Euro 2012 Betting Preview – Group A and Group B

June 5th, 2012 | Posted by in Euro 2012

Nest weekend we have the European Championships 2012 which are being held in Poland and Ukraine. The first ever major tournament to be held in Eastern Europe will get underway in Warsaw on Friday, as co-hosts Poland entertain Greece, with the Championship culminating on July 1st when Kiev, the capital of the other host nation Ukraine, will host the Final. Below we have the Sportingbet Australia 2012 Euro betting previews with the first post looking at Group A and Group B. Check out all the Euro 2012 betting odds from a number of European, Australian and International online sports books.

In between, six other cities will stage matches in the group and knockout stages, namely Gdansk,Wroclaw and Poznan in Poland and Lviv, Kharkiv and Donetsk in Ukraine.

Holders Spain will inevitably be installed as short-priced favourites to retain the crown they won in such glorious style in 2008, but will face a stern challenge from the improving Germans, the dangerous Dutch and even the under-rated French.

Throw in the strong possibility of a less fancied side turning the formbook on its head as Greece did so famously in 2004, or one of the host countries making a strong showing and it all adds up to what should be an absorbing three-and-a-half weeks of football.

Group A

Poland

Greece

Russia

Czech Republic

POLAND

Arguably the weakest of the four groups, Group A also appears to be the most open and consequently the most difficult to predict.

Co-hosts Poland will certainly fancy their chances of progressing to the Quarter-Finals and there is no doubt that a strong showing from Franciszek Smuda’s men would lift the tournament as an overall spectacle.

The Poles, however, have not exactly been in sparkling form in recent months, recording a string of indifferent results in friendlies against opponents of varying quality.

Last year’s impressive win over Argentina was followed by a creditable draw against Germany, but since then the men in white and red have laboured to unconvincing victories over lesser lights such as Hungary, Belarus and Bosnia Herzegovina, lost to Italy and drawn with Portugal.

They also don’t have much in the way of pedigree in this competition, having qualified only once, in 2008, when they crashed out in the group stage.

That said, several of Poland’s go-to men have been standouts for their respective club sides this season and the home fans will be hoping that they can translate that impressive form onto the international stage.

?ukasz Piszczek, Jakub B?aszczykowski and Robert Lewandowski all played key roles in Borussia Dortmund’s recent Bundesliga title triumph, with the latter banging home 22 league goals, while goalkeeper Wojciech Szcz?sny solved Arsenal’s goalkeeping crisis in style and defender Marcin Wasilewski picked up a league winner’s medal with Belgian side Anderlecht.

One of Poland’s less familiar names that is worth looking out for is uncapped 19-year-old winger Rafal Wolski who has enjoyed a meteoric rise with club side Legia Warsaw and has already drawn comparisons with Polish legend Zbigniew Boniek.

Smuda is a vastly-experienced coach who has raised the hackles of some Polish fans by searching out and recruiting foreign players of Polish origin in a bid to bolster his limited resources, but such misgivings would almost certainly be forgotten if the co-hosts were to enjoy a successful tournament.

Expect the Poles to line up in a 4-3-2-1 formation with Lewandowski filling the lone striker role as has done so successfully for Dortmund and French-born midfielder Ludovic Obraniak charged with getting forward to support him.

The Polish squad is lacking in depth and it is therefore vital that their key players remain fit and in form, but benefitting from a kindly draw and home advantage, they are a real chance of progressing as group runners-up.

Predicted Group Finish: 2nd

One to Watch: Robert Lewandowski

GREECE

The approach of Greece, meanwhile, appears to have changed little since they defended their way to an unlikely European Championship victory back in 2004.

Portuguese coach Fernando Santos has taken over the reins from Otto Rehhagel, but judging by the fact that his side conceded only five goals in ten qualifying games while scoring just 14 themselves,Greece’s ultra-defensive philosophy remains very much intact.

In fairness to Santos, his side is not as long-ball focused as Rehhagel’s was and as tedious as the Greek style can be, it’s difficult to blame them for continuing to play that way given the dearth of world class attacking options they have at their disposal.

With the likes of Celtic’s Giorgos Samaras and PAOK’s Dimitris Salpigidis clearly not quite able to cut the mustard at the very top level despite boasting more than 50 caps apiece, Greece will again be pinning their goalscoring hopes upon a couple of old-stagers in the form of Theofanis Gekas, who is now playing his club football in Turkey with Samsunspor and AEK Athens frontman Nikos Lymberopoulos.

