Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Euro 2008 preview: Group D
Finally, we've arrived at Group D for Euro 2008, another difficult group to call right along with the G.O.D., Group C.
Spain has to be considered a title favorite; many believe the only thing that's held Spain back from winning a major cup has been veteran coach Aragones. Spain just hasn't been able to get rid of this guy, despite constant disappointments. Spain failed to reach the World Cup final eight in 2006, despite being a supremely talented team. Aragones says he's going after the Euro--win or lose. Can he kick the door down in his swan song?
Spain comes into the tournament on a 15-game unbeaten streak, but despite the good run, Aragones made a huge negative splash by leaving classy veteran Raul off his final roster. Just another black mark. So clearly, should Spain win, detractors will say the team did so in spite of Aragones.
Spain isn't short on stars: Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, David Villa, Casillas. The team has one of the best keepers in the world, and probably the best conglomerate midfield in the game. Villa and Torres provide noteworthy punch up front, so the only segment to question is the back line. Carlos Puyol, Sergio Ramos, Arbeloa, and Navarro aren't likely to make someone stand up and take notice. But should Spain prevail, it's likely going to be on the strength of their consistency and play.
Greece has one goal in Euro 2008: Prove that its 2004 title was no fluke. No one expects the Greeks to repeat their amazing run that culminated in a win against hosts Portugal in the '04 final, but they could threaten for a quarterfinal berth. Defense wins, and coach Otto Rehhagael loves defense. Seitaridis, Dellas, Kyrgiakos and Goumas each have at least 37 national team appearances, and each is tall and strong. Giannakopoulos, Karagounis and Katsouranis hold down the midfield, and validate this team is built from the back up. By the way, Greece won its qualifying group handily, losing only once.
Sweden is banking on the return of striker Henrik Larsson to get it to the final eight, but is that enough in this group? Veterans Niclas Alexandersson and Olof Mellberg are back, balancing the youth of fullback Fredrik Stoor, midfielder Sebastian Larsson and striker Marcus Rosenborg. And don't forget Ibrahimovich up front; will he stay or go from Inter, and how does that impact his performance in this tournament?
And then there's Russia, remember them? They helped nudge England to the sideline during qualifying, finishing second to Croatia. Russia has a wise coach in Guus Hiddink, and hope to better their 2004 finish of dead last in the group stage. This team is heavy on players from UEFA Cup winners Zenit St. Petersberg: Arshavin, Pogrebnyak, Shirokov, Malafeev, Zyrianov and Anyukov. But it may be light compared to the other three in this group.
*Spain, Greece qualify on goal difference.
Group C: Group of Death
Group B: Poland, Croatia in Battle for Second
Group A: Cristiano Coronation
My quarterfinal qualifiers: