Friday, 27 June 2008


Apologies for the lack of updates over the last few days, but my knee has ballooned, so I'm not spending as much time as normal in front of the PC. Normal service should hopefully be resumed by the end of the weekend.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Euro 2008 Review: Just five games left

And elsewhere, the Euro 2008 blog gets as random and as haphazard as I expected it would, but all in all the football has been superb. Turkey reached the semi-final last night having led their games for a total of two minutes, but it's better to lead for just the last two minutes that just the first 88. And they'll face Germany in the semi final, with their embarrassment of riches up front, and their, well, guaranteed at least one embarrassment a game at the back. Turkey look to be aiming for the Greece approach, but aren't as organised at the back, and look to score through Ardan or Nihat's creativity, rather than through set pieces. I told you to look out for that pair. Okay, Nihat's a given and should be well known from when Bayer Leverkusen played Manchester United in the Champions League, but Ardan was an unknown quantity in these shores. Just forget everything else I said about Turkey. Especially the bit about them finishing bottom of Group A. Mertesacker and Metzelder are good for at least a mistake each per game, and Joachim Löw's use of Marcell Jansen as a late sub against Portugal, despite his performance against Croatia suggests he has a chance of playing. His performance was blamed on a shoulder injury.

In the meantime, we've got two more quarter-finals, and Italy eliminated France to strike fear into the hearts of Spain. Raymond Domenech's horoscope suggested that the end of their tournament would be the best time to propose to his girlfriend on live TV. The French Russell Grant clearly doubles up as the French Jeremy Beadle. The only people unhappier than the French, were the Spanish, as their record against the Italians is poor, and appears to have reached the point of being a psychological barrier, rather than a sporting one. The Spanish view of Italian football is one of anti-football rife with cheating, fouling and play-acting, something which has mainly been absent this tournament. No goals, penalties, important free kicks or sendings off have been caused by play-acting - although Jan Koller's face-holding antics after Volkan Demirel pushed him in the chest may have helped increase the ban to two games, especially considering Bastian Schweinsteiger was only banned for one game for a similar push to the chest.

The other quarter final sees the Netherlands face Russia. Russia seemed like a team reborn after Andre Arshavin was available for the Swedish game. Inspiration as well as being at the heart of the two best team goals in the tournamen revitalised Guus Hiddink's men, after the misfortune of the Spain match, and the misfiring against the Greeks. The Dutch on the other hand look excellent going forward and frail at the back. Just like Germany. In some respects a Dutch-German final would be a fantastic spectacle and one likely to feature a lot of goals, but I would be suprised if both made it. After fancying a Croatia-Portugal final in the top half (I know I didn't say it on here, but I'm hardly going to pretend I got it wrong just for the sake of it, am I?), I'll give the kiss of death to the Italians and the Russians. The latter after penalties. And as Tom Dunmore of Pitch Invasion points out, any Total Football we see tonight, is more likely to come from the Russians.

One In, Aul In

And the headings get worse. Both a statement of fact and a promise for the future. The Gareth McAuley saga is finally over, and hopefully this means that now he and David Norris are on board, and given the 'no comment' about Shola Ameobi, maybe our attempts at conducting transfer business via the press are over.

Well. Almost.

“We have made an enquiry about Shola [Ameobi] but not a bid." - Jim Magilton, 14th June
“If I could get [José Emilio] Guerra I would. We have made an enquiry to Barcelona about him and we will see what happens." - Magilton, 14th June

Magilton has almost stated that he's still after "back four players" - likely to be another centre half and a left back, with maybe more cover at full back, "strengthening the midfield" - rumoured to be after a left midfielder, although a right midfielder seems more urgent, given we don't have a natural one, and a striker. No mention of a keeper, so either Nick Colgan's staying as backup to Shane Supple, or he's staying open-minded about the level of keeper he's looking for. All of which leaves next season's team looking like this.

GK: Shane Supple or New signing
RB: David Wright or Alex Bruce
CB: Gareth McAuley
CB: New signing or Richard Naylor or Alex Bruce
LB: New signing or David Wright
RM: Square peg. Probably David Norris or Jon Walters or Danny Haynes
CM: Owen Garvan
CM: Velice Sumulikoski or Tommy Miller
LM: New signing or Alan Quinn
CF: New signing
CF: Jon Walters or Danny Haynes or Alan Lee or Pablo Couñago

Clear as crystal then.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Which way now?

