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The season of no favourites

sports Updated: Jun 07, 2012 02:38 IST

Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Members-of-Croatia-s-national-soccer-team-arrive-to-their-base-camp-at-the-soccer-Euro-2012-in-Warka-Poland-Croatia-plays-in-the-group-C-at-the-upcoming-Euro-2012-soccer-championships-AP-Photo-Darko-Bandic

Unlike the last edition, this time all top teams as well as both the hosts are in with a chance of winning the toughest continental battle. Threesomes

Group A

Teams: Czech Republic, Greece, Poland, Russia

Overview

The group has three former champions and the host team, but is still considered one of the easier groups. Russia, winners of the inaugural Euros in 1960, have a squad of big name stars managed by experienced Dutchman Dick Advocaat. Hosts Poland will fancy their chances, but in 2004 champions Greece and Czech Republic they face stiff opposition. http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/6/07_06_12-pg-19a.jpg

The Big Match
Poland v Greece (June 8)
Four years ago, co-hosts Switzerland and Austria both lost their opening matches and failed to advance to the knockouts. If Poland are to avoid a similar fate they'll have to hit the gate running in their opener against Greece, who beat hosts Portugal in the 2004 opener before doing the same in the final.

Gamechangers
Robert Lewandowski (Pol): Poland’s 23-year-old striker inspired Borussia Dortmund to a league and cup double with 30 goals. The hosts’ chances will depend greatly on how he fares.

Petr Cech (Cze): The Czech Republic goalie was the hero in the Champions League final last month. If he stars again, he could help his side progress to the business end of tournament.

Andrei Arshavin (Rus): Four years ago, Andrei Arshavin was the driving force behind Russia’s run to the semifinals. Can he recreate the magic?

Giorgos Karagounis (Gre): He was the heartbeat of the 2004 title-winning team and the 35-year-old midfielder is back for one last go. His work-rate could be the difference-maker.


Group B
Teams:
Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal

Overview

A Group of Death, if there ever was one. Two football superpowers, a team which has arguably the best individual player in the event and a darkhorse who are former champions, this group has it all. All eight matches could potentially have a decisive outcome on the final standings. The teams that do not drop points will have the best chance to qualify.http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/6/07_06_12-pg-19b.jpg

The Big Match
Netherlands v Germany (June 13)
The match most have earmarked as the biggest clash of the group stage, could eventually prove inconsequential if both the teams progress. But, in terms of pure football quality there could be few matches in the Northern Hemisphere that can usurp this clash of titans.

Gamechangers
B Schweinsteiger (Ger): The German midfielder has been part of a squad that’s reached two World Cup semifinal one Euro final. Will Schweini & Co finally break their duck?

Robin van Persie (Ned): The Arsenal striker enjoyed his finest season at the Emirates and will be looking to translate that great club form into national team silverware.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Por): Ronaldo was irrepressible for Real Madrid this season getting 46 goals. He won't have the same talent pool, but if he fires he can lead a team on his own

Christian Eriksen (Den): Playing for Ajax, the skillful midfielder could easily pass off for Dutch. A clever football brain and slew of tricks up his sleeve, he will be tricky customer.



Group C

Teams:
Croatia, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Spain

Overview

Defending champions Spain and traditional powers Italy look the teams most likely to progress, on paper anyway. Croatia, however, could the surprise package of the tournament under long-time coach Slaven Bilic. Republic of Ireland will also be no pushovers under famed Italian tactician Giovanni Trappatoni.http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/6/07_06_12-pg-19c.jpg

The Big Match
Italy v Croatia (June 14)
While it's safe to assume Spain won't miss out on the knockouts, an Italy team that was thrashed 3-0 by Russia recently won't have it that easy. After a tough opener against the defending champs, the Italians could face a must-win situation from their second match against a well-organised Croatia.

Gamechangers
Andreas Iniesta (Spa): The Barcelona midfielder is the most
versatile player in the team. As likely to thread the winning pass as he is to score off one.

Mario Balotelli (Ita): The Man City striker could be the most important player in a team full of Juventus’ Serie A winning squad. His partnership with A Cassano will be the key.

Luka Modric (Cro): The Spurs midfielder is the creative force behind Bilic's side and his mixture of great ball control, dazzling skills and vision mark him out as someone special.

Robbie Keane (Ire): The veteran striker may not be the force he was, but is lining up for one last shot at 35. Now playing in the MLS, it remains to be seen how sharp he is.

Group D
Teams:
England, France, Sweden, Ukraine

Overview
Former Euro and World champions France are coming off a horrific 2010 World Cup campaign in South Africa, while England will be without ace striker Wayne Rooney for the first two matches as he has been ruled out through suspension. Co-host Ukraine and Sweden are no mugs, and can take advantage of the situation to advance to the next stage.

The Big Match

France v England (June 11)

Although both the teams will be confident of making it to the next stage, the team that gets ahead at the outset could top the group, with easier matches to follow. That could potentially mean avoiding Spain, who will most likely top Group C. With a host in the group, don’t be surprised if there are surprises.http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/6/07_06_12-pg-19d.jpg

Gamechangers
Steven Gerrard (Eng): The captain will be minus many of his fellow superstars including Lampard and Ferdinand, and will be the man who could decide England’s fate.

Franck Ribery (Fra): Since his incredible debut at the 2006 World Cup, Ribery has disappointed on the big stage. Coming off a strong season with Bayern, this could be his year.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Swe): The tall striker can hog the ball at times, but with his dazzling array of skills and his size, teammates won’t
complain.

Andriy Shevchenko (Ukr): He will get a chance to say farewell, where it all began, with all of Ukraine’s matches scheduled at the home stadium of his former club Dynamo Kiev.