Organised, disciplined and physical, the Greeks will bring a largely home-based, tight-knit squad to the tournament, including veteran Giorgos Karagounis and highly-rated fellow-midfielder Giannis Fetfatzidis, but it’s hard to make case for them even coming close to repeating their heroics of eight years ago.

Santos’ side qualified for this tournament via a weak group in which Croatia provided their only major challenge, a fact that makes their current position of 14th in the FIFA world rankings perhaps a touch misleading.

Santos tends to favour a 4-5-1 formation that can, at least in theory, become 4-3-3 as and when required, but given their preference for safety-first football, committing extra men to the attack is not something the Greeks tend to do on a regular basis.

Their best hope probably lies in their group rivals cancelling each other out via a series of low-scoring draws, in which case they may be able to qualify by sneaking a solitary 1-0 win and battening down the hatches to grind out at least one draw from their remaining two matches.

On-field success for the national side would be especially welcome given the country’s well-documented economic meltdown, but ultimately they are likely to find both goals and points hard to come by and it’s difficult to foresee anything other than an early exit to deepen the Grecian gloom.

Predicted Group Finish: 4th

One to Watch: Giannis Fetfatzidis

RUSSIA

The same cannot be said of Russia who qualified with relative ease ahead of Ireland and Armenia and are set to be installed as warm favourites to progress as the winners of Group A.

Backed by a sizeable contingent of travelling fans who will make the short trip west, Dick Advocaat’s side contains enough quality to trouble most of the sides at the tournament, even if its average age is rather high at just under 30.

During the Soviet era, the USSR boasted a formidable record at these championships, winning the inaugural tournament in 1960 and finishing as runners-up on a further three occasions.

More recently, they made the Semi-Finals in 2008, eliminating Holland in the last eight before bowing out at the hands of eventual champions Spain.

Advocaat has taken the unusual step of revealing that he has turned down the offer of a two-year contract extension and will be leaving his post after the tournament, but with the enormous budget at its disposal, the Russian Football Association will have no problem recruiting a similarly high profile coach to replace the wily Dutchman.

Injury-wise, the Russians are sweating over the fitness of playmaker Alan Dzagoev who is battling to recover from a broken toe in time for their opening fixture against the CzechRepublic.

The 21-year-old CSKA Moscow man was a standout during the qualifying campaign, chipping in with four vital goals and adding both vision and dynamism to a midfield that can otherwise look a little pedestrian.

Fans of the English Premier League will find plenty of familiar faces in the Russian ranks, including Roman Pavlyuchenko, Yuri Zhirkov and skipper Andrei Arshavin, along with powerful striker Pavel Pogrebnyak who made such an impression after joining Fulham back in January.

In terms of key strengths,Russia are extremely adept at retaining possession and possess a dangerous combination of power, trickery and pace up front.

The fact that more than a third of their squad are also team-mates at Zenit StPetersburg, meanwhile, should ensure a high level of harmony and togetherness in the camp, not something that has always been the case with Russian sides in the past.

Advocaat has tended to stick with the tried and tested in recent months and seems unlikely to spring any major selection surprises on the eve of the tournament, meaning Aleksandr Kerzakov will operate on his own up front in a 4-3-2-1 formation, with gifted schemers Andrey Arshavin and Alan Dzagoev playing just in behind and former Chelsea man Yuri Zhirkov providing extra width with his overlapping runs from left-back.

It’s hard to make a case for Advocaat’s side winning the tournament, or even repeating their feat of 2008 and reaching the last four, but they have enough quality to emerge from this pretty ordinary group as winners.

Predicted Group Finish: 1st

One to Watch: Alan Dzagoev

CZECH REPUBLIC

Group A is completed by the Czech Republic, another nation with a fine European Championship pedigree having made the Final in 1996, the Semi-Finals in 2004 and won the 1976 tournament when still part of the old Czechoslovakia.

But the Czechs are also another entrant who will bring a far from formidable squad to Poland and Ukraine and would consider anything beyond a Quarter-Final place as a major bonus.

Under the guidance of former Sparta Prague and Viktoria Plzen coach Michal Bilek, the Czechs eventually recovered from a shock home defeat at the hands of Lithuania to qualify via a comfortable play-off victory over Montenegro.

