Archive for the ‘Euro 2012’ Category

2012 Euro Bumper Preview – Group D

The group of the dead.

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Click here for Group B preview
Click here for Group C preview

10 years ago this could have been considered the dreaded group of death. France were in their hay day with Zizou (pre head butt), and Thierry Henry leading Les Bleus. England was full of hope with the so-called golden generation seemingly ready to shine brightly. Sweden had Henrik Larsson,  a young Zlatan and Ljungberg (pre underwear modeling days), and the Ukraine had Andriy Shevchenko, one of the most complete forwards in the past 15 years, who was currently destroying Serie A with A.C. Milan.

Unfortunately these beautiful zombies represent the USA.

Today…well it’s more like the zombie group of the dead. France to be fair, look like a good team BUT have a lot to prove since their debacle in South Africa, and resemble a shadow of their former selves. Likewise with Sweden, who rely so heavily on a brooding Ibra, that they actually play better without him in the line-up, and are not the dangerous team they were once were. England…well they’re clearly in their rusty tin generation, and are so bland and uninspiring that their own media has written them off (this could actually be a good thing). And Ukraine? Well they still have Shevchenko. At 35, the talisman of the former Soviet nation has slowed down tremendously, mainly due to the large fork in his back, and according to Coach Blokhin, is not guaranteed to play, let alone start.

Still, this will be an entertaining group, as all teams on their day could beat each other, and things are always exciting when the English media are involved.

Subplots
This might be the group of the living dead, but the stories and plots are alive and well, ranging from accusations of racism in the England camp/media, to accusations of deliberate food poisoning from Blokhin, to the eerie calmness within the French camp. As far as the Swedes? Well they’ve long been accused of being one of most boring countries in the world, so thank god for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is equally lethal in front of the goal as he is at kicking his team mates.

Handsome Franck will be bossing the midfield for Les Blues

Strangely, the French team has somehow managed to be drama free and actually may all be getting along. After the fracas that was South Africa, Laurent Blanc has done very well in putting together a strong cohesive team, that is an early favorite to top the group. Benzema leads the line and has been stellar for the national team, and France’s fortunes will be dictated by the accuracy of the Real Madrid strikers boots. Directly behind him, handsome Franck and Nasri are potent and dazzling attacking midfielders, and they are adequately covered by Newcastles Cabaye and France’s youngest player, the up and coming Yann M’Vila. Luckily for England, M’Vila recently picked up a knock and is doubtful for the opening match.

If Les Bleus have a weakness, it is in their defense. Mexes and Evra are 30 and 31 and Rami is more known for his gaffs and inconsistency than his defensive prowess. Their keeper and captain, Hugo Lloris, is solid enough and should be able to prevent the sieve like defense in front of him from leaking too many goals.

Oh England! For the first time in many along while, possibly ever, they head into a tournament with no positive expectations to burden them. In fact, even the raggiest of rags that pretend to be a newspaper in England, are struggling to find ways for England to win the tournament.

They only appointed Capello’s successor a couple of months ago, and since then, their better players have been dropping like flies. Lampard, Barry and Cahill are all out. Sadly for England, Terry recovered from his knock, so he will be “anchoring” the defense with more then likely Lescott. They do have speed on their flanks as Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson will find themselves quite busy bombing forward and then hurrying back to cover for the fast as molasses pairing of Terry and Lescott.

Not exactly awe-inspiring.

Due to the Chelsea mans alleged racial abusing of Anton Ferdinand mid-season, the media and several ex-players have accused Hodgson of not picking his brother Rio due to the potential dust up it could cause in the camp. Hodgson claims the United defender was not picked for footballing reasons, and personally I’m fine with it. Going into a tournament when 3 of your 4 defenders are 31 is not a good idea, so Rio (who had an inconsistent season with United) – you’re out.

Oddly though, England’s defense is not their main problem. Their weakness is putting the ball in the back of the net. Rooney is suspended for the first two games which leaves Carroll and his not so divine ponytail to lead the line. Carroll didn’t exactly cover himself in glory this season, though did show small glimpses of promise toward the end of the campaign.

Like so many times for club, the fate of the national team will rest on their captains shoulders. Steven Gerrard has just turned 32, and though is a fierce competitor, his best days are behind him. He will certainly give it his all, and though he may occasionally sting the opponents keepers hands with his powerful shots, the more likely occurrence is that he may take off someone’s head in row Z.

