Each day this week we’re getting you ready for Euro 2012, the European soccer championships, hosted by Poland and Ukraine. Yesterday we previewed Group A, today we check out Group B.
GROUP B: (Denmark, Germany, Netherlands and Portugal)
In every World Cup or European Championship, there is one group disproportionately stacked with a wealth of talent, which pundits call “The Group of Death.” In Euro 2012, Group B unquestionably qualifies for that title. Three of the teams have lifted the European Cup before—only Portugal has yet to do so. With all four teams currently ranked in the Top-10 in the world, it may be the strongest group in tournament history.
Nickname: Danish Dynamite
World Ranking: 9
Though the lowest-ranked team in Group B, Denmark comes into Euro 2012 as winners of their qualifying group over Portugal. The Danes will be hoping for a repeat of Euro 1992, when their squad surprised everyone by winning the whole tournament. Against Germany, Netherlands and Portugal, that will be quite the challenge. Denmark is young, led by 20-year-old midfielder Christian Eriksen and striker Nicklas Bedtner. Eriksen had a great season for his club team in Holland, where he scored 7 goals and had 17 assists. He’ll be the engine that runs the offense, setting up his teammates and spreading the field with his passing. If he’s as effective with his country as he was with his club, Ajax, then the Danes may spring an upset and qualify out of this tough group.
Nickname: Die Nationalmannschaft or Mannschaft (The National Team)
World Ranking: 3
While Spain has enjoyed recent dominance of world soccer, the Germans remain the model of consistency in the international game. Three times the World Cup champion (1954, 1974, 1990) and three times the European champion (1972, 1980, 1996), Germany has finished third in the last two World Cups and second place in Euro 2008. Considering the national team’s pedigree, it speaks volumes that this German squad is being considered one of the best in its history. They won all 10 games in qualifying, scoring 34 goals along the way. The squad has a wealth of attacking riches in forwards Lukas Podolski, Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez as well as talented midfielders in Mesut Özil, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Müller. Their flowing, attacking style of play is one you won’t want to miss.
World Ranking: 4
At the 2010 World Cup, Netherlands made it to the Final, losing to Spain 1-0 in extra time. The Brilliant Orange were less than brilliant in that performance, playing a cagey, physical defensive style their fans back home didn’t enjoy very much. Since then their offensive spark returned, with the Dutch scoring the most goals of any team in qualifying, netting 37 on the way to winning their group. Striker Robin van Persie, who plays for Arsenal in England, will lead the way. He’s had rocky performances at previous major tournaments and will need to come up big to get the Netherlands through to the knockout rounds. Midfielder Wesley Sneijder directs the team like a point guard and Arjen Robben will make runs down the right side of the field, creating chances for himself and teammates. Don’t be surprised if you see the Dutch lifting the European Cup in a few weeks time.
Nickname: Seleçao das Quinas (Selection of the Shields)
World Ranking: 10
With Cristiano Ronaldo, the best player in the world not named Lionel Messi, Portugal can win any match it enters. However, the Euro 2004 finalists (lost to Greece 1-0) struggled through qualifying, firing their manager after two games, coming in second to Denmark and needing to beat Bosnia and Herzegovina in a playoff in November to make it into Euro 2012. Ronaldo has carried a heavy burden as the leader of the team and hasn’t performed as well for his country as he does for his club, Real Madrid. He’ll get some help from midfielder Nani, who plays for Manchester United. However, Portugal may not have the firepower to get past the Netherlands and Germany.
Matches You Need to Watch
Really, you need to watch every game in this group—they’ll all be that good. The best will be the clash between bitter rivals Germany and the Netherlands on June 13 at 2:45 EST. Here’s the full schedule for Group B so you don't miss a single kick of the ball:
JUNE 9 Netherlands vs. Denmark @ 12 p.m.
JUNE 9 Germany vs. Portugal @ 2:45 p.m.
JUNE 13 Denmark vs. Portugal @ 12 p.m.
JUNE 13 Netherlands vs. Germany @ 2:45 p.m.
JUNE 17 Portugal vs. Netherlands @ 2:45 p.m.
JUNE 17 Denmark vs. Germany @ 2:45 p.m.
All times Eastern
Germany, my pick to win the whole tournament, will fight to a first place finish in the Group of Death, while longtime rival, the Netherlands, will come in second.