Euro 2012: Group B Preview

Netherlands' Rafael van der Vaart (C) celebrates after scoring a goal with teammates Mark van...

Netherlands' Rafael van der Vaart (C) celebrates after scoring a goal with teammates Mark van Bommel (R) and Arjen Robben (L) during a friendly against Slovakia in preparation for Euro 2012. (REUTERS)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 5:16 PM ET

NETHERLANDS

Move over, Joe Namath and Mark Messier.

When it comes to bold predictions in the sporting world, you can add Wesley Sneijder to the list.

OK, so Sneijder didn't actually use the word "guarantee" when he said the Dutch and Spanish are ticketed to the final of Euro 2012 on July 1 in Kiev. But he certainly insinuated it.

"There haven't been many changes in the Spain squad," Sneijder told NUsport. "All their players are about 25, 26 years old. I think that they have the best team and will make it to the final, and so will we."

The Dutch, of course, dropped a 1-0 decision in the final of World Cup 2010 in South Africa two years ago.

It won't be an easy road for the Netherlands in their quest for a potential rematch, this one at Euro 2012.

Group B, after all, is considered the Group of Death. And with good reason.

Squeezed in with rival Germany, Ronaldo's Portugal and upstart Denmark, just getting out of the group stage will be a grind, even for a skilled side that features elite players such as Sneijder and fellow midfielder Arjen Robben.

One of the sexiest matches in the early group stages will see the Dutch take on the hated Germans on June 13 in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

The Germans drubbed the Dutch 3-0 several months ago in a so-called friendly, although rarely is anything "friendly" when these foes lock horns. You can bet the Dutch will have revenge on their minds.

Euro Record

2008-Quarterfinals, 2004-Semifinals, 2000-Semifinals, 1996-Quarterfinals, 1992-Semifinals, 1988-Winner, 1980-Group stage, 1976-Third place, 1964-Last 16

DENMARK

The Danes like their soccer flavoured with a pinch of rough and tumble, a recipe that has proved to be successful in qualifying.

The Danes went an impressive 6-1-1 en route to making the final 16 of Euro 2012, finishing ahead of favoured Portugal in the group.

Leading the charge was the defensive duo of Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer, players who used as much muscle as they did hustle in shutting down opposing strikers.

But the draw for the group stage of this tournament didn't do the Danes any favours. With Portugal, Germany and the Netherlands alongside in the Group of Death, a repeat of Denmark's championship at the 1992 Euro championship is a tall order indeed.

During that memorable tournament 20 years ago, the Danes, who originally did not qualify for the tournament, were made a late addition when Yugoslavia was excluded because of the civil war in that country. That Cinderella team took advantage of its last-minute invitation to Sweden and went all the way to the final, where the Danes defeated the Germans 2-0 to capture the title.

This edition of the Danish squad already knows it can beat Portugal, having posted a 2-1 victory over Cristiano Ronaldo and his teammates in qualifying. It is a dangerous team, one that can use its physical defence to smother other teams.

Producing offence could be more difficult. During the win over Portugal, the Danes could muster just three shots and were fortunate that two found the back of the net.

Euro Record

2004-Quarterfinals, 2000-Group stage, 1996-Group stage, 1992-Winner, 1988-Group stage, 1984-Semifinal, 1964-Fourth place, 1960-Last 16

PORTUGAL

At least superstar Cristiano Ronaldo is said to be relatively healthy.

Having scored more than 50 goals for a second consecutive year, the Real Madrid striker understandably will be in the spotlight when Euro 2012 kicks off.

Unfortunately, if Ronaldo isn't on top of his game from the first moment he puts cleats to ball, it could be a short run for Portugal.

Imagine the nightmare for manager Paulo Bento when the draw for the group stage took place in Kiev late in 2011.

Bad enough that Bento found his squad lumped in with Germany and the Netherlands -- both ranked among the top five in the world. But he also could not have been thrilled when the alleged "weak sister" of this Group of Death turned out to be Denmark, which finished ahead of Portugal in their qualifying group.

Portugal actually needed to beat Bosnia-Herzegovina in a two-leg playoff just to reach the final 16 for Euro 2012.

Having said that, this is a dangerous team, especially up front. Realistically, a victory over the Germans or Dutch shouldn't be considered a huge shock.

The Achilles heel is a porous back end that can be exposed in Portugal's often wide-open system. A 6-2 victory that finished off Bosnia-Herzegovina showed just how quickly Portugal can fill the net, but it's at the defensive end where the questions fester.

And in a group that features stars such as Arjen Robben and Mario Gomez, it will be a tough task indeed to keep opponents off the scoreboard.

Euro Record

2008-Quarterfinals, 2004-Second, 2000-Semifinals, 1996-Quarterfinals, 1984-Semifinals, 1964-Preliminary round, 1960-Quarterfinals

GERMANY

Joachim Loew's talented squad has been the fashionable pick during the hype leading up to Euro 2012.

But in order for the Germans to meet those lofty expectations, they will have to find a way to finish off what they started, something that has eluded them in recent finals.

Long known for its killer instinct on the pitch, Die Mannschaft curiously has lacked that trait of late, leaving Germany with the reputation of too often being bridesmaids instead of brides.

In 2002 it was a loss in the World Cup title game to Brazil. In 2008 the Germans were defeated by Spain in the championship match for the European Championship crown. And at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, it was heartbreak yet again, this time eliminated in the semifinal by that same talented Spanish side.

Now, less than one month after Bayern Munich shockingly was upset on its home pitch by Chelsea for the Champions League crown, the German national side will attempt to take the final step that has collapsed on multiple occasions during the past decade.

There is no doubt this team is as talented as any in the tournament. Goaltender Manuel Neuer is world class and midfielder Mesut Ozil has the type of flash and dash that makes him a pre-tourney candidate as MVP. Up front, the ageless Miroslav Klose and goal-scoring machine Mario Gomez are feasting in manager Loew's up-tempo scheme.

The Germans rightfully are among the favourites here. Let's just see if they can seal the deal, a path that might include another showdown against nemesis Spain.

Euro Record

2008-Second, 2004-Group stage, 2000-Group stage, 1996-Winners, 1992-Second, 1988-Semifinals, 1984-Group stage, 1980-Winners, 1976-Second, 1972-Winners


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