International Soccer
Euro predictions: Spain's time has arrived

Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor

Stoppage Time Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Euro 2008 has a tough act to follow after a surprise champion, Greece, and a pair of the world's top young strikers emerged from the 2004 edition.

Greece is back to defend its title, but is it a threat to repeat? Remember, the country used three 1-0 wins in the knockout stage to capture the title last time around.

Cristiano Ronaldo, who was an all-tournament selection at 19, is also back. Can he lead Portugal, which was runner-up in '04, to its first Euro title?

England and Wayne Rooney, who was second in goals in 2004, didn't qualify. Can Croatia, which knocked England out in qualifying, win the title?

Don't forget about '06 World Cup champion Italy, '06 World Cup runner-up France and '06 World Cup third-place finisher and three-time Euro champion Germany.

Fernando Torres
Spain's Fernando Torres is a player to watch.
And maybe, just maybe (although we doubt it), co-hosts Austria and Switzerland will have a breakout performance and stun some of Europe's giants.

Expect Ronaldo and Spain's Fernando Torres to continue to develop as two of the world's top players in this event. With the stars on opposite sides of knockout stage - if their teams advance - a dream finale pitting the two is possible.

We'll give Spain the nod to make the final, but will it end its 44-year drought without a major title?

Here goes nothing.

GROUP A

1, Portugal

Outlook: Portugal's 2004 final loss was the closest the team has ever come to winning a major trophy and, despite the disappointment, it rebounded to reach the semifinals of the '06 World Cup. Can the country take the final step?

Player to watch: Cristiano Ronaldo - World's top player scored 42 goals to lead Man United to EPL and Champions League titles.

2, Czech Republic

Outlook: Goalie Petr Cech is capable of carrying almost any team to a title and the Czech Republic, ranked sixth in the world, is not just any team. How they cope without injured midfielder Tomas Rosicky is a concern, though.

Player to watch: Cech - The best goalie in the world? Here's another chance to prove it after Champions League failure with Chelsea.

3, Switzerland

Outlook: Switzerland proved in the 2006 World Cup that it's capable of surprises and, as the strongest of the co-hosts for the Euro finals, has to be considered a strong threat to make a run at the knockout stage.

Player to watch: Philippe Senderos - Defender was key in 2006 World Cup and has Champions League experience with Arsenal.

4, Turkey

Outlook: Turkey was impressive in early Euro qualifying, including a 4-1 win at Greece in March of last year, but struggled in the latter stages and just held onto a finals berth. If the right teams shows up, the next round is possible.

Player to watch: Nihat Kahveci - Striker was brilliant for Villarreal, but now he's got a country counting on him to score.

GROUP B

1, Germany

Outlook: Germany is ranked fifth in the world and closely resembles its World Cup third-place team. Fifteen players are back and a seventh major title - the Germans have won three World Cups and three Euro titles - is within reach.

Player to watch: Michael Ballack - Versatile midfielder returned from injury to lead Chelsea to Champions League final.

2, Croatia

Outlook: Croatia was impressive in qualifying but its hopes took a big blow in February when striker Eduardo was lost to injury. But don't count this team out, especially if anyone fills the void left by the Brazilian-born striker.

Players to watch: Ivica Olic and Mladen Petric - Forwards had good club seasons and someone has to score with Eduardo out.

3, Poland

Outlook: Poland won its qualifying group - finishing ahead of Portugal - so it has every right to believe it can compete in the finals. Don't be surprised if this team gets out of the group stage, but anything more than that is unlikely.

Player to watch: Roger Gerreiro - Brazilian-born midfielder just earned Polish citizenship. Distraction or difference maker?

4, Austria

Outlook: Austria is in the Euro finals for the first time - because it co- hosts with Switzerland - but the country has played in seven World Cup finals. Since the '98 World Cup, though, Austria has dropped to 101st in the world rankings.

Player to watch: Erwin Hoffer - Nicknamed "Jimmy," after Jimmy Hoffa, this up- and-coming striker was a super-sub at U-20 World Cup.

GROUP C

1, Netherlands

Outlook: One of the most entertaining teams in the world, but the Netherlands can't just look good in this group, it needs goals. With Edwin van der in goal - he helped Man United win the EPL and Champions League - even one goal could be enough on a few occasions.

Player to watch: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar - Leading scorer in 2006 U-20 Euros set to breakout; 33 goals in 34 games for Ajax last season.

2, France

Outlook: France is one of the deepest and most balanced in the competition and, if it's not the odd team out in the "Group of Death," a third Euro championship is possible.

Player to watch: Franck Ribery - Midfielder was great in '06 World Cup, but now the "next" Zinedine Zidane has to fill the icon's shoes.

3, Italy

Outlook: Italy is one of the favorites to lift the trophy and add to its four World Cup crowns and one European title. But while expectations are enormous, there are more questions than normal for such a highly-touted squad.

Players to watch: Entire defense - With ex-FIFA World Player of the Year Fabio Cannavaro injured, everyone has to step up.

4, Romania

Outlook: Like Poland, here's another country that won its qualifying group - by finishing ahead of the Netherlands - but is largely an afterthought. Romania is a long shot to escape this group, but it's possible.

Player to watch: Christian Chivu - One of the world's top defenders finally on big stage; tough job ahead in the "Group of Death."

GROUP D

1, Spain

Outlook: The team has more than enough talent to win the competition, but that is nothing new. The real question is whether or not they are able to rise to the occasion and finally fulfill their potential.

Player to watch: Fernando Torres - Overshadowed by Ronaldo despite 24 goals for Liverpool, he could easily steal the spotlight.

2, Russia

Outlook: The loss of Andrey Arshavin for the first two games is a big blow, and the fitness of fellow forward Pavel Pogrebnyak is also a concern. But if Russia can remain in contention until its game vs. Sweden, it has a chance to advance.

Player to watch: Roman Pavlyuchenko - Had two goals in qualifying victory over England and needs to produce with teammates out.

3, Sweden

Outlook: Sweden will certainly be in the mix for a spot in the knockout round, but the country has a lot to prove. Sweden reached the semifinals of the 1994 World Cup but has not come close to matching that success since.

Player to watch: Andreas Isaksson - Longtime national team goalie lost starting job with Man City. Is he ready for Euros?

4, Greece

Outlook: After pulling off one of the biggest upsets in the sport's history by defeating host Portugal in the '04 final, Greece is no longer an underdog. But don't be surprised if the defensive-minded Greeks have more trouble this time.

Player to watch: Vassilis Torosidis - Offensive-minded defender is drawing some interest from top clubs in Europe.

QUARTERFINALS

Portugal over Croatia: Portugal reaches semifinals of a major tournament for third straight time.

Germany over Czech Republic: Germany hits its stride in this match, proving it's the team to beat.

Netherlands over Russia: The Dutch side has a little more offense than the pesky Russians.

Spain over France: Spain gets a little revenge for loss in the round of 16 in the 2006 World Cup.

SEMIFINALS

Germany over Portugal: Rematch of '06 World Cup third-place match goes to the Germans - again.

Spain over the Netherlands: Dutch fall one step short of returning to final for first time since winning in 1988.

FINAL

Spain over Germany: Spain ends its long drought without a major championship in an entertaining final.



Tim Keeble Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com
Brian Westfall

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