That said, Englands mediocrity maybe their saving grace. They are under no pressure to do well. They may actually play as a team versus selfish superstars, and like Denmark and Greece before them, could eek out some boring, uninspiring 1-0 wins. Joe Hart is a world class keeper and Hodgson has the team playing organized football. With a little luck they could very well surprise some teams or put them to sleep and score on a counter.

Ibra. Dark, melancholy, and lethal in front of goal.

Sweden. What to say? Honestly, they’re the same team they’ve always been. Efficient and just good enough to cause problems, but not good enough to do major damage – except to England who couldn’t beat them with a gun and a barrel of herrings.

Aside from Ibra, who we all know and love, they do boast a couple of excellent players. Fullback Martin Olsson, has scored 4 goals in 6 international games and will be looking to showcase his talents in order to escape playing in the Championship with Blackburn. Zlatan’s strike partner, Elmander is also a dangerous player, but both him and Sebastian Larsson are struggling to recover from injury.

Sweden will be playing an exciting style of football as is the way of coach Erik Hamren, and have the fire power to cause opposing defenses some problems. Unfortunately their own backline is nothing to write home about, so I expect some 3-2 games.  The victor will depend upon Zlatans proficiency in front of goal.

Ukraine are co-hosting this tournament along with Poland. They are a serviceable side and will be buoyed on by their home fans. They are coached by former Soviet legend Oleg Blokhin, who guided Ukraine to the World Cup quarterfinals in Germany 6 years ago.

Shevchenko is the teams talisman, that there is no dispute. What is in dispute is whether the former Milan striker should be starting. At 35, he is well past his prime and though a sentimental favorite, he might be replaced by Dynamo Kiev striker Artem Milevskyi. Ukraine’s strength lies in their midfield with Bayern midfielder, Anatoliy Tymoschuk pinging balls around the park, ideally in the direction of the strikers.

Sheva, pictured here without his fork.

Though they should be confident in the fact that host nations tend to qualify for the knock out stages, the poop has hit in the fan within the squad, and I’m not talking about food poisoning (10 players were a little queasy in the tummy before and during their last match against Turkey). It is rumored that there is turmoil between the players of Shakhtar Donestsk and Dynamo Kiev, which could boil over during the tournament. One would think that they would put their club feuds aside for international duty, and these sort of things have a way of coming out at the most inopportune times – just ask England.

Player(s) to Watch

Trust us. M’Vila is a lot more athletic then this picture shows.

The two players to watch are also two of the youngest in the group. France’s Yann M’Vila and Englands Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Where as Yann M’Vila is an established player for club and the national team, Oxlade-Chamberlain is still trying to get minutes with Arsenal as well as England. Already impressive in his first foray in the senior national side, it looks like Hodgson might throw the dice with the youngster. It’s not like he has anything to lose.

M’Vila’s brilliant passing and distribution as a defensive midfielder has perked the interest of the bigger European clubs. With the defense behind him not installing the greatest of confidence, it will be left to M’Vila to ensure that France progress into the group stages – a task the Rennes man is more than capable of accomplishing.

Added after release: TSG also has Lyon’s midfield general Kim Kallstrom under our radar. The Swedes are certainly underdogs in the groups, but as mentioned can cause a problem or two. It all comes from the heart and Kallstrom is the pulse of the team. Though he doesn’t score much for club, he did score 4 goals in qualifying for the Euros.

Most Interesting Matchup
The first game of the group between England and France has all the makings of a classic. Bitter rivals, former good teams, and plenty of history. That said it could very easily turn into France thrashing England. In fact it probably will. The game with the most on the line will probably be the last game of the group, England vs. Ukraine on the 19th of June. Winner goes onto the knockout stages.

Predictions

One can never have enough Franck, pictured here with his lovely and tolerant wife

Well, there has to be two teams that progress from Group D, but I don’t feel any of the teams will progress past the quarterfinals. The winner, more than likely France will either meet Italy or in my estimation Croatia (second place finishers in Group C). Where as I do believe they will be the favorites, and that Blanc has worked miracles to get this team where they are, they are still a long way to regaining the form from their past. The second place team, I’m going out on a limb and saying England, will be going up against Spain. Nuff said.

