Euro 2008 Countdown – less than 2 weeks to go

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With just 2 weeks to go now the cream of Europe’s footballing nations are gearing up for the European Championships in Austria and Switzerland.

The fact none of the Home Nations have managed to qualify has put a dampener on the tournament for the majority of the United Kingdom’s population, but let us not get away from the fact that true football fans will still be tuning in for a feast of great action between June 7-29.

Sixteen countries divided into four groups will go head-to-head to become the pride of Europe for another four years as Greece, who stunned the football betting world in 2004, return to defend their crown.

In the weeks ahead of the big kick-off on June 7 when co-hosts Switzerland face the Czech Republic at St Jakob Park in Basel, I have assessed the teams in each of the four groups and looked at their prospects of lifting a new version of the Henri Delaunay trophy which has been created for the Euro 2008 tournament (see links at the end of this article).

The Swiss have only qualified for the European Championships twice before, but could fancy their chances with home advantage. However they have a tough Group A to negotiate as a Czech Republic side with a host of Premier League stars such as Chelsea keeper Petr Cech, Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky, Reading defender Marek Matejovsky and Portsmouth hitman Milan Baros will look to go one better than the semi-finals last time out.

Euro 2004 finalists Portugal also line up in Group A with Cristiano Ronaldo aiming to inspire them to glory, while a decent Turkey outfit make up the quartet.

It is fellow hosts Austria’s first appearance in the European Championships since it started in 1960 and they will face three-times winners Germany in Group B, who will be skippered by Chelsea’s Michael Ballack.

Croatia, who qualified as winners of England’s group, will hope Slaven Bilic can guide them past the first round this time, although the loss of Arsenal’s Eduardo da Silva to a badly broken leg will be a huge blow to their aspirations. Poland, who won Portugal’s qualifying group, cannot be ruled out of the equation in Group B.

Every tournament has a ‘Group of Death’ and that sums up Group C in the Euro 2008 betting stakes.

Reigning world champions Italy, now led by Roberto Donandoni, will now aim to become kings of Europe with their hopes resting on the likes of captain Fabio Cannavaro and striker Luca Toni.

However they must get past 1998 world champions and Euro 2000 winners France, who boast a number of star names such as Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka, David Trezeguet, Franck Ribery and Lilian Thuram, who already has a mammoth 137 caps to his name.The Netherlands have always threatened to emulate their Euro 88 success in recent years and they will be confident in Austria and Switzerland with prolific hitmen Ruud van Nistelrooy, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Celtic’s Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Arsenal’s Robin van Persie all available to coach Marco van Basten.

Euro 2000 quarter-finalists Romania make up Group C and they are more than capable of creating a problem for the three big guns up against them.

Reigning champions Greece will start in Group D and still have a number of players who guided them to glory in Portugal four years ago, including silver-haired goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis and skipper Angelos Basinas. They will be up against perennial under-achievers Spain, along with Sweden and Russia, who secured a place in the tournament courtesy of England succumbing 3-2 against Croatia at Wembley last November.

Let’s get the ball rolling on your thoughts of who will come out on top this summer. Will there be another Greece who came from nowhere to stun Europe four years ago or will one of the big guns come through and take the trophy?Will Cristiano Ronaldo follow up his amazing scoring feats in the Premier League and take the Golden Boot or will Luca Ton be top man?

Euro 2008 Previews

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