Spain are in great shape ahead of defending their European Championship title. But Shaka says they might find the chasing pack are a little closer this time around.
There’s something really enjoyable about the European Championships. I know it lacks Brazil, Argentina and some of the other global heavyweights, but it’s a great tournament. The unpredictability makes it fantastic. We saw Greece and Denmark upset the big boys in the last couple of decades, but it was happening long before that with Czechoslovakia claiming glory in 1976.
There won’t be a shock of the same magnitude this time around, but Poland and Ukraine could go far. Firstly you hope that everything goes right for their hosting the event, but then comes the football and both teams are capable of getting at least a quarter-final. I’ve got a sneaky feeling Poland may even manage more than that.
Spain are the defending champions, looking to become the first nation to win three major international tournaments in a row. They’ve once and for all buried the chokers tag and they’ve looked good in the two years since their World Cup triumph. I don’t think they’ll win it though.
They’re not suddenly a bad team, but the gap between them and the rest has shrunk. Germany have improved since 2010 and the Netherlands look a stronger team two years on.
The Dutch are going to be chomping at the bit. Since the Total Football era, they’ve prided themselves on style. That went out the window at the last World Cup and they will be desperate to show they don’t need to adopt the same tactics again to prevail. With an in-form and fully fit Robin va Persie, they’ve got a great chance. Having Huntelaar, a prolific goalscorer at international level, won’t hurt either. They’ll need to improve defensively, but they can and they’ll be a major candidate.
Italy’s preparation has been poor, but I wouldn’t dismiss them out of hand. Serie A is still producing good players and led by Gigi Buffon, they could surprise a few people who are maybe writing their obituary. They miss a tackler in midfield though. Andrea Pirlo is a wonderful playmaker, but he neglects his defensive duties. You can’t do that at a tournament like this.
Laurent Blanc deserves immense credit for what he’s done with France. Thinking back to the absolute anarchy in South Africa and afterwards, it looked like a scene UN peacekeepers would struggle to contain. The fallout from the anti-Domenech revolt has been handled brilliantly by Blanc. He’s got the players onside, they’re playing well and they’ve got a fantastic chance. The fitness of Yann M’Vila is importance. If he’s forced to sit it out, they’ll miss his tackling.
Roy Hodgson has made a good start to the England job. It’s only been two friendlies, but they’re well organised and set up to strike on the counter attack. My fear is the draw. If they don’t win the group, they will most likely meet Spain and despite the win last November, they won’t do it again.
It’s always been a team game and that’s why Portugal won’t win it. We all know what Cristiano Ronaldo can do, but winning a championship like this takes more. He doesn’t have the players around him. Portugal have several top quality players, but not enough to cover for the overall shortcomings in the squad. They’re not good enough defensively and in a tough group, they could get found out.
All things considered, it’s the Netherlands at 13/2 for me. With the form Robin van Persie is in, they can go all the way.