I believe there are 3 great teams, 4 good teams, 5 mediocre teams, 3 crap teams and England. That means 1 okay team will make the semis and they will be crushed by Germany. The finals will pit Spain against Germany, and Die Mannschaft will be victorious in a thrilling 3-2 final.

Click here for Group A preview
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Click here for Group C preview

2012 Euro Bumper Preview – Group C

The group of really really wounded and might result in death if not treated quickly.

Group C preview written by TSG Serie A expert (but does he know about Bunga Bunga parties?) Eric Giardini

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Click here for Group B preview
Click here for Group D preview

In Group C, which consists of Spain, Italy, Croatia, and Ireland, we have the last two World Cup champions (Italy in 2006, Spain in 2010) and the defending European Champion (Spain 2008). So we can go ahead and place Spain and Italy in the quarterfinals, right? Well, perhaps not.

Group Subplots

Argy bargy and handbags between Spain’s top two clubs spills into the national team

Brace yourself; there are a lot of interesting dynamics going on in this group. First let’s look at Spain. Unsurprisingly, the Real Madrid and Barcelona contingents are not getting along. This may prove to be a huge problem considering 12 of the 23 members of the squad play for either club (7 for Barcelona, 5 for Real Madrid), and these tensions were recently highlighted when Spanish manager Vicente Del Bosque spoke of issues between Barcelona’s Gerard Pique and Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos. He then quickly downplayed the issues and stated if they couldn’t get along they’ll be dropped and “they are young kids with their differences, but we have no problems.” If that wasn’t bad enough, this week Xavi brought up, for the third time this year, how Barcelona isn’t respected by Real Madrid. He specifically noted how when the capital club won La Liga this season, the Barcelona players all congratulated them and this was not the case when Barcelona won the title. I find these comments shocking coming just days before Spain is to kick off their title defense against the Italians. Along with potential internal strife, Spain will be without captain Carles Puyol and David Villa who are both out with injury.

Anyone else notice the similarity between snowboarder Shaun White and currently injured Spanish defensive lynchpin Carlos Puyol?

It would not be an international tournament without a major Italian controversy. Well, this summer there are two we get to sit back and watch unfold. First, there is a match-fixing scandal investigation that led authorities to conduct a raid at the Italian National Team’s headquarters where the squad was in the midst of its pre-tournament preparation. One player, who was going to most likely be Italy’s starting left back, Domenico Criscito, was even dismissed from the squad for his alleged involvement. The situation is so bad that the Italian Prime Minister suggested Serie A take a “two to three year” hiatus to clean up. Gianluigi Buffon and Daniele De Rossi have both come on in recent days to say that this scandal is far worse than the one that Italy was embroiled in 2006. As you may recall, Italy was in the midst of a different match-fixing scandal in 2006 and the team rallied together to win the World Cup in Germany. Not to be outdone with match-fixing, another controversy has reared its ugly head in recent weeks and sadly it doesn’t affect just the Italians. A few high-profile stories have come out regarding the racism seen in Eastern Europe, in particular Poland and Ukraine. These stories include England players not having their families join them for fear of abuse and former England defender Sol Campbell urging fans not to make the trip or they may “come back in coffins.” Sticking closer to Group C, the Italian squad has threatened to walk off the field if either Mario Balotelli or Angelo Ogbonna, its two players of African descent, are subjected to taunts or abuse. I sincerely hope that we don’t see any of this during the tournament.

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2012 Euro Bumper Preview – Group B

The real group of death.

New TSG contributor and co-director of operations for the Pali Blues, Zach Goldman, gives us ONE HELL OF A PREVIEW for group B

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Click here for Group C preview
Click here for Group D preview

There are ‘Groups of Death’ and then there are Groups of DEATH (thank you, Microsoft Word, for making this moment of eloquence possible).  Euro 2012′s Group B is the latter.  This is a group so monstrously packed with talent that it looks like soccer’s version of The Expendables.  There are more fireworks on display here than you can shake a stick at (if you shook sticks at fireworks), so let’s get started.  Below is my preview of this behemoth of a group, comprised of Germany, Netherlands, Portugal, and Denmark.

