Final preparations are under way in Warsaw for Friday’s kickoff to the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship. Here at THE SPORTS DISPENCER, we have put the finishing touches on our compilation of the top five teams to keep an eye on at Euro 2012.
Slaven Bilić’s squad is prepared to make a deep run in this year’s European Championship. Anchored by captain Darijo Srna, Croatia will rely heavily on its midfield, one of the tourney’s deepest, to advance past the group stage. In a group that contains Spain, Italy, and Ireland, it may seem easy to count out Croatia. They are not a typical powerhouse, and because of this, the Croats seem to fall of the radar. But ultimately, their versatility and depth may carry this sleeper squad to new highs this June.
Number five in the world, Portugal is one of three teams found in Group B ranked in the top five in FIFA’s world rankings. Placement in the group of death bodes unfavorably, but Portugal possesses one of world soccer’s greatest weapons — Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese captain’s success directly correlates to the success of the Portuguese national team. In Euro 2004, arguably his best tournament performance, Ronaldo had two goals and two assists as Portugal finished runners-up. In Euro 2008, Ronaldo underwhelmed, recording one goal and one assist as Portugal was defeated in the quarterfinals. Without Ronaldo performing at his best, Portugal faces near certain group stage elimination, but if Ronaldo performs to the best of his abilities, they may be in Kiev come July.
The 2010 World Cup runners-up have reloaded and are primed to contend. Led by Inter star Wesley Sneijder, the Dutch possess a well-balanced squad. Their combination of young talent and veteran leadership creates mismatches all over the field. Rafael van der Vaart, Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel complement Sneijder in the Netherlands’ aggressive midfield. That aggression will be necessary to contend with Germany and Portugal, two notoriously fierce squads who also find themselves in the group of death. Both have proven their offensive prowess and will bombard goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg throughout the group stage. If the young Roma star can keep Ronaldo and Gomez off their game, the Dutch will find themselves in a familiar place — atop the world stage.
Defending World Cup champions, defending European champions, and number one ranked teams are looked to first as likely contenders. Spain is all three. Over the last five years, the Spanish national team has dominated world soccer. They owe their success in part to F.C. Barcelona central midfielder Xavi. Serving as Spain’s field general, Xavi’s vision leads the Spanish attack. His accurate passing and precise footwork provide an important contribution to Spain’s consistency and experience, both of which have created a seemingly insurmountable edge in recent years. Expect this edge to continue when the Spainards take on Italy on June 10.
Germany possesses Europe’s most elite offensive attack. At forward, Joachim Löw’s squad sports a three-man rotation of Podolski, Klose, and Gomez. Combined, they have accumulated 71 goals this season. Their international success is in part due to the support from Germany’s elite midfield. Club soccer stars Mesut Özil and Bastian Schweinsteiger provide the pace and discipline necessary to dictate the outcomes of games. Combined with Bayern Munich defender Philipp Lahm and goalie Manuel Neuer, the Germans have the defensive presence necessary to hold the leads their front line provides them. This will become an ever-pressing need if Germany wishes to survive the group of death and emerge victorious come July.
* Photos Courtesy of ESPN, CBS Sports, Mirror
What do you think? Anything we missed? Who would you choose? Comment below and let the discussion begin.