On the Pitch with an American Novice-Euro ’08 Preview Pt.1

World Cup ’06 was an epiphany for Brother Reynell. After years of looking upon soccer as a bunch of guys kicking a ball around, Reynell came to realize the subtle intricacies of futbol. Join him as he continues his journey into the light of the game on the pitch.

The 2008 UEFA European Championship kicks off this Saturday in Austria and Switzerland. I’ve previewed the four groups and provided you with my predictions. Whether you’re new to the beautiful game or consider yourself an expert, let’s hear your opinions.

GROUP A

Turkey

According to many sources, the most coveted forward in European topflight football this summer is Nihat Kahveci (Villareal). Apparently he will be signing elsewhere this summer and has his pick of many takers. The qualifying round gave an impressive 4-1 victory over defending champ, Greece. They were neck-and-neck with Norway with two games left, and stepped up by defeating them 2-1 and qualifying by a point. Unlike some other teams, they don’t seem to disappear when facing Europe’s best. That competitive nature will bode well for the Turks and may be enough to carry them into the next set of fixtures.

Switzerland (automatic bid for being host country)

The Swiss have a better chance than fellow host, Austria, but ultimately will take a bow after group play.

Czech Republic

The Czechs will be playing without Tomas Rosicky (Arsenal), their best all around player. They lose not only shots on goal, but also their best passer and craftiest fielder. I don’t know if one man can bring a team down, but it does appear that the Czechs without Rosicky will need someone to step up. They still have a formidable goalie in Petr Cech (Chelsea); he remains their hope in stifling the skilled attackers of Portugal and Turkey.

Portugal

Definitely the most attractive pick to win thanks to Christiano Ronaldo (Manchester United). He is sweeping through the accolades, team and individual. But the soccer world is lauding over the Portuguese defense. This makes Portugal very, very interesting. If their defense can keep them in games, Portugal’s offense does possess more than just Ronaldo. Forward Ricardo Quaresma (Porto) has a powerful foot and Nani (Manchester United) is an explosive substitute who can get that late goal. One has to wonder when Portugal’s time will come because they appear on the brink of international success. They reached the finals of the 2004 Euro championship and recently had an impressive World Cup before losing to Germany in the third place game, 3-1. They have gained more international experience in this century than it seems in the whole twentieth century and only seem to be improving. If the offense can help Ronaldo with some timely goals, this may be Portugal’s time to step into the spotlight.

Moving on: Portugal and Turkey

GROUP B

Austria (automatic bid for being host country)

With a current ranking of 101st in the world, Austria is just happy to be hosting.

Croatia

Croatia capped off an impressive qualifying round by eliminating England, 3-2. I believe captain Niko Kovac (Red Bull Salzberg) was the leading scorer from the qualifying round with ten goals. Since he is a defensive midfielder, you have to wonder if Croatia has the scoring capability to compete with Germany and Poland. They did score five goals against England and four against an upstart Israeli team. Besides those games, and thirteen goals against winless Andorra, they appear to be more of a defensive team, which they’ll need against the power of Germany. Their fate will come down to how they fare against Poland, who most people are saying is a shoe-in for second place in Group B.

Germany

Germany has the tradition. Michael Ballack (Chelsea) is sure to provide some goals, especially off of free kicks. Apparently the German manager has the most experienced strikers of any other team, many of which hail from Germany’s own Bundesliga. Proof can be seen in their whopping 35 goals in qualifying. Ah – but wait just a second. Twenty-three of those goals came against San Marino (13-0, 6-0) and Cyprus (4-0), two teams who combined for eighteen losses in qualifying. That leaves only twelve goals against the rest. And out of all the ’08 Euro teams, The Germans have the most eyebrow-raising games from the qualifying round. Games to ponder: Wales 0-0, Ireland 0-0, Cyprus 1-1, Ireland 1-0 (Germany won), and a 3-0 loss to Czech Republic. Very, very disturbing scores if you’re a German fan. Besides, “firepower” flirts too much with bad luck. Shots can sail wide, crossbars appear to move, and even the most stagnant defense suddenly seems spry. Nonetheless, Germany will probably survive group play and perhaps gain some confidence going into the next fixtures.

Poland

People are saying that Poland has the “best form” out of any team in the championship. They finished a point ahead of Portugal in qualifying, but to me, benefited from Portugal’s inability to finish teams off (Portugal totaled six draws in qualifying). They did beat Portugal but lost to Finland, 3-1, and lowly Armenia, 1-0. Poland will have to make sure beat Austria, then at least draw against Croatia.

Moving on: Germany and Poland

Groups C and D coming on Saturday.

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