Anything is possible at Euro -- even Sweden winning

Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic (top) fights for the ball with Serbia's Nikola Maksimovic during their...

Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic (top) fights for the ball with Serbia's Nikola Maksimovic during their international friendly in Stockholm on June 5, 2012. (Anders Wiklund/Reuters/Scanpix)

KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:01 PM ET

Known for its meatballs more so than its soccer balls, Sweden is not expected by the pundits to advance from a group that include co-host Ukraine, a resurgent France and the always embattled Three Lions.

While Sweden is listed as a 66-to-1 long shot to win Euro 2012, a word of advice to the pundits: The only predictable element of UEFA's momentous month-long event is, in fact, its unpredictability.

Ahead of the 14th edition of the second biggest sporting event worldwide, nine different nations have claimed European soccer's most prized possession. In contrast, only eight countries have earned the title of World Cup champion since 1930 -- a testament to the parity and excitement of Europe's 16-team spectacle, typified by Greece's shocking run eight years ago in Portugal.

Pegged at -- you guessed it -- 66-to-1 to capture UEFA's biggest crown in 2004, Greece shocked the planet with its brand of staunch defending and a seemingly endless supply of timely goals -- not exactly the best representative for showcasing the World's game abroad.

More astonishing than the run itself, before dispatching 19-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo and host Portugal in the final that year, the Greeks had failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, embarrassing themselves with qualifying losses to UEFA minnows Albania and Finland on the way to disgracing a soccer-mad nation.

To that point, a lot of things can change in two years. Along with Greece, three of the competition's past nine winners -- Denmark (1992), Czechoslovakia (1976) and the Netherlands (1988) -- failed to qualify for preceding World Cups before claiming European glory. In terms of that fun little stat, it's safe to assume the Republic of Ireland and, well, the Swedes are the teams to watch despite both being in extremely difficult groups with near insurmountable odds -- much like the Blue and White before them in 2004.

Based on current form and both sides having top-class goalkeepers, Ireland and Sweden are capable of patching together at least four points during the group stage and slipping into the quirky quarterfinals as Greece did in 2004.

On four points after falling 2-1 to the Russians on the final day of group play, the Greeks were fortunate to go through in place of Spain, which finished even with Greece on four points and goal difference but happened to score fewer goals.

The Cardiac Kids would go on to string together three knockout-phase wins, with each game-winning goal coming well into the second half or extra time.

As spelled out by then Greek captain Theo Zagorakis in a BBC interview: "We proved once again that the Greek soul is, and always will be, our strength."

Most would argue it was simply a mix of cagey defending, a boring display in the final third and the hot hand of Antonios Nikopolidis, who was for a brief period considered one of the top goalkeepers in the world after preserving clean sheets against France, the Czech Republic and Portugal from the quarterfinal on during Euro 2004.

With UEFA already announcing plans to add an additional knockout round of 16 to what will be a 24-team tournament four years from now in France, Cinderella winners might become a thing of the past. In 2016, there undoubtedly will be a more difficult path to reaching the Cup final.

Regardless of the restructuring, fellow countrymen and soccer purists around the world will wait with bated breath to see which non-soccer power -- potentially one of the two host nations -- employs the right tactics and uses a bit of luck before becoming the world's soccer darling for at least a summer.

Listed alongside Ireland and Denmark at 80-to-1 as the least likely squads to capture UEFA's top honour, the odds-makers are once again penning an early exit for Greece. Who could blame the bookies after the world witnessed such a miserable effort by the Blue and White at the most recent World Cup in South Africa?

With Greece a long shot to emerge from the weakest group and string a few wins together it's anyone's best guess as to who will secure passage to the last eight, other than perennial world powers Germany and Spain.

While improbable, outside of England showcasing well at an international tournament (I couldn't resist), Euro history has shown that just about anything is possible. And you can take that all the way to the bank.


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