EURO 2012: THE RISE OF THE FAVOURITES

Dutch courage, anyone?

MatchDay 2 of Euro football is always the most telling round- where clear trends emerge and the favorites begin to settle in. After the initial jolt of having to play in 35 degrees Celsius for most matches (Ukraine and Polish Summers), the players have started to feel their way around the pitch, and things have begun to take shape. 

Group A- Poland, Russia, Greece, Czech Republic
Third Round games: Russia v/s Greece, Poland v/s Czech Republic 
Easily the most open group out of all. Russia continue to lead the group with 4 points, but they will be disappointed that they could not defeat host country Poland- instead having to settle for a 1-1 draw, thanks to another misfiring big gun of this tournament, Arshavin. Russia still look the strongest, but will have to steel themselves for a final round to complete formalities of quarter-final qualification, against an almost down-and-out Greece. 
Czech Republic, after a disillusioning first game against Russia, are back in the thick of things after an unlikely win against Euro 2004 Champs Greece. That makes their final group game against Poland a knockout (with Poland on 2 points, undefeated), and a draw or win will see them go through. 

Prediction: 
Russia will beat Greece to top the group outright. Poland could ride their home support and join Russia in the final 16 with a win against the unstable Czechs. 

‘Nuff said!
 
Group B- Portugal, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark
Third Round games: Germany v/s Denmark, Portugal v/s Netherlands
Favorites Germany are a shoo-in for top spot in this group, with wins against contenders Portugal and Netherlands cementing them as the most dangerous team once again. A win against Denmark is most likely, but this group is mathematically the most lively group in the league. 
A loss for Denmark will keep them on 3 points. If Portugal beat Netherlands (a likelihood on current form), then Portugal join Germany in the last 16. But if Portugal lose to Netherlands by 2 goals or more, it will be the out-of-sorts Oranje that make a great escape into the final 16. If Portugal lose by a goal, it will be down to Goal difference between Denmark, Netherlands and Portugal- which could put Portugal through. Either way, it will be a smashingly exciting final round in the Group Of Death.

Prediction: 
Germany will remain unbeaten. It could be Netherlands that turn their fortunes around, though, if Cristiano Ronaldo continues to misfire. Brace yourselves for a massive escape. 

Group C- Croatia, Spain, Republic Of Ireland, Italy
Third Round games: Spain v/s Croatia, Italy v/s Ireland 
Spain cruised back to top form with the biggest win of Euro 2012 so far- a Torres- inspired 4-0 win against relative minnows Ireland. What is interesting here is that 3 out of the 4 teams are unbeaten. That makes Ireland the first team to crash out of the tournament. It will be down to Italy’s game against Ireland, which Italy are most likely to win. If they do, and Croatia lose to Spain- it will be the 2006 World Champions joining Spain in the final 16. But if Croatia draw with Spain, also a likelihood, it could be down to Goal difference between Spain, Italy and Croatia- all on 5 points. Fascinating stuff. 
 
Prediction: 
Spain will be the first to go through on goal-difference, but they will beat Croatia by a narrow margin and top their group. Italy will beat Ireland, and will finish second in their group

Inception
 
Group D- England, France, Sweden, Ukraine
Third Round Games: France v/s Sweden, England v/s Ukraine 
With Ukraine topping the group after the first round, their game against France today will determine their chances of qualification. One still feels that one of the two big guns may not qualify- and in all likelihood, that team could be England- who might just continue their unenviable record against bogey team Sweden in the second round. Wayne Rooney’s return against Ukraine could be too late, if they lose or draw today- counting on the fact that France could beat Ukraine. 
 
Prediction: 
France will top the group, and it could be dark horses Ukraine that joins them in the round of 16. England might have to go through another tournament failure before regrouping for Brazil 2014.

We’re almost down to the final game of the group stages- and the goals are starting to flow, at long last. Round of 16, here they come!

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