Croatia Team Profile: The fact that Croatia are ranked eighth in the world according to FIFA says much about the national side’s considerable strengths. Despite only gaining independence in 1991, the Croatians have played some impressive football at major tournaments, reaching the quarter-finals at their first Euros in 1996 and finishing third ahead of the Netherlands at the 1998 World Cup in France. Subsequent campaigns have been slightly less eye-catching, however, with the squad failing to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. Yet with manager Slaven Bilić at their helm, they’re more than capable of causing an upset – just ask former England manager Steve McClaren, who no doubt still has nightmares of the 3-2 defeat to Croatia at Wembley, which closed the door on the Three Lions qualifying for Euro 2008. But facing games against Italy and Spain, Croatia will have to be at their very best if they’re to progress past the group stage.
Coach: Slaven Bilić With a rock song that went to number one in Croatia, a law degree and fluency in four languages, Slaven Bilić is not exactly your standard football manager. The former central defender spent the first half of his career with hometown club Hajduk Split, winning the Croatian domestic double in 1992, before moving abroad to German club Karlsruhe SC as well as English sides West Ham and Everton. At international level, Bilić played a significant part in Croatia’s success both at Euro 1996 and the World Cup two years later – experiences he no doubt drew on when he took charge as Croatia’s manager in 2006.
Player to watch: Luka Modric Tottenham Hotspur’s diminutive playmaker is seen as one of the best midfielders in the Premier League, if not the world – ‘Only Kaka is better than Modric,’ is what Slaven Bilić had to say about him. His incisive through-balls, versatility and all-round attacking skills have attracted the attention of big clubs in recent months, not least Manchester United and Chelsea, the latter trying, yet failing to sign him last summer. Modric’s influence and success at the 2008 European Championships saw him included in the UEFA Team of the Tournament, so expect him to play another key role this year.
Fact Sheet FIFA World Ranking: 8 UEFA Euro Ranking: 21 Number of Euro appearances: 4 Previous best: Quarter-finals at Euro 2008 Qualification: Second in Group F – 21 goals scored, 7 goals against, 84 attempts on target, 86 corners Form (qualifying): DWWLWWWLWWD Fixtures: June 10 vs. Ireland; June 14 vs. Italy; June 18 vs. Spain.
Czech Republic Team Profile: Czechoslovakia won the tournament back in 1976, but since then the Czech Republic has only come close again on two occasions – at Euro 1996, when the team reached the final but fell at the last hurdle thanks to a golden goal strike from Germany’s Oliver Bierhoff, and in 2004, when they were beaten by unlikely winners Greece in the semis after impressive victories over Germany and the Netherlands. Since then, the likes of Pavel Nedved, Patrik Berger and Karel Poborsky have all retired, and the nation has struggled to find replacement stars. A few big names do spring to mind – goalkeeper Petr Cech and captain Tomáš Rosický – and the team did well to secure qualification in the play-offs, but you’d be brave to put your money on this lot winning.
Coach: Michal Bilek At club level, midfielder Bilek was mainly associated with Sparta Prague, having both played for and managed the team, winning the Czech league in his first season in charge. He gained 35 international caps, first with Czechoslovakia and then briefly with the newly independent Czech Republic, scoring a total of 11 goals for his country. But Bilek’s managerial experience at international level is still relatively limited; he only took charge of the national side in late 2009. That said, he can draw on the experience of former Liverpool player Vladimír Šmicer, who joined his coaching staff at the same time. Getting the Czech supporters behind them has proved difficult though.
Player to watch: Petr Cech The formidable Chelsea goalkeeper holds some of the most impressive accollades in football, including the Premier League record for the longest amount of time not to concede a goal and the fewest appearances required to reach 100 clean sheets – just 180 league appearances. His form may have wavered since the glory days under Jose Mourinho (remember Cech’s Euro 2008 howler against the Turks?), but he still takes some beating, as his instinctive saves at in this year’s FA Cup final at Wembley and a Champions League winner's medal prove.
