Euro 2012 is around the corner, with 16 national teams heading to bases in Poland and Ukraine ready for the big kick on Friday. And while we’re firmly Manchester United focused here at Rant, we’ll be covering the tournament in full: current and former Reds on show, with luck some outstanding football, and a big old trophy to be won! Spain defend the tournament won in Austria and Switzerland – Fernando Torres scoring the only goal of the game as La Roja beat Germany in the Vienna final. Indeed, Spain remain the bookies favourites four years on, although Germany, Holland, Italy and France will each harbour some hope. England – not so much.
In Rant’s team-by-team preview we assess each side’s chances, pick out the key players and recall some favourite moments.
Group B – Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal
The Danes did well to qualify ahead of Portugal, but can Morten Olsen’s side score enough goals to make it through the clichéd ‘group of death’? Denmark scored just 15 in eight qualification matches, with a tactical system based on a solid defence in the typical ‘Olsen Gang’ style. However, in Christian Eriksen the Danes possess one of the most exciting young creative midfielders in the tournament.
Last five matches: Sweden W 2–0 | Finland W 2–1 | Russia L 0-2 | Brazil L 1-3 | Australia W 2-0
FIFA Ranking: 9
Nickname: De Rød-Hvide (The Red and Whites)
Manager: Morten Olsen – manager for 12 years, although may step down after the tournament much as the 62-year-old promised to do following the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Olsen had an outstanding playing career, earning more than 100 caps for his country, and his teams have followed a pattern of solid if at times functional football through a long-managerial career with Brøndby, FC Köln and Ajax.
- Cristien Eriksen, Ajax, midfielder – nimble with good feet, can score and create goals. Eriksen is much coveted across Europe and an outstanding tournament may yet see Ajax inundated with offers for the 20-year-old
- Simon Kjaer, Wolfsburg/Roma, defender – Kjaer had a really good World Cup in 2010 before making a surprise move from Palermo to Wolfsburg. Has spent the season on loan at Roma and publicly stated he does not want to return to Germany
- Daniel Agger (c), Liverpool, defender – Agger will be key to Denmark’s progress in the tournament, with the Liverpool defender the rock on which the Danes will keep it tight at the back
United interest: Anders Lindegaard who will be reserve keeper. Kasper Schmeichel, son of Peter, is also in the squad – tenuous link alert!
Random fact: Four players in the squad play at French club Evian, which begs the question of why the Danes don’t play with a more fluid style?!
Defining Euro moment: winning Euro 1992 after being called up from the beach!
Three times winners of the Euros in 1972, 1980, and 1996, and boasting an outstanding qualification campaign with 10 wins in 10 games, 34 goals and just seven against. No wonder Germany are many pundit’s favourites for the tournament. Coach Jogi Löw has built on the exciting young side that performed ahead of expectations in World Cup in 2010. At the same time there is huge experience in the squad with seven of the top 20 most capped players in Germany’s history in Löw’s party.
Last five matches: Ukraine D 3–3 | 3–0 W Netherlands | 1–2 L France | Switzerland L 5–3 | 2–0 W Israel
FIFA Ranking: 2
Nickname: Die Mannschaft (The Team)
Manager: Joachim Löw – improved upon Jurgen Klinnsman’s outfit when the former striker walked away in 2008. In tandem with Klinnsman, Löw developed Germany’s fast-paced attacking style that won over plenty of fans in South Africa. Looks set to build another German dynasty with the current team – Germany’s best since the 1990s.
- Phillip Lahm, Bayern Munich, defender – Germany’s captain is one of world football’s truly outstanding full-backs, working off either side of the pitch. Leader, talisman, and all round good egg. Lahm keeps the team together off the pitch, with egos firmly in check. What would Fergie give to have him at Old Trafford? A lot
- Mesut Özil, Real Madrid, midfielder – the outstanding young German playmaker has just completed much better second season in Spain than his first. Özil remains the creative hub from the centre, or drifting in from wide areas. The player Ferguson calls “the ghost” is fantastic to watch, and seems to have fixed a stamina problem – due a big tournament
- Thomas Muller, Bayern Munich, forward – will start on the right of a three-man attack, but may come under pressure from Mario Gotze if the Bayern man doesn’t start the tournament well. Is Muller a striker or midfielder or a bit of both? Either way, Muller is yet another talented young attacking German.
United interest: Ron-Robert Zieler may be named after a smalltown hick, but the former United trainee has done very well back home in Germany following a move to Hannover in 2009. Third choice ‘keeper for Germany this summer.