Their campaign also included two convincing defeats at the hands of Spain, plus a very fortuitous draw with Scotland, suggesting that they remain some way short of being able to make a serious impression among the continent’s genuine big-hitters.

That said, Bilek does have some big names at his disposal, including Chelsea’s Petr Cech, former Liverpool man Milan Baros and Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky, although it could be argued that the former two are slightly past their best, while the latter will head to the tournament off the back of an indifferent campaign with the Gunners.

One man who may well make a big impression is Vaclav Pilar, a mercurial attacking midfielder who has been described as the Czech Messi and will be plying his trade in the Bundesliga next season after being lured away from Viktoria Plzen by Wolfsburg.

Two other German-based players Roman Hubnik of Hertha Berlin and Michal Kadlec of Bayer Leverkusen, meanwhile, will have key roles to play at the back and vastly-experienced Bordeaux man Jaroslav Plasil is set to link up with Rosicky in the midfield engine room.

The Czechs will head to the tournament more in hope than expectation, well aware that this squad lacks much of the star quality of many of those that have gone before it.

The subsequent reduction in pressure may well enable them to play with a greater degree of freedom and they will certainly be there or thereabouts in terms of qualifying from the group.

Coach Bilek has managed to create a sense of unity within the playing group, partly by adopting a siege mentality in the wake of widespread criticism of both his methods and the team’s performances from a Czech press who are perhaps guilty of applying the standards of a glorious past to what is by no means a star-studded squad.

The Republic’s slick, counter-attacking style will please the purists, but Poland’s home advantage may just be enough to get them over the line and send Bilek and co packing back to Prague.

Predicted Group Finish: 3rd

One to Watch: Vaclav Pilar

 Group B

Netherlands

Denmark

Germany

Portugal

GERMANY

No self-respecting tournament is complete without its group of death and Group B certainly fits that bill as far as Euro 2012 is concerned.

Netherlands, Germany and Denmark are of course all previous winners, while Portugal were beaten finalists as recently as 2004.

Germany will almost certainly be installed as favourites to win the group ahead of the Dutch and indeed there are those who feel that Joachim Loew’s men have it in them to go all the way and take out what would be their fourth title including those won in 1972 and 1980 as West Germany.

After reaching the last four at the 2010 World Cup, Germany stormed through their Euro 2012 qualifying group, winning all ten of their games, rattling in 34 goals in the process and conceding a miserly seven.

Subsequent friendlies have seen them perform a little less consistently, drawing with Ukraine, thrashing Holland and then losing to both France and Switzerland, but no national side is historically more adept at peaking at the right time than the men in white and black.

In terms of the squad that they will bring to Poland and Ukraine, Loew has selected eight players from Champions League finalists Bayern Munich, with a further four drawn from Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund, plus Real Madrid duo Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira.

Despite a relatively young average age, this German squad is not lacking in experience and several of its stars look to be very much at the peak of their powers.

Ozil, Jerome Boateng, Manuel Neuer and Bastian Schweinsteiger all look primed to have a massive impact on the tournament and in teenager Mario Gotze of Borussia Dortmund, the Germans have a rising star who could well dominate the headlines in the coming weeks.

Gotze has taken German domestic football by storm over the last couple of years and this tournament may just provide the launch-pad for the diminutive 19-year-old as far as global recognition is concerned.

Throw in the goal threat provided by Arsenal-bound striker Lukasz Podolski, the vastly-experienced Miroslav Klose and the ungainly but effective Mario Gomez, plus a shrewd, versatile, proven coach in Loew and it becomes impossible to ignore Germany’s claims as potential tournament winners.

They may well be denied the services of defensive colossus Petr Mertesacker who is struggling to overcome a serious ankle injury, but given the Arsenal man’s often ponderous and unconvincing performances in the Premier League last season, it’s hard to imagine that he will be sorely missed.

Mertesacker’s absence will mean that whichever two central defenders Loew opts to go with, they won’t have had much experience of operating in tandem and the Germans do also have a possible weak spot at left-back, but their attacking options looks so formidable that they should be able to get away with not having an altogether watertight defence.

And while Gotze, Schweinsteiger, Klose and co will provide the colour and excitement on the field, coach Loew’s idiosyncratic fashion sense should ensure the technical area also receives its fair share of attention.

Football’s very own Simon Cowell-clone looks certain to dig out the familiar tight black v-neck t-shirt and matching slacks, even if the expected warm summer temperatures prevent him from sporting his trademark black roll-neck.