Fact Sheet FIFA World Ranking: 26 UEFA Euro Ranking: 19 Number of Euro appearances: 13 Previous best: Winners in 1976 Qualification: Runners-up in Group I – 15 goals scored, eight goals against, 47 attempts on target, 64 corners Form (qualifying): LWWLWDLWWW Fixtures: June 8 vs. Russia; June 12 vs. Greece; June 16 vs. Poland
Denmark Team Profile: Having won the tournament once before in 1992 thanks to the talents of the Laudrup brothers and, erm, John Jensen, the Danes must now rely on the likes of Nicklas Bendtner to squeeze goals past the Dutch, Germans and Portuguese in what is arguably the tournament’s toughest group. Good luck with that. However, if there was ever a man to steer a team through such a tough draw, then it would have to be Morten Olsen, the only man in history to reach 100 international games as a player and coach, plus he’s coached Denmark for a full 12 years. Still, don’t expect to see the Danes reach the quarter-finals.
Coach: Morten Olsen The former defensive midfielder played a key role in his days as a player for Denmark, and he continues to exert that influence as the side’s manager. Appointed in 2000, Olsen guided the Danes to the knock-out stages of both the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004, but his team failed to qualify for the following two major tournaments. And although he returned to the limelight of international football two years ago at the World Cup in South Africa, the team dropped out in the group stage. Euro 2012 may well be his last attempt at glory, as he has expressed a desire to step down.
Player to watch: Christian Eriksen Having grown into a key player for Dutch side Ajax in recent months, the young attacking midfielder has shown great promise and it’s hoped he’ll reach the lofty heights of fellow countryman and Danish legend Michael Laudrup. He completed trials at both Barcelona and Chelsea, before eventually signing for Ajax. He had to content himself with two appearances as a substitute at the 2010 World Cup, but there’s no doubt he’ll play a far more significant role in this year’s championships.
Fact Sheet FIFA World Ranking: 9 UEFA Euro Ranking: 13 Number of Euro appearances: 13 Previous best: Winners in 1992 Qualification: Winners of Group H – 15 goals scored, 6 goals against, 44 attempts on target, 38 corners Form (qualifying): WLWDWWWW Fixtures: June 9 vs. Netherlands; June 13 vs. Portugal; June 17 vs. Germany
England Team Profile: It’s last chance saloon for the last members of the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ – the likes of Steven Gerard, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole. Euro 2012 will see England’s perennial underachievers pitted against hosts Ukraine, Sweden and France – perhaps one of the easier groups – but whether or not new manager Roy Hodgson can succeed where previous managers have failed remains to be seen. The hope is that England will finally come good and live up to the British media and fans’ expectations. Having failed to even qualify for the last Euros and with only a couple of semi-final appearances as their previous best, quite how England top the EUFA rankings is just weird, but if luck’s on their side and they manage to stave off injury – and avoid a penalty shootout against Germany – you never know, football might just be coming home this year.
Coach: Roy Hodgson Only appointed on May 1 after much speculation over who would replace Fabio Capello, Hodgson may not have been the ‘nation’s favourite’ but can at least boast a managerial career spanning four decades, during which he managed 16 teams in eight different countries. He led Switzerland to the World Cup in 1994 and the Euros two years later – an impressive achievement considering Switzerland had not qualified for a major tournament since the 1960s. Add to this, stints at the helm of Finland and the UAE, along with a host of clubs, including Inter Milan, Blackburn Rovers, Fulham and Liverpool, and you begin to understand why the FA went for Hodgson above Harry Redknapp.
Player to watch: Wayne Rooney Manchester United’s striker may be a walking advert for hair transplants, but there’s no knocking Rooney’s skills on the ball. The former Everton player is England’s youngest ever goal scorer and made his senior international debut aged 17 in 2003, becoming the youngest player to represent England (a record subsequently broken by Theo Walcott). Rooney’s fiery temper, however, has resulted in him being red-carded on numerous occasions, not least during England’s final qualification group stage match against Montenegro, which is why you won’t see him play until England’s third game against Ukraine on June 19.