While I'm here, and waiting for my Open University mark to arrive any day now. (Who am I kidding, they tell me it'll be here by August) I'm looking at where I go next. "Exploring psychology" or "Welfare, crime and society". The latter sounds more interesting and is a new course, but forces me down the 'Criminology with Psychologial studies" route. The former still gives me the choice. So that's a decision, isn't it? Well, maybe.

Anyone for Pim?

And the first new signing of the year is in. Pim Balkestein arrives from SC Heerenveen on a Bosman. Only as he's 21, we have to pay a tribunal fee. Balkestein hasn't set the Eredivisie alight, given that he's yet to make his debut. He was also so desperate to sign for Ipswich/leave the Friesland club* that he paid his own air fare for his trial towards the end of last season. Certain fans of The Veen think he deserved a chance and that it's another lost opportunity for their youngsters. Wonder if he met Billy Clarke, Michael Synnott or Sammy Moore during his trial.

Suggestions that this was a Jordan Rhodes style signing were later quashed when it was Simon Hunt, rather than Balkestein's father who was appointed Town's new European Scout. Hunt was European scout when we signed Ulrich Le Pen, Amir Karic, Nabil Abidallah and Guillermo Graaven. £2.5million and nine games between them. I say games, I mean substitute appearances. They probably didn't play 90 minutes between them. Whoo-hoo.

*Delete as appropriate

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Euro 2008 Review: First Round, Part One

Okay, as titles go it's effective rather than pretty. Not bad if this was to be all about Romania. I'm not going into too much detail, but let's have a look at the highs and lows of the first eight games:

The Good
* The entertainment factor. So far, only Romania v France and Greece v Sweden have disappointed. And they were down to teams who have to sacrifice style to level the playing field.
* The quality of the counter-attacks. Especially those of the Dutch. Less than thiry seconds between a save at one end, and a goal at the other. Spain and the Czechs got in on the act too.
* The lack of playacting. In most of the games at least. Not a single goal has come from a player conning a referee. Mind you, only one penalty so far (and that was cast-iron), and most of the free-kicks have been rubbish.

The Bad
* The injuries to Alexander Frei and Chistian Wilhelmsson. The former was the main hope of the co-hosts, and the latter was the best thing about Sweden v Greece. His performance, not the injury.
* The punditry. van Nistelrooy's goal was legitimate, according to directives from FIFA. The BBC even read the directive out (rule 11.4.1 of the refereeing code: "An opposing player cannot be offside when one of the last two defenders has left the field of play"), while accusing UEFA of closing ranks to protect the referee, because he got the decision wrong. Which he didn't. Gordon Strachan and Martin O'Neill questioned this. Shouldn't they know the rules as part of their day jobs? As rules go it's not the greatest, but it's to stop players stepping out of play to avoid being offside/playing someone onside. There could be a little room for manoeuvre for situations such as Panucci's mind. Ah well, bang goes the 'not much detail' bit.
* ITV. Once again, they prove they are shit at sport. Unless the nation is now known as Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal, in which case I apologise.
* The Spanish and Dutch defences. A lackluster Russian attack, and goals from breakaways made those results looks a lot better than the winning Nations deserved. Both looked shaky at the back. Spain will get probably get away with it until the quarter finals, but the Dutch won't be so lucky.

The bit where I highlight things I've got right so far
* Lucas Podolski being Germany's one to watch. Although if I'd known that Joachim Löw was going to play him at left midfield, I might have chosen someone else....
* David Villa's goalscoring record is even better than it was last week.
* Like I say, Cesc Fabregas can do everything. Including head the ball.

Let's ignore the bits about Patrice Evra being France's one to watch (not picked) and the same with Andrei Arshavin - with a little more research, I'd have realised he was suspended for two games. Poland's Kuba Blaszczykowski also withdrew two days after I previewed Group B.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Now available in widescreen

I've been playing about a bit with the settings, so if it looks funny, or the sidebar disappears, let me know.

Monday, 9 June 2008


Shola Ameobi. £4million. The club have issued a statement saying 'No comment'. So either Jim Magilton's learned to keep his mouth shut, or club spokesman Terry Baxter's as speechless as I am.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Euro 2008 Preview: The Group of Deja Vu

Finally, it's time to look at Group D. And a group that looks familiar. Mainly because three of the teams were in Group A together in Euro 2004. This time it's Sweden, who join Spain, Russia and holders Greece.

