First off, Euro is no World Cup--it's better. Austria and Switzerland aside, there are no dregs in this tournament, unlike the World Cup. Spare me Canada, El Salvador, Trinidad, Togo and your Korea of the month. Euro invites only 16 nations, and save for South American kings Brazil and Argentina, the best of the best are in Euro.
The group stage demands intensity because it trims the field to the final eight, the quarterfinals. No watered down second round. No cute Cinderellas losing 5-0 in the first knockout round. In Euro, you're left with the eight best teams, and it says here that flukes don't win tournaments. Greece played well from Game No. 1 in 2004, and was strategically smarter than Portugal in the final. Denmark had Peter Schmeical, Brian Laudrup and Henrik Larsen and beat the world champs in the final Deserving, no?
So with less than 48 hours to the first match, Starting Eleven provides its guide to Euro 2008:
Ronaldo: More dives than goals? We'll see. Portugal are a favorite for some, a darkhorse for others, a contender to all. And Cristiano Ronaldo is its most important player. But how often can Portugal tap this well? If there's a knock against the 2004 finalists and 2006 World Cup semifinalists, it's the team's lack of a finisher. Ronaldo had 42 for Manchester United, but this is a different system. Will he find space? Will teams sacrifice an extra marker for him? If so, who fills the void?
Cannavaro: Italy's best defender and wily veteran taken down by one of his own. Does this tighten the G.O.D. group? Sure does. Italy are world champions until someone beats the Azzurri, but this is Roberto Donadoni's first major tournament and without his most stable player in the back, will Italy execute the way it can?
Studs These are beyond players to watch; these are the players you'll be talking about after Euro 2008: Fabregas, Karagounis, Marius Niculae, Quaresma and Kuranyi, Ballack
Duds These are players destined to disappoint: Ibrahimovich, David Villa, Jens Lehman, van Nistelrooy, Deco.
Stud Match Greece v. Spain, June 18. Do the Greeks sneak in and send Spain home?
Dud Match: France v. Italy, June 17. They bored us to death in the World Cup final. Can we expect anything less?
ESPN: If the worldwide leader is indeed going to buy the rights to the Premiership and turn ESPN Classic into ESPN3 or the Football Channel, then this dry run is ultra important. Kudos to them for signing Andy Gray. But good God, Tommy Onion Bags? Again?
Aragones Spain's longtime grumpy old bastard is leaving win or lose. Part of me wants this racist to lose, part of me wants this racist to really flame out in the final and exit with his legacy intact.
Scolari Big Phil's swan song with Portugal for sure? Jose Mourinho in 2010 for Portugal?
Ugly Ducklings Poland--these guys are good, a 3-0 loss to Boring Bob Bradley's U.S. team notwithstanding.
They Can't Win Well, they can, but do we really want to see Germany holding the trophy at the end?
Starting Eleven's picks. We've given your our quarterfinalists in past posts, but here they are again:
QuarterfinalsDiscuss at will. Enjoy the tournament.
Portugal 2, Poland 0
Czech Republic 1, Germany 0
Italy 2, France 0
Spain 2, Greece 1
Portugal 2, Czech Republic 1
Spain 2, Italy 1
Portugal 3, Spain 2
Group D preview
Group C preview
Group B preview
Group A preview
Euro draw analysis