The World Cup is sexier. It’s a World Cup, after all. And, it must be said that the samba beat of a Brazil doesn’t hurt either. But, the hardcore soccer fan understands that the European championship is the better tournament. Ask England how difficult it is to even qualify. As Greece if upsets ever happen. There are no Saudi Arabias in the draw. Ever game is contested and you never know who is going to emerge on top. To borrow a cliché, the World Cup is sizzle. The Euros are steak.
The usual suspects are favoured—efficient Germany, enigma Spain, punishing Italy—but, it’s hard to argue against anyone. The Greeks are the defending champs. Portugal must feel like this truly is the last chance. Holland has to win something, sometime, right?
It’s a tournament that is next to impossible to predict. But, we’re going to try anyway. First up, numbers 13-16:
No. 16 – Austria
Ok, so maybe it was a stretch to suggest that any team could win this tournament. Austria is likely the worst team to ever play in the tournament, gaining entry only as a co-host nation. Drawn into group B along with Germany, Croatia and Poland the consensus is that any positive result in any game would be a victory.
Hell, only a year ago there was a petition circulating within Austria to force the team to withdraw to save the country the embarrassment.
Austria will try to play a disciplined game and will hope for goals off the counter. One player that may make things interesting is Emanuel Pogatetz, who is nicknamed ‘Mad dog.’ He once broke an opponent’s leg and has publicly called out the current Austrian manager. If you can’t win, you may as well entertain.
Prediction: Only one goal scored in three losses. Last place.
No. 15 – Turkey
Wildly inconsistent and a little banged up, the Turks are a long way from the form that saw then finish third in the 2002 World Cup.
The current team seems to lack direction. Manager Fatih Terim would change formations frequently in qualifying and results were, predictably, inconsistent. With Fenerbahce's Gokhan Gonul out with injury it will be up to someone to emerge as an unexpected star. It doesn’t seem likely.
Drawn to Group A with the Czech Republic, Portugal and co-host Switzerland they will be in tough.
Prediction: Two losses and a draw. Last place.
No. 14 – Romania Drawn to any other group and Romania would be a sexy sleeper pick. As it is, the Group of Death beckons and an early exit seems all too likely.
Traditionally, Romania has fielded sides that are full of flair, but lacking a little on the discipline and organization front. This is the first major tournament the country has qualified for in almost a decade and much of the credit for that has been attributed to and ability to turn that around.
Romania can defend now. They can play the hard-nosed football that champions sometimes have to play.
But, that group…
Holland. Italy. France.
Prediction: Three close, tough losses. Last place.
No. 13 – Russia
Or, they might win the whole thing. Russia is that much of an enigma. The country has struggled at international competitions since the break-up, but expectations are high for this tournament. The main reason for that optimism has been the addition of an anti-Russian coach in Guus Hiddink. He prefers a positive, attacking game that is fun to watch.
Hiddink’s big on fun. He’s attempted to make playing for Russia a joyous thing (because people often associate representing Mother Russia with joy). The idea is that the player’s enthusiasm will result in, well, results.
It got them this far (much to England’s chagrin). Still, one can’t help but to have nagging doubts about the Russians. Drawn against Greece, Spain and Sweden getting out of the group should be possible. But, believe it when you see it.
Prediction: A disappointing exit with three points. Last place.
In our next article we will preview our No. 12 to No. 9 picks.