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Final whistle

STADIUM GUIDE A look at all the eight stadiums that will host the European Championships. The tournament is co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine. The final will be played at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev.

The last edition of the European Championships was Poland’s first, and it was anything but memorable: they were knocked out of their group after taking just one point from their three games. After a 2-0 defeat to Germany, the crucial game came against the co-hosts, Austria. Poland were leading 1-0 and heading towards three points when they were undone by a penalty correctly awarded in injury-time by Howard Webb. The Polish media, conveniently ignoring the fact that the goal they had scored was offside, laid into Webb and the Prime Minister even went as far as saying that he felt like “killing” the referee. All of this covered up the fact that Poland hadn’t played well. In fact, they had been supremely below par. And their problems were well and truly exposed in World Cup qualifying when, after topping their group after three games, they collapsed and won just one match out of the remaining seven and finished fifth out of six in their group. Coach Stefan Majewski was sacked following their failure to qualify and was replaced by Franciszek Smuda, who led Widzew Lodz to two Polish championships and Wisla Krakow to another in the ‘90s.

Smuda has attempted to instil defensive discipline and collective responsibility in his squad, and both were in evidence in the 0-0 draw against Portugal with which Poland inaugurated their new national stadium in February. Smuda continues to insist that the national team doesn’t really have stars, and in a soft group with Russia, Czech Republic and Greece as opponents, he knows that Poland will have to stick together as a team to maneuver through to the knockout stages.

Widzew Lodz to two Polish championships and Wisla Krakow to another in the ‘90s.

Slowly, there is evidence of this side coming together. Smuda’s team has lost just one of their last nine friendlies - a 2-0 defeat to the Italians - as a 4-2-3-1 formation has become the cornerstone of their success. The three most familiar names in the squad are Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, Jakub Blaszczykowski, and his Borussia Dortmund team-mate Robert Lewandowski. Blaszczykowski usually operates on the right with Lewandowski as the chief center-forward, playing just ahead of Bordeaux’s Ludovic Obraniak, a title-winner with Lille OSC last season in Ligue 1. Although both co-hosts, Austria and Switzerland, failed to make it past the group stage four years ago, home support does make a huge difference in international tournaments. Egged on by passionate fans and a new home stadium, Poland have it in them to spring a surprise or two and pull of a few upsets along the way. This is a tightly-knit squad and can be hard to break down. In Blaszczykowski and Lewandowski, they have genuine quality in attacking areas if the proper service can be provided to them.

GK Wojciech Szczesny RB Lukasz Piszczek CB Tomasz Jodlowiec CB Damien Perquis LB Jakub Wawrzyniak DM Rafal Murawski

DM Dariusz Dudka LM Adrian Mierzejewski RM Jakub Blaszczykowski AM Ludovic Obraniak CF Robert Lewandowski

Prediction: Home advantage will play a factor. Lewandowski’s form will determine Poland’s fate.

Key Player

Robert Lewandowski After firing German champions Borussia Dortmund to their second successive Bundesliga title, Robert Lewandowski will be fired up for the Euros. He has quick feet and a solid physical presence and if the likes of Mierzejewski, Obraniak and Blaszczykowski can provide him with decent service, expect him to find the back of the net on a regular basis.

The playing personnel has changed, managers have changed hands, but the method still remains the same. When Greece lined up against Slaven Bilic’s Croatia in October, they had to win to retake top spot from their opponents with just one game to go. The atmosphere was fierce in Piraeus - two petrol bombs were thrown - and one could be forgiven for expecting Greece to start ferociously given the electric surroundings and take the game away from Croatia before they got to terms with the mayhem. Instead, and as is typical with Greek football in recent years, the first half could hardly have been more soporific and Greece won thanks to two set-piece goals in the final 20 minutes. Fernando Santos took over from Otto Rehhagel in July 2010 and has managed to make Greece into a more compact, stubborn and pragmatic unit in the extreme, exploiting set plays and producing results. Following his appointment, Greece went 17 games unbeaten before their streak was snapped by Romania in a friendly.

But it says a lot about their approach that of the 19 games Santos has overseen, eight have been drawn. Santos prefers a 4-3-3 formation but don’t be fooled by the numbers. It isn’t a Barcelona style model with a false number nine or a Chelsea approach with one target man, rather Santos plays three forwards who feed on scraps and the other eight men sit behind the ball (there are no wingers). Because of this model, they hardly concede goals - just five were let in during qualification to the tournament.

games unbeaten before their streak was snapped by Romania in a friendly.

goals - just five were let in during qualification to the tournament.

Theofanis Gekas, once of Portsmouth, came out of international retirement to take his place as the first-choice center forward. He usually has Giorgios Samaras to his left and Dimitris Salpigidis to his right - they make up the three front men charged with breaking down the opposition defence. But due to the conservative approach taken by Santos, Greece only found the back of the net 14 times in 10 games in the qualifying stages. There is real hype surrounding 21-year-old Olympiakos forward Ioannis Fetfatzidis who has been nicknamed ‘The Greek Messi’, partly because the club helped pay for his growth hormone treatment. He is a highly gifted striker and has already racked up 12 appearances for the national team. He adds a bit of flair and imagination in an otherwise hard-working and compact side. He is one to look out for if Santos deems fit to give him a chance. The midfield is occupied by thirty-somethings but the backline boasts a more youthful exuberance with Kyriakos Papadopoulos the shining light. The 20-year-old ball-playing center-back offers hope that the future for Greek football may not be so painfully functional and one-dimensional.

