Now that I’ve done with the favourites (my own choice, at least) for Euro 2012, it’s time to look at those dark horses. Teams that I won’t necessarily wage my house on but worth a small punt if the prices are right. Teams that will go into the tournament without much chance of winning it but could rise to the occasion and spring a surprise or two. After all, no one gave Greece a ghost of a chance in 2004 but they did it nonetheless. There’s 4 teams in my mind who could do it. Here’s the first two, though normally not teams one would associate with being a dark horse.
First up – England
The best league in the world, or so they would have you think. Now, while I’m a massive Gooner, I don’t quite consider it as the best in the world. For excitement value, yes. But not so much for in terms of general quality. At this point, I would still have the La Liga ahead and perhaps even the Bundesliga are inching in between the Premier League and the Spanish equivalent.
Depending on where you come from and what media you usually read, you will have different opinion on this.
Every tournament that they go into, England considers themselves as potential winners. The same cannot be said for this time around. They will touch down at Poland full of doubts and problems. Fabio Capello left the jobs barely months back and the “unfavoured” Roy Hodgson has taken over. There’s a wrath of injuries besetting the squad, with many first choice starters unavailable for selection. Their best striker suspended for the first two games for a ridiculously stupid act in the qualifiers. Oh, and the Golden Generation spiralling into old age.
Most of the talk surrounds the fact that going into the tournament as underdogs could suit them and that might lead to a successful tournament. Yet, from another standpoint, no one ever truly says that without preserving some notion of them being successful in the first place. All said and done though, this is probably the weakest England team going into any tournament. The caveat is here, the best England team going into any tournament hasn’t done any much better either. So who’s to say.
Hodgson has only a short period of time to acclimatise with the players and get them to gel in the system that he prefers to set out. It’s typically a 4-4-2 and given their round of friendlies against both Norway and Belgium, he won’t divert from that. Joe Hart is a sure starter and England will be hoping that the consistency that he has shown in 2011/12 season continues in Poland/Ukraine. The backline has suffered with injuries, as it stands Johnson, Terry, Lescott and Cole looks the likeliest starters.
In midfield, Scott Parker seemed to have cemented his place as the sole defensive midfield role with captain, Steven Gerrard guaranteed a starting place. Even though Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was given a start against Belgium, I still think that Theo Walcott will be reinstated back on the right hand side with James Milner preferred over Stewart Downing on the other flank. Up top, it will be Ashley Young with another before Wayne Rooney returns. I should think Andy Carroll is a good shout because not many defenders in the tournament will be familiar or even comfortable coming up against a player like him.
It’s hard to see where the creativity is going to come from for England. They will surely be stout in defending and all their matches could be very close with just a goal being enough to win the tie. Not one for the purist but Hodgson is tactically astute enough to know what’s required at this level. Whether he has enough time to instil that for this tournament remains to be seen.
Prediction : Quarter finalist
Being a host country always has it advantages and that is one of the reasons why I’m selecting Poland as one of the dark horses. It was a straight fight between them and Ukraine. Given the players they have in their respective squads, I went for Poland. Not more than 6 of them are playing at home in the Polish league. Franciszek Smuda has players spread out all around Europe and in some of the top clubs in the world will be the ones he will depend on in their only their second ever appearance in European Championship finals.
While Arsenal only have a single representative in the Polish squad, Wojciech Szczesny and the contingent of players from Borussia Dortmund will from the spine of the team. That includes Lukasz Piszczcek in defence, Jacub Blaszczykowski in midfield and Robert Lewandowski in attack. These players carry the experience brought with them from the pressure and expectation of playing for their respective squads.
I would be lying to you if I said I know a lot about this Polish side apart from those I mentioned in the paragraph earlier. Which is why I’m emphasizing a lot on the impact that these players could bring to the squad. In Szczesny, Smuda has one of the most talented young keepers available in the world right now. Someone who belies his youthful nature with the confidence that he brings to any side and the authority in which he commands in the penalty box.
Lewandowski who scored 30 goals in all competitions for Dortmund last season is the star man at the opposite end of the pitch. He has really come into his own last season, so much so that a striker that Dortmund depended so much on his the 1st of their consecutive Bundesliga title, Lucas Barrios, has not being much of a look in the side. As prove at club level, he has the capability of playing up front alone and holds the ball well while waiting for back-ups. Most pundits have him as the dark house for the Golden Boot and I’m more than willing to go with that.
In between these two, there’s the attacking prowess of Piszczcek from a full back role while Blaszczykowski or better known as Kuba can combine well on the same flank to provide a little bit of familiarity to the side. Just like Spain has done with using a spine of Barcelona in midfield, for Poland to have these two combining with Lewandowski could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Smuda.
One player to take note is Rafal Wowski who plays for Legia Warsaw. The 19 year old midfielder is the only uncapped player picked by Smuda for the finals. That is until he played in the friendly against Latvia recently. Not much would be expected of him in this tournament but like the 11 other players in the squad who are all age 25 and under, a lot could be learn during this tournament that can be useful to help them qualify for Brazil 2014.
The home side is always spurred on by a vacuous home support and the same could happen to Poland. They are not in the toughest of groups and a good start to the campaign could be the springboard for their continuous participation in the tournament. Greece being the tournament’s first match and their opponent will be a tough nut to crack but that’s a big chance for them to start on the right foot. Even as a host nation, they don’t have much pressure to succeed but with Russia being the only team who looks on paper much better than them, Poland do have a big chance.
Prediction : Quarter finalist