Fact Sheet FIFA World Ranking: 7 UEFA Euro Ranking: 1 Number of Euro appearances: 12 Previous best: Semi-finals in 1996 Qualification: Winners of Group G – 17 goals scored, 5 goals against, 38 attempts on target, 43 corners Form (qualifying): WWDWDWWD Fixtures: June 11 vs. France; June 15 vs. Sweden; June 19 vs. Ukraine
France Team Profile: With two European Cups in 1984 and 2000 and a World Cup in 1998 already in the bag, Les Bleus have a decent enough track record. But after reaching the World Cup final in 2006 (who can forget Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt?) it’s all been downhill, with a dismal performance at Euro 2008 and a disastrous World Cup campaign two years ago in South Africa, which saw then-manager Raymond Domenich publicly lambasted by his own players, prompting a government inquiry. Since then the new manager has managed to steady the ship, resulting in a relatively smooth passage through Euro 2012 qualification and an unbeaten run of 17 games. Finding themselves alongside England in Group D, France won’t be quivering with fear when they meet the Three Lions – they are unbeaten in the two sides’ last five clashes and have won four of these.
Coach: Laurent Blanc Nicknamed ‘Le Président’, Blanc made his professional debut with Montpellier in 1983 and went on to play for various European clubs, including Barcelona, Marseille and Manchester United, plus he was part of the French sides that lifted the World Cup and European Cup in 1998 and 2000 respectively. His managerial career is still in its infancy, starting in 2007 with a successful stint at the head of Bordeaux, followed by his appointment as France coach in the aftermath of the team’s shambolic, mutinous performance in South Africa. But he does seem to have his players’ backing.
Player to watch: Karim Benzema Having struggled to find form and convince the previous France manager to include him in his line-up, Benzema has finally been finding the net and turning out strong performances – both for the national side and his club, Real Madrid. The 23-year-old striker made his professional debut with Lyon in 2004 but had to wait another three years for his breakthrough season, in which he netted 31 goals in 51 games. After signing for Real Madrid in 2009, Benzema has grown season by season and is now rightly seen as a potent attacking force, having already surpassed Zinedine Zidane as the top French scorer in Spain’s La Liga.
Fact Sheet FIFA World Ranking: 16 UEFA Euro Ranking: 6 Number of Euro appearances: 13 Previous best: Winners in 1984 and 2000 Qualification: Winners of Group D – 15 goals scored, 4 goals against, 64 attempts on target, 68 corners Form (qualifying): LWWWWDWDWD Fixtures: June 11 vs. England; June 15 vs. Ukraine; June 19 vs. Sweden
Germany Team Profile: With three World Cup and three European Championship trophies already in the cabinet, Germany are among the world’s most successful footballing nations. Highly organised and disciplined are perhaps clichéd descriptions of Germany’s game, but recent tournament performances under Jürgen Klinsmann and current manager Joachim Löw have produced some breathtaking attacking displays. You’d be crazy not to expect them to do well – as Franz Beckenbauer discovered during the last Euros, when he wrote off Germany’s chances of beating Portugal in the quarter-finals, only to be made to eat his words following their 3-2 victory. But there won’t be any surprises this summer; the Germans’ road to qualification yielded an impressive ten wins from ten matches, with veteran striker Miroslav Klose still proving he’s got what it takes, netting nine times along the way. Plus you can rely on them not to bottle it during a penalty shootout. Mark our words: never write off the Germans.
Coach: Joachim Löw Joachim ‘Jogi’ Löw’s career as a player lacked sparkle, most of it spent playing for German second-division club Freiburg. The former midfielder’s managerial career at club level saw him in charge of various lowly German and Austrian sides, plus short stints at the helm of Stuttgart and Fenerbahce. It was only when he joined the German national team as Jürgen Klinsmann’s assistant that Löw entered the limelight, receiving praise for the new attacking football he and Klinsmann introduced to the team. Since taking over as manager in July 2006, it’s been almost entirely positive, with only world and European champions Spain preventing Germany from lifting trophies at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.
Player to watch: Mesut Özil The 23-year-old Real Madrid winger was relatively unknown before he turned in impressive performances during the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, for which he was nominated for the Golden Ball Award (awarded to the tournament’s best player). His speed and play-making qualities have earned him the No.10 shirt and helped him gain an impressive number of assists with the Spanish La Liga giants. He was also shortlisted for this year’s Ballon d’Or Award.