In conclusion, Germanyqualified in superb style, their preparations have been excellent, they will enjoy a huge travelling support, have a formidably strong squad, all their key players appear to be fit, they are traditionally at their best in the high-pressure environment of tournament football and have one of the world’s top coaches in charge.

In short, they will take some stopping.

Predicted Group Finish: 1st

One to Watch: Mario Gotze

DENMARK

In sharp contrast to Germany, Denmark will head into the tournament as one of the less fancied sides and it will come as a major surprise to many if they manage to emerge from the group stages.

And yet it is never wise to underestimate the Scandinavians who have established themselves as World Cup and European Championship finals regulars following their breakthrough qualification for Euro 1984.

Since 2000, the Danes have been under the guidance of Morten Olsen, a man who featured prominently in the midfield of that exceptional 1984 side and have qualified for every major tournament with the exception of Euro 2008.

They booked their place in Poland and Ukraine by topping Group H ahead of Portugal and Norway, defeating the former in Copenhagen as recently as October to clinch top spot and gain a possible psychological advantage ahead of their re-match on 13th June.

The longest-serving coach at the tournament, Olsen has assembled a solid group of players willing to work hard for each other and in Christian Eriksen, has at his disposal a hugely-gifted midfielder who may soon be spoken about in the same breath as the likes of the Laudrup brothers and Peter Schmeichel.

Still just 20, Eriksen has emerged as a genuine star of the Eredivisie with Ajax, already has 20 caps to his name and will surely be heading for a top Premier League or La Liga side in the very near future.

Elsewhere, the experience in the Danish ranks is provided by Liverpool defender Daniel Agger who will skipper the side, much-travelled winger Dennis Rommedahl who is still going strong at 33 and much-maligned Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner who found the net pretty regularly during his loan spell at Sunderland last season and boasts an impressive tally of 17 goals from 46 international appearances.

But the Danes will be without 101-cap veteran goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen who has been ruled out by a back injury and will be replaced by either Manchester United’s Anders Lindegaard or Kasper Schmeichel of Leicester.

One man seeking redemption at the tournament, meanwhile, is Simon Kjaer who was previously touted as one Europe’s best defenders, but endured a miserable spell on loan at Roma from Wolfsburg last season and will hope to restore his diminished reputation in national colours.

The men in red and white completely flew under the radar when they famously won this tournament back in 1992 after being parachuted in as late replacements for Yugoslavia and they will relish their underdog status once again.

They will be organised, well-drilled and hard-working, so don’t be surprised if they upset one of their more fancied group rivals, but don’t rush to put your house on Olsen’s side progressing to the Quarter-Finals either.

Predicted Group Finish: 4th

One to Watch: Christian Eriksen

NETHERLANDS

Ah, the Netherlands. Their squad is never short of talent or self-confidence and their fans are never shy of a dash of colour, yet all too often they have been the bridesmaids when they should really have been the bride.

A tally of three World Cup Final and three Euro Semi-Final defeats suggests that the Dutch could be classed alongside their distant cousins in the South African cricket team as the great chokers of world sport.

Admittedly it is impossible to forget some of the glorious football the men in orange played at the 1974 and 1978 World Cups and their magnificent triumph at the 1988 Euros when Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard ran riot, but overall they appear to lack the clinical edge that is so prevalent in the footballing history of their near and not so dear neighbour, Germany.

And although it seems a little unfair to compare the two countries given that Holland’s  population is less than a quarter that of Germany’s, Dutch pride is such that they do regard themselves as a genuine footballing super power and the pain caused by their inability to seal the deal on so many previous occasions still burns.

So can Bert van Marwijk’s men go the extra yard and send the orange-clad hordes into ecstasy by emulating the feats of 1988?

The short answer is probably not.

They were pretty impressive in qualification, winning nine and losing just one of their ten games, but topping a group containing Sweden, Hungary, Finland, Moldova and San Marino was always likely to be something of a formality.

And while their squad is undeniably a very good one, it doesn’t look to be as strong as those of either Spain or Germany and several of they key players will head to the tournament off the back of disappointing campaigns with their respective club sides.

Wesley Sneijder, Nigel de Jong, Rafael van der Vaart and Dirk Kuyt won’t look back on season 2011-2012 with any great fondness from a personal form point of view and it will be interesting to see if they can lift themselves when they don the Oranje for the first game against Denmark on 9th June.

