Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Euro 2008 Draw Analysis: Group A

So I'll refrain from more talk about how this draw was rigged [yeah, yeah, putting Italy, France and Holland in the same group sends one of the big boys home early, but with 16 teams, something like this was inevitable; the tournament starts with the knockout round and it's there the top eight are guaranteed a spot]. I'll dive into Group A where Portugal, the Czech Republic, Turkey and Switzerland are nested.

Portugal was less than enthralling as it slogged through its group in qualifying for another continental championship. I still shake my head how '04 Greece beat this team twice--how on earth did they win the final in Lisbon against that team of studs? Finishing second to Poland and edging out Finland--which still had a chance to sneak in if enough cards fell in their direction!

Portugal has been gigantic in the last two major championships, reaching the '04 Euro final and the '06 World Cup semis--which I still say it should have won. Italy may still have won the final, but Portugal was the better team.

It should win this group with ease, but can Portugal turn it on at will. They have a year to fine-tune things and this figures to be Scolari's swan song with the team. Do they win the whole thing for him on the way out? You gotta figure Jose Mourinho is in for the 2010 World Cup, that Scolari's would have had enough by then, especially if they don't win next summer, that he'd be excused from his duties?

The Czechs, meanwhile, are always in the hunt--they were semifinalists in 2004 and are always one of those teams to avoid. They won their qualifying group--edging out Germany--and are solid front to back. They'll be a year older next summer, and that's not good news for a veteran team. Jan Koller can still score goals and Tomas Rosicky bears watching in the midfield. And don't forget a healthy Petr Cech.

If these two take care of Turkey and Switzerland, then the Portugal-Czech game on June 11 is irrelevant.

Turkey, though, is the wild card in this group. This ain't the same team that finished third in the World Cup of '02. Heck, they're probably through in this tournament because of having the good fortune of being seeded in a group with Norway, Moldova and Malta. Someone had to get through!

The Swiss, well, the Swiss are in because they're the hosts. Same goes for Austria. Let's have the joint-bid discussion another day.

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