Breaking down the group
Germany and Holland are everyone’s pick to advance out of this group—and I’m not going to shy away from that.   I see the Germans topping the table and Holland finishing second behind them—but it will not be easy for either.  Portugal and Denmark should bring up the rear, in that order.

Germany

The Germans are looking to celebrate on July 1 in Kiev.

The Germans line up in Joachim Löw’s standard 4-2-3-1, much as they did two years ago in South Africa.  They are at their best when they are given space to move the ball and are scariest to the opposition when they flow seamlessly into their deadly counterattack.  You can see it best in the 4-1 win over England in the Round of 16 two summers ago, when the German counterattack looked like a swarm of killer bees running Gordon Bombay’s patented Flying-V.  They are extremely organized, patient, and committed to their system—all things that mean this supremely talented and unselfish group has likely only scratched the surface of their potential.  We may very well see their best football yet in this tournament.

The Germans have grown over the past two years into a side that plays much more comfortably in possession.  It is a growth that can be seen throughout their perfect qualifying cycle—particularly in the maturation of the central midfield core of Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Mesut Özil.  Özil, in particular, has developed an absolutely deadly final ball over the past two years while playing for Real Madrid—and on a team with the likes of Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski, Thomas Müller, and Mario Gomez (okay, not Mario Gomez) lurking in the attacking third, he could be very dangerous this summer.

Ozil, already great in 2010, has come on leaps and bounds since transferring to Madrid.

Germany is a young team, yes (an average age of just 24.5), but the core of the squad is experienced—except at center-back.  Readers of this particular blog, with its proclivity towards attracting a readership of American soccer fans, will be particularly sensitive to how critical this can be for a national team, but more on that later.  The bottom line: The squad Löw has brought to Ukraine is certainly the most promising and talented he has had since entering the set-up eight years ago as Jürgen Klinsmann’s number two.  They are joint-favorites with Spain to lift the Henri Delaunay Trophy—and with very good reason.  Their first choice side is scary enough to play against, but even more frightening is the fact that their bench will be loaded with the likes of Toni Kroos, Mario Götze, André Schürrle, and İlkay Gündoğan—all stars in the Bundesliga and all 22 and below.  They’re fantastic now, but there’s no telling how bright the future is for German football.  That said, even though they should win this group, they would be silly to look past their early opponents.

Holland
One of those opponents is Holland, who I’m picking to finish second in the group.  This is not Marco van Basten’s Brilliant Orange that we saw in the last Euros, but the disciplined and hard-nosed (read: dirty) Dutch that we saw in South Africa.  Though Spain will be remembered as the champions in 2008, it was van Basten’s men who played the most beautiful football (shout-out to Adrian Healey’s unforgettable line “It’s a Dutch Oven and the French are toast,” which will never, ever leave my mind when I think of that glorious display of attacking soccer served up to Les Bleus).  Holland brilliantly counterattacked, steamed forward in droves, and decisively finished their chances—truly becoming The Flying Dutchmen on the pitch and supplying a performance that looked a lot like Germany’s in the World Cup two years later.

The Dutch hatchet man is back and ready for a fistin’…er…WHAT?

Under manager Bert van Marwijk, however, the Netherlands are much more steel than silk.  Though they operate out of a 4-2-3-1 and they still score goals (37 in qualifying, the highest on the continent), their system is extremely regimented.  It may be the same formation as Germany’s, but it is by no means a house of free-flowing, attacking football.  Positional responsibilities are paramount (in a way that would make Rinus Michels cry), two holding midfielders are preferred, and the ball is moved pragmatically and calculatedly (often to creativity’s detriment).  Yes, they are a more attacking-minded side now than in 2010—something that was particularly apparent during Nigel de Jong’s brief international absence after being dropped for his horror tackle on Newcastle midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa—but one still gets the same feeling watching Van Marwijk’s Holland in attack as one does watching American Pie when it’s shown on cable: there’s more that you’re not showing me.

If it sounds antithetical for the team with the most attacking verve in the tournament along with Spain and Germany to play this way, that’s because, to some degree, it is.  It is important, however, to note that the Netherlands were one Arjen Robben breakaway finish away from lifting the World Cup by playing this way—and that Van Basten’s Holland were sent crashing out in Basel four years ago after being hypnotized in defense by the spritely Andrei Arshavin.  It should also be noted that Holland are experimenting with finding a more forward-thinking balance in center midfield, particularly with the way they have begun to partner the attacking-minded Rafael van der Vaart with Mark van Bommel in the middle of the park.

