#4 – Holland
Oh, the Dutch. If Holland didn’t invent sexy football, it perfected it. And, in doing so have become the hottest bridesmaid in international football. Everyone has a secret crush on the Dutch. But, the Dutch always leave the party alone, having once again failed to be the No. 1 attraction.
There is little reason to suggest that 2008 will be any different. Actually, being drawn into the Group of Death makes this year the least likely year that Holland will finally make the breakthrough. To even make the quarters one of France or Italy will need to be shown the door. And, Romania—the crazy, unpredictable drunk uncle of this affair—could end up screwing everything up even if the Dutch get it done against that powerful duo.
Expectations are likely as low as they have ever been in Holland. Maybe that’s a good thing. Perhaps it will allow Holland to play, less sexy, more defensive style—a style that doesn’t create crushes, but gets the job done.
Certainly, there have been rumblings that Holland is starting to think about adding some substance to its style. They’ve moved away from their traditional 4-3-3, to play a slightly more conservative 4-2-3-1. Of course this Dutch team still attacks much better than it defends and Ruud van Nistelrooy, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Rafael van der Vaart, et al will be where any success starts from.
If the Dutch can ever learn to defend as well as they attract, they truly will be a total package. It’s not clear they are there yet, but in two year’s time…
Prediction: A promising, surprising tournament that ends the same place it always does—the semi-finals.
#3 – Germany
They’re due. That’s the general consensus the world over. Every few years, Germany wins a major world football tournament. That’s just the was it is. Just as surely as England will lose spectacularly, Germany will win in uninspired fashion.
So, the Germans have been placed as the pre-tournament favourites by bookies and the public alike. They aren’t a bad pick.
Michael Ballack is, well, Michael Ballack—a world class player desperate to lead his country to glory. He’s complimented by stars like Torsten Frings and Jens Lehmann and young up and comers like Mario Gómez.
And, well, they are the Germans. If the Dutch are the hot bridesmaid of international football, the Germans are the ugly, spinster Aunt that you can’t get rid of and always seems to get her way.
Prediction: Germany will be the best team in the tournament, but will lose a shocker in the semis. German fans will have to wait two more years for the major tournament win.
#2 – Croatia
The Euros are a tournament that consistently produces upset champions. Each tournament there is a surprise team that goes deeper than anyone would have thought—and occasionally, like Denmark a little more than a decade ago and Greece four years past, that team wins it all.
This year’s surprise team will be Croatia. They are difficult to play against and well organized. They play with passion and intensity and are the perfect candidate for a darkhorse pick.
Actually, if it wasn’t for Birmingham City, we may have given the nod to Croatia to win the whol thing. As it is, the loss of Eduardo Da Silva to injury in a game against the EPL also-rans makes it just a little too hard to pick them to go all the way.
Still, we get the feeling that Croatia will be the team everyone is talking about for much of the tournament.
Prediction: A brave loss in the final to France
#1 – France
During the past couple decades, France has emerged as the most consistent producer of talent in Europe. A World Cup, Europe and championship and surprise World Cup final appearance is witness to the country’s ability to crank out Frenchmen with flair on the ball.
The biggest question in 2008 is the group. In with Holland, Italy and Romania, France can’t afford the type of slow starts that have dogged it at recent tournaments. If this tournament were 20 games long, there is no doubt that France would be near the top at the end. As it is, the questions will come in the first few games.
Likely the deepest team at the event, France will be able to adjust better than most. Look for Thierry Henry to start this tournament, but not necessary finish it—as good a testament to the skill of France as any.
On paper, there is no real weakness. There is no reason to doubt France at all.