With the Euro’s almost upon us, feast your eyes on Totally Dublin’s guide to the Group Stages at Euro 2012 replete with youtube (and other) links out the ya-ya. For the record, our money is on ze Germanz to pip the Spaniards this time around.
Group A: The Group Of Gambling As A Means Of Maintaining Interest
Euro History: Nothing – even during their late 70s golden era. Amassed 1 point in 2008. Then they blamed Howard Webb for everything (a popular opinion, it must be said.)
Key Man: Dortmund hit-man Robert Lewandowski spear-heading their attack ably aided by clubmates Łukasz Piszczek and Jakub Blaszczykowski who have also helped themselves to consecutive Bundesliga titles.
Keep an eye out for: Z’s scattered carelessly throughout players’ names. W’s sound like V’s is pretty much the only the thing I can gather so far.
Key Man: Rejuvenated Tomas Rosický, no longer looking for that new contract started to pull the strings again at Arsenal in early 2012 but other big names are thin on the ground.
Keep an eye out for: Petr Čech wearing a Minnesota Vikings helmet.
Famous for: Europe’s sleepiest football giant, perpetual underperformance despite mammoth resources.
Key Man: Compare-The-Arshavin.com – an Arsenal flop but a Russian talisman. Has shown some of his old form since rejoining Zenit St. Petersburg in January. Capable of brilliance but the moment may have passed for him.
Keep an eye out for: Beslan-born playmaker Alan Dzagoev looking to announce himself on the big stage. Has shone for CSKA Moskva in recent seasons.
Famous for: Knicking goals from set pieces and holding on for dear life
Euro History: Victory in 2004 remains the most unlikely major championship win ever. They must know they’ve used up all their luck?
Key Man: Celtic’s Georgios Samaras, the only Greek not getting a haircut. Unfairly derided if not exactly a brilliant player. Capable of some bright moments and this group is extremely even.
Keep an eye out for: Giannis Fetfadzidis is billed as the “Greek Lionel Messi” undoubtedly a totally undeserved nickname.
Group B: Group of Death
Famous for: “The ball is round, the game lasts ninety minutes and everything else is just theory.” (Sepp Herberger). Coach Jogi Löw is also a fairly dapper fellow who is building a fine team.
Euro History: Champions as the West in ’72 & ’80 and again in ’96 when reunified. Proper Euro pedigree. Pipped in 2008 final by Spain and again in World Cup semi in 2010. Third time lucky for Die Mannschaft?
Key Man: Basti Schweinsteiger is now the midfield lynchpin and prototypical Germanic
penalty maestro… er okay maybe Mesut Özil is the key man.
Keep an eye out for: Dortmund’s Mario Götze is the latest wunderkind off the supply line. But there’s also Marco Reus, Thomas Müller, Toni Kroos… yikes!
Famous for: In-fighting and more recently kung-fu fighting
Euro History: Champs in 1988 with classic “Holy Trinity” of Van Basten, Rijkaard and Gullit. Van Basten has a whole type of goal named after him for his outrageous volley in the final – how cool is that?
Key Man: Robin Van Persie, the Premier League’s golden boot is scoring for fun at club level. Then again so is Klaas-Jan Huntelaar for Schalke 04 and doubts remain whether they can both be shoe-horned into the same team.
Keep an eye out for: How many assaults Mark van Bommel can commit before being booked. One of Europe’s great hatchet men.
Famous for: The dreaded “golden generation” tag that never won anything, never ever having a competent striker despite having loads of tricky wingers and attacking midfielders
Euro History: Losing to Greece twice at home in ’04 in the opening game and the final, losing their heads against France in 2000 in a golden goal semi-final exit. That tournament also gave us their brilliant Figo-inspired 3-2 comeback against England in the group stage.
Key Man: CR7, the pouting, preening, tomahawking goal machine: can he produce on the international stage after his first league title in Spain?
Keep an eye out for: Madrid’s Brazilian-born central defender Pepe – the guy is a complete and utter nutjob.
Famous for: Lego, the Laudrup Brothers and Jon Dahl Tomasson never retiring
Euro History: Shock winners in ’92 when they were invited to take part in place of war-torn Yugoslavia. John Jensen scored wearing a filthy ‘tache.
Key Man: Tattoo salesman Danny Agger captaining from central defence. Denmark’s group has an abundance of attacking talent coming at them. They are relying on Nicklas Bendtner.
Keep an eye out for: Ajax starlet Christian Eriksen who is Hot Property Potential. He’s already on the wish-list of clubs around Europe and a big tournament will add a few millions to his value.
Group C: Group of Draws
Famous for: Always having the ball, winning things. Spain’s squad members have won 40 medals this season.
Euro History: Serial underperformers since their victory in 1964 (they even lost to England once!) but champions in 2008 began their current era of domination.
Key Man: Xaviniesta – the two-brained ball hog who is everywhere on the pitch [and even then they have Sergi Busquets, Xabi Alonso and Javi Martinez to call on in the centre of the pitch - an embarrassment of riches.]
Keep an eye out for: The vacant striker’s role. Torres makes the squad but is a shadow of himself. Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo are both more physical specimen but score less. David Villa’s extra class will be sorely missed.
Famous for: Melancholic midfield playmakers, being “a bit tippy-tappy” (Graeme Souness). Croatia have regularly entertained neutrals since independence but never made the big leap forward and looked like winning something.
