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Slipperduke

The Camden Cad
Joined
Aug 24, 2004
Messages
4,333
Location
North London
There are no flags on cars and no posters in windows. No sweeping advertising campaigns and no collectable badges. Here in the UK, you wouldn't guess that we're just hours away from the start of a major football tournament. Ok, so the nearest that the England team can get to European involvement is Wayne Rooney's stag night in Ibiza, but it's still rather sad that today sees the start of the 2008 European Championships and yet we couldn't be less enthused. One friend of mine, a football addict who actually displays symptoms of physical withdrawal during the close season, is so underwhelmed with the prospect of an England-less tournament that he's been heard asking for an easy guide to the rules of cricket, so that he can get involved in that instead. Desperate times may call for desperate measures, but few would go that far, surely?

If he really does vanish off to Trent Bridge for the Test Match this weekend, he may well come to regret it in time because this tournament has all the potential to be one of the best in recent years. England's absence isn't a disaster by any means. It just means less cash-rich arrogance from underperforming 'superstars', less drunken violence from xenophobic, sunburnt Anglo-Saxon morons and, of course, it means one less penalty shoot-out. But it doesn't mean that the tournament isn't worth watching. Just look at who is involved.

Group A is a real mixed bag of talent and definitely one to avoid if you like a gamble. Switzerland may only be able to boast of Tranquillo Barnetta as a real, top quality player, but it's very rare that a home nation gets knocked out in the first round. The Czech Republic used to be everyone's favourite outside bet, but the bulk of their key players are missing and they could really suffer, especially at the hands of Portugal. Big Phil Scolari may not have a decent striker to call upon, but with Simao, Cristiano Ronaldo and Deco behind the artless Nuno Gomez, it may not matter. On top of all of that, you've got Turkey, packed with talent and fight and led by the explosive Nihat. Pick a winner from that lot.

Germany are blessed with four top quality strikers and would have to be favourites for Group B, but even though I've put my money on them, I'm not feeling that secure. Jens Lehmann had a couple of his 'dark' moments in a recent friendly and they're not exactly water-tight at the back. If Croatia had Eduardo, they could take advantage, but he's still in London trying to glue the bottom half of his leg back on. That said, they've still got the wonderful Luka Modric, and he could be the star of the tournament. Plucky Poland face the Germans in their first game, but their solid rearguard means that a draw would give them a serious chance to progress. And then there's Austria, who are absolutely rubbish, but should be good for comedy value alone.

Now, if anyone, England supporter or not, can look me in the eye and say that they have no interest in Group C, then I think it would be for everyone's benefit if they just gave up football for good. You've got the World Cup finalists France and Italy, packed with superstars, filled with experience, and yet they will still have to be at their absolute best to get through to the knock-out stage. Holland are a purist's dream, even with the more conservative tactics of Marco van Basten, but they were beaten to top spot in the qualifying stages by Romania, who make up the four. Every single game in this life-affirming group of death will be worth watching.

Group D has gone largely unnoticed except by the growing band of La Liga romantics who dream of a day when the fractured Iberian giants can one day live up to their potential. Despite having one of the most entertaining leagues in the world and some of the greatest players in their national side, Spain never fail to disappoint on the big stage. They'll have their work cut out, especially when they run up against the solid yellow wall that is Sweden, who welcome back Henrik Larsson for his umpteenth return from retirement. Russia booked their place in the Championships by beating England, but injuries and suspensions could hit them hard. That said, who bets against a Guus Hiddink side?

Finally, you have the team who forced us all to believe that, no matter how high the stakes or how accomplished the opposition, anything in this life can be achieved by anyone if they want it badly enough. Greece return to international competition for the first time since they stunned the world in 2004. Is anyone brave enough to write them off?

Of the established superstars, you have Franck Ribery, Andrea Pirlo, Michael Ballack, Fernando Torres, Thierry Henry, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Ronaldo. Of the up-and-coming talent, you have Luka Modric, Mario Gomez and Karim Benzema, to name just a few. Two games a day for almost two weeks and then the real fun begins as we hit the knock-out stage. Frank Lampard might be sat by the pool flicking through the Rough Guide to Milan and Paul Robinson may be out there somewhere, dropping something breakable, but that doesn't mean that you have to miss out as well. With or without England, The European Championships will be the sporting event of the summer, better than the Olympics, better than the tennis and yes, it will be better than the cricket as well.
 
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