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The Warsaw Voice » Society » May 28, 2008
EURO 2008
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Soccer Fever
May 28, 2008   
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Every four years since 1960, soccer fever grips Europe as the continent's best national teams battle for glory in the European championships.

This year's competition will be held in Austria and Switzerland June 7-29. Polish fans are on the edge of their seats because Poland are playing in the tournament for the first time.

Sixteen teams will be playing in Euro 2008. These are Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey, as well as co-hosts Austria and Switzerland.

These squads-except for Austria and Switzerland, both of which qualified automatically-emerged victorious from 53 countries that took part in a long and challenging qualification campaign.

Euro 2008 matches will be held in eight cities in Austria and Switzerland, with the teams initially divided into four groups, A, B, C and D.

Four years ago, fans were shocked when outsider Greece beat highly-fancied hosts Portugal in a nerve-wracking final. This year nobody expects the defending champions to reclaim their glory, but there are plenty of other dark horses in the wings waiting for a chance to sweep in and upset the establish soccer superpowers. While none of the four groups could be considered an easy ride, Group C merits the title of "group of death," pitting 2006 world champions Italy against world runners-up France with young and highly talented Holland, and the anticipated overachievers of the tournament Romania capable of upsetting any, or all, of these soccer giants.

England is the biggest name absent from this tournament, but as Greece proved last time, soccer is full of surprises. Poland, who will co-host the tournament with Ukraine in 2012, are making their debut, and Polish fans are hoping for a solid performance, particularly a long dreamed-of victory over Germany.

Below is an introduction to all the teams competing in the Euro 2008 tournament, including their ranking, according to the May 2008 FIFA (international soccer association) World Ranking, which is based on overall performance in all competitions. Also included are their best-ever European Cup and World Cup performances.

Just remember, nothing in soccer is for certain, and as famous English soccer manager Bill Shankly once said, "Football is not just a matter of life and death: it's much more important than that."


Group A

Czech Republic - 6th ranked
Euro Cup: Winners 1976 and runners-up 1996
World Cup: 1962 and 1934 runners-up
One of the most promising teams in Europe which embarrassed Germany 3-0 in Munich last October, but they are missing two of their best midfielders. Former European Player of the Year Pavel Nedved will not come out of international retirement to replace recently injured midfield wizard Tomas Rosicky of Britain's Arsenal. Nevertheless the Czechs could find a combination of young talent and coordinated team play in their squad to qualify out of the group.

Player everyone will be watching: Petr Cech of Chelsea is thought by many to be the best goalkeeper in the world. He is hard to miss after wearing a trademark black wrestler's helmet since cracking his skull in a game last year.

Portugal - 9th ranked
Euro Cup: Runners-up 2004
World Cup: 1966, 3rd place and 2006, 4th place
Incredible talent and incredible tempers. Boasting players famous for dribbling ability and technique, the Portuguese team has become equally famous for a tendency to dive-perform for the referee and spontaneous fist fights. Their weakness is a lack of top class strikers as well as the recent lack of self-confidence by goalkeeper Ricardo. If they overcome their biggest opponent (themselves), they deserve to be considered as one of the favorites in the tournament.

Player everyone will be watching: Soccer always has an unofficial sideshow pop-star competition, and lanky, shiny-haired Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo has been on top of this list in recent years.

Switzerland - 48th ranked
Euro Cup: Never got past the group stage
World Cup: Quarterfinalists 1938, 1938, 1954.
Switzerland's biggest contribution to soccer so far has been administrative, as the country is home to both the FIFA world association and the European one, UEFA. On the pitch the team is famous for capable and resilient defenses and trouble putting the ball into the opponent's net. The co-hosts of this year's tournament should have a lot of fans howling in support and perhaps can exploit the resulting atmosphere to finally start scoring goals in major competitions.

Players everyone will be watching: The two Philipps, Senderos and Degen, are twin towers in the mountainous Swiss defense. Their ability is unquestionable, but both of them have had very up and down seasons for their clubs.

Turkey - 25th ranked
Euro Cup: Quarterfinalists 2000
World Cup: 3rd Place 2002
Turkish soccer started a red-and-golden age in the late 1990s, but is now showing signs of rust. The Turkish team usually plays entertaining, passionate and technical soccer and with concentration could have the credentials to rise to the top of European soccer.
Players everyone will be watching: Tiny, feisty striker Nihat is always a threat, scoring heaps of goals in Spain. Should he not sparkle, all eyes will be on the talented Altyntop twins.


Group B

Austria - 101st ranked
Euro Cup: debutant
World Cup: 3rd Place, 1954
Austrian fans had a moment of rapture when their team went 3-0 up at half-time against powerhouse Holland lately. They went on to lose the game 3-5 and are expected by most experts to continue this pattern. They do however have the home fans and a large of group of young and untested players, and perhaps these two factors can help spring a surprise.