Holland’s real weakness is, like Germany, at the back.  The heart of the Dutch defense is a partnership between Everton’s player of the season in Johnny Heitinga and Málaga’s Joris Mathijsen.  Heitinga is a capable marker and helped anchor what was actually a very decent backline this year on Merseyside.  He is also, however, a converted defensive midfielder and still suffers, much like similar cases in Johan Djourou (or, for you Major League Soccer fans, Carlos Mendes), from a tendency to dive into challenges (often dangerously so) and concedes his fair share of bad fouls.  More importantly, especially for the purposes of Group B, Heitinga is only 5’11” and has undeniably struggled in the air in the past.  I wouldn’t expect this to change much against the likes of Klose, Gomez, and Denmark’s Nicklas Bendtner.

Sylvie Van Der Vaart – Rafael’s MUCH MUCH better half.

The other half of the partnership is Mathijsen, who has been a mainstay in the Dutch defense for some time now.  I use the word ‘mainstay’, however, much as I would use the term to describe The Steve Harvey Show in the WB Network’s lineup throughout the late 90s—it’s okay, but you’d really want something else there if you could have the choice.  Who knows, though, if Mathijsen will even play at all during the tournament as he deals with a hamstring injury.  Wilfred Bouma and Ron Vlaar are waiting in the wings and will battle for the spot should it open up.  Vlaar may have helped his cause with a goal and a strong performance in a 6-0 victory over Northern Ireland in the squad’s final tune-up.

The biggest problem, though, comes at left back, where Holland have not found a solution since Giovanni “Oh my God, no he didn’t, yes he did, goodnight Cape Town” van Bronckhorst retired following his World Cup swansong.  Erik Pieters of PSV initially looked slated to fill the void for this tournament, but pulled out of the squad after fracturing a metatarsal in his right foot.  After Pieters, the pickings are slim.  Jetro Willems, also of PSV, who is actually second-choice to Pieters in Eindhoven, is likely to get the nod—and here’s the part where I tell you that he is 18 years old (EIGHTEEN!  Full disclosure: I’m only 21, but I’m old enough to know what crazy young looks like).  Willems only has two caps to his name—both earned in tune-ups this past month.  As tasty as Holland look to be in attack, the question marks undoubtedly remain at the back

Nevertheless, I expect Holland to qualify for the next round right behind Germany.

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2012 Euro Bumper Preview – Group A

Slavek and Slavko (TSG is not sure yet which one is which) welcome you to the Euros

Click here for Group B preview
Click here for Group C preview
Click here for Group D preview

It’s Euro time! You didn’t think we here at TSG were going to let this competition slide thru the cracks did you? Some of us here at TSG, need as many excuses as possible to post pictures of handsome Franck Ribery.

Our tickets to Poland and Ukraine fell through due to “footballing reasons”, so instead we decided to gather a panel of 3 brilliant pundits and unearth the corpse of one of our original contributors (odd writing in the third person) to give y’all the TSG BUMPER EURO PREVIEW. So without further ado, we give you Group A – written by the brilliant John Nyen.

Subplots and Predictions

Group A. The mystery group

Group A. Undoubtably Group A will be the best group in the Euro’s by any persons form of measurement, and far FAR better than that pithy Group B or the troglodytes in group C. As a matter of fact, those that CHOOSE to preview Group A are known to be highly intelligent people and gentle lovers. That is more than you can say about the guys doing group D, who are known to cheat at Monopoly and pay for non-certified plaster bee-hives.  Let’s be honest at this point, how much do you really know about Greece, Poland, Russia and the Czech Republic? In the case of these four teams, you probably know the players more than the actual national team. The Greeks are the perfect example of this as 16 of their 23 players from the Greek Superleague, which… you know… gets a lot of play on Fox Soccer and ESPN these days. The outright talent and available players certainly seem to favor Poland, Russia and the Czech’s but you can’t count out the Greeks. As the 2004 Euro’s show, you can get on the right kind of defensive streak and just crush other teams with their absorb and spring out attack.

Czech Republics rising star also has 2 Olympic golds to his name…oh wait.