And we'll start with the holders. Four years on from Euro 2004, and the holders Greece come into the tournament as one of the outsiders, and are available for 50/1. The coach is still Otto Rehhagel, the two mainstays of the defence in Portugal - right back Giourkas Seitaridis and centre-half Traianos Dellas - are still there. Goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis, midfielders Angelos Basinas, Stelios Giannakopoulos, Giorgos Karagounis and Kostas Katsouranis and forward Angelos Charisteas are still in the squad, and they are complimented by younger squad members, but no-one really fancies them. In some ways, the win in Portugal was seen as a fluke - a win for organisation and nullification over style and technique, and the failure to qualify for the World Cup in 2006, in what looked an easier group than most seemed to emphasise the point. The system still looks like it may work though, as it's one designed to frustrate and counter-attack, and the best way to play against it, is not to attack - and in that respect, Greece probably couldn't have chosen a better group, as Spain and Sweden both look stronger going forward, leaving Greece in a position to shut up shop, and nick a goal from a corner. Greece won't retain their title this time, but they won't disgrace themselves either.

One to watch: Giourkas Seitaridis was arguably the player of the tournament in Portugal. A right back who defends, and also started most of Greece's counter-attacks.

One for the future: 22 year old Vasilis Torosidis is a wing back in the Setiaridis mould, and has also attracted interest from the Premiership.

Greece's first opponents are Sweden.
And they arrive with an ageing squad, spearheaded by 36 year old Henrik Larsson, and nine other players in their thirties. As such, they could well find that some of their players don't make the distance after a long season. It also doesn't bode too well for future campaigns. Defensively, only Mikael Dorsin, Fredrik Stoor and Andreas Granqvist are under 30, and have just 20 caps between them, so experience is a problem, should they be needed against pacier opposition. The midfield is slightly younger, as while Christian Wilhelmsson and Kim Kallstrom have been part of the squad for a long time (over fifty caps each), both are in their mid-twenties. Up front are their best hopes - Larsson and Allback have always produced at this level, Zlatan Ibrahimovic shouldn't need any introduction and Johan Elmander has a goal almost every three games. But, the rest of the squad only give the impression that the Swedes will be back home before the postcards.

One to watch: Like I say, Zlatan Ibrahimovic needs no introduction, in terms of either his genius or his petulance.

One for the future: Sebastian Larsson showed glimpses last season as to why Arsene Wenger may have been hasty in letting him go so early.

Then we come to one of life's great underachievers - Spain. In some respects they're the Spanish England. Always hyped up, always have one or two players who could just inspire them to great things, always find themselves going home early. Always, *always* have people suggesting that this time, they actually will do well, because they have [insert latest star player] so they can't fail this time, can they? And this year's star player of choice is Fernandio Torres, who has been one of the best three players in the Premiership. But he was in Germany and Portugal, and just as highly rated then, it's just he's at closer quarters now. After all, he was worth Rafa Benitez spent £25m on him for a reason. But, Torres isn't the only one of the top three Premiership players in the Spanish squad, because they have Cesc Fabregas, and with Carles Puyol in defence and Iker Casillas in goal, all of a sudden they have a very strong spine, and I'm almost getting sucked in. It just seems that the squad is a little short on experience. They are the only side to bring an outfield player with no caps (defender Fernando Navarro), and they have eight players with just nine caps between them. Given that seven of those are outfield, and there is a very settled core of 13 outfield players - a couple of players get injured or suspended, and all of a sudden it's deep end time for Dani Guiza or Raul Albiol. They do have enough to get out of the group, but then they face a refugee from the group of death.

One to watch: Fernando Torres will get all the plaudits from the lazier types, but David Villa has a much better scoring record at this level.

One for the future: I happen to think that Cesc Fabregas is the best player in the world right now. He can tackle, pass, shoot, and do everything a world class footballer needs to do. And he's still only 21. How frightening is that?

And finally... as they say, Russia. Probably the most least known team to arrive, as 22 of them play in their national league, with only Ivan Saenko playing abroad, for Nurnburg. But they do have five players who form the heart of the Zenit St. Petersburg team that have swept all before them as they won the UEFA Cup last month, and adding to this they have goals from Dmitiri Sychev and a highly skilled defender in Sergei Ignashevich. They do have one of the best international coaches at the helm, and he has made a lot of changes from the side that last featured on this stage. In fact they have the youngest side on view, with only Serhei Semak over the age of thirty, and again like Spain, feature a number of players with only a handful of caps. But, with the emergence of the Russian sides in club football, Russia are in a position to suprise, but if anything, they look like a team being built for the South African World Cup.

