After nearly a month of “football-drought”, Euro 2012 is finally arriving. Who will be the kings of European football this time around? Will the “total football” of the Dutch finally triumph, will the ‘possession football’ of Spain shine once again, or will the “attacking football” of the young and talented Germans outdo both of them? For me, these three are the favourites to win the title though you can’t rule out the resurgent French squad.
For a person who can never support Brazil and Argentina (don’t know if that will change in the future), Euro sometimes feel more exciting than even the World Cup. Before going further, I have to confess that in international football, my support changes from one tournament to the next (or next to next!). As for club football, I am a die-hard Arsenal supporter since the Invincibles era-Dennis Bergkamp who had the best footballing brain and Henry the best and most condifent striker of that era. Barcelona comes a close second with their mesmerising football. As for international football, my support hinges on who is my favourite player at that particular time. As a young lad, I supported Germany in the infamous 1990 World Cup final against Argentina in which the Germans triumph. The next World Cup was a disappointment for me as Germany were eliminated early in the tournament (hardly watch the live matches those days, mostly replays as there were very few TV sets in Lamka).
Then came the 1998 World Cup during which a certain Zinedine Zidane impressed me so much with his coolness, calmness and playmaking ability that till today I consider him the best footballer. No, the best footballer for me is not Pele or Maradona surpass as I was still so young or not even in the picture during the heydeys of these two legends. Because of Zinedine Zidane, I came to support France in the 1998 World Cup and 2000 Euro both of which France won due to the inspirational Zidane, or Zizou as they call him. World Cup 2002 and Euro 2004 also were big disappointments as France were at their worst. In his last international tournament, World Cup 2006, Zidane didn’t disappoint and entertained the writer with his usual cool and slick passing which saw France enter the finals. But in the finals, his infamous headbutting of Materazzi and his eventual sending off led to the defeat of France at the hands of my perennial non-favourties Italy.
After the end of the Zidane era, came the Spanish midfield trio of Xavi Hernandez, Iniesta (of Barcelona) and Fabregas (Arsenal, who else). So, my loyalties shift to Spain who were potential underachievers, rightly called the best team to have never won a major tournament till that time. They didn’t disappoint me by winning both the Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010. All this while, I am an admirer of Dutch “total football” which produces one of the greatest crop of footballer like Dennis Bergkamp, Van basten, Kluivert, Ruud Gullit, Robin van Persie, Sneijder, etc. My dream final happened in 2010 World Cup when Spain and Netherlands met in the final. I was spoilt for choice as to who to support and at last eventually went for Spain(because of who else but Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas who was the captain of Arsenal at that time). This time around, with Xavi in his twilight and Fabregas having shifted his loyalties, I am going to go for the Netherlands who I feel deserves a major trophy at long last, and because of none other than the Arsenal captain Robin van Persie who is the best footballer in the world for me at present (I know many of you will say I am biased and that Messi and Ronaldo are much better. But then...)
Forgive me for digressing, now I will analyse the teams that I think have a shot at conquering Europe this summer (my top 5).
Perennial favourties at every major tournament, or rather perennial paper tigers but perennial underachievers. Marred by selection problems (Ferdinand) coupled with injury (Lampard, Barry, etc) and a new coach. But still have potential in their ranks. Some fans have already written them of saying the coach, Roy Hodgson favoured Liverpool players. But write them off at your own risk. If the coach can find the right combination, this team is capable of beating any team on their day. With the young, talented Joe Hart between the posts, and very solid defenders in John Terry, Lescott, Cahill, Jagielka, Cole, Baines, Jones, Johnson, etc, this team boasts of one of the best defensive units in Euro 2012. With the hardworking Scott Parker in defensive midfield, captan Stephen Gerrard as the link between defence and attack in Central Midfield, and if the coach choose an attacking line-up of Oxlade Chamberlain as Central Attacking Midfielder (I know he’s untested, but he has got bags of talent and loads of confidence. His performance in this position during the second leg of Champions League match between Arsenal and AC Milan is testimony to that), Walcott as Right Winger (I know he’s sometimes so frustrating but on his day, nobody can stop him), Ashley Young as Left Winger and Rooney as the Lone Striker. Except for the first two matches (with Rooney suspended) in which the coach should use Welbeck instead of that Carroll. This is my starting 11: GK-Hart, RB-Johnson, CB-Cahill and Lescott (no Terry, he’s past his prime), LB-Ashley Cole, DM-Scott Parker, CM-Gerrard, CAM-Ox, RW-Walcott, LW-Young, STR-Rooney, formation 4-3-3.