One look at the Czech roster will make you say, “Why is one of the greatest runners of all time playing right back for the Czechs?” That is until you realize that Gebre-Selassie is only slightly different from Gebrselassie and then we just move on to the Tomas Rosicky show. With Rosicky as the creative fulcrum in the middle of the field for the Czech men, you begin to realize that while this Czech team has pieces… they don’t really have the full show. They are a bit of an enigma in terms of style of play, typically using a 4-2-3-1 but often utilizing long balls and hold up play from Baros to try to allow Rezek, Gebre-Selassie the ability to push up the field and Rosicky to run onto the ball. Jiracek will probably play just in front of the back four trying to shuttle passes to the wings and into the feet of Limbersky and Gebre-Selassie. Inevitably one could be concerned about the amount of creativity and punch that the Czech’s have in goal. They are the lowest scoring team in qualifying of the four teams in Group A, and will need more than just industry to make up for the lack of goal scoring. They also have a not so great tendency to ship a few goals or two, although their group into the Euro’s was one of the toughest to move through with Spain, Scotland and Lithuania/Liechtenstein all vying for two spots.

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Your Euro 2012 Primer Begins Here

TSG’s Serie A man Eric Giardini goes continental in this piece

UEFA stamps out some pretenders this weekend...

This weekend not only brings about only the resumption of what some may call “meaningless” friendlies, but also the continuation of qualification for the 2012 European Football Championships to be held next summer in Poland and Ukraine. After the weekend, qualification will be halfway complete and the picture of next summer’s participants will begin to take shape.

For me personally, the European Championships have always held a special place in my soccer heart. My first exposure to the EUROs was in 2000. I remember flipping through the channels in the spare bedroom of my house just outside of Richmond, Virginia. I was 15 years old that summer so I was too young to be a “productive member of society” and hold a part-time job. School and just gotten out and I was looking for something to fill the time. As I lied on the bed mindlessly going through the 12 channels I had (this was before I had cable), I came across a channel that had no picture but still got audio. After listening to the audio for a bit, I realized that it was soccer of some sort, but I knew it could not have been the World Cup since it was midway through the four year cycle. It was only, after listening for what seemed like a while, did the announcers mention that it was the 2000 UEFA European Championships from Belgium and The Netherlands.

Tears down the Tyneside when Alan Shearer retired....

For the next three weeks I would lie on that bed, close my eyes, listen, and visualize the names and action on the imaginary pitch that I heard from that television. Alan Shearer, Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Francesco Totti, and Edgar Davids are names that still come to me when I think back on that tournament. I remember the heart stopping, crippling excitement when Italy and The Netherlands went to their semifinals penalty shootout and the heartbreaking anguish of Italy losing in the finals to the same French team that won the World Cup two years prior. I still don’t think I’ve ever actually seen David Trezeguet’s cup-winning Golden Goal, and to be honest, I hope I never do.

I was much more on top of things in 2004 as I sat and marveled at how Greece, a team that seemed to have no desire to score a goal, managed to make it to the finals and beat the host nation Portugal. Unfortunately, I was not able to watch as many of the matches as I would have liked in 2004 as I was in between my freshman and sophomore years of school and was working two jobs to help pay my way through college.

That changed in 2008 as I was fresh out of graduate school with no job prospects and nothing but time, and student loans, on my hands. I must have watched every match of that tournament that summer and have fond memories of my roommate at the time’s family from Peru come over to watch the Spain v Germany final and speaking to them in Spanish as they cheered on Germany and we cheered on Spain.

The 2012 edition is just the latest in a line of European Championships that I am excited to be getting closer to. As my soccer savviness as grown over the years, and I am much more aware of the qualification processes of major tournaments, I’m finding the qualification process to EURO 2012 almost as exciting as the actual tournament will be next summer. Almost.

Next summer’s tournament’s qualification is different than years past. In 2008, the 50 qualifying nations were divided into seven groups with the top two in each group automatically qualifying, along with the hosts Austria and Switzerland, for the final field of 16. For qualification for 2012, 51 nations (Montenegro has since joined UEFA) have been divided into six groups of six and three groups of five in a round-robin home-and-away format. The winners of the nine groups, and the second-place finisher with the most points from their group, will automatically qualify for next summer’s tournament while the remaining eight runner-ups will play in a home-and-away playoff to round out the tournament field. The 14 that survive the 13 month grind will join the two hosts to round out the field of 16.