Fact Sheet FIFA World Ranking: 2 UEFA Euro Ranking: 3 Number of Euro appearances: 11 Previous best: Winners in 1972, 1980 and 1996 Qualification: Winners of Group A – 34 goals scored, 7 goals against, 87 attempts on target, 62 corners Form (qualifying): WWWWWWWWWW Fixtures: June 9 vs. Portugal; June 13 vs. Netherlands; June 17 vs. Denmark
Greece Team Profile: The Greeks pulled off the unlikeliest of achievements at Euro 2004, beating the Portuguese 1-0 on their own soil despite being 100-1 outsiders. They qualified for the Euros once more four years later, but failed to win a single game – and yet here they are again, having topped Group F and beaten favourites Croatia along the way. Unable to boast any standout stars, the side relied on genuine team effort to get them through the qualifiers, with their 14 goals shared among 11 players. Having already proven that they’re more than capable of defying the odds and expectations, it would be folly to dismiss them, especially as they find themselves in a relatively toothless group, alongside co-hosts Poland, Russia and the Czech Republic. Can they pull off another ‘miracle’?
Coach: Fernando Santos You’d have thought following in the footsteps of Otto Rehhagel, the tactician behind Greece’s 2004 success, would have been a daunting task, but Portuguese Fernando Santos has seemingly taken things in his stride. The former Athens, Panathinaikos and PAOK manager oversaw an unbeaten run of 17 games – a Greek record – when he took charge in 2010, his game plan seemingly relying on a solid defence (the team shipped a measly five goals in qualifying) and exploitation of set-pieces, which explains the Greeks’ trademark narrow victories.
Player to watch: Sotiris Ninis Twenty-two-year-old Panathinaikos winger Sotiris Ninis picked up a serious knee injury early during qualification, but is set to recover in time for the finals. He made his senior international debut in 2008 and soon after became Greece’s youngest ever scorer at the age of 18, impressing with his pace and long-range shooting ability. His stunning and ultimately winning solo goal against Israel in Tel Aviv last September helped his side clinch top spot in Group F.
Fact Sheet FIFA World Ranking: 14 UEFA Euro Ranking: 10 Number of Euro appearances: 12 Previous best: Winners in 2004 Qualification: Winners of Group F – 14 goals scored, 5 goals against, 54 attempts on target, 52 corners Form (qualifying): DDWWWWWDWW Fixtures: June 8 vs. Poland; June 12 vs. Czech Republic; June 16 vs. Russia
Ireland Team Profile: Having been robbed of a place in the 2010 World Cup by Thierry Henry’s busy hands, Ireland fans must feel the footballing gods are against them after their team was drawn in a group with holders and World Champions Spain, as well as Croatia and Italy. However, Ireland have little to fear from the world’s best, thanks in large to the stewardship of seasoned Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni. Likewise, the experience of players such as Aston Villa keeper Shay Given and LA Galaxy striker Robbie Keane will provide inspiration to a younger crop of Irish players that includes James McClean of Sunderland. Yet all involved will need the luck of the Irish if they’re to reach the quarter-finals.
Coach: Giovanni Trapattoni Having suggested his side could emulate Greece’s shock victory at Euro 2004, former defender and midfielder Trapattoni will have his work cut out. Not that he hasn’t any personal success as a player to draw on, having played for footballing giants AC Milan, Juventus, Inter Milan, Bayern Munich and Benfica during his career, winning seven major trophies in the process. Player to watch: Robbie Keane The 31-year-old Irish captain may have lost a bit of pace since his side’s last appearance in a major tournament – a full ten years ago at the 2002 World Cup – but there’s no doubting his ability to score goals. With 53 goals to his name in an Ireland shirt, he is his nation’s all-time top scorer, and 25th in the world, which is no mean feat. Having signed for LA Galaxy last August, some might say his days in the top flight are over, but at least he’ll be nicely refreshed for the tournament.
