Saturday, 26 May 2012

UFEA EURO 2012 GROUP C: Can we have our ball back please?

                     By Carlos Zimmermann
A little look:

In the heat of the battle teams may get a rush of blood to the head, but like a Matador, Spain keep calm in the chaos, letting their opposition charge and tire while they swiftly take more than the ball from the grasps of their opponents. Spain qualified winning all eight games averaging 3.2 goals a game and conceding less than 1 goal a game. More impressively, they have won 42 out of the last 45 competitive games and are on track to be the first team to retain the European Championship. If they do so I feel, with the World Cup added to that list, you have a team that has to be mentioned in the same breath as the classic early Brazil team (yes I know this is sacrilegious but I feel that this team is too good for nostalgia to get in the way). Spain will miss the inclusion of their all-time top goal scorer David Villa (51) alongside their general Carlos Puyol, who would have been desperate to play and enter the 100 
Cap club. For all the big talent they are missing, they have cover in abundance with players such as Fernando Llorente, Javi Martinaz, Jordi Alba, Silva and Mata all pushing the great talent they already possess out on the pitch. This bunch seems focused on winning and making history, and as always, the ball is in their court. The winners write the history books and Spain will want to add another page to theirs. 

Head Honcho:Vicente Del Bosque
A humble man with all the reasons not to be; he took over after the Euro 2008 triumph and led the Spanish squad to World Cup domination, as well as qualifying without losing a game for the up and coming Euros.Vicente was the man who conducted the Galactico symphony in their destruction of all those around them in the late '90s to early '00s. His unassuming nature and willingness to learn and adapt are the qualities that make him such a great coach. He has worked with some great players, and with that comes greater egos, but under his wing the egos seem to go into hibernation.

Danger Man: Fernando Llorente 

We all know about the danger the Spanish squad holds, so with David Villa not quite ready to dust his boots off and entertain the world I feel Liorente to be a good call. Under the charismatic Marco Bielsa, the "lion king" Llorente can be heard across the lands. Athletic hold English roots and you can see this in Llorente's style of play as he has been at the club since the tender age of eleven; he is a target man with quick feet and a sharp mind, Fernando adds a different dimension to the Spanish set up and may just be what they need. Spain are unstoppable when they score first, but sometimes find it hard when behind and need a quick goal. Llorente's all-action style and ability in the air will be a massive boost to an already strong side, lets see if the Bosque thinks the same.   
One to watch: Jordi Alba
Alba will be desperate to make that left-back spot his and why not, as it seems like the only position that the Spanish Mother can't produce is a left-back. Originally a left-winger, Alba has been transformed to a left-back under the brilliant watchful gaze of Unai Emery, who has installed the best of both skill-sets in 23 year old Alba. With the way Spain play and move the ball in central areas he could be very important, being so comfortable with playing out wide or coming inside when the chance arises.

Euro 2012 Schedule

Spain will play three more games before the competition kicks off, the first being against Serbia on the 26th of May, next will be Korea Republic on the 30th of May and finally against China PR on the 2nd of June.

Here are their group games:

Sunday 10th of June Spain v Italy 17:00 PEG Arena Gdansk (Gdansk)

Thursday 14th of June Spain v Ireland 19:45   PEG Arena Gdansk (Gdansk)

Monday 18th June Spain v Croatia 19:45  PEG Arena Gdansk (Gdansk)

Betting Odds:
Winning outright 11/4

A little look:

The Italians will be proud that they have only conceded two goals and have collected as little as 5 yellow cards in getting to the finals, along with topping the group. They bring with them vast experience and, as always, will be hard to beat. The Italians play a 4-3-1-2 formation and with the right players, it should give them control of the centre of the park as well as keeping that defensive door tightly barricaded. There is always drama with the Azzurri and I'm sure they will come up with something again. 
Head Honcho: Claudio Prandelli
Prandelli took over from Lippi, whose reign as Italy's Manager ended after a poor display at the world cup 2010. Prandelli has not been afraid to ruffle some Italian fans feathers with the inclusion of a couple of non Italian-born players, and he may also be ruffling some feathers inside of the Italian camp by adding the volatile M. Balotelli to the squad. Most recognised from the five years he has spent with Florentina, Prandelli will see this as his big break and will want to grab this opportunity with both hands.
Danger Man: Andrea Pirlo
The danger lies within his vision and passing ability. At 33 years old, he is not as agile as in previous years but his ability to dictate play puts him one step ahead. If Italy are to succeed, they will need to get Pirlo on the ball as much as possible, as everything they do well flows through him. One is never quite sure with an Italian as they seem to have a fountain of youth hidden somewhere but this may well be Pirlo's last European Championship. The old Milan boy, now a Scudetto winner with Juventus, will want to go out on a high.
One to watch: Antonio Cassano
The little engine that could. After they repaired the heart defect that had set off a minor stroke, Cassano had begun to go full steam ahead with his preparation for the Euros. His boss and colleagues had nothing but praise for the determination this mystery talent showed. Only managing eleven starts this season for Milan, he got himself on the score sheet three times along with many more assists. Prandelli will be a happy man having Cassano in his squad. For the Azzurri, he is lethal with six goals in ten games.

Euro 2012 Schedule
Italy will play two more games before the competition kicks off, the first being against Luxembourg on the 29th of May and again against Russia  on the 1st of June.

