Today’s featured group on the Details’ Euro 2012 Preview – Group B, aka the proverbial Group of Death.
The Nation’s Predicted Order Of Finish
Easily the strongest group in the tournament, and as such, only 2 of the 3 traditional football powers of the world will make it past this stage. The Nation’s prediction is that those 2 will be Germany and Netherlands, with Portugal looking in from the outside. The Danish could surprise, but I’m not holding my breath. The Germans always find a way to excel during major tournaments. They have as deep a squad as Spain as well, with quite possibly the best group of midfielders in the tourney (so deep top players like Mario Goetze, Toni Kroos and Marco Reus might not see much playing time). The Dutch have the hottest striker in the planet in Robin Van Persie, but they’ll need Wesley Sneijder at his finest. Portugal has the best-player-in-the-world-not-named-Lionel-Messi in Christiano Ronaldo, but that won’t be enough. The Danes’ best player will have to be Christian Eriksen, not Nicklas Bendtner if they are aiming to beat the odds and come out of this group.
Key Players To Watch:
Christian Eriksen – MF – Denmark/Ajax: Only 20 years old, he is the next great Ajax player, and it’s only a matter of time before he moves to one of the bigger European clubs. A fine passer, he may be wearing #11 for the national squad, but he is a traditional #10 in every sense of the word.
Nicklas Bendntner – F – Denmark/Arsenal: He has the size and physical skills to be the best striker in the world that he readily and willingly proclaims that he is; the problem is that instead of trying to prove it, he’s content to believe that he already is. He’s supposed to be leaving Arsenal after the Euros as well, so he’ll be looking to have a good tournament as teams go window shopping.
Daniel Agger – D – Denmark/Liverpool: If it weren’t for injuries, he’d be one of the top defenders in England already. He’ll have to anchor the Danish defense, not to mention stay healthy while doing so.
Manuel Neuer – G – Germany/ Bayern Munich: Goalies have always been a source of strength for the German team, and Neuer continues the recent tradition of Kahn and Lehman. Still young and improving at 26, he has superior reflexes and is a fine distributor. Euro 2012 could be where he establishes himself as one of the top 5 goalies in the world.
Philipp Lahm – D – Germany/Bayern Munich: Captain for club and country, he is probably the best left back in the world but might end up playing more right back as coach Joachim Löw might have to mix and match his full backs; whichever side Lahm plays on will be fine, it’s the other side that could be problematic.
Mario Götze - MF – Germany/Borussia Dortmund: Germany is so deep that Gotze, the latest Wunderkind, will probably start on the bench and might not see much playing time. If he does though, you’ll see one hell of a two-footed player with great dribbling skills. By the time the World Cup rolls around in 2014, no one is keeping this kid on the German bench.
Thomas Müller - MF – Germany/Bayern Munich: The Golden Boot winner (given to the player who scored the most goals) in the 2010 World Cup, he is both a terrific goal scorer and passer. Only 22, expect him to be the creative fulcrum of the German team along with the next guy on this list.
Mesut Özil - MF – Germany/Real Madrid: Skillful, creative and elegant, he is Real Madrid’s #10 and expect him and Muller to put on a show again like they did in 2010.
Lukas Podolski – MF – Germany/Arsenal: Strong and technical with a booming left foot, Podolski always does his best work during tournament time. He struggled at Bayern Munich, but has maintained his international form for FC Köln.
Bastian Schweinsteiger – MF – Germany/Bayern Munich: Schweinsteiger is the engine in midfield for both club and country; he just had a disastrous Champions League final vs. Chelsea though, as he missed a penalty kick during the shootout in front of his hometown fans. For Ozil and Muller to do their thing, Schweini has to be at his imperious best.
Mario Gómez - F – Germany/Bayern Munich: Munich’s top striker, he is a deadly and clinical finisher both in the air and on his feet (28 goals in 32 Bundesliga games in 2010-11, and 26 goals in 33 Bundesliga games in 2011-12). Coach Löw usually prefers Miraslov Klose over Gomez though; if Gomez ends up starting and struggles off the box, Klose might be in there sooner rather than later.
Wesley Sneijder – MF – Netherlands/Inter Milan: Had a rough year for Inter in 2011-12, after a superb run which was highlighted by Champions League and Scudetto glory and a World Cup runner up medal in 2010. He is the Dutch main creative force, and with his booming shot is capable of scoring from range as well.
Arjen Robben – F – Netherlands/Bayern Munich: Few sights in football are as exciting to watch as Robben running at defenders in full flight. Like Schweinsteiger, he is coming off a traumatic Champions League final; will it affect his sometimes temperamental psyche?
Robin Van Persie – F – Netherlands/Arsenal: Player of the Year in England for Arsenal, Van Persie finally stayed healthy for a full season and showed what an amazing goal scorer he is. Blessed with an amazing left foot, he is a prime candidate for the Golden Boot in this tournament.
Nani – F – Portugal/Manchester United: Playing the opposite wing as Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani is a world class winger on his own right. Taking on defenders with speed and flair, one on one battles usually do not end well for whoever is guarding him. And with all the attention on Ronaldo, he will have more space to operate with.
Cristiano Ronaldo – F – Portugal/Real Madrid: With Lionel Messi not being European, he is the unquestioned best player in the tournament. Blessed with searing pace and amazing footwork, Ronaldo scores tons of goals from the wing, which is amazing in itself. He is quite the set piece taker as well. The biggest issue with him is the usual Ronaldo histrionics – the diving and what not.