Spain v Germany v Netherlands
Spain: Jordi Alba, Juanfran, Negredo, Santi Cazorla are the only new entries compared to the World Cup 2010 squad so the bonding and teamwork within the national team will be of little doubt. Although the team will be missing Puyol and Villa, Del Bosque still has enough confidence to leave out 17-goal Soldado to bank on Llorente and Torres, hinting they will stick with their formidable 4-3-3. Fatigue will be the main concern as always, though, with key players like Xavi, Iniesta and Juan Mata playing almost 50 matches this season.
Germany: Dortmund and Bayern players make up half of the national team and only two players are from non-Germany teams. The selection of Dortmund-bound Marco Reus is definitely an element capable of surprising stubborn opponents. The key to success, however, will still be their midfield duo Khedira and Ozil as well as Toni Kroos, who has had a brilliant year covering up for his injured teammate Schweinsteiger. The energy in their front court is undoubtedly comparable to Spain, but Joachim Low will hope his defenders do not repeat the nightmare against Switzerland.
Netherlands: With 84 league goals amongst them this season, there is high expectation on RVP, Huntelaar and Luuk De Jong; but Dirk Kuyt and Wesley Sneijder are at their career low. The inclusion of 33-year-old Bouma is worrying as the Netherlands still lack the emergence of younger competent defenders. Whether the sluggish Van Bommel is still capable to provide the covering their defensive line needs will be vital. All in all, the squad is nowhere short of talents but the players’ form as well as fatigue may be a concern. With Van Marwijk most likely to play 4-3-3 as usual, the Oranje bench would boast a number of top goalkeepers and forwards.
Victim of the Group of Death
Portugal: A more imbalanced squad can be found for Portugal as they have one of the best in the world as well as next-to-anonymous midfielders. Fortunate enough to qualify for the tournament, they now face one of the toughest tasks after the previous golden generation to qualify from the group of death alongside Germany and Netherlands. Custodio will be hoping his fine form for Braga could challenge Miguel Veloso in the crucial defensive midfield role whereas Raul Meireles, revitalized at Chelsea this season, should step up and run the midfield hoping Ronaldo could continue with his goal-craze form. Full of flair but lacking proof in big tournaments as well as a spiritual leader; do not be surprised to see the Portuguese exit the finals prematurely.
France v England
Young vs Old. Exciting vs Boring. Daring vs Stubborn. Laurent Blanc left his favourite Gourcuff out for the in-form Ben Arfa, while Remy will be missed after pulling out of the tournament due to a hamstring injury. Apart from central striker Benzema and Giroud, there is a handful possibility of combination in the frontline to surprise their opponents, but more importantly, they are all in selected because they are fit and in good form. On the other hand, Hodgson’s selection is rather based on reputation and personal preference. Before injuries struck England, the same old back bone remained in the squad, it was not only now that the young Henderson and Kelly gets a taste of international football. Grant Holt, Adam Johnson, Jake Livermore and especially Micah Richards (what else does he have to do to make the squad?) will be at home, helplessly seeing their country likely to finish behind France at least in the group.
Needs a Morale Boost!
Hampered in selection by match-fixing scandals/investigations, Italy is not heading into the tournament at a high morale (most recently losing 0-3 to Russia), but being the underdogs may help ease the pressure of a relatively inexperienced squad. Captain Buffon will be playing his sixth major tournament for his country whereas Nocerino, Giaccherini, and Diamanti will be eager to impress in their debuts. However, who will Italy turn to when they need goals? Can the young Giovinco and eccentric Balotelli live up to expectations to support Di Natale? Surely not Cassano.
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