Here are their group games:

Sunday 10th of June Italy v Spain 17:00 PEG Arena Gdansk (Gdansk)

Thursday 14th of June Italy v Croatia 17:00 Stadion Miejski (Poznan)

Monday 18th of June Italy v Ireland 19:45 Stadion Miejski (Poznan)
Betting Odds:
                                                            REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
A little look:

Ireland squeezed through via the play-offs, apart from Russia they had a relatively easy group. Even though they would have been disappointed to draw home and away to Slovakia, they managed an impressive away draw at Russia (a place England lost in the last qualifiers) securing second spot. Luckily they got handed Estonia in the second place play-off's, easily winning 4-1 over the two legs. Trapattoni has got this Ireland team drilled well; you can be sure that they know where to be and to quickly get into two banks of four to protect their goal. It is just up the other end where they struggle. Ireland seem to have the right mentality for the big occasions, it's just unfortunate that they don't make it to the party enough. This will be their first major competition in 10 years and first Euro for 24 (France in '84 and Greece in '04 both won the tournament after an absence of 24 years, the omens are on their side). Trapattoni will have an eye on the Italy team, who they play in their last game in the group; this could hold great significance for both sides. 
Head Honcho: Giovanni Trapattoni

Did your mum ever tell you to "Stop eating so many chips, or you will look like one soon"? Well the same idea can be applied to Trapattoni and trophies. This great coach has been a collector of silverware from all over Europe. He has won leagues in Germany, Austria, Italy and Portugal along with picking up three Europa leagues, a cup winners cup, a super cup and -the biggest Prize of them all- the European cup (as it was known back then). At 73 years of age and with 37 years in management under his belt, he shows no sign of slowing down; in fact he has just signed on for another 2 years, to the delight and dismay of Irish fans who are split over his defensive yet effective style of football.

Danger Man: Robbie Keane

In Keane Ireland have a genuine goal threat, he's their all time top goal scorer with 52 goals, and this shows as he was Ireland's top goal getter in their last outing at top level in the world cup 2002. Robbie has the ability to craft chances for himself and proved he can still perform at the top level with impressive mid-season performances for Aston Villa on loan from LA Galaxy, and as long as the hard working Kevin Doyle and Jon Walters or the busy Shane Long can chip in with the goal scoring duties then Ireland may impress a few people this summer. 

One to watch: James McClean

The former Derry City winger who was bought to the Premier League by Steve Bruce has excelled at Sunderland this season under the guidance of Martin O'Neill, who promoted the youngster from the reserves in his first week in the job and has rewarded his managers' faith with some fantastic performances in the red and white. We can see the extent of McClean's rapid ascent through the words and actions of Trapattoni, who only at the turn of the year was convinced he had his team set for the Euro's and let the media know of this, but the mature McClean has not only forced his way into the squad but possibly the starting 11 with his work rate, crossing and a dribbling ability. The mature McClean has even managed 5 goals and 2 assists in 20 starts this season and has the chance to be one of the stand out young prospects at this tournament.   

Euro 2012 Schedule
Ireland will play one more game before the competition kicks off against Hungary on the 3rd of June 
Here are their group games:

Sunday 10th of June Ireland v Croatia 19:45 Stadion Miejski (Poznan)

Thursday 14th of June Ireland v Spain 19:45   PEG Arena Gdansk (Gdansk)

Monday 18th of June Ireland v Italy 19:45 Stadion Miejski (Poznan)
Betting Odds:

A little look

Croatia didn't have the easiest of times getting out of the group that they really should have topped. They lost to Georgia 1-0 (granted, this was in the last minute) and went down 2-0 against Greece. This meant that the play-off's would be the road they had to travel to the Euro's and it seemed like a clear run after a 3-0 victory against Turkey. Croatia easily played out the second game with a comfortable 0-0 but they must have had in the back of their minds Turkey's comeback in 2008 wherein Turkey came back from behind to knock them out on penalties. Croatia will be no pushover and seem to have the right attitude when it comes to the big show, although I feel that the Italians and Spanish may have the box seats in this scenario.
Head Honcho: Slaven Bilic

Crazy Slaven Bilic. Rock star, man of law and a snappy dresser. Well, two of these are right. And he loves a woolly hat. After stepping up from the Croatia under-21 squad, Slaven had an enjoyable ride taking his team to Euro 2008 and reaching the last eight, while in this time establishing his side in the top 10 in the World. He seemed to hit the famous blues crossroad after these heights, and just like the story of Robert Johnson, he has not quite been the same since. They failed to make the world cup and in truth they struggled to get to this Euro too. I'm sorry Slaven that I couldn't write you a melody so sweet, but i dont think you will be topping the charts this year. 
Danger Man:Nikica Jelavic 
Nikica is a confident man and at age 26, he is reaching his prime years. After scoring 15 goals in 21 starts for Rangers, David Moyes of Everton could see that this was a player too good for the Scottish game and took him south of the border. Jelavic didn't disappoint, he started where he left off banging in 9 goals in 13 games. His record for the National side however is not so clever: no goals from around 300 minutes playing time and I feel that this is down to the kind of support that he is given. Jelavic scores 90% of his goals with his first touch, needing flick on's and knock-downs to load his canon. With his abilty to strike the ball first time under pressure he could be invaluable in a major competition.
One to watch: Ivan Perisic 
"Who?" may be the question on everyone's lips and this is why Ivan gets the nod in the one to watch category. We all know about the brilliance that Modric can produce, but it is Ivan's ability to come off the bench and score that places him on this list. He is a big lad who can score with either foot, he came off the bench 20 times this year and collected himself 7 goals in the process. In a tight game where you need a goal late on Ivan could just be the ticket that takes you to "Three Point Land".
Euro 2012 Schedule
 Croatia will play one more game before the competition kicks off against Norway on the 1st of June
Here are their group games:

Sunday 10th of June Croatia v Ireland 19:45 Stadion Miejski (Poznan)

Thursday 14th of June Croatia v Italy 17:00 Stadion Miejski (Poznan)

Monday 18th June Croatia v Spain 19:45  PEG Arena Gdansk (Gdansk)

Betting Odds:

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