Denmark – Portugal

After their shock win against the Netherlands, Denmark have given themselves a realistic chance of getting out of the toughest group in the competition, something very few could have anticipated before it had began. The Danish back four put in a resilient display against the Dutch, and have gained many admirers after their performances in defence, nullifying the threat of Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben well. Portugal will also want to win this game after losing narrowly to Germany in the last round. Although they played a very conservative style against the Germans, they should try and assert more authority on the game today, as they undoubtably have the better players on the pitch.

Denmark’s best players against the Netherlands were unquestionably Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer. Even though the Dutch had chances, they were limited and Agger and Kjaer deserve great credit for that. The Danes also tried to showcase their own brand of football and although their insistence of passing the ball out of defence was commendable, not all the players seemed comfortable with it, goalkeeper Stephan Andersen in particular gifted Robben the chance to equalise in the 36th minute with a wayward pass. It is a high risk-low reward strategy and if they continue with it soft goals could be conceded, and questions will be asked whether it was worth the gamble.

Portugal were frustrating in more ways than one against the Germans last Saturday. They were frustrating to play against, sitting deep and defending in numbers, frustrating to watch, as none of their ‘flair’ players managed to impress and exhibit their talent, and frustrating to play for, as Cristiano Ronaldo’s expressions showed, when given too much to do and being marshalled impressively by Jerome Boatang. Their best spell came in the last 20 minutes when they had good chances to potentially win the game, although poor finishing cost them eventually. If they can replicate that intensity against Denmark then they have a good chance of winning and scoring a few goals in the process.

Prediction: Denmark 0 – 2 Portugal

Netherlands – Germany

Germany against Holland is one of history’s most longstanding footballing rivalries and tonights game in Kharkiv promises much. Already an intense game, the Netherlands will be desperate for a win against their fearstest rivals although should be wary of the fact, that if they lose they will be the first team to be eliminated from the tournament. A loss wouldn’t be a disaster for Germany, as they can still beat Denmark in the last game to finish first in the group, but they will want the advance from the group early so they can rest key players for the knockout stages.

The Netherlands weren’t as bad the 0-1 scoreline against Denmark suggests, and they can definatly take some positives from the game. They created plenty of chances for their forwards, but it was their finishing was terrible which let them down.  Had van Persie managed to replicate his Arsenal form, they could have easily been 3 or 4 up and won the game easily. Wesley Sneijder had a storming game in the Number 10 role, and his intelligent passing created 8 chances for his teammates throughout, the highlight of which was exquisite, picking out Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s run into the box. That said, if Holland want to win this game, changes will need to be made. Joris Mathijsen will be a welcome addition to the starting lineup and his experience will be needed in defence. Elsewhere, two pure defensive midfielders weren’t really needed against Denmark, and Bert van Marwijk should consider dropping Nigel de Jong and playing a more creative player there to help the team retain possession and drive them froward when needed, Rafael van der Vaart has been a name mentioned. Up front, it was van Persie’s finishing which cost them and Huntelaar could play instead. He was the 2nd top scorer in the Bundesliga last season and will be desperate to play against his adopted homeland.

Joachim Löw is spoiled for choice in terms of the talent he has available to him, but will probably choose to name a similar team to the one the dispatched Portugal last round. While it took them 72 minutes to net the goal, they were always looked likely to score and despite a late rally from the Portuguese, controlled the game well. The only issue Löw could have with his starting XI is who plays the striker role. Mario Gomez was poor for the duration of the game and was going to be substituted had he not scored. The substitute ready to come on was Miroslav Klose, and after Gomez’s disappointing performance he may well start. He has a good understanding with the rest of the team and can create as well as score. Over the years he has developed a particularly good relationship on the pitch with fellow Pole Lukas Podolski, and they will both want to impress with the Poland being one of the tournament’s cohosts. Whoever Löw does decide on, will have to perform as goals are expected against a leaky Netherlands defence.

Prediction: Netherlands 2 – 1 Germany



Goalkeeper – Prsemysław Tytoń

Defence – Fábio Coentrão, Mats Hummels, Daniel Agger & Darijo Srna

Midfield – Danielle De Rossi, Luka Modrić; Alan Dzagoev, Wesley Sniejder & Andrés Iniesta

Striker – Andrei Shevchenko

Stand out performers for me were; De Rossi for some great defending in and around the penalty area, Dzagoev for scoring two well taken goals as well as some good build up play, and Shevchenko for winning Ukraine the game with two poachers efforts.

