With only 15 minutes to go (at the time of writing) until the commencement of the draw for the group stage of Euro 2012, I thought I would briefly cover the best and worst outcomes for England as I see them. The list of the members of different pots, as well as Mark Lawrenson’s opinion (who knows why you’d want to listen to him) can be found here. So without further ado, this is my suggestion for the best possible outcome:
Although the additional travelling required, with Ukraine have already been allocated to Group D with Kiev and Donetsk confirmed as venues (England are based in Krakow), will be a hindrance, the quality of opposition in this group is arguably the weakest in the competition. Of the two host nations, I feel Ukraine’s squad is the weaker – whilst Andriy Yarmolenko has bags of potential, he will be under much pressure to perform alongside the aging Shevchenko – when compared with the attacking talents of Lewandowski and Blaszczykowski for Poland. Whilst having a typically miserly defence (conceding just 5 goals in their qualifying campaign) that England might struggle to break down, Greece managed a miserable 14 goals in their 10 games, so Capello’s boys will fancy their chances of keeping a clean sheet against the cash-strapped Greeks. As for the choice from Pot 4, the temptation was to opt for the Irish. However, I feel that if Trappatoni’s industrious Irish players were drawn with England, they would rise to the occasion and provide a stern test for England. I would personally play an aging Czech Republic side who look like they will struggle for goals – their top scorer in qualifying was Leverkusen left-back Michal Kadlec, who scored 3 of his 4 goal total from the penalty spot. Now onto the worst case scenario as I see it:
With a distinctly Iberian flavour to it, this group would prove an austere challenge to most international sides, let alone England. Del Bosque’s production line of talent doesn’t seem to be ceasing and neither do the reigning champions. Although there may be a question mark over Spain’s defence (with captain Carles Puyol being 34 come the championship itself), I would still be more worried about facing the Spaniards than the Dutch, despite our shock win in a friendly this month. Although they finished second in their group to the Danes and struggling through the play-offs against Bosnia-Herzegovina, before eventually blowing them away 6-2 in the second leg, the Portuguese seem to have enough fire power in their squad to be a difficult test for anyone. When it comes to the really tough games though, many of their talents are mercurial at best (Nani, Quaresma, and even Ronaldo), if Paulo Bento can get the most out of his men they will certainly be a force to be reckoned with. I was sorely tempted to choose the Danes from the 4th Pot (I certainly wouldn’t like to face them) I plumped for France. Their quite frankly disgraceful performance at the last two major international tournaments was perhaps symptomatic of a questionable management regime, poor squad selection and belied the ability of their squad, leaves a question mark over their ability to perform at the highest level. Despite making a shaky start under Laurent Blanc (losing their opening two games and requiring a late equaliser from Nasri to secure the top spot in their group), they have pulled it together and are now unbeaten in 17 games, the best form of any side going into the competition (as yet). There is definitely no dearth in talent in their squad and if Blanc can manage egos then they too could be a dangerous side.
All of that being said, we shall see how the draw turns out in a few minutes time. I will be smug if either of my suggestions turns out to be right. Personally, I am just glad we qare in the same pot as Germany – they will be a formidable test for anyone in the competition, even Spain, and they have my backing to conquer in Poland. Wouldn’t be the first time, would it?