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By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor - Archive - Email
Enjoy the last 'Group of Death' at Euro 2012
Portugal features the top player in Poland and Ukraine in Cristiano Ronaldo.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Coming to Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine this summer, the last "Group of Death."

Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal will battle in Group B and all four enter the event ranked in the top 10 in the FIFA rankings - although you should take those standings with a grain of salt. In this case, though, every team is deserving of its place.

To break down the numbers a little more, four of the seven European squads in FIFA's top 10 are all in the same group this summer. Not even a World Cup can produce such a magnificent set of teams.

When Euros featured just two groups of four teams in the finals, as recent as 1992, it was an incredible event. So much so, that in 1992, Denmark - a squad which did not even quality for the finals - won the tournament.

As a late replacement for war-torn Yugoslavia, Denmark was added to the field on the eve of the tournament and produced its lone major title.

Four years from now when France hosts Euro 2016, the event will expand to add eight more teams, taking the total from 16 to 24. Just two decades ago, great teams were left behind during the important qualifying stages.

With the expansion in 1996, just a few well-known countries would fail to get through qualifying, but the process was still important. With the field ready to expand again, qualifying will lose all importance.

But more important than ruining the entire qualifying process, the Euro final tournament will be ruined in the process. UEFA includes just over 50 members, meaning the tournament will include nearly half the continent.

While that will be a way for less-established countries to appear in the Euro finals, it erases the enjoyment of a smaller tournament - with more qualified teams.

Just four years ago, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Romania were drawn to play in the same group. This year, Group B trumps that.

The Netherlands just finished second in the 2010 World Cup. Germany, a three- time World Cup and Euro winner, has finished in the top three in all three of its most recent major tournaments, Portugal features the top player in Poland and Ukraine in Cristiano Ronaldo, and Denmark is a powerful underrated side.

"The three biggest sides at the moment and with a greater chance (to win Euro 2012) are Spain, Germany and the Netherlands, in my opinion," Ronaldo said.

That's two tournament favorites out of one group, in case anyone missed it.

"All you've got to do is look at our group," German defender Holger Badstuber said, "to realize that we just must not slip up."

You will not hear a player from one of the tournament favorites utter that in four years, or for any tournament after that.

Even Group C, which has Euro 2008 and 2010 World Cup winner Spain, four-time World Cup champion Italy, talented Croatia and underdog Ireland, could claim to be a "Group of Death" - the label given to the top group - in some years.

And, yes, any group - regardless of which countries are in the finals - will produce memorable games in every tournament.

But the buildup for Group B, and the excitement from the first kickoff when Denmark and the Netherlands play Saturday, followed by Germany and Portugal, will be unmatched in future tournaments.

Should the Netherlands or Germany fall in their first game, two co-favorites will be firmly on the ropes after just 90 minutes. In the World Cup just two years ago, Spain lost its opener to Switzerland.

But in the World Cup, Spain just had to navigate Chile and Honduras to reach the knockout stage. A relatively easy path for one of the favorites.

Euros, historically, has been a more talented group of teams - based largely on its smaller size - and is arguably tougher to win, as more tough fixtures await from the beginning of the event.

Should the Germans and Dutch both lose their opener, they play in the second match of group play with their tournaments on the line.

Enjoy it, because the tournament will never feature a group like it again.


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