France - Call me crazy after the ordeal that played out at the 2010 World Cup, but I think this French team has all the qualities needed to win EURO 2012.
First off, they are absolutely loaded with talent all across the board. They have a premier goalkeeper in captain Hugo Lloris, and their defense boasts a lot of talent. Laurent Koscielny had his best professional year yet for Arsenal and fullbacks Gael Clichy and Patrice Evra have been successful at their respective Manchester clubs.
The midfield is full of playmakers like Frank Ribery, Samir Nasri, Hatem Ben Arfa, and Florent Malouda, all of whom helped their clubs have successful years. Defensive midfielder Alou Diarra is a force, and Yann M’Vila has been linked with moves to a top team. Karem Benzema enjoyed a great season at Real Madrid, and France may have a legitimate second striker in Olivier Giroud who led Montpellier to the French title. He is a rising star in the game. With so much talent and with the form this squad is in, they should fare far better than the 2010 debacle.
Spain – The reigning world champions are the odds-makers favorite, and who can blame them with midfielders like Xavi, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, Juan Mata, and David Silva? But I fear for the rest of the squad. Without striker David Villa in the side that leaves the scoring responsibility to Fernando Torres, and recent history has shown that that is a bad thing. He has not rediscovered his past excellent form, and the team will find goals hard to come by.
Their defense is talented with Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos, but Carlos Puyol is injured. As a team leader and absolute defensive force, Puyol will be missed and the Spanish team will probably give up goals. Unless goalie Iker Casillas plays incredibly, Spain will lose. They will brush aside the weaker teams with lots of possession, but will be broken by a strong European team that gets hot.
Netherlands – The 2010 World Cup finalists could have a big say as to who wins the tournament. They seem to have the perfect players to cover every position on the field. Holland stars one of the best and hottest strikers in the world, Robin van Persie. He scored 37 goals in all competitions for Arsenal and is capable of scoring from any impossible angle.
Another excellent forward is workhorse, Dirk Kuyt, whose relentlessness wears down the best of defenses. In the midfield are exceptional playmakers Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben. Further behind are two of the meanest enforcers on the planet in Nigel de Jong and captain Mark van Bommel. Although the Netherland’s defense is slightly suspect, de Jong and van Bommel are great at slowing down offenses. Goalie Maarten Stekelenburg is very good too and will keep Holland in games like he did in 2010. My worry about the Oranje, however, is that besides Robin van Persie many of the other players aren’t in the best of form like they were in 2010. Winning major tournaments is about teams hitting good form at the right moment. Van Persie alone is playing at his peak right now, and he will struggle to carry the whole side.
Portugal – This team is all about Cristiano Ronaldo, and that is where the problem lies. He is an incredible talent, one of the world’s best, but too often his team looks for him to answer every question. When you become so one-dimensional it is easier for the opposition to defend, and so Portugal hasn’t done well in recent major tournaments.
But, if there is one player that can do it all by himself it is this man. Ronaldo is coming off of an amazing year where he won his first La Liga title with Real Madrid, dethroning Barcelona and ending the “best team ever” claims that had surfaced about the Catalan club. Statistically, he netted 60 goals in 55 games, an average of over one goal per game. But what truly makes Portugal a contender is that Ronaldo finally has some other decent attacking options in Nani and Raul Meireles, who both play at top English clubs. The rest of the squad is decent and could very well offer Ronaldo the support he needs to win EURO 2012.
Germany – The Germans are a perennial force during international tournaments and play an exciting batch of attacking soccer. For their recent successes, the team is also astoundingly young, with striker Miroslav Klose being one of only two squad members on the wrong side of 30. Other great players like Mesut Ozil, Philip Lahm, Lukas Podolski, Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller, and Bastian Schweinsteiger are all in their mid 20’s. As such, their youth may hold them back from winning it all. Usually more mature teams lift these sorts of trophies, but although they are young many of the players have featured in multiple World Cups where the team has had deep runs into semifinal and final matches.
Also, as Klose is aging this could be his last chance to win a trophy for his country and seal his legacy as an all-time great German striker. With two large center backs in Per Mertesacker and Mats Hummels, opposing teams will struggle to find chances, especially in the air. With the tournament being held so close to home (both Podolski and Klose actually were born in Poland), 2012 could provide a monumental win for Germany.
Prediction – No team is perfect, but each one is great. The EURO 2012 tournament will provide many exciting and tense matches that delight the spectators. I feel that the final match will come down to France vs. Netherlands, with the French coming out on top 2-1. Spain simply has too many key injuries. Germany’s players aren’t in the best form (see the 2012 Champions League final). Cristiano Ronaldo won’t be able to do it all on his own.
Holland’s players likewise aren’t in the best form, and Robin van Persie will also not be able to win every game by himself. With France, I see a well balanced team that no one expects to perform. They have quality in every position and their players are hitting their stride. Look out for Les Bleus!
Nicholas Spiller is a freelance soccer writer and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.