Fact Sheet FIFA World Ranking: 18 UEFA Euro Ranking: 33 Number of Euro appearances: 13 Previous best: Quarter-finals in 1964 Qualification: Runners-up in Group B – 20 goals scored, 8 goals against, 57 attempts on target, 42 corners Form (qualifying): WLDWWDDWWWD Fixtures: June 10 vs. Croatia; June 14 vs. Spain; June 18 vs. Italy
Italy Team Profile: Four-time World Cup winners Italy are a force to be reckoned with, for sure, but their most recent campaign in a major tournament was disastrous and you have to go all the way back to 1968 for their best performance in European competition. That said, the Azzurri did reach the final at Euro 2000 and were unbeaten in qualification en route to this summer’s finals, shipping just two goals. The squad may lack the legends of old – the likes of Roberto Baggio and Alessandro del Piero – but who needs superstars when you’ve got discipline, world-renowned defensive qualities and one of the best goalkeepers in the world? And with manager Cesare Prandelli introducing youth to the team, Italy look like decent contenders – even if they do face current world and European champions Spain in the same group (on the plus side, Italy did beat them in a friendly last year).
Coach: Cesare Prandelli Former Atalanta and Juventus midfielder Prandelli began his coaching career in the youth systems back at Atalanta, but his standout achievements as a manager came at the helm of Fiorentina between 2005 and 2010, securing European football for a side that had previously been battling relegation from Serie A. Prandelli replaced Marcello Lippi as Italy manager following the side’s poor World Cup in 2010, and, despite losing his first game in charge, has seemingly starting to remind his team of their nation’s footballing greatness.
Player to watch: Gianluigi Buffon Buffon’s numerous accolades, which include a record eight Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year awards, underline the 34-year-old Juventus shot-stopper’s impressive skills in front of goal. He is considered by many to be one of the world’s best keepers, a sentiment echoed by Pelé no less, who named him in his list of 125 greatest living footballers in the world. Having tasted plenty of domestic success with Juventus – most recently as unbeaten Serie A champions in the 2011-12 season – and lifted the World Cup trophy in 2006, Buffon has more than shown he has what it takes to perform on the big stage.
Fact Sheet FIFA World Ranking: 12 UEFA Euro Ranking: 4 Number of Euro appearances: 12 Previous best: Winners in 1968 Qualification: Winners of Group C – 20 goals scored, 2 goals against, 60 attempts on target, 50 corners Form (qualifying): WWDWWWWWDW Fixtures: June 10 – vs. Spain; June 14 vs. Croatia; June 18 vs. Ireland
Netherlands Team Profile: The men in orange, known as Oranje to their adoring fans, will be hoping to go one step further than their last campaign in a major tournament, which saw them placed second after Spain in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Images of Nigel de Jong’s karate-style kick on Xabi Alonso will no doubt resurface should the two teams meet again this summer, but the Dutch side aren’t just about physical strength and brawn, qualifying for Euro 2012 with a game to spare, netting more than any other team in the process (including an incredible 11 times at home against San Marino). The Netherlands certainly look like they’re ready to go all the way this year, adding to the only piece of silverware they’ve picked up in 40 years in the top flight of international competitive football, which they earned way back in 1988, when they won the European Championships. But first they’ll have to get through the group stage, where they face formidable opponents Germany and Portugal. It’s going to be mouthwatering stuff.
Coach: Bert Van Marwijk While van Marwijk’s international career as a player never took off, playing for Holland just once in 1975, his record at managerial level got off to a flying start when he took over from Marco van Basten after Euro 2008. The former left winger exceeded expectations by leading the Dutch to the 2010 World Cup final, following flawless qualification. His pragmatic, physical approach to the game against Spain drew considerable criticism, but there’s no denying the confidence he has instilled in his players, who will want to prove themselves once more in June.
Player to watch: Robin van Persie The Arsenal captain will have to beat off competition from striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar if he is to spearhead the Netherlands' preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. But there's no denying that Van Persie has been on fire this season, scoring 30 league goals for the Gunners, earning him the Golden Boot award. RVP made his senior national debut in 2005 and already has 62 caps and 25 international goals. He was part of the squad that lost the 2010 World Cup final, so he’ll be keen to make amends.