Hopefully, the problems of 2010 World Cup are behind them now. With very good goalkeepers like Lloris and Steve Mandanda in their ranks and good defenders like Patrice Evra, Laurent Koscielny (most improved Arsenal player), Gale Clichy, Adil Rami, Mexes and Debucy (never or rarely watch the last three play but heard of their talent), this team woulnd’t leak too many goals. With a midfield talent which boasts of Yohan Cabaye and Ben Arfa of Newcastle, Yann M’Vila (only watch youtube compilations of his play as he is an Arsenal target, called the next Patrick Viera and Makelele, so he must be damn good), Samir Na$ri and Mathieu Valbuenan And a striking position which boasts of Karim Benzema and Oliver Giroud (apparently another Arsenal target and Frence Lique 1 top scorer). I bet my money this team will be in the semi-finals and I will not be surprised if it even gets to the final. Couldn’t choose my starting 11 and formation as I hardly watch this new-look French team play but I do hope Koscielny gets the nod in central defence. Would love to watch Arsenal target M’Vila play to see how good he really is.
Will Spain create history and win a hat-trick of titles and will their possession, one-touch football triumph once again. The absence of Puyol in defence and Villa in attack may prove to be their Achilles’ heel, but a midfield which boasts of Busquets, Alonso, David Silva, Juan Mata, Xavi, Iniesta and Fabgregas can never be written off. Pass-masters, whose passing looked as if they were perfectly planned (I don’t remember who said this, but it’s a very famous footballer) during the FIFA World Cup 2010. Will they be able to re-create their midfield magic again. It would be a real selection headeache for the coach, Vicente del Bosque. Would love to see the twisting, turning and inch-perfect passing of Xavi again for this may well be his last major tournament (He’d be 34 by the time the next World Cup comes around, but he has a truly worthy successor in Fabregas). Xabi Alonso’s long pass, Iniesta’s dribbles and Silva’s tantalizing runs and passes around the opponent’s box will be a joy to watch. My only worry is where will the talented and too-good-to-be-a-bench-player Fabregas fit in? Will he just warm the bench, will the coach rotate him with the aging Xavi or will this be his big moment? Same goes for David Silva who is too good to just warm the bench. Will the coach go for the out of form Fernando Torres or Fernando Llorente? Torres was one of my favourite strikers and there was a time when he strike fear in the hearts of defenders, especially during Euro 2008 and his heydays at Liverpool. Has he lost his mojo forever or will he get his groove back? He seems to be the less preferred option now at both club and country where Drogba and Villa are clearly first choice. But injury to David Villa may present a chance to redeem himself? Will be be Spain’s saviour once again (like when he scored the lone winning goal in Euro 2008 against Germany) or will he squander his chances again, and squander Spain’s opportunity of creating history. My starting 11 will be, hmm, it’s too difficult to choose the midfield so I would rather leave it to the coach!
So much young talent in a squad, it’s unbelievable! The senior team members like Mertesaker, Schweinsteiger, Podolski and Lahm (no one in their 30s execpt Klose) are there for a long time now, but they are still very young and very experienced. Sami Khedira, Mesult Ozil, Thomas Mueller have now played at the highest level both at club and country although they are still very young. And with talented Toni Kroos, Lars Bender, Andre Schurrle, Mario Goetze and Marco Reus breathing down their necks, the old-timers will give their all. Not to mention the confident, young and talented keeper in Neuer. After having lost to Spain in the final of Euro 2008 and semi-finals of World Cup 2010, will lady luck finally smile on them or will Spain be the stumbling block again. Only time will tell, but in terms of talent, this team is second to none. And if they continue to play the type of attacking footbally on display during World Cup 2010, they will continue to win many hearts along the way. There is a big question who will have a bigger headache in terms of squad selection between Joachim Low and Vicente del Bosque! Be surprised if they don’t win this tournament! It may be a problem of plenty.
When Arsenal’s Captain “Vantastic”, Robin van Persie says that he is not sure whether he is the first choice striker in this Dutch team, you would have to take notice. If you think Low and del Bosque are the only coaches that have to deal with selection-headache, think again. Van Marjwik’s job is in no way easier. Will he choose the Premier League’s top scorer upfront or will he choose the Bundesliga top scorer, Klas Jan Huntelaar, who is the top scorer in Euro 2012 qualifying? But can he ignore the form of van Persie’s season at Arsenal? Or will he opt for 4-4-2 by playing both of them? With an attackling line-up that boasts of van Persie, Huntelaar, Robben, Affellay, van der Vaart and Sneijer, will the Dutch “total football” find European glory again? I hope so. This team with van Bommel, De Jong, Mathisen, Heitinga, Sketelenberg, etc is too good to not win a major title. And with most of the senior squad in their 30s, this will well be their last chance to win silverware. So they must really be motivated. With the Dutch grouped with Germany in the group stages and if both get pass the first hurdle, they will not meet till the finals, my dream final this Euro is to see them play in the final match again. I would go for a Dutch win because of their superior strikeforce.
Well, that’s it for now. Happy football ecstasy for the next three weeks!