Random fact: Despite being, well, rubbish Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski have 106 international goals between them!
Defining Euro moment: Oliver Bierhoff’s 95th minute golden-goal to win Euro 1996 against Czech Republic.
1988 Euro winners Holland have built on a superb World Cup tournament in 2010. Although many remember the Dutch’s thuggish display against Spain in the final, Bert van Marwijk’s team played some fine football during the tournament too. Holland emerged victorious in nine of 10 games in qualification to top the group. Many people’s favourites for the tournament even if the back-four contains some less-than-stellar names.
Last five matches: England W 2-3 | Germany L 3-2 | Bulgaria L 1-2 | Slovakia W 2-0 | Northern Ireland W 6-0
FIFA Ranking: 4
Manager: Bert van Marwijk – it’s hard to call van Marwijk’s a stellar career, and it is perhaps it was a symptom of Dutch football’s low point after Euro 2008 that the former Feyenoord man got the job at all. van Marwijk made his name at Feyenoord in the early 2000s, but had a less than successful time at Borussia Dortmund. Has turned the Oranje around though, returning the team to its roots of fluid attacking football based on a young vibrant team.
- Wesley Sneijder, Internazionale, midfielder – still Holland’s creative hub around whom van Marwijk’s team is built. If Sneijder plays, so does Holland. Five goals at World Cup 2010, but lots on injury problems since too
- Arjen Robben, Bayern Munich, midfielder – selfish, wasteful and devastating all in the same bald-headed package. Which Robben will turn up in Poland and Ukraine? Too often shoots when he should pass, and has spent a career battling injuries. But when he can do this little else matters
- Robin van Persie, Arsenal, forward – the Arsenal striker will share goalscoring duties with Jan-Klaas Huntelar at the tournament. Indeed, the Arsenal man has a less-than-stellar international goalscoring record. Still, just had the best season of his career – should be his time to shine.
United interest: Robben once turned down United after Sir Alex showed the youngster around Old Trafford – choosing Roman Abramovich’s filthy lucre instead.
Random fact: Left-back Jetro Willems will be the youngest player at the tournament having only just turned 18.
Defining Euro moment: Marco van Basten’s outrageous volley in the final of Euro 88 – still one of the best goals ever.
Portugal had to make it through the play-offs to qualify for Euro 2012 after a dispiriting period under former United assistant Carlos Quieroz. For a team with Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani, Portugal has under-achieved in the past two years, although the mitigation of multiple retirements post World Cup 2010 is fair. Scored plenty of goals during qualification, but also conceded too. Much will depend whether Pepe can replicate his Real Madrid form at the back, and Ronaldo can keep scoring. Third favourites in the group – and that might be generous given that Denmark beat Portugal to qualification.
Last five matches: Bosnia and Herzegovina D 0-0 D | Bosnia and Herzegovina W 6-2 | Poland D 0-0 | Macedonia D 0-0 | Turkey L 1-3
FIFA Ranking: 10
Nickname: A Selecção (The Selection)
Manager: Paulo Bento – one of the youngest managers at the tournament. Bento was a gritty defensive midfielder for Sporting, Benfica, and the national team before retiring at the age of 35. First took charge of Sporting’s youth team, before a successful spell as head coach of the first team that included two Portuguese Cups and two Supercups. Bento couldn’t win the Portuguese League, however, before taking over from Quieroz in 2010.
- Ronaldo, Real Madrid, forward – much will ride on the former United player’s ability to both lead his team, and score enough goals to keep Selecção in the tournament past the group stage. Just completed a fantastic season with 60 goals in all competitions. Will this be the tournament in which Ronaldo emerges from Lionel Messi’s long shadow?
- Nani, Manchester United, forward – the United winger is brilliant and frustrating in equal measure. Contract negotiations may be ongoing at Old Trafford, but can Nani justify his self-hype with performances in this tournament?
- Pepe, Real Madrid, defender – Real’s provocateur-in-chief is certain to be many neutral’s bête noire, but he is still central to Portugal’s ability to make it out of the group. Ronaldo et al should provide a threat if Pepe can marshal the back-four to keep more clean sheets than in qualification.
United interest: Nani, Ronaldo – see above!
Random fact: Portugal 0–10 England, Lisbon, Portugal, 25 May 1947 remains Selecção’s biggest ever loss.
Defining Euro moment: Angelos Charisteas’ 57th minute goal for Greece that won Euro 2004, and Ronaldo’s tears that followed.