One to watch: Andrei Arshavin is the creator, and hold up man. Comfortable up front and out wide, he has also been linked with numerous clubs in western Europe.

One for the future: Igor Akinfeev should have cemented his place as number one goalkeeper. 22 years old, and has been first choice for CSKA Moscow for seven years.

The lowdown

On paper, Spain should breeze this group, but you have to remember that, even more importantly that the fact they don't play on paper, they are Spain. I do expect them to squeeze through with Greece just behind them.

Overall, I'm tipping the quarter finals to be Portugal v Germany, Croatia v Switzerland, Italy v Greece and Spain v Romania - with the four group winners progressing to the semi finals, and Italy pipping Croatia in the final.

We're just over an hour away now. Let's get started.

Euro 2008 Preview: Mort, mort, mort (How do you like it?)

Less than seven and half hours to go, and two groups left to preview. Been a bit busy finishing off that last assignment, but the Open University is finished until I get my results next month.

So, onto the football, and onto the big one. Group C. The well-cliched Group of Death. Every tournament has one. And as soon as Greece won Euro 2004, to join Austria and Switzerland as top seeds, it was obvious that the other seed would be in that group of death. And the nations in danger of being seeding top seemed to notice this, as Germany (losing 0-3 to the Czechs, 0-0 v Wales), Croatia (2-0 defeat in Macedonia) and the Netherlands (losing 2-1 to Belarus) all eased up towards the end of the campaign, once qualification was complete. Saving themselves from suspensions, or trying to avoid the Group of Death? Only they know.

If it was the latter, it certainly backfired for the Netherlands, as their final matchday defeat in Belarus, not only have me a nice start in a 14/1 double with a German-Welsh draw, it also failed to stop them being the top seed out of the qualifiers. And, as if to conform to the Dutch stereotype, there has been the odd falling out prior to the tournament. Clarence Seedorf withdrawing from being available for selection, after falling out with coach Marco van Basten. van Basten and Ruud van Nistelrooy have kissed and made up, after the latter said he would never play for the Oranje again while van Basten was in charge. Mark van Bommel has stayed by his word, and does not feature. On paper, the first team looks strong, Edwin van der Sar, Wesley Snijder, van Nistelrooy, Arjen Robben have all featured strongly in Manchestrer United or Real Madrid's title winning teamns, but strength in depth appears to be a problem. van der Sar has become a little injury prone in the last few seasons, but the backup has little in the way of international experience. The defence is far from the strongest here, but players like Ooijer, Melchiot and Boulahrouz don't strike fear into the best strikers in Europe, while Kuyt and Vennegoor of Hesselink are weak replacements for van Persie, should his injuries return during the tournament.

One to watch: Klaas Jan Huntelaar's record so far is phonomenal. Seven goals in twelve games is good in anyone's book, but when you consider that three were against fellow Euro 2008 qualifiers, and the others were against stonger second-tier nations in the shape or Ireland, Slovenia and the Ukraine, he is not just a rabbit killer. His club career also sees him score three in every four games.

One for the future: There is sparse choice here, as this is not a young squad - at 22, Ibrahim Afellay is the youngest player in the squad, but his creativity, both from the right and in the centre have seen big things predicted.

The Dutch begin their campaign on Monday against reigning World Champions Italy. And just as two years ago, the Italians look a strong bet. They arrive with most of the core of the World Cup winning side, but a long term injury to Francesco Totti and an akle ligament injury on the eve of the tournament to Fabio Cannavaro robs the Italians of two of their star names. But, with the likes of Alessandro Del Piero, Di Natale and Cassano up front, Ambrosini and Camoranesi in midfield, and Barzagli, Chellini in defence, the Italians have a lot of strength in depth, with the only question mark being on the back up keepers. After many years with an embarrassment in riches in the glovesman depeartment Amelia and de Sanctis aren't as strong as the likes as Toldo or Peruzzi. In some respects, the group stage is seen as Italy's biggest test, but with the strength of squad they have, they will be disappointed to not qualify, even from a group as strong as this.

One to watch: Luca Toni was a late emerger on the International scence, but with a record of almost one in two games, as well as being the Bundesliga's top scorer with 24 goals in his first German season, he arrives in form.

One for the future: The squad is even older than the Dutch one, and the youngest player is 23, but Roma's Alberto Aquilani's is rumoured to have half of Europe's elite clubs interested in this excellent passer of the ball.

