Good draw for the Dutch

The groups for Euro 2008 have already been drawn for almost a week now.

Group A

Czech Republic

– Not a very convoluted group. Portugal and Czech to qualify from the group with some degree of authority. Turkey may be the dark horses but the hosts, Switzerland are licking lips and eyeing an upset or two. I’m suggesting that the Portuguese and the Czechs are favourites to qualify as they have stars in their respective teams who can make a difference; Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. with probably Jan Koller and his Czech friends to entertain. I’m quite unfamiliar with the Turkish team this time round although they possess some dearth of talent in the form of Yildiray Basturk and Hamit Altintop who ply their trade in the German Bundesliga although what flashes I’ve seen of them do not suggest something very special like Ronaldo or the fused Czech team. Switzerland did ok at the last World Cup 2006 although they could obviously count on home support and environment this time round to boost their chances.

Group B


– Heil Deutschland! 2 predominantly German-speaking countries paired up in a reasonably straightforward group as well. Poland may have it all to do, despite topping their group A ahead of Portugal, Serbia and Belgium. Croatia looked good to qualify; Germany could well follow them. Austria simply lacked the type of flair and attacking verve of the top teams of Europe. It’d be interesting to see what sort of challenge the Polish team can muster this time round but Croatia’s big-time experience earned in the English Premier League (Corluka, Eduardo da Silva, Kranjcar) can mean a world of difference.

Group C


– No, I wasn’t sarcastic when I hinted at the title that it’s a good draw for the Dutch. If you happen to look and take part in the survey at ESPN Soccernet, many soccerphiles voted Netherlands to be the first big-name casualty from this group. Their rating of 38% (as of December 4 2007) is way ahead of
France (33%) and Italy (28%) from a total of 68, 580 votes. Romania took a heady lead over the dour Dutch in their qualifying group and no wonder – the Romanians demonstrated discipline and level-headedness to take command of their group and that has influenced the decision of these voters no doubt.

But as you can see, the French at 33% is also not very comfortable. They won against Italy once in the group but not so many betted the Italians to be on their way out this time round. The reigning World champions were also made to work for their qualifying ticket but with so many big names in their setup, the survey results are quite justified. The Italians may not be playing the sort of football which won them the World Cup 2006 but so are the French to reach the finals itself. The obvious candidate for an early trip home are the Dutch, who would be playing with roughly the same team as the previous World Cup and are under the same strategy and coaching methods of Marco van Basten. Roberto Donadoni may be a surprise appointment for the Azzurri but he has proven that pressure mattered nothing to him. Raymond Domenech may be a controversial fellow with club managers, some players and the French media but he’s his ability to spin out a World Cup runners-up position in his first national team appointment. The enviable riches of talent which the ‘Les Bleus’ have at their disposal is probably the reason but to manage all of these egos to their full potential is another thing.

Now, I think that the Oranje has had a kind draw because the other big teams in the group are favourites to qualify and if that is anything to go by, the ‘dark horse’ tag meant that the Oranje has to work very hard for their next round and industry alone could well work in the Dutch favour. If team ethic and togetherness are hallmarks of the van Basten era, then let this be the sole strength for their drive towards the quarterfinals. They’d have to negotiate a passage against the Romanians, though but home advantage won’t work for the Romanians this time anyway.

Group D


– Curious matches this. Spain boast some extraordinary talent in their lineups but Sweden can also rely on their teamwork and team chemistry to perform some wonders. Defending champions Greece are at it again – last time, nobody tipped them to win Euro 2004 and they still have the same coach this time round to inspire them. Guus Hiddink’s Russia are somewhat lucky to qualify at England’s expense and could be first-round casualty. Still, with some solid 6 months or so before the Euro 2008 proper, there’s still time to weave the Guus magic. Spain looked set to qualify; Sweden and Greece would contest the next spot. Russia may scrape through but nothing can be absolutely certain in this group.

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