Friday, May 16, 2008
Euro 2008 Group B Preview: Poland, Croatia in Battle for Second
Let's call Group B the Axis powers group. Germany, Austria, Croatia and Poland--OK, there's some editorial license going on there, but you get the point.
The real point, however, is that this is Germany's group to lose. The real race is for second here between Croatia and Poland. Austria, one of the co-hosts, isn't here on merit. Austria paid its way in via new stadiums and a healthy bid to UEFA. Congrats, now get out of the way.
Germany released its roster for the tournament, and the biggest splash came when manager Joachim Loew decided to leave keeper Timo Hildebrand of Valencia off the team and called youngling keeper Rene Adler of Leverkeusen to the side.
Germany figures to roll into the quarterfinals behind strikers Kevin Kuranyi, Oliver Neuville and Miroslav Klose. Michael Ballack solidifies the midfield in what likely will be his final Euro. Bastien Schweinsteiger had a big World Cup and a solid year at Bayern Munich, easily winning the Bundesliga.
Who joins the Germans? Poland had a great run in qualifying, winning a group that included Portugal, Belgium and Finland. Ignore a 3-0 beating handed out by the U.S. on March 26, Poland is a contender for the final eight. Don't forget that the Poles and the Ukraine are bidding to co-host the 2012 Euro, a good showing here only helps that effort.
Croatia is probably regarded as a favorite for second. Coach Slaven Bilic has a new deal through 2010 dropped standby, and Bosko Balaban in favor of Nikola Kalinic at striker. Croatia, you'll remember, sent England out of the tournament in qualifying and is to be reckoned with.
Austria, meanwhile, is happy to be there. The co-hosts open against Croatia June 8. Its best hope is Ivica Vastic, a 38-year-old attacking midfielder. Uemit Korkmaz and Stefan Maierhofer are first-timers, but honestly, there isn't much to expect here.
*Germany, Poland get through on goal differential.
Here is the Starting Eleven Group A preview.