Euro 2008 Countdown: Group B – German efficiency to lead the way

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Euro 2008 betting punters looking to pull out a few shocks should probably steer clear of Group B as co-hosts Austria and Poland, both looking to make a mark in their first-ever appearance in the tournament, will have their work cut out to prevent the favourites Germany and impressive Croatia from marching into the last-eight.

Without being disrespectful to the Austrians had they not automatically qualified for Euro 2008 as joint hosts then it would be fair to say they would not have got near the finals in a qualification campaign.

Coach Josef Hickersberger’s side is made up largely of home-based players, although Premier League fans will recognise Middlesbrough’s combative defender Emanuel Pogatetz.

Pogatetz has barely featured for Austria in recent years after falling out with his coach but their reconciliation and his return could be timely as the side have looked weak defensively since the turn of the year.

A 3-0 friendly defeat against Group B opponents and neighbours Germany was followed by an unbelievable 4-3 loss at the hands of the Netherlands in March, having led the match 3-0 at one stage.

Three-times winners of the European Championships Germany will arrive with one eye on adding a fourth title to their collection.

Joachim Low’s side is still largely made up of the players which reached the World Cup semi-finals on home turf under the guidance of Jurgen Klinsmann two years ago.

Skippered by Chelsea’s midfield star Michael Ballack and containing prolific strikers such as Bayern Munich duo Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose along with Schalke’s Kevin Kuranyi, there is a glut of goals in the squad as they proved with 35 in qualifying — although 19 did come in one game against San Marino.

Hertha Berlin’s Arne Freidrich, Bayern’s Philippe Lahm and Real Madrid’s Christoph Metzelder are likely to be the crux of the backline which conceded just seven goals on their way to Austria and Switzerland.

Croatia will bid to go one better than their previous best record of reaching the quarter-finals in England 12 years ago.

Slaven Bilic’s side are no strangers to English football fans with two victories against then coach Steve McClaren’s side during qualification — the 3-2 win at Wembley in the final game condemning the Three Lions to a summer off.

The loss of Arsenal’s Eduardo da Silva to a badly broken leg will be a huge blow to their aspirations, but Bilic’s squad has more than enough quality to ensure they follow Germany into the knockout stage.

Manchester City defender Vedran Corluka, new Tottenham midfielder Luka Modric and Niko Kranjcar of Portsmouth’s midfield engine room are immediately recognisable, while there is great experience in the form of skipper Niko Kovac and defensively in the shape of AC Milan’s Dario Simic and Borussia Dortmund’s Robert Kovac.

The Croats’ qualifying wins in England and Israel, along with a goalless draw in Russia, suggests they also have the mental toughness not to let pressure threaten their chances.

Poland will be participating in their first European Championships after an impressive qualification in which they came out top of their respective group a point ahead of the much-fancied Portugal, who they took four points off.

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