Fact Sheet FIFA World Ranking: 4 UEFA Euro Ranking: 8 Number of Euro appearances: 12 Previous best: Winners in 1988 Qualification: Winners of Group E – 37 goals scored, 8 goals against, 83 attempts on target, 63 corners Form (qualifying): WWWWWWWWWL Fixtures: June 9 vs. Denmark; June 13 vs. Germany; June 17 vs. Portugal
Poland Team Profile: Despite the nation’s rich footballing history and achievements (Olympic gold medallists in 1972, and third in the 1974 and 1982 World Cups), Poland has been a dormant force over the past two decades. This is set to change. Not only are Poland co-hosts, but they also boast a team full of exciting young talent, including highly rated Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny and Borussia Dortmund trio Łukasz Piszczek, Jakub Błaszczykowski and Robert Lewandowski (who helped the German club lift the Bundesliga in the 2011-12 season). Coach Smuda has selected a crop of young players who are keen to make their mark on the international stage – and what better place to do so than in front of their home fans?
Coach: Franciszek Smuda Having played in North America in the 1970s and with three Polish league titles under his belt, Poland’s manager, who has managed a total of 15 different clubs in his 28-year career as a manager, has plenty of experience to draw on. Smuda took over from Leo Beenhakker in late 2009 and, despite a lack of football ‘stars’, has managed to produce some respectable results, including a defeat of Argentina last year, albeit against a significantly reduced side lacking the likes of Messi.
Player to watch: Robert Lewandowski The Polish supporters will be hoping 23-three-year-old Borussia Dortmund striker Lewandowski is in form and on target when their team kick off the tournament on June 8. Having scored 13 goals in 39 appearances for his country, the stats suggest he may well be on fire, although with just ten goals in the Bundesliga this season, his club form is slightly less impressive.
Fact Sheet FIFA World Ranking: 65 UEFA Euro Ranking: 20 Number of Euro appearances: Five Previous best: Group stages 2008 Qualification: Automatic (host nation) Form (friendlies): LWDDDWDWWD Fixtures: June 8 vs. Greece; June 12 vs. Russia; June 16 vs. Czech Republic
Portugal Team Profile: Then-host nation Portugal came within a whisker of lifting the trophy at Euro 2004, when they were beaten 1-0 by the tournament’s 100-1 outsiders Greece – a scar in the nation’s collective memory that has failed to heal, as subsequent major championship campaigns have ended with earlier eliminations. At the 2006 World Cup they were inspired by in-form trio Figo, Ronaldo and Deco but had to settle for fourth. Two years later they lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of Euro 2008, despite being widely touted as favourites, while their World Cup campaign in South Africa saw largely laboured performances and defeat to Spain in the last 16. Still, these are admirable results considering Portugal’s relatively small size, and in Cristiano Ronaldo – deemed the second best player in the world after Messi – they have plenty of firepower. Group B is arguably the toughest, however, with Holland and Germany both expecting to progress to the quarter-finals.
Coach: Paulo Bento The former defensive midfielder enjoyed a successful career as a player, winning the Portuguese double with Sporting Lisbon in 2002 shortly before retiring, and his good fortune seems to have continued into his days as a coach. Now aged 42, Bento took over as manager of the Portuguese national side in 2010, after considerable achievements at the helm of Sporting Lisbon – not least helping bring the likes of Nani, João Moutinho and Miguel Veloso through the club’s youth academy. In 2008, he was even linked with becoming Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s new assistant.
Player to watch: Cristiano Ronaldo He would no doubt claim the title of ‘best player on the planet’ for himself, but, officially at least, Ronaldo still plays second fiddle to Argentinian wunderkind Lionel Messi. Not that the rest of the Portuguese squad would complain, relying on the former Manchester United winger’s speed, dribbling, creativity, shooting, set pieces, headers and assists to propel them through the upcoming tournament. The 2011-12 season has proven good practice, too, with Ronaldo breaking the record for hat-tricks in La Liga and finding the net more than 40 times.
