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.


MayMaggot said...

Great post Pheebs and I rate Akinfeev too. He was the first choice at 15? Blimey

Rob said...

Oops, make that five years then...