The marquee team in the other group is two time champion France. And the French squad doesn't look too special. Whilst most of the squad ply their trade for bigger clubs in the stronger leagues, a lot of players are either arriving after a difficult season (Patrick Viera, Nicolas Anelka, Florent Malouda, Thierry Henry), or past their best (Claude Makelele and Lilian Thuram are both in the twilight of their career). The rest of the squad are either young and untested at this level, or have failed to impress at this level. Add this to coach Raymond Domenech's unpredictability and ability to fall out with the squad, and the tournament could seem a lot longer than it pans out to be. That said, Patrice Evra, Eric Abidal, William Gallas and Willy Sagnol have all had good seasons, and if nothing else, they will be strong in defence, and in Karim Benezema, they have a striker that half of Europe is talking about.

One to watch: 27 is a little old for a player from one of the more established players in Europe to make their major tournament debut, but Patrice Evra is one of the best defenders in the world.

One for the future: While Manchester United complain about Real Madrid's comments about Cristiano Ronaldo, it has only been three months since Sir Alex Ferguson publicly expressed an interest in Lyon's Karim Benezema.

Finally in group C, we have Romania. Usually, any tournament that Romania qualify for, see them labelled as dark horses. This time, because of the strength of the rest of the group, they have been overlooked. One reason they have been unfairly overlooked is that they qualified from the same group as the Netherlands. Not only did they take four points from the Dutch, they also kept two clean sheets. That said, the squad is taken mainly from players based in Romania, but only one player plays for Romanian champions CFR Cluj - and Eduard Stancioiu arrives in Switzerland as the third choice keeper. Elsewhere, Inter's Cristian Chivu is the inspiration in the side, and while he appears to have been around forever, he is only 27 years old, and at his peak. The rest of the first team contains a few well-known players such as Getafe's Cosmin Contra, CSKA Sofia's Florentin Petre. Both have tournament experience, and they are the old men of the squad - but as both are 32, it suggests that this squad will be fit. And considering the age of the other teams, plus the possibility that the Romanians could be overlooked by the other teams, gives them a chance.

One to watch: This is Adrian Mutu'c chance to prove that he has completed his rehabilitation. Whether the judgement that he has to pay Chelsea just under £20million will affect him, remains to be seen.

One for the future: Ciprian Marica has had a stop start season for VfB Stuttgart, and his known more for his pace, dribbling and his ability to bring others into the game, than his goalscoring, but one in three at international level is not to be sniffed at.

The lowdown

It's been labelled the 'Group of Death' on reputations alone. Italy are the strongest side in the competition, as far as I'm concerned, and could qualify with maximum points. The Dutch's lack of strength in depth and France's lack of form could see Romania pip them both, and if the Romanians avoid defeat in their opener against France, then I'd expect them to be second in this group.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Euro 2008 Preview: More checks and a-pole-ling hosts.

The clock on the official Euro 2008 website tells me that it's just over 4 days and 8 hours away from kickoff, which means that I should ge my arse into gear and preview Group B. Not to mention the much needed distraction from trying to come up witha good definition of "social change". Yes, it's assignment time again.

On paper this group is probably the most straightforward to predict the two qualifers from. And almost everyone is ruling out the hosts - with good reason. Austria are probably the poorest side ever to host a European Championship. Ranked 101 by FIFA - admittedly this makes them look worse than they really are, due to the fact that competitive games bring more ranking points, and Austria haven't played a competitive game since 2005, when they beat Northern Ireland in Vienna. Austria finished nine points adrift of the playoffs in the qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, but they only dropped five points at home, drawing with England and losing to Poland. However, their form coming into the tournament isn't great, with only two victories in eleven attempts this season - against Malta and the Ivory Coast. Their record in major tournament finals is even worse. This is their first appearance at a European Championship final, and you have to go back to 1978 for the last time they defeated a European nation at a World Cup final. Added to this that there is a petition for the Austrian side to be replaced - a petition which originated in Austria, and has amassed over 25,000 signatures. The omens are not good. Like Turkey before them, most of the side is based at home, but the Austrian league is a poorer standard. Those players that do play abroad, tend to play in weaker leagues, or for weaker clubs - Spartak Moscow, Werder Bremen and Middlesbrough are the strongest clubs represented.

One to watch: Roland Linz is the third highest scorer in the squad, and is record of a goal every four games internationally is not to be sneezed at, his record of almost a goal every other game for Boavista this season is also impressive.