Fact Sheet FIFA World Ranking: 5 UEFA Euro Ranking: 5 Number of Euro appearances: 13 Previous best: Finalists in 2004 Qualification: Runners-up in Group H – 27 goals scored, 14 goals against, 79 attempts on target, 81 corners Form (qualifying): DLWWWWWWDW Fixtures: June 9 vs. Germany; June 13 vs. Denmark; June 17 vs. Netherlands
Russia Team Profile: Euro 2008 semi-finalists Russia topped their qualifying group for the first time in five attempts, conceding just four goals in ten games. Their track record in the European Championships stretches back to the inaugural tournament in 1960, which the Soviet Union went on to win. Subsequent appearances have seen them reach, yet ultimately fail to win, three finals in 1964, 1972 and 1988, after which poor performances dominated until their unexpected return to the business end of the tournament four years ago. Their form in World Cup campaigns has proven less successful, their best result being fourth place in the 1966 competition, but the team has been playing some attractive football under current manager Dick Advocaat, notably in their last qualifier, when they knocked six past Andorra. Can they do the same against sterner opponents?
Coach: Dick Advocaat With experience managing his home country, the Netherlands, as well as South Korea, the UAE and Belgium, Dutchman Dick Advocaat is a familiar face in international football. At club level his greatest success came at the helm of Russian team FC Zenit Saint Petersburg, winning the Russian title in 2007 and the UEFA Cup and Super Cup in 2008, which no doubt played a part in his appointment as Russia’s manager in May 2010. Nicknamed ‘Little General’, the former midfielder has already stated his desire to move on after Euro 2012, so he’ll no doubt be keen to go out with a flourish.
Player to watch: Andrei Arshavin Attacking midfielder Arshavin shone during the last European Championships in Austria and Switzerland four years ago, resulting in his move from Zenit Saint Petersburg to English club Arsenal a year later for a princely sum. Despite flashes of brilliance, the 30-year-old has largely struggled to find consistent form in the Premier League, and was loaned back to Zenit earlier in the year, with Arshavin citing regular football to secure his place at the upcoming Euros as the reason. On a good day, the Russian captain is almost unplayable, so here’s hoping he hits top form.
Fact Sheet FIFA World Ranking: 11 UEFA Euro Ranking: 7 Number of Euro appearances: 13 Previous best: Winners in 1960 Qualification: Winners of Group B – 17 goals scored, 4 goals against, 59 attempts on target, 69 corners Form (qualifying): WLWWDWWDWW Fixtures: June 8 vs. Czech Republic; June 12 vs. Poland; June 16 vs. Greece
Spain Team Profile: The defending champions are ranked best in the world by FIFA and second by UEFA. Having won Euro 2008, they went on to be crowned world champions in South Africa two years later. Now they have the chance to make history by winning back-to-back European Championships – only the USSR and West Germany have come close, reaching the final as defending champions in 1964 and 1976 respectively, but falling at the last hurdle. Before their recent success, the Spanish were considered major underachievers, but this generation of Spaniards – largely made up of Barcelona players, boasting the likes of Xavi and Iniesta – has dazzled with its so-called ‘tiki-taka’ football. Yet there is a small suggestion that the tides may have begun to turn – note Barcelona’s elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Chelsea this season, plus there’s Spain’s unwanted record of the fewest goals ever scored by a World Cup-winning team. Still, you’d be daft to bet against them.
Coach: Vincente del Bosque The mastermind behind Spain’s success at the 2010 World Cup, some might say former Real Madrid manager del Bosque had it easy, taking over from Luis Aragonés in July 2008 after the team’s success at Euro 2008 and inheriting easily the most gifted set of players. Indeed, he went on to set a new global record by winning his opening 13 matches and qualifying with ease for the World Cup. The road to this summer’s tournament has been equally blemish-free, with Spain winning all eight of their qualification matches. Clearly he’s doing something right.
Player to watch: Andrés Iniesta In a side so blessed with talent, it’s difficult to highlight any one player, but our star man would have to be Iniesta. A Barcelona player through and through, developing through the club’s youth academy, the diminutive midfielder made his first-team debut in 2002 at the age of 18 and has been with the Spanish national team since 2006. His eye-catching skills, quick feet and incisive through-balls played a key part in Barca’s record-breaking 2008-09 season, in which they won a whopping six titles. Iniesta then went on to score the winning goal against the Dutch in the 2010 World Cup final, earning him Man of the Match.
