Here are my predictions for the first round of Euro 2012, with teams listed in the order I think they will finish.
I am generally not much of a believer in “home field advantage” in big tournaments when the host isn’t already a decent team to begin with. Poland is not a good team, and this group will be too difficult for them. I think Russia is finally ready to break through and surprise some people, and I like Greece’s steady, solid play more than the Czech Republic’s streakiness. But honestly, I could see any of the four teams qualifying from this group. It’s not nearly as flashy as the Group B “Group of Death,” but it will be a tightly-contested group with at least a few draws. I wouldn’t be surprised if second place was decided by goal difference.
The official “Group of Death” according to the media, though I am more confident about my picks for it than I am for any other group. Holland and Germany are just too good: they are experienced, tactically sophisticated, in form, and cool-headed enough to get the results they need. It could be that Germany top the group, but I see Holland winning it on goal difference. Portugal’s history of (relative) failure in big tournaments has become a self-fulfilling prophecy at this point, much like England’s constant failure when a match goes to penalties. Cristiano Ronaldo of ten has trouble translating his brilliance at the club level to big tournaments, and, while I love watching Nani play with Manchester United, he is able to thrive there because he doesn’t have to carry the side, whereas that pressure will be on him for Portugal. The Danes will put up a good fight, but simply don’t have the talent needed to advance out of this group—too bad they aren’t in Group A.
The Italians are old and rocked by scandal. I think Spain still has enough quality to win the group, though I don’t think they will win the entire tournament. The real fight will be for second place. I like Ireland here for intangible reasons. After they were robbed of a 2010 World Cup berth by France, they are due some good soccer karma, and I think this will help them get to the second round, and maybe further depending on their opponents.
Like Italy, I can’t take this version of France seriously as more than a once-glorious name. Ukraine are good enough to take advantage of playing at home to win the group, though I would be surprised if they won a knock-out match. England and Sweden could easily flip-flop, especially with England’s rash of recent injuries and Wayne Rooney’s two-match suspension. But if England are still in contention once Rooney returns, expect them to go through. It’s another “Group of Death”-lite, though (Group C is really the only group where this is not the case).