Euro 2012 starts this Friday. England go into the tournament with almost no expectation; even the new coach Roy Hodgson has tried to play down England’s chances. And having watched (most of, until I started to fall asleep) England’s recent friendlies I am inclined to agree. England won both of them, yes, but never looked better than scrappy. That’s okay if one can scrape out a win against an equal or better side, but a tough 1-0 victory against Norway is not really a credit. England’s squad, whilst not ridiculous, is far from inspiring. The only good move was to make Gerrard captain; apart from that the squad is made up of good players but only a few one would consider to be true international quality. (And I say that knowing full well the number of Liverpool players in the squad.)
The best news for England was probably the draw, which was relatively favourable. England are in Group D, which appears to be the second easiest after Group A. England will still have some difficulty actually topping the group, however, and it is by no means assumed that they will make it to the knockout rounds. The main opponent will be France and whilst les Bleus are unlikely to strike fear into any team until they can redeem themselves for the last World Cup, I would still be surprised to see England win. (Though I was not expecting the England rugby team to win in France during the Six Nations either.) England are also in the same group as Sweden, who England have not beat in a competitive match in some large number of years. There is also Ukraine. England should beat them, but they are good enough that if England don’t play well there is every chance that they could be held to a draw or even lose. Whilst one could see England finishing anywhere in the top three, my guess is that they will scrape to second. My second guess would be a third-place finish with topping the group a possibility, but an unlikely one.
The most interesting group should be Group B. A competitive Holland v Germany match is always a good thing, but this time it will possibly shape the entire tournament. With respect to Portugal and Denmark, the other two teams in Group B and certainly no pushovers, Holland and Germany are the strong favourites to make it out of the group and the set up of the knockout stages means that they will both have relatively easy quarter-final matches. Whoever finishes as runner up in the group, however, are likely to face Spain in the semi-finals whilst the group winners will have a much easier match against either the winner of Group D or the runner up in Group C. The winner of Group B should thus have as easy a path to the final as for which could be reasonably hoped and there is a good chance that the winner of the Holland v Germany match on the 13th will be that winner.
My prediction for the entire tournament is summarised in this bracket:
In more detail: Holland win their match against Germany and top Group B. Greece top Group A with Russia coming second, but neither provide significant opposition in the quarter-finals. Spain win Group C with the Republic of Ireland upsetting Italy to take the runner up spot. England play sloppily against Spain and lose, but give the impression that they would have had a chance if they had been more precise. Ireland have a chance to get some measure of revenge on France from 2010, but lose a fairly low quality match. Holland beat France relatively easily in one semi-final, whilst Germany and Spain dig in for a good match that Germany eventually win. The final is then an absolute cracker, but the Dutch reprise their group stage victory.