Euro 2012 Group Stage Predictions and Betting

The beautiful game is finally back on an international level. It was a shocking year in the European domestic leagues. Surprising teams like Manchester City and Real Madrid shocked the superpowers like Manchester United and Barcelona to take the Premier League and the La Liga championships. Chelsea stunned Barcelona in the Champions League and beat Bayern Munich to take the title. Everything in the soccer world is upside down right now. Will Euro 2012 international play provide us with as many shocks as the domestic and champions leagues did? Here are my predictions for the Euro 2012 Group Stages. Group A Group A is the weakest of the four in my opinion. There are no true standout teams, and very few superstars to be on the lookout for. Poland is one of the co hosts of the tournament, so some pundits would give them the leg up on the competition, but I don't buy into that. Poland is fielding a very young team, and will likely struggle to score against teams like Greece and the Czech Republic, who feature Petr Cech, one of the top goalies in the world. The Russians are many expert's pick, featuring a young, talented squad and great coaching. I will go out on a limb here and pick the Czech Republic to win the group. I am banking on Cech having another stand out performance, as he did in the Champions League, and shutting down the young squads in the group. I see the Russians behind them as the second squad advancing into the knockout stage. Group B Every international soccer tournament features a "Group of Death", where there are no easy matches. Euro 2012 is no different, featuring an extremely tough Group B. The Netherlands, Germany, Portugal and Denmark will square off and only two of the four can continue in the tournament, meaning that one of the tournament favorites is going home after the group stage. Portugal features the best player in the tournament, Cristiano Ronaldo, who is coming off a campaign where he led Real Madrid to the Championship in La Liga. His 60 goals on the season were second only to Lionel Messi, who will be watching Euro from his couch in Argentina. Ronaldo is an elite talent, but the Portuguese have been chronic underachievers at international tournaments, constantly bowing out before critics expect them to. Ronaldo has disappeared in most of the international tournaments to date, and I don't expect much more from him this time around. I don't like the Portuguese defense or their depth so I expect them to be eliminated in the group stage. The Netherlands has had some fantastic runs lately. They defied expectations and made it to the World Cup finals, only to come up short against a vastly superior Spanish side. The Dutch have a tough squad full of experience and sublime talent. Robin Van Persie is one of the best young forwards in the world, and Arjen Robben is coming off a fantastic campaign for Bayern Munich, where he helped lead them to the Champions League finals. The Dutch midfield and defense is full of experience and grit, and I expect them to advance to the knockout stage. The German team is looking like a favorite to win the entire tournament. They were a tough out in the World Cup, which featured an excellent blend of upcoming youth, and veteran savvy. This squad is no different. Miroslav Klose returns as a veteran leader who still has a knack for finding the net, alongside a young squad featuring future stars like Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil, and players in their prime like Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Most of the players on this team are coming off winning seasons, either having won the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund, or advancing to the finals of the Champions League with Bayern Munich. I expect the Germans to win the group and contend for the title. The Denmark team is young and underrated, but cannot be mentioned in the same breath as the Dutch, Germans or Portuguese. In any other group they may have had a chance to upset some teams and come in second, but not in the Group of Death. Group C Group C features the Spanish team which is looking to make history by winning three consecutive international tournaments. They've won the previous Euro, and the World Cup. There are not many teams that can match the speed, talent and midfield dominance that the Spanish side has. This team has an abundance of talent. David Villa is missing the tournament with a broken leg, but that hasn't stopped any experts from picking them to win it all. There will be more pressure on Fernando Torres to score the big goals, but with such a stellar attacking midfield, and veteran savvy and talent across the entire roster, I expect the Spanish to win the group and make the final. The Italian squad has been rocked by controversy and scandal. More match fixing allegations has left a sour taste in the mouths of the Italian soccer community. A strong showing in Euro 2012 could go a long way towards bringing some positivity back to Italian soccer. Gone are the veteran stalwarts like Del Piero, Totti, and Cannavaro. Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon will provide the guidance to a young team featuring rising stars like Mario Balotelli, Cassano, and Di Natale. I expect a strong showing from the Italians and a berth in the knockout stage. If Buffon can display his heroics on the international stage again, the Italians could surprise someone in the second round. The Irish and Croatian teams are both strong sides who will fight tooth and nail to make it to the second round. I expect that the Spanish team will easily dispatch both of these teams, but that they will provide great competition to the Italians and to each other. Many experts have named the Croatians as a dark horse in the tournament, but if Buffon is on top of his game, the Italians will beat the Croatians for the second spot in the group. Group D Group D features two teams that have had terrible recent showings on the international stage. France bowed out of the World Cup at the Group Stage, and the English haven't won anything since '66. The English team didn't even QUALIFY for the previous Euro tournament. The French and English are typically international powerhouses, but both teams are enigmas for the upcoming tournament. The French side has gone over a massive overhaul since the World Cup in South Africa. Gone are their coach, and many of the mainstays of the French attack like Zidane and Anelka. The French still have many top flight talents on their squad. Samir Nasri, Franck Ribery, Florent Malouda and Karim Benzema have all had great years on winning sides, and Hugo Lloris is arguably the best goaltender in the entire group. They have some top flight defensive players like Gael Clichy, and Patrice Evra. Nobody knows what to expect from this squad, and the expectations are low, so I expect this squad to qualify for the knockout stage. The English team is always a favorite in the minds of the English football fan. The rest of the world knows that they are a talented squad, yet they always underachieve. They get plagued by bad calls, goaltending gaffes, or disappearing acts from their top players. This years side is no different, except they are dealing with drama and injuries. Gone for the tournament are Frank Lampard and Gary Cahill, two starters. Wayne Rooney is suspended for the first two games of the tournament. That leaves the scoring in the hands of Jermaine Defoe, Theo Walcott and Andy Carroll. The midfield will miss Lampards creativity, but the English will hope that Steven Gerrard has one more tournament in him to show his quality. I expect this team to advance, but barely. The young Swedish team will pose problems for the English defense, that is missing Cahill and surprisingly didn't take Rio Ferdinand, who has been a stalwart on defense for the English over the last ten years. john Terry is dealing with controversy and isn't the once dominant defender that he used to be. If Rooney comes back on fire, the English could go far. If he disappears again, the Brits could go home early. The Ukrainians and Swedes feature mainly young teams with little to no expectations. The home field advantage that Ukraine has will probably not provide them with much of an advantage over the other veteran squads in the group. Andriy Shevchenko is way past his prime, and I expect him to retire after this tournament. The Swedes could surprise the English or the French, but I think that the talent levels on those sides will allow them both to advance.