One for the future: Martin Harnik is the Austrian at Werder Bremen, and has made almost as many appearances for his nation as his club's first team. He also has more goals for his country - the first of which coming within six minutes of his debut against the Czech Republic.

Austria's first game is against Croatia, the side that put England to the sword, which is something you'll hear every ten minutes of ever game of theirs that ITV show. They may also be favoured more because they knocked England out than any of their actual merits, because had England made it to Austria & Switzerland, they would have walked away with the trophy. Just like every other time, of course. Croatia are a strong side, with a brilliant team ethic, and Slaven Bilic has instilled a sense of knowing where everyone else is, meaning that once the Croatians get the ball, it's close to impossible to get it off them again. It is this organisation that more than makes up for the team's lack of stars, with most of the players plying their trade for clubs just outside Europe's elite. Even Dario Simic will have to play UEFA Cup football with his Milan side this season. In some respects it will be unbearable if Croatia do well, because that would then prove how well England would have done (more on that when I reach Group D), but they will be one of the most entertaining to watch, and will make as many friends as their class of 96 did. The draw has been kind to them, and they could take full advantage.

One to watch: Nico Kranjcar has has capped an impressive season with the FA Cup win last month. His speculative shot at Wembley also helped knock England out. Should he score in the finals, look for Croatia to go on to win the game, as they have won all six games he has scored in.

One for the future: Ivan Rakitic has been a success in his first season at Schalke, contributing three goals and ten assists.

Croatia's main rivals in the group are they who should never be discounted - Germany. Although you have to go back to 1996 for the last time they won a game in normal time - ironically against Croatia in the quarter finals - and won a game in the finals at all. Their last two campaigns have been poor, with their best results having been draws against Romania and the Netherlands, and their worst results defeats against Portugal and the Czech Republic - both of whom had already qualified, and fielded a reserved team. This time round, things look a lot stronger for the Germans. Whilst their squad isn't the strongest German side to arrive at a tournament, it is probably the best since Jürgen Klinsmann lifted the Henri Delauney trophy. There is strength and experience across the squad, and Per Metzelder and Christoph Mertesacker proivde a strong centre-half pairing. Michael Ballack has recaptured his form of old and will be assited ably by Schweinsteiger and Frings. Four strikers arrive with plenty of goals under their belt - Klose, Podolski, Kuranyi and Neuville arrive with 93 goals between them, but Mario Gomez is the man who appears to be catching the headlines with six goals in ten caps. If Germany do have a weakness, it's in goal. Jens Lehmann has been second choice at Arsenal for most of the season, but the other two keepers that have travelled have just one appearance between them - and Robert Encke's only cap was over a year ago.

One to watch
: Miroslav Klose may be the rabbit killer's rabbit killer, but Lucas Podolski has 25 goals to his name in less than fifty caps. And he's still only 22.

One for the future: It seems strange to talk about a former Footballer Of The Year, but Mario Gomez is even younger than Podolski. And he's scored 28 goals in 32 games for VfB Stuttgart.

Germany's opening game is against the last team in the group - Poland. Poland's recent role at major finals has been to be the worst European side present. At least this time - their first ever  in the European Championships - they will be able to priove that there is worse on show, when they face the co-hosts in Vienna. Like their co- hosts, it has been a long time since they beat a European side on the big stage - 1986 against Portugal in their case. Unlike their co-hosts, they do have players representing them at Europe's elite. Unfortunately, they will be on the bench for their nation, like they usually are at their clubs, as Celtic's Artur Boruc will almost certainly retain the goalkeeper's role ahead of Arsenal's Fabianski and Manchester United's Kuszczak. The nucleus of the squad appears to be the same as the one that underperformed at the World Cup, only two years older. Again, the National League is well represented. Again, the National League is relatively weak.

One to watch: Wlodzimierz Smolarek scored the winning goal when Poland beat Portugal in 1986, and it took 20 years for the Poles to score against them again. This time round it was one of his son Ebi's 13 goals in 31 games. The younger Smolarek has been more likely to score for his nation than his club, as only four of his nine goals this term have been for Racing Santander.

One for the future: Right winger Kuba Blaszczykowski's pace and dribbling saw him notice by German giants Borussia Dortmund.

The lowdown

In what appears to be the most clear cut of groups, Croatia and Germany should progress, with the Croatian's organisation just proving a little two much in the game that decides which of them progresses. Belgium became the first host to fail to get out of the group stage in 2000, but Austria will eclipse that by failing to register a single point.