Euro History: Davor Šuker lobbing Schmeichel in ’96, crumbling against Turkey in 2008 with just seconds to hold out.
Key Man: Tottenham’s Luca Modric will pull the strings despite his 12-year old girl physique. Hopefully he’ll be pulling another sickie like he did for Spurs at the start of the season when his head wasn’t in the right place. Everton goal-getter Nikica Jelavić could be a headache for the oppo if he can force his way into the team.
Keep an eye out for: A rare appearance for their sexy chequerboard home kit against Éire and Italy. Far too often they play against teams in red or white! Also prepare to be entertained by the antics of charismatic boss Slaven Bilic
Famous for: ‘No Totti, No Party’, catenaccio and er… bribery scandals.
Euro History: Champions once in ’68, cruelly denied in the scintillating final of Euro 2000 by Deschamp’s France team. Not much cop since then mind you.
Key Man: Gianluigi Buffon, bandana spokesperson, still an incredible goalkeeper. Other nineties legends on display include Juve team-mate Andrea Pirlo and Udinese’s goal-machine and all round stand-up dude Antonio di Natale.
Keep an eye out for: The always hilarious antics of Mario Balotelli – there’s a reason it’s always him. Can this most mercurial of talents focus for the sake of the squad, or will the football be a side-show? Will the Italians be able to pull the “our-game-is-in-crisis-lets-win-this-thing” for the third time? (See also:1982, 2006).
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
Famous for: Putting them under pressure, best fans in the world™, world class creativity in the centre of the park
Euro History: Ray Houghton sticking the ball in the English net and Ronnie Whelan’s worldie against USSR, Wim Kieft’s “bizarre” late goal for the Dutch to knock us out. You may have heard it eulogised once or twice (Joxer, et al.)
Key Man: Richie Dunne, who’s comedically brilliant defensive performance against Russia was the illustrative of the kind of determination that got us here (that backheeled clearance of the line was particularly special). Mind you, he didn’t exactly over-exert himself for the rest of the season with Aston Villa. Shay Given’s always good for a few get-out-of-jail-free cards per game too.
Keep an eye out for: Shirtless lads doing the Poznan – one step above vuvuzelas perhaps. I liked the vuvuzelas by the end. Also watch out for “Big” Jonny Walters terrorizing some enfeebled Euro-centre backs at the end of games.
Group D: Group of Perennial Messes
Famous for: Shevchenko – once Europe’s greatest hitman before Chelsea broke him. Also their more than slightly dodgy political situation and their topless anti-Euros protesters.
Euro History: Their first championship as an independent nation, though played part of Soviet and CIS teams previously. In the last major tournament (WC2006) they bored the pants off everyone all the way to the quarters, in the way I imagine neutrals looked at Ireland in 1990. (Except more boring, less craic and less meeting the Pope.)
Key Man: Bayern’s veteran midfield Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, still a classy operator, though Andriy Voronin’s divine ponytail is still fluttering in the wind up front.
Keep an eye out for: Ukraine are pretty much the team we are least excited about at this tournament. The prospect of England needing a result in their last game against them in Donetsk just about stirs interest.
Famous for: “It’s coming home”, insufferable optimism, being garbage at tournaments. The first chapter of Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski’s book ‘Why England Lose‘ (a.k.a. ‘Soccernomics’) details the process of events that begins with unbridled optimism and ends with them being defeated by a war-time enemy. This time they’ve managed to get into an even greater state of disarray than usual.
Euro History: Their semi-final appearance in ’96 stands out (check out the Beeb’s coverage of the day with an entire Wembley singing that Lightning Seeds song) but they’ve only ever won one knock-out game in European Championship history, and that was in a penalty shoot-out.
Key Man: Wayne Rooney: LOL. The button-nosed scouse scamp only went and got himself banned for three games (reduced two on appeal) for kicking a Montenegrin up the arse for having the temerity to not be tackled by him. “But if we took that out of his game….” etc, etc.
Keep an eye out for: Cruelly denied an opportunity to try Lampard and Gerrard together in the midfield by the former’s injury-enforced withdrawl, England have been lowering their expectations by picking every possible Liverpool FC player going and somehow embroiling themselves in race-row surrounding ousted captain John Terry.
Famous for: Surrendering at the drop of a hat, not liking their coach. This French team are displaying results befitting of the talent at their disposal but there’s something just not right about them. Calamity always seems close by.
Key Man: Madrid’s Karim Benzema – Mourinho found he could “hunt with a cat” in the end. Benzema was garbage as a “next big thing” in 2008 and didn’t even make the last World Cup squad (political reasons/bonkers coach reasons) and though he’s been a part of Madrid’s success this year, he’s been little more than a Cristiano Ronaldo side-show.
Keep an eye out for: Florent Malouda will have a different haircut in each game of the tournament. Unfortunately they have ditched their fabulous John Paul Gaultier-esque sailor-themed change kit for classy white one.
Famous for: Chewing tobacco, pop babes, new vowels and continually drawing with England.
Euro History: A semi as hosts in 1992 but otherwise unremarkable bar Henrik Larsson’s phenomenal diving header against Bulgaria in Euro 2004.
Key Man: I-AM-ZLATAN must be hurting from not winning a league title for the first time in 9 years. The big striker is a combination of frustratingly egotistical and football genius. On his day he can do things few others could but we’re still waiting for that day on the big stage.
Keep an eye out for: Olof Mellberg – what a hunk. Also, bored camera-men perving on female fans during lulls in games.