There will be a different feel to Euro 2008 with no England side to cheer/jeer this summer. It certainly takes the hype down several notches. Although I’m sure one of the self-obsessed, overpaid England “stars” who valiantly failed to escape a group with Croatia, Russia and Israel will butt in with a prize quote along the lines of “a country like England should be there…the tournament is worse off without us” sooner or later.
It’s the turn of Group A today with co-hosts Switzerland taking on the Czech Republic and Portugal meeting Turkey.
Perennial qualifiers the Czech Republic should be too strong for Switzerland in the opener but the latter should not be under-estimated, especially on home turf. For the Czechs, Rosicky is out but there are a list of familiar names including Rozenhal, Baros, Cech, Plasil and Koller.
The Swiss manager Koebi Kuhn has had to deal with personal issues recently, his wife hospitalised after an epileptic fit. This seems to have brought the Switzerland group closer together and Kuhn has thanked the squad for their support and understanding.
A man of his experience should be able to apply himself for 90 minutes and despite inferior talent to the Czechs (including Arsenal pair Johan Djourou and Philippe Senderos) they may have enough underdog drive to catch their more illustrious opponents off guard.
Prediction: Switzerland 1 Czech Republic 1
Portugal’s winking wing wizard, Ronaldo, has captured the headlines for the last few days but he’s not the sort of person to lose focus easily since he’s made it clear football is all about him. Portugal will enter the tournament as one of the dark horses (again) but the squad is showing signs of creaking. Deco never quite reached the creative heights of Figo and his star is waning further still, Petit is no more than a decent battler, Quaresma has not yet delivered for the national team and Hugo Almeida is not a prolific goalscorer.
If they are to complete the symmetry started in 1996 (reached the quarter-final; 2000, semi-final; 2004, final; 2008, winners) then they might need to look to experienced names like Simao, Ricardo Carvalho and Nuno Gomes. And Helder Postiga – scourge of England in 2004 – is in the squad. And he’s still only 25!
Turkey have come a long way from the team who were routinely battered in the 80s (I recall England beating then 8-0 about 20 years ago) but they seem to be short of where they were at the turn of the century (Euro 2000 quarter-finalists, third place in World Cup 2002).
There won’t be too many familiar names in the squad for Premier League fans with only the excellent Tuncay Sanli of Middlesbrough and former Newcastle midfielder Emre ringing bells. But Turkey’s national league is strong and 14 of the 23 squad players are from either Galatasaray or Fenerbahce – the top two sides in the league.
Nihat (15 goals in 55 games) will probably start up front with an attacking midfield supporting him (Sanli, Emre and Arda). Their defence will be familiar with each other and the squad should be tight. But you do wonder if they have enough up front to score goals. Against Portugal, probably not.
Prediction: Portugal 2 Turkey 0