the change of personnel makes quite a difference. Instead of Tomasson, who was pretty much a second striker, Christian Eriksen, who is much more of a classic attacking midfielder, stepped into the side. The Ajax player has made Denmark better in possession, and more fluid up front. The downside, however, can be that Denmark lack players to support Bendtner in the box. 

Two other old players, Christian Poulsen and Thomas Sørensen, played a huge part of the Danish failure in South Africa with very obvious personal mistakes. The fans and the media demanded them out of the starting line-up, and Christian Poulsen was quickly replaced by William Kvist. Kvist quickly found into a great duo with Niki Zimling at the central midfield. Both players have a great stamina and can cover big spaces; Zimling adds a bit of attacking spark to the duo as well. 

Olsen, however, seemed to stick with Sørensen in goal despite his many injuries and his aura of uncertainty. So many Danes breathed a sigh of relief when Thomas Sørensen was injured in a recent friendly against Brazil; another game wherein he made a clear mistake. Hopefully Stephan Andersen or Anders Lindegaard can prove a safer last bastion. 

The Eriksen – Rommedahl – Bendtner trio was our most dangerous weapon throughout the qualification; Eriksen makes a pass behind the defence, Rommedahl outruns them and crossed for Bendtner. See 

As Denmark is not expected to dominate the games, we could very well get the space to repeat this trick at Euro 12.

So, this group is a banker Danish victory, isn't it?

Gav: You said it...

Dave Beattie: Never say never...

Jon: Don’t write them off. They’ve already proven that they can match the Portugese, Olsen likes a possession based game and with key players from the German and Dutch sides liable to be suffering the rigours of a long club season (particularly those from Champions League finalists Bayern) they may well spring a surprise.

Keld, Denmark: Yes, the road seems quite clear for us. We will start out with the 0-0 draw against Holland that we would have gotten at the World Cup, had Simon Poulsen not inexplicably headed the ball into his own net. Then we will beat Portugal like we have done in our two last qualifications. And in our last match day, we can agree on a draw with a German side, which is already through. It’s as simple as that.

That’s the spirit!

Joao Diego Reis: Denmark’s problem is that Holland, Portugal and Germany are “improved” versions of Denmark. The football principles are the same, but it’s like playing chess and Morten Olsen is playing with pawns, while Low, Van Marwijk and Paulo Bento are playing with rooks, bishops and knights. (And that genius Paulo Bento gave up on one of his knights and opted for bringing a pawn instead). For Morten Olsen to win, being brilliant isn’t enough, he has to be brilliant and the others have to be really stupid.

I love hearing JDR’s opinions, as despite them being almost the complete opposite philosophy of mine, especially at the European football level, they are often full of interest and clever points. I suspect in this case, he has the nail firmly on the head, and with a nice analogy to boot. Though, speaking from a position of complete and utter bias, I hope Olsen is brilliant and the others are really stupid!

Players to watch out for?

Michael: Hugo Viana, once a punch line for Bobby Robson, had a wonderful season with Braga, so naturally the coach tried to axe him. Injuries twisted his hand, however, and Viana has his chance. Hummels impressed in Germany’s 5-3 defeat to Switzerland, and Marco Reus looks to be a useful threat. Jetro Willems has been flung in at the deep end for Holland, and how well they do may depend on how well he does. And after a solid season, if he gets any playing time, the young defender from Nordsjaelland, Okore. Well, I couldn’t just say Eriksen, could I?

Jon: The German and Dutch sides are essentially known qualities so no surprises here- Lahm won’t be playing his favoured right back role, but it’s always fun to see him marauding up the wing and Schweinsteiger will likely give his usual object lesson in controlling the game. For the Dutch the man worth keeping an eye on is Afellay – he’s had an injury wrecked season after his big move to Barca so his legs will be relatively fresh. Eriksen is touted as the next great Danish talent, but also Liverpool fans will tell you to watch out for Daniel Agger stepping gracefully forward with the ball out of defence. As for Portugal, anyone but the two wide attackers whose biggest love seems to be their own reflections!

Dave Beattie:
Germany: Key man - Ozil. New face to look out for: Mats Hummels - centre back from Champions Dortmund. 

Holland: Key man - Van Persie. Some interesting youngsters in the squad by the looks of things - especially left back Jetro Williams from PSV - who was in the U17s in 2011. Of all the youngsters though possibly Luuk de Jong of Twente has most chance of making an impact from the bench. 

Portugal: Boring to say but Ronaldo probably is the key man. It will be interesting to see if Nelson Oliveira of Benfica gets any playing time. 

Denmark: If Denmark are to surprise their new(ish) talent Christian Eriksen will probably be a name on the lips of the wider football audience by the end. I've always liked the look of Simon Kjaer in central defence but WS has Andreas Bjelland of new Champions Nordsjaelland - though sadly already off to Twente in the summer - as likely to play alongside Daniel Agger. Also interesting to see another Nordsjaelland defender - 19 year old Jores Okore - in the squad.

Joao Diego Reis: Hummels – the Borussia Dortmund player with the “easiest” access to the starting XI. He started 4 games in the qualifiers and although Germany won them all, they couldn’t get a single clean sheet.
Willems – All eyes will be on Holland’s left flank, their “weak spot”.
João Pereira – the pawn who is replacing the knight.
Krohn-Dehli – can a simple pawn be more effective than prima donnas like Cristiano Ronaldo, Robben & co.?

Gav: Look out for Ronaldo. Whenever he is on the ball mute your television set.