Tournament Subplots to Become Familiar With:

Qualification for any major international tournament never goes according to plan – some nations struggle at the beginning only to find their feet later on to eventually qualify (Argentina in 2010 World Cup qualification). Others struggle and end up not qualifying and sending an entire nation into a panic (England in 2008 European Championship qualification). Every qualification match is important no matter if you are up against the likes of Germany or Spain or against a traditional minnow like San Marino or Azerbaijan. Below are a few of the qualification subplots that have emerged:

Oozing class: Ozil for Germany...

1)     The “Big Guns” are firing on All Cylinders: Germany, The Netherlands, and Spain have all started their respective campaigns with a bang with perfect records and high goal differential numbers. The most impressive among these nations has been Germany. In four Group A matches, Germany is outscoring its opponents 13-1. As we saw in South Africa, this new-look German squad has no trouble scoring goals. It will be interesting to see if this form can continue throughout qualification and into the tournament.

2)     Tiny Montenegro in Front of the Three Lions: Group G sees Montenegro atop of the group with 10 points from its first four matches. This puts the tiny nation three points clear of England – although the English have a match in hand. The two played to a 0-0 draw at Wembley Stadium back in October. This is remarkable for a federation that was only established in 2007. Their quick start has them up to 25th in the latest FIFA World Rankings (take that how you will) and tied with traditional African power Côte d’Ivoire. Needless to say, this all has captain Mirko Vučinić very excited.

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MLS Jumble Finale: What Are You Looking For?

Is that your final answer?

The question: What’s something you expect out of MLS this year that others might not?

Connor, Ninety-Plus:  More than 50% of the clubs to turn a profit. Now with the expanded CBA in place, that inevitably means the league will spend more, but with all the sponsorships and soccer specific stadiums, and this summers World Cup beckoning, this could be a jolt to the financial hearts of MLS clubs should the US play well in South Africa.

Chris, Dynamo fan:  I think we’re going to see a lot more young talent being picked out of MLS to go play in higher caliber leagues in Europe. After the recent success of both experienced and young Americans abroad we’re going to have a lot more eyes on young MLS players that are capable of making the jump to that next level of play.

Growth and brotherly love...

Joe, Miami Monsters: I expect the MLS 2010 season to be the most intense and important for growth. We need a strong showing this season!

Charles, MetroStars: I expect that MLS clubs will draw more fans than last season and continue to grow and flourish. The fact that things are going so well in Seattle proves to me that any ownership/investor group that place fan satisfaction/club quality as the highest priority will reap the benefits. I believe that an MLS club might just have it in them to win another CONCACAF Champion’s League – preferably before another ten years pass.

Euro 2012…Showcasing The Motherlands

Apparently the European Championship is a big deal. Not nearly as big as the CONCACAF Gold Cup, but it seems to be picking up some steam in recent years. If only they held the tournament every two years instead of four…

Now calmly put away your outrage at my ignorance for a more appropriate time, I’m only kidding.

TSG could not be more stoked for Euro 2012 as the tournament takes place in both lands of Matthew and my ancestors, Poland and the Ukraine.

As such, there is a good chance that my head will explode if ESPN gives the motherlands even a quarter of the “South Africa treatment” when it comes to covering the tournament. And don’t worry, these great nations will be prepared by the time the tourney comes around in 2012.

While Poland and the Ukraine automatically qualify for the tournament (June 8 – July 1, 2012) the draw for the remaining hopefuls took place today in Warsaw. A total of 16 teams will qualify for Euro 2012 which represents the last of the 16-team Championships as Euro 2016 will expand to 24 qualifying team.

One shirt down, one to go.

TSG will be doing its best to straddle the fence between the Yellow-Blues and the White-and-Reds, but as of now I’m leaning slightly towards the land of kielbasa and peirogi after acquiring this gem of a Polska shirt earlier this week. (Don’t worry Mom, I’ll make up for it by telling the story of my trip to the Ukrainian-American club on the Lower East Side in NYC to watch Ukraine-Italy during the 2006 World Cup soon.)

Here are the results of the qualifying draw fpr the group play that will kick-off later this year:

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