Player everyone will be watching: Andreas Ivanschitz stands out in most games with technical ability and creativity. Austrian fans hope that this young prospect can become a team "Moses" and lead them to a best ever finish.

Croatia - 13th ranked
Euro Cup: Quarterfinalists 1996
World Cup: 3rd place, 1998
The team that made sure England would not advance to this year's tournament by beating them twice is now expected to be a surprise package in this tournament. Without one of its most effective players, Arsenal's Brazilian-born ace Eduardo, due to a horrific and possibly career-ending injury, Croatia can still perform on all fronts and may match their outstanding 1998 World Cup performance.

Player everyone will be watching: Creative midfielder Niko Kranjcar of Portsmouth has had a phenomenal season for both club and country. He still has not won over Croatian supporters though, and Euro 2008 offers him that opportunity.

Germany - 5th ranked
Euro Cup: 1972, 1980, 1996, winners, and 1976 and 1992, runners-up
World Cup: 1st - 1954, 1974, 1990; 2nd - 2002, 1986, 1982, 1966; 3rd - 1970 and 2006

"Everybody plays and Germany wins"-the old saying often echoes prior to big tournaments, and this time it could well come true. Germany is a powerhouse again after a shaky generational gap in the late 1990s. Thanks to coach Joachim Löw, the team is overflowing with young talent and it will be no surprise if the Germans win Euro 2008. The fact that they are playing in Austria and Switzerland in front of German-speaking audiences who dream of seeing their big neighbor flopping could prove a hurdle. But the reason many people choose to cheer against them is because that old saying often proves precise-with the German team usually outmuscling more entertaining opponents.

Players everyone will be watching: Polish-born Miroslav Klose of Bayern Munich is a highly efficient goal machine. Christoph Metzelder of Real Madrid is a highly efficient defending machine.

Poland - 27th ranked
Euro Cup: debutant
World Cup: 3rd place 1974, 1982
Poland's Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker has fashioned a new quality to the Polish national team, qualifying them for the first time for the European championships. Poles dream of success, but if that proves unrealistic then Germany's scalp could quench their thirst. The Polish national team has never beaten the Germans, and Polish fans dream of such a day. No less because three of the German players (Klose, Podolski and Trochowski) are Polish-born and because most Polish national team players plow their trade in the German Bundesliga.

The Polish team boasts two distinct abilities; one is to win dramatically, and the other is to lose dramatically. An optimistic scenario should see them dramatically qualify from a difficult group, and the worst-case scenario would see them crash out without even a hint of drama. The pre-tournament indicators have definitely not been favorable, as many of Poland's players have played under par recently.

Players everyone will be watching:
Ebi Smolarek was the top scorer for Poland during the qualifiers, but still needs to do more to outshine his dad Włodzimierz, who was a major figure in Polish soccer in the 1980s.

Jakub Błaszczykowski is one of Poland's most talented right wingers ever, but is coming back from injury and a poor season. Can the veteran Jacek Krzynówek, famous for many thundering long-range goals, continue his past performances? Or will Brazilian-born midfielder Roger Guerreiro silence Polish critics and show his samba off for his newly adopted country?

Group C

France - 7th ranked
Euro Cup: 1984 and 2000 champions World Cup: 1998 winners, 3rd place 1986, 1958, 4th place 1982

French coach Raymond Domenech has done everything to reinforce his reputation as an eccentric. If random and badly timed comments to the press were insufficient, he goes to the European championships having excluded three of the French team's stars from the squad. Under his guidance, the French team has had a difficult qualifying campaign, finding it easier to drop points than score goals. The talent is there though, as France is a world-class team, but can they perform their way out of the group of death?

Players everyone will be watching: Young super talent Franck Ribéry has been nothing short of brilliant this season for Bayern and is widely expected to repeat the performance this June. Thierry Henry was for a long time considered by many to be the best forward in the world, but must shake off a disappointing season with Barcelona and prove it all once again.

Italy - 3rd ranked
Euro Cup: 1968 winners, 2000 runners-up World Cup: 1st in 2006, 1982, 1938; 2nd in 1994, 1970; 3rd in 1990
The Italian national team can field the best player in the world for any position. Italy, as always, is overflowing with talent. Young coach Roberto Donadoni played alongside several members of his team in the 1990s. His choices were controversial in Italy, but inevitable due to the huge amount of talent available to every Italian national team coach. Despite this, Italy has been criticized for playing a rather boring and defensive style of soccer, grinding down their opponents patience before scoring the decisive goal. Always among the favorites, Italy still have to prove their worth; otherwise their hopes and reputation may be shattered in the group of death.