 

 

 

Spain – Italy

Spain’s opener against Italy will be an important game for them, and a good win could set the benchmark for the rest of the tournament hopefuls. Should they lose however, questions will be be asked about the form and fitness of certain players, and whether the squad has declined from 2 years ago. Italy on the other hand enter the tournament with low expectations yet are still many peoples wild card pick. They have quality players, but the question is if they have gelled as a team well enough. Less than a year ago, they beat Spain 2-1 in a friendly, but since then injuries and another betting scandal have deprived them of key players and they could struggle to cope.

Spains will be without record goalscorer David Villa for the tournament and he will be a big loss. Tasked with replacing him will be either Fernando Torres or Alvaro Negredo, both of whom have had difficult seasons at club level and are unconvincing sources of goals. Another option is Fernando Llorente, who has had a good season with Athletic Bilbao and offers a more direct route to goal. He probably won’t start games though and better used as a substitute when things aren’t going so well as a ‘plan B’, as seen against Scotland in qualifying. Spain also have the problem of having too many players with similar skill sets, and having to fit them into a balanced formation. They sometimes struggle to do this and become too narrow and easy to defend against, as seen against England last November and Switzerland in the World Cup. Left back Jordi Alba could be the solution , and will look to get forward at every opportunity, helping stretch the play.

Italy have a talented squad and are spearheaded by Mario Balotelli. While he has undoubted talent he has been a bit part player for Man City this season, only making 20 starts in all competitions. With Italy’s success or failure depending in him, it will be interesting to see how he copes under this newfound pressure. While their attack is excellent, the rest of the Italy starting XI looks dubious. An injury to Barzagli means De Rossi will have to play out of position at centre back, while Giaccherini is not ready to be starting at this level.

Prediction: Spain 1 – 1 Italy

Rep. of Ireland – Croatia

Ireland have looked solid defensively under Giovanni Trapattoni and will be very difficult to score against, having kept 3 clean sheets in their last 5 games. This will be Slaven Bilic’s last tournament with Croatia, and he will want to leave on a high note. Croatia have a decent squad and believe they are capable of going all the way. If either team wants to get out of the group they will need to win this game, as points will be hard to come by against the Spaniards and Italians. While neither teams have eleven quality players, both have one or two top players who they will look to too win the game for them.

Croatia’s best player is Luka Modrić of Tottenham. Playing in centre midfield he has the ability to dictate games and if Ireland don’t put pressure on him, his passing will punish them. While he looks tired from a long season with Spurs , hopefully his quality can shine through, as there will be a lot of clubs looking at him for next season. Ivica Olic’s injury could turn out to be a blessing in disguise as it opens the door for Nikica Jelavic to start. Jelavic has been in lethal form since signing for Everton in January, and with 9 goals from 10 starts, expect him to score should he get the chance.

Trapattoni has favoured more experienced players, but has included exciting winger James McClean in his Ireland squad. Fresh from a good season with Sunderland he could provide a good option of the bench should Ireland need a goal. With good pace and trickery he can beat a man and put good crosses into the box for Kevin Doyle, Shane Long and Robbie Keane to get on the end of.

Prediction: Rep. of Ireland 1 – 0 Croatia 

Netherlands – Denmark

It’s difficult to see where Denmark will get points from in Group B, labelled by many as the ‘Group of Death’. Outclassed in nearly every area of the pitch, there isn’t a player who would get into the Dutch starting lineup and the game will probably be a case of sitting deep a hoping to get a goal on the counter, using the pace of Dennis Rommedahl and Michael Krohn-Dehli to break.

Denmark’s best player is undoubtably Christian Eriksen. The young playmaker has had been a starter at Ajax for the last few seasons and his talent has received plaudits from all around Europe. Whether or not he can perform against the rugged defensive midfield combination of Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel remains another question. If he does manage to get goal side of them, the prospects look a lot better. Joris Mathijsen has had an questionable season with Malaga while Gregory van der Wiel is poor defensively. Jetro Willems only has 2 caps, neither in competitive games, and while he looked impressive against Northern Ireland last week, the standard of quality at the Euro’s will be significantly higher.