Fact Sheet FIFA World Ranking: 1 UEFA Euro Ranking: 2 Number of Euro appearances: 13 Previous best: Winners in 1964 and 2008 Qualification: Winners of Group I – 26 goals scored, 6 goals against, 86 attempts on target, 78 corners Form (qualifying): WWWWWWWW Fixtures: June 10 vs. Italy; June 14 vs. Ireland; June 18 vs. Croatia
Sweden Team Profile: The Swedes will doubtless be looking forward to their meeting with England in Group D, a side that they’ve never lost to. Meanwhile, positive results against hosts Ukraine and Raymond Le Blanc’s resurgent France will depend on the form of AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic – an immensely talented, yet occasionally inconsistent talisman. Likewise, West Bromwich Albion’s Jonas Olsson has earned a call up to the Swedish ranks thanks to his impressive form in the English Premier League – form that he attributes to the new England boss Roy Hodgson. It remains to be seen whether Roy will rue his time spent nurturing the 29-year-old Swedish defender.
Coach: Erik Hamrén Hamrén’s playing career was short – he only lasted until his late teens before retiring – but as a coach for various clubs in Sweden and Denmark he has lifted the Swedish cup three times as well as winning the Danish title with Aalborg, also helping them reach the Champions League in the process. Plus, by reaching this summer’s finals, he’s already improved on his predecessor Lars Lagerback’s performance, who failed in his quest for qualification at the last World Cup in 2010.
Player to watch: Zlatan Ibrahimovic Having claimed to be the best player in the world, the former Barcelona striker certainly doesn’t lack confidence – and we’ll respectfully disagree with his bold statement. However, while his performances wearing the red and black striped shirt of AC Milan have been impressive and fruitful in terms of goals (he was top scorer in Serie A this season), he has proved to be a little hit and miss on the big stage. His fellow countrymen will be hoping he's fired up and ready to prove his doubters wrong.
Fact Sheet FIFA World Ranking: 17 UEFA Euro Ranking: 24 Number of Euro appearances: 12 Previous best: Semi-finals in 1992 Qualification: Runners-up in Group E – 31 goals scored, 11 goals against, 77 attempts on target, 64 corners Form (qualifying): WWLWWWLWWW Fixtures: June 11 vs. Ukraine; June 15 vs. England; June 19 vs. France
Ukraine Team Profile: Euro 2012 will be Ukraine’s debut at the European Championships – previous appearances were as part of a USSR team. As joint hosts and therefore automatic qualifiers, Ukraine have had to rely on a series of friendlies for their pre-tournament preparations. Results haven’t exactly been convincing, with a string of early losses, but recent matches have been more encouraging, including wins against Austria, Estonia and Bulgaria as well as an impressive 3-3 draw with Euro 2008 finalists Germany last November, when the Ukrainians actually led 3-1 at half time. No one would call them favourites, but with home advantage and the crowd egging them on, they could prove tricky opponents when they face Sweden, France and England in the group stage.
Coach: Oleh Blokhin Having managed the national team between 2003 and 2007, legendary former striker Oleh Blokhin – Ukraine’s first ever Ballon d’Or winner – was reappointed manager in April 2011. His first stint at the national side’s helm had already proved a notable success, leading the team to the quarterfinals in Ukraine’s first appearance in the 2006 World Cup. With the country now one of the host nations, Blokhin will be hoping to replicate the success from six years ago – though this may well prove too tall an order.
Player to watch: Andriy Shevchenko The former AC Milan and Chelsea striker may be approaching his 36th birthday, but with this surely his last major tournament, expect him to be eager to bow out from international football with a bang – provided he wins his race to be fit in time for the tournament. Shevchenko has scored 46 goals for the national team and captained the squad during their first ever World Cup appearance in 2006. At club level, Shevchenko scored 175 goals with Milan, making him the second most prolific player in the club’s history, though his subsequent spell with Chelsea saw age catch up with him, as he only managed to net ten times in two seasons. But if he does make it to the finals, he’ll undoubtedly be the team’s target man.
Fact Sheet FIFA World Ranking: 49 UEFA Euro Ranking: 9 Number of Euro appearances: 4 Previous best: Qualifying round in 2008 Qualification: Automatic (host nation) Form (friendlies): WLLLLWWDWL Fixtures: June 11 vs. Sweden; June 15 vs. France; June 19 vs. England