Unpredictable Euro 08 will be predictably competitive

MORRIS DALLA COSTA

, Last Updated: 2:43 PM ET

The latest round of European friendlies did nothing to dispel the notion that Euro 08 will be one of the most competitive -- and unpredictable -- European championship in many years.

It has Euro 04 to live up to. No one would have predicted that Greece, a soccer minnow, would emerge as the eventual champion.

But betting lines for a competition like Euro are always unpredictable, given that you have most of the top European sides participating in the tournament. The global nature of the sport where there are no limits on how many foreign players can play on a club side has allowed for the accelerated development of players from smaller countries.

As an example, in a quarter-final Championsı League game between two English Premier League sides -- Arsenal and Liverpool -- only two of the 22 starting players were English.

While friendlies are only exhibition games, they provide a valuable measuring stick in evaluating who is on the right course for Euro.

It wasnıt a happy day for the co-hosts of the tournament. Switzerland was dominated 4-0 by Germany.

In recent years, the Germans have always looked ill-prepared for major tournaments. Yet when the opening whistle goes, they always find a way to finish among the top nations.

This time around, it looks as if the Germans will be one of the favourites. Their form has been excellent. Joachim Low took over as coach from Jurgen Klinsmann and has the confidence of his team.

They will have a formidable strike force with Miroslav Klose likely pairing with Mario Gomez. With Lukas Podolski in a supporting role, they should not lack for goals.

Germany has won the European championships three times, more than any other nation. There were several other notable results.

The Greek victory of four years ago is considered something of a fluke, a combination of everything going right.

But Greece is sending out a message that they will not give up their title easily. In a recent friendly, they yet again defeated Portugal, this time 2-1.

Itıs difficult to overlook a defending champion no matter how small a nation it is. Coach Otto Rehhagel became a national hero and he is preparing his team with the same degree of attention he did four years ago.

They will rely on a stifling defence. Portugal did not play well but will only get better. They were missing the best player in the world, Manchester Unitedıs Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as Nani and Deco.

The Dutch also made some big noise at the expense of the other hosts, Austria. Austria took a 3-0 lead in Vienna but the Netherlands came back with four goals to win 4-3. Itıs an indication of what the Netherlands can do in Euro.

Of course, they hope to play better defence. But this is a team whose history has always been to entertain.

It will be coach Marco van Bastenıs last tournament with the Orange. The former star striker has put together a delightful team to watch, especially van Basten-clone Klaas Jan Hunterlaar.

The Netherlands will play in a group with France, which defeated England 1-0 in a friendly despite missing several key players; Italy, losers to Spain 1-0; and Romania.

How difficult is that group?

Romania finished ahead of the Netherlands in qualifying for Euro and moved into the Top 15 in world rankings.

Coach Victor Piturca is a former striker who loves attacking soccer and he has a pair of world-class strikers in Adrian Mutu and Ciprian Marica.

Romania defeated Russian, another Euro 08 participant, 3-0. The teams who appear in the final in Vienna will have certainly earned their trip there.

However, who they will be is virtually impossible to determine. morris.dallacosta@sunmedia.ca


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