Keld, Denmark: Dortmund central defender Mats Hummels will be very important in the German defence. He is great with the ball at his feet, so he can break forward and start attacks against defensive sides.
I bet I’m not the only one who is excited to see Khalid Boulahrouz back in the Dutch starting line-up. The cannibal will probably start at left back; he will not provide many long forward runs, but his defensive abilities are strong.
Raul Meireles will be important for Portugal as the tenacious midfielder will be expected to combine a strong defensive showing with his characteristic forward runs.
William Kvist was named Danish Football Player of the Year in both 2010 and 2011, and the Stuttgart midfielder will be extremely important. As Denmark is not exactly expected to dominate possession in all games, he will have to deliver many interceptions and precise tackles in front of the defence. Furthermore some calm passing will be needed, so that Denmark will be able to keep hold of the ball in some periods of the games.

One of the big teams is going home (at least) - which is the most vulnerable?

Joao Diogo Reis: Germany is vulnerable because they overestimate the quality of their “reserve”, because Klose may be past his best and Gómez’s club form may not be repeated for the national team.
Holland is vulnerable in the left flank; actually their entire defense isn’t that impressive. Football is about attacking and defending, not only attacking.
Portugal is vulnerable because they don’t play as a team, because most of the players are too short, because Cristiano Ronaldo will monopolize all the free kicks trying to score a goal, instead of using them to cross the ball to his teammates.

Keld, Denmark: Well, Portugal is actually my least favoured team in this group; their defensive issues and lack of a credible striker will be too much to overcome.

Jon: No-one would’ve said the Germans… then they lost badly to Switzerland in a friendly on the weekend, albeit with a weakened side. Barring injuries depriving them of key players though they look the strongest side in the group and with two semi-final appearances in the last two World Cups to go with their runner-up spot in the last Euro Championship they have the experience and quality to negotiate a tricky group.

Sneijder, the key Dutch player from 2010, isn’t on form and if temperatures rise a few of the aging regulars could be found out by either pace or sides who force them to chase the ball. They have more goals in them than the Portugese though, and if in doubt in these situations always favour the team better equipped to score to do well.

Portugal somehow seem to equate to less than the sum of their parts at any major tournaments and though I’m not a fan of Ronaldo they’re foolish not to build their system around him – they’ve almost seemed designed to negate his obvious strengths at times and the Danes had him comfortably contained in the qualifying matches.

Gav: I’d say Portugal have the most chance of going home here.

Dave Beattie: The only team whose elimination would really shock me would be Germany.

Pick of the group? 

Michael: Germany/Denmark. A solid “whatever Denmark needs to KO Holland and Portugal” will ensure. Ahem.

Dave Beattie: I really don't know what to expect from this group but I fear that some of the most exciting games on paper might lead either to mutual suffocation and/or an increase in the number of cards per game average for the tournament - so I'm probably looking forward most to the games involving Denmark.

Gav:It has to be Portugal vs Netherlands. This one will be the decider for 2nd place. A lot at stake so Ronaldo will get sent off for retaliating when Nigel De Jong breaks his legs.

Jon: I’d love to say Germany-Portugal but fancy that the Portugese will be shyer and coyer than a teenage wallflower being asked out by the school hunk again. Instead my seat in front of the telly has long been reserved for one of the great grudge matches of international football, Germany-Holland.

Joao Diogo Reis: Germany vs. Portugal – if someone wins this game, the winner will be almost qualified to the quarter finals, while the loser will be in serious trouble (although still with a chance to recover)

Keld, Denmark: Netherlands vs. Germany in the second round.

Who will qualify?

Michael: Germany and Holland

Jon: Germany, and I’m going to go for the Danes to be the surprise quarter finalists with Eriksen demonstrating his talents. That’ll see them go home with no goals and no points now, guaranteed…

Gav: Germany and the orange Chelsea.

Alan Kalder: Qualifiers: Germany and Holland, but I'm rooting for Portugal, of course

Dave Beattie: Brave punt or serious wishful thinking only time will tell but... Germany & Denmark.

Keld, Denmark: Germany and Denmark.

Joao Diogo Reis: Portugal and Holland

Germany 6/7

Holland 4/7

Portugal 1/7

Denmark 3/7

Denmark have three times as many votes as Portugal! Of course, before anyone takes the Germany prediction to the bank, a word of warning: our solitary dissenter, Joao, is often right more than he is wrong. Which would be worrying for the Germans.

The Bonus question bit for Stuff People Ought to Know but Probably Don't.

Michael: I watched Germany v Switzerland. Stegen, the young goalkeeper, was at fault for all five goals. still said he should go to the Euros. I said he’d be axed. I was right and they were wrong. *does smug dance*

Gav: A little known fact about Denmark – my brother lives there.

Jon: As I’ve alluded to already, the Danes should have a psychological edge having taken their qualifying group ahead of the Portuguese.

And despite my possibly harsh words earlier, there are actually some Portugese players I like. Honest!

Keld, Denmark: French club Evian is the biggest provider to the Danish national team squad with four players.

Joao Diogo Reis: Portugal was never eliminated in a Euro Cup group stage.
Holland was only eliminated in a group stage once; in 1980 (West Germany was in that group).
Germany was eliminated in a group stage thrice: 1984 (Portugal was in that group), 2000 (Portugal again) and 2004 (Holland was in that group)
Denmark was also eliminated in a group stage thrice: 1988 (West Germany was there), 1996 (Portugal was there) and 2000 (Holland was there).
So, whenever one of these teams fell in a group stage, there was always another of these teams present.

That is actually fascinating to my statistical mind.

And that is Group B.

On Monday, we shall look at Group C, which has my favourites to win the tournament in it.