The Netherlands have a team bursting with attacking talent and with midfielders like Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben & Ibrahim Affelay, Denmark will be in for a long afternoon. The dilemma Bert van Marwijk has is who to start up front. The Dutch public favour Klass-Jan Huntelaar while Robin van Persie is probably the better option if only for his superior build up play. Both have been in great form this season scoring 38 and 39 goals respectively so scoring should be no problem for either.

Prediction: Netherlands 4 – 1 Denmark

Germany – Portugal

One of the bigger games of the first matchday, the winner would increase their chances of getting out of the group significantly. Germany probably have the better team but after a disappointing end to the season it will be interesting to see how the Bayern players, who dominate the starting XI, react. Portugal only qualified through the playoffs and in their pre-tournament friendlies looked awful. After a dull 0-0 against Macedonia they were embarrassed 1-3 by Turkey, with Ronaldo missing a penalty and Pepe scoring a own goal. Both games were at held in Portugal and with the purpose in inspiring some confidence in the squad but looks to have done the exact opposite.

Portugal have been impressive under Paulo Bento and one of his greatest achievements so far has been getting Cristiano Ronaldo firing at international level and, after scoring 9 goals in his last 14 games, Ronaldo will be the man they turn to for goals. This will be important as neither Hugo Almeida nor Helder Postiga are proficient in front of goal and would be better off holding it up for more talented players like Ronaldo and Nani. Since Bento took over have been trying to play more positive football but whether or not they can afford to carry on playing so attacking in games against Germany and Netherlands is another debate. As seen in the Champions Leauge, Phillip Lahm has proved that he can do a job on Ronaldo, and if he doesn’t get involved the Portuguese could look toothless.

 Germany aren’t sort of goals either, Mario Gomez has scored 41 goals this season, but after his poor finishing cost Bayern in the Champions League final, Joachim Löw might instead settle on the evergreen Miroslav Klose. The Lazio man is Germany’s second most capped player and is a consistent source of goals at international level. He has good chemistry with the rest of the squad and, even at 34 years of age, should be a problem for Portugal’s centre backs.

 

Prediction: Germany 2 – 0 Portugal


Poland – Greece.

It appears easy to pick a winner here. Poland have some of the finest players in the Bundesliga, in Lukasz Piszczek, Jakub Blaszczkowski and Robert Lewandowski and with the game taking place in the Warsaw, Polands capital, they have home support second to none.

But lets not forget what happened to Bayern in the Allianz arena, just two and a half weeks ago, when they were most peoples favourites in the Champions League final. A late equaliser followed by a missed penalty in extra time meant they weren’t able to capitalise on their undoubted dominance of the match and they went on to lose on penalties. Could something similar happen here?

Being the first game of the tournament, I would expect a low scoring match with less than 2-3 goals seeming probable. Poland and Greece are also set out reasonably defensively as seen here and here. Robert Lewandowski seems a likely scorer after scoring 22 goals for Dortmund in the Bundesliga this season and he should get enough opportunities to put one away against a leaky Greek defence today.

Prediction: Poland 2 – 0 Greece.

Russia – Czech Republic

Although all the teams seem to have a reasonable chance of getting out of group A, most people are tipping Poland with one other. This could be the game which decides who gets that second spot and both teams will want to get points.

Russia have the bigger players, with Andrei Arshavin and Yuri Zhirkov names most Premier league fans will be familiar with, yet they will need to perform well if they are to get passed an organised Czech back 4. They will need a man to turn to for goals and luckily they have one in Aleksander Kerzhakov. Kerzhakov has been scoring for fun in the Russian league this season and is the man for big occasions scoring in crucial games for Zenit this season. Goals here & here.

The Czech’s star player is strangely their goalkeeper; Petr Cech. After a wobbly start to the season, Cech’s form has improved dramatically, becoming one of Chelsea’s key players in both legs of the semi final, as well as the final itself in their unlikely Champions league victory. If he can continue in this rich vein of form, the Russians will have to produce something special to get the win.

Prediction: Russia 1 – 1 Czech Republic