Euro 2008 Preview

Andrew Bucholtz

Contenders:

Germany

Strengths:
Germany has achieved considerable success on the international scene lately, with a secondplace finish at the 2002 World Cup and a third-place showing at the 2006 World Cup. Their team boasts young talents like midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, wingback Philipp Lahm and striker Lukas Podolski, and they also have experienced veterans like striker Miroslav Klose and midfielder Michael Ballack. Another strength is their depth up front: in addition to Klose and Podolski, they have other talented forwards in Kevin Kuranyi, Oliver Neuville, Mario Gomez , David Odonkor and Patrick Helmes.

Weaknesses:
The German squad performed well in early qualifying and became the first side to secure a spot in the finals, but their play trailed off after that, leading them to a second-place finish in their group. Another spot of concern is goalkeeping. With Oliver Kahn’s retirement from international soccer after the last World Cup, the most experienced keeper is Jens Lehmann, and he was demoted to backup duty with Arsenal in the English Premier League this year and rarely saw action.

France

Strengths:
France’s biggest advantage is its experience. Lilian Thuram, Claude Makelele, Thierry Henry and Patrick Viera all have numerous high-profile matches under their collective belt. Younger stars, such as midfielder Franck Ribéry and wingback Patrice Evra, have proven to be significant contributors for their clubs, and this tournament may be their coming-out party on the world stage. The French have consistently done well in high-stakes competition, winning the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championships and placing second in the 2006 World Cup.

Weaknesses:
The slowness that comes with age may counteract any benefits from the experience of the French stars. Henry, Viera, Makelele and Thuram have not been playing their best soccer of late, and many pundits were already discounting this team at the 2006 World Cup due to its advanced age. They overcame that criticism, but it’s now two years later and the cast remains largely the same.

Dark horse: Greece

Strengths:
It’s a rare tournament in which the defending champion can be classified as a dark horse, but that’s undoubtedly the case with Greece. They came out of nowhere to claim the 2004 European Championship with a solid defensive effort and forwards who took full advantage of their limited opportunities on the counterattack. This time around, most people have written them off again, but if they can recapture the magical form they found in 2004, they will turn a few heads.

Weaknesses:
Unfortunately for Greece, the cat is out of the bag now. Every team in this tournament is familiar with its style. They won’t be overlooked any more and their lack of versatility may prove their undoing. If teams can shut down the Greek counterattack, this defending champion will fall flat on its face.

Amrit Ahluwalia

Contenders:

Netherlands

Strengths:
The Dutch showcase a fearsome defence from keeper all the way across the back line. The midfield is fast, skilled, and brilliant on the ball—featuring players like Rafael van der Vaart, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, who hail from a smattering of the top European clubs. The Oranje also boast Ruud Van Nistelrooy,
Robin van Persie, Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel, some of the most talented strikers in the world, names that scare even the top European keepers. They move the ball well and they can score on the ground and in the air. Expect flashy football from the Dutch.

Weaknesses:
Their downfall may be completely out of their hands. They find themselves in Group C for the round-robin portion of the tournament. They will have to face tough opposition in Italy and France to even qualify for the knock-out stage.

The Dutch are going to have to come together at lightning pace to have a hope against these strong sides, otherwise they’ll find themselves heading back home scratching their heads.

Italy

Strengths:
The side responsible for catenacchio (shut-down defensive)-style soccer should concede very little this tournament, especially with Gianluigi Buffon in goal and Fabio Cannavaro, Marco Matterazzi, and Gianluca
Zambrotta in the defensive corps. The midfield is strong defensively, and with the likes of Gennaro Gattuso, Maurio Camoranesi, Andrea Pirlo, opposition attacks have often found themselves lost in the web of the Italian backfield. The midfield also has the potential to play on the attack, which when mixed with the talent of Luca Toni, Antonio Cassano, Alessandro Del Piero and Antonio di Natale, has the potential to create scoring chances anytime the Azzurri are within thirty yards of goal.

Weaknesses:
Like the Netherlands, Italy finds itself starting the tournament in Group C, which could cause them problems. Some of its players will enter the tournament toting egos inflated by successes at the club level. That, mixed with the increased pressure of being World Cup champions, might make claiming the coveted double an impossible task.

Dark horse: Croatia

Strengths:
Croatia plays good, old-fashioned, English soccer with a beautiful twist—they play it at supersonic speeds. They move the ball well along the ground but have also perfected the long-ball. The defence plays an impenetrable trap, and are fast enough to recover in the event of a mistake. Having knocked England out of the qualifiers, the Croats will have another chance to prove their bottle against Europe’s best.

Weaknesses:
They qualified through what wound up being a weak group, and beating a big-name squad in England might give them unfounded confidence when going up against stronger opposition. The Croatian players will have to keep their egos in check and continue playing the same game with which they qualified.

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