Player everyone will be watching: Alessandro Del Piero. This icon of Italian football at the ripe age of 33 probably played the best season of his career with Juventus. His performances for the national team have been mysteriously inconsistent, and Donadoni only included him in the squad due to a massive campaign by Italian fans pressuring him to do so.

Netherlands - 10th ranked
Euro Cup: 1988 winners
World Cup: 2nd -in 1974 and 1978; 4th in 1998
Always talented, and always capable of winning it all. No Dutch fan can remember a tournament without a major argument and controversy just weeks before it. The atmosphere in the team is, as usual, nothing short of rotten. Having already been fired from his post, effective in July, Dutch coach Marco van Basten must lead his hugely talented but hugely incohesive team through the group of death to realize their massive potential.

Player everyone will be watching: With Milan's veteran Clarence Seedorf controversially dropping out of the squad, all eyes will turn to 23-year-old Wesley Sneijder, who takes the biggest credit for Real Madrid's title-winning season. He passes, he scores and he does it when it's needed most.

Romania - 12th ranked
Euro Cup: 2000 quarterfinalists
World Cup: 1994 quarterfinalists
Unlucky Romania. Experts expected them to be the surprise package at Euro 2008 but they ended up in the group of death. They have nothing to lose, and they are hungry for success, and this could see them surprise any of the big three teams they have to play.

Players everyone will be watching: When creative genius Adrian Mutu was disqualified for failing a cocaine test in 2004 many thought his highly promising career was over. After a slow restart, Mutu has again become one of the top players playing in the Italian Serie A, and brilliant performances from this player should be no surprise.

Banel Nicolita is one of the few players from the Roma community to have reached the top flight of soccer. Coming from an impoverished family of six, this player learned his amazing dribbling ability barefoot on dirt streets. While few have heard of him outside of Romania, he is expected back home to prove to be the team's secret super-weapon.

Group D

Greece - 8th ranked
Euro Cup: 2004 champions
World Cup: 1 appearance, best forgotten, in 1994
Nobody outside of Greece expected the Greek team to be coming to Euro 2008, much less as defending champions. Famous for lapses of concentration and heavy defeats, the Greek team also has a golden generation of talented players, and fields one of the most cement-solid defenses in the world. Surprise champions of Euro 2004, the Greeks failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2006 and suffered an embarrassing 4-1 home defeat to arch-opponents Turkey last year. But the concentration and tactics that won them the last championship could repeat the trick. In soccer, the second time is always three times as hard, and for most of this old team this second time will be their last chance.

Player everyone will be watching: Sotirios Kyrgiakos is built like a lumberjack and defends like a skyscraper. He plays well with the rest of the guys, who seem to have spent more time together over the years than with their families.

Russia - 25th ranked
Euro Cup: 1960 champions, 2nd in 1964, 1972 and 1988, all as the USSR
World Cup: 4th place in 1966 as the USSR

The sporting glories of the USSR are far behind, but Russian soccer is unquestionably on the rise, and under the guidance of legendary Dutch coach Guus Hiddink, who is also receiving a legendary salary, they contributed to England being knocked out of the competition in qualifiers. The national expectations on the squad are immense.

Player everyone will be watching: At 27, young-looking Andrei Arshavin is already a seasoned veteran and one of the architects of Zenit St. Petersburg's UEFA Cup victory this May.

Spain - 4th ranked
Euro Cup: 1964 champions, 1984 runners-up
World Cup: 4th place in 1950
Spain are world soccer's perennial and consistent underachievers. Brimming with talent, they are always expected to take the championship home with time to spare for a siesta. Their real fame however, comes from regularly crashing out in front of their enthusiastic and colorful fans. Much of the team comes from FC Valencia and Barcelona, both of which have had disastrous seasons. They will need to shake off their depressions in order to achieve Spain's long overdue international title.

Player everyone will be watching: Fernando Torres is bringing his searing form of a massive 23 goals for Liverpool this season with him to the tournament. Spain fans will hope he did not get too tired achieving this landmark.

Sweden - 23rd ranked
Euro Cup: 1992 semifinalists
World Cup: 1958 runners-up, 3rd in 1950 and 1994
Sweden often find it hard to score goals. Sweden is missing important left back Erik Edman through injury and go into the European championships with a lot of questions. The aging veteran legend Henrik Larsson has been recalled to the team in hopes that he can wind back the clock a decade and score.

Player everyone will be watching: The scorer of the 2004 goal of the tournament against Italy, Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Inter Milan is, as always, expected to shine. This hyper-talented player is Sweden's only real star, but his inconsistent performances for the national team are numerous and in the last World Cup he disappointed.

Toni Mickiewicz
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