In contrast, Robin van Persie will be bursting with confidence following his sensational season with Arsenal, as will goalkeepers Tim Krul and Michel Worm, even if Roma’s Maarten Stekelenburg looks certain to be van Marwijk’s first-choice number one.

Skipper Mark van Bommel will doubtless leave his mark on the tournament, most likely on the thighs or shins of several of his opponents, but alongside him he is likely to have the altogether more artful Kevin Strootman of PSV Eindhoven who is said to be featuring prominently on Manchester United’s transfer radar.

At the back, meanwhile, right-back Gregory van der Wiel of Ajax is also well worth keeping an eye on, as is teenage left-back Jetro Willems who has made quite a splash with PSV this term and could be thrown into the fray after club team-mate Erik Pieters withdrew from the squad due to a foot injury.

One dilemma facing Marwijk is how to crowbar the in-form Klaas-Jan Huntelaar into his starting eleven without altering his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.

With van Persie seemingly locked in as the lone striker, there appears to be no place for the Schalke man despite the fact that he topped the Bundesliga scoring charts last season with an incredible return of 29 goals from 34 league games.

Overall, the Netherlands have the look of a side that is good, but not quite good enough even if van Marwijk can prevent the kind of squad in-fighting that has scuppered several promising campaigns of the past.

They should emerge from the group, but beyond that, a semi-final place looks to be the best they can hope for.

Predicted Group Finish: 2nd

One to Watch: Kevin Strootman

PORTUGAL

Of the four sides in Group B, Portugal would have to be classed as the most unpredictable.

Take their qualifying campaign for example. They started by drawing 4-4 with Cyprus in an astonishing game in Guimaraes, then lost to Norway before going on to win their next five games, scoring 16 goals along the way.

Just as they looked set to seal top spot, however, they produced a forgettable display against Denmark inCopenhagen, going down to a 2-1 defeat that enabled the home side to book their place in Poland and Ukraine.

And even in the play-offs they blew hot and cold, claiming an extremely fortunate 0-0 draw away in Bosnia and Herzegovina before running riot in the home leg and winning 6-2.

Their friendly international performances since then have been largely lack-lustre, suggesting that coach Paulo Bento is no closer to finding the solution to his talented squad’s puzzling lack of consistency.

The former Sporting Lisbon supremo can at least take some solace in the fact that the Seleccao have fared well in the European Championship since they first qualified back in 1984.

Their golden generation may not have lived up to its hype, but the men in red and green have twice made the Quarter-Finals and the Semi-Finals and were of course runners-up to Greece when they hosted the tournament back in 2004.

And while repeating those achievements this time around will be tricky, not least because of the strength of Group B, the Portuguese do have several potential match-winners to turn to.

Cristiano Ronaldo will of course be very much the focal point of the side and if he can continue his quite astounding club form for Real Madrid into the tournament, all of Portugal’s opponents will have sleepless nights.

Having been made skipper of the national team, it will be interesting to see whether the former Manchester United man has the temperament to cope when all is not going his way and deal with the fact that he won’t be able to rely upon the service provided by the galaxy of global superstars that surround him at Real.

His goals will also be absolutely vital because with all due respect to Portugal’s other main striking options, Helder Postiga, Nelson Oliveira and Hugo Almeida, they are not the kind of players who will have the German or Dutch, or even the Irish or Croatian defences quaking in their boots.

Elsewhere in the squad, Ricardo Quaresma remains a class act on either flank even if he has never quite lived up to his full potential, while Manchester United’s Nani also poses a real danger from out wide and Raul Meireles has regularly been more impressive for the national side than he has at club level for either Liverpool or Chelsea.

At the back, meanwhile, much will be expected of the Real Madrid duo Pepe and Fabio Coentrao and Zenit St Petersburg’s Bruno Alves is also likely to play a prominent role.

Tactically the Seleccao have been noticeably more expansive under Bento than they were under his predecessor Carlos Quieroz, generally favouring a 4-3-3 system which enables them to maximise the pace and attacking guile of Ronaldo and Nani in particular.

Portugal, as always, will bring some exceptionally talented individuals to this tournament, but as team, they have done little to suggest that they will still be around at the end of the month.

And with only one member of the squad aged under 24, Bento may have some major restructuring to do once his side’s early exit is confirmed.

Predicted Group Finish: 3rd

One to Watch: Cristiano Ronaldo

Check out all the Euro 2012 betting odds from a number of European, Australian and International online sports books.

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