Looking at the groups before the Euro 2008 began, Group C seemed the easiest to predict. Germany, who start the tournament as favourites, were drawn against co-hosts Austria, future co-hosts Poland, and Croatia. Of the favourites to progress to the quarter finals, Croatia are the only non-Western side. The â€˜lesserâ€™ teams of Groups A, C and D provide much more of a challenge to the top teams of their respective groups than Austria or Poland do.
Austria kicked-off their campaign against Croatia and after only five minutes some Austrian supporters must have wondered if they too should have added some weight to the cause of the attempt by some ten thousand fans to withdraw their side from the tournament by signing a petition. The start of the match could have been even worse for the Austrians if the referee had not bottled sending Emanuel Pogatetz off for a second yellow. However, even though Croatia dominated the first half hour or so, they failed to add to their lead and looked increasingly fragile as the Austrians came into the match more and more. The Austrians, who until recently were not even ranked in the top one hundred in the FIFA rankings would have surprised some by the way they controlled parts of the game, especially in the second half. However, they failed to really trouble Stipe Pletikosa in the Croat goal. The most pressure the Croatian keeper was put under was to punch away a free-kick crossed from the left that would have gone in if any of the players in the box got the slightest touch on the ball.
Austria will not progress any further, that is almost a certainty. I will even go one further and say they will go out of the tournament without a single point. Despite looking impressive at times they look like a team that could implode at any moment.
Eduardo was always going to be missed by Croatia, Slaven Bilic even dwelled on his absence at a press conference two days before their opening match, but I still thought we would have seen more from the Croats in attack during their opening match. They started brightly, scored the penalty, dominated most of the first half but faded away after that and, in the end, were lucky they were not up against a better side. The Croats have a very talented midfield â€“ Modric, Srna, Kranjcar, and Kovac are all great players â€“ but for me they donâ€™t look as though they have the strikers that will take them any further than the quarter finals. Olic and Petric are good players, playing at top clubs but after watching them together on Sunday I do not think they will trouble the tournaments top defences too much.Even though they should qualify without much difficulty, if Croatia lose to Germany in their next match it could potentially set up a win-or-bust tie against the Poles on the final day of the group.
My money is on Spain for the title but it was the Germans who started favourites and they kicked-off against bitter rivals Poland. Last time the sides met it took a last minute winner to defeat the Poles but this time the Germans looked far more comfortable. Polish-born duo Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose could have, and should have had the Germans more than one up at half time as they ran riot. Not even the â€˜Holy Goalieâ€™ (this is how the Celtic supporters refer to their soon-to-be-sold number one) is capable of obtaining clean sheet with the type of defending on show by the Poles. The offside trap deployed in the first half by Bak &co. was suicidal at times and they showed nothing at the other end to display any promise that they would be a goal scoring threat either. Their main threat during the qualifying campaign, Euzebiusz Smolarek, was anonymous for large parts of the game and was tried in three different positions in an attempt to involve him more.
One of the most difficult things to predict at the European Championships such is the top scorer. Kluivert and Milosevic shared the honour at Euro 2000 and Milan Baros surprised many when he out-scored everyone else in Portugal four years ago. Although considered to be little more than a fringe player in the lead up to the tournament, Lukas Podolski has already set himself on his way with two goals in the opening match. He started the game in an unfamiliar role on the left wing before finishing the match in his natural position as a striker. This should both boost his confidence and guarantee his starting place against Croatia next.
Changes to the tournament structure â€“ only one team from Groups A & B can reach the final, the same applies to Groups C & D â€“ further enhance their position as favourites. It would appear that Portugal are the main, and possibly only, threat to stopping Germany reaching the final. The other two teams expected to contest the quarter finals with them, Croatia and the Czech Republic who, although capable, have not show much in their respective opening matches to demonstrate they can be considered potential winners.
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