#12 – Poland
Things are kind of ugly in Poland right now—scandal, poor results and even worse performances have put expectations at impossibly low levels.
There is history to back-up those fears. Poland looked good in qualifying, but it also looked good in qualifying for the past two World Cups. In both cases, the Poles would rather not talk about what happened at the Finals.
Pretty much written off—I mean, they lost 3-0 to the (gasp) Americans in March—it’s hard to see much hope. But, yet you shouldn’t forget that Poland finished top of a qualifying group that included Portugal. A strong first game will be key, because things could get ugly if they start off on a poor result.
Prediction: An inconsistent tournament, ending with a third place finish.
#11 – Sweden
The Swedes have a word, Lagom, which has no literal English translation and a unique Scandinavian character. It sort of means “sufficient” but the underlining meaning is that there are times in life where there is virtue in moderation--that you can have more than enough without having everything possible.
Lagom is an about perfect way to describe Swedish football. It’s just good enough to qualify and be competitive in most international tournaments, but it never seems likely that a championship run is possible.
Serie A star Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one player that can reach beyond the Ikea functionality of the Swedes. And Henrik Larsson is back for what is
Drawn with Russia, Spain and Greece, the Swedes could well advance. Or, not. Regardless, they’ll do enough to be competitive, but likely not impressive.
Prediction: Four points in three competitive games. Third place.
#10 – Czech Republic
A popular darkhorse pick (but not here) the Czechs are a team that is better known for what they have lost than what they have.
Karel Poborsky, Pavel Nedved and Tomas Rosicky will all be watching this at home. That’s a lot of talent eating Cheetos in front of the tube.
They qualified by playing a well-organized, tight game that relied on Petr Cech, possibly the best keeper in the tournament, to save the day.
But, who’s going to score? Where is the creative spark going to come from?
Prediction: Three competitive and frustrating (if you’re Czech) games and a disappointing third place finish.
#9 – Italy
On paper, Italy is likely the most talented team at the tournament. It’s also its oldest. And, it’s been drawn into the Group of Death. Plus, historically, only one World Cup champions has gone on to win the Euros. There are a lot of reasons to doubt Italy’s chances.
There are a lot of reasons to like them too. After a slow start in qualifying, Italy regroups to play some of the most effective and attractive football in Europe. Del Piero, Toni, Buffon, Materazzi, the list goes on and on. This is a who’s who of world football.
But, France will be looking for revenge. Holland is always strong and the Romanians will be tricky. It’s the Group of Death for a reason—any team could win it and any team could find its tournament over after three games. Even Italy.
Prediction: Another slow start dooms the Italians to a third place finish. Punters the world over will suggest that they were the best team in the tournament upon their elimination.