GK Alexandros Tzorvas RB Vasilis Torosidis CB Kyriakos Papadopoulos CB Sokratis Papastathopoulos LB Avraam Papadopoulos CM Kostas Katsouranis

CM Alexandros Tziolis CM Giorgos Karagounis FW Dimitris Salpigidis FW Giorgios Samaras CF Theofanis Gekas

But the past decade has been the most successful in Greece’s history so while the watching audience may not like their approach, they see no great reason to change it. Prediction: Lack of fire-power up front means an early exit.

Key Player

Kyriakos Papadopoulos Euro 2012 could be the coming of age for Schalke and Greece’s young, elegant ball-playing center-back, Kyriakos Papadopoulos. He is comfortable playing as a defensive midfielder but prefers playing at the heart of the defence - he was in the Bundesliga top five for tackles, interceptions and blocked shots in the season gone by. The stage is set for the young star to announce himself to the world.

Anyone who watched the European Championships in 2004 will remember the virtuoso performances of Tomas Rosicky. Following the brilliant Pavel Nedved, he has long been the icon of Czech football. He was outstanding as the Czechs came from 2-0 down to beat Holland at Euro 2004, only to run into the immovable object that was Otto Rehhagel’s Greece in the semifinal. He performed well at the 2006 World Cup while others around him struggled. But from there on, his career has been blighted by injury and he suffered an alarming dip in form, looking completely out of sorts in the last few seasons. Recently, however, it’s been a completely different tale altogether. Rosicky’s sudden surge in form at Arsenal since February was in evidence for his country three months earlier. He was fairly anonymous during qualifying but looked like the Rosicky of old in the play-off victories over Montenegro, dazzling and reveling in the playmaking role. So the question on everyone’s mind was: why? Had it taken him this long to recover from the tendon injury he had suffered or was he suited better in the new system?

Coach Michal Bilek has taken a fair amount of criticism for his team’s displays in qualifying as they managed to score just twelve goals in eight games despite being in a group with Lithuania and Liechtenstein. This was, in part, due to Rosicky’s loss of form. They lost the first game at home to Lithuania and were easily defeated by the Spaniards both home and away. They did get better as the games went by but the performances were dull and uninspiring and lacked a certain cutting edge.

But the suspension of Tomas Hubschman for the play-offs meant Bilek had to change his midfield around. Jiracek moved into his preferred position in the middle and Jaroslav Plasil dropped deeper. The Bordeaux skipper relished the new role as he linked up brilliantly with Rosicky in the new 4-2-3-1 formation. Vaclav Pilar and Jan Rezek were outstanding in their respective wide positions. But the pressing issue for Bilek remains as to how to convert that into goals. There is no consistent striker at his disposal. Milan Baros was his preferred regular choice up front in most of the qualifying games but Tomas Pekhart performed brilliantly against Montenegro to stake his claim for a starting berth. 19-year-old Vaclav Kadlec can make an impact coming off the bench - he was the star of the Czech side that reached the semi final at the under-21 Euros last summer. At the back, Petr Cech seems to be back to his best after struggling with his form for a couple of seasons. He had a nightmare at Euro 2008 and will be desperate to make up for it this time around.

GK Petr Cech RB Theodor Selassie CB Roman Hubnik CB Tomas Sivok LB Michal Kadlec CM Jaroslav Plasil

CM Petr Jiracek RM Jan Rezek LW Vaclav Pilar AM Tomas Rosicky CF Milan Baros

Key Player Tomas Rosicky Rosicky has looked sluggish, out of sorts and well past his prime in recent seasons. But since February, he has found a fresh lease of life at Arsenal and that form has carried into the international matches. There is a sudden resurgence in his playing style and he looks like the Rosicky of old. Fit and fresh going into the tournament, the old schemer will be hoping to drag his country to success this summer.

Bilek’s hopes are pinned on his midfield five performing come June 8th. They can go from blisteringly brilliant to downright stodgy in a matter of minutes. But the draw has been kind to them and they should make it out of the group with considerable ease. Prediction: Should make it out of the group but no further.

Four years ago, masterminded by Guus Hiddink, Russia took Euro 2008 by storm. His model was based on the Dutch concept of total football with Andrei Arshavin cast in the role of Johan Cruyff. Hopes that their sparkling run to the semi-finals would signal the start of a golden era haven’t materialised. Instead, under Dick Advocaat, the Russians seem to be have fallen back in their development and the spark they had shown at Euro 2008 seems to have faded. After failing to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, Russia’s qualification for Euro 2012 was achieved in solid, but unspectacular fashion. Advocaat believes in building from the back which showed as they conceded a meagre four goals in ten matches. The attacking flair that they had shown earlier seems to have been extinguished. The rearguard is an extremely cohesive unit given that that three of the back four Sergei Ignashevich and the Berezutski twins (of which Vasili won’t be traveling due to a knee injury) - have been playing together for club and country for almost a decade. With Konstantin Zyryanov, another seasoned veteran, patrolling the midfield, the team is built on strong foundations.

But it is further up the pitch that the cracks start to appear in this Russian team. This is mainly down to the fall from grace of Andrei Arshavin. He lost his way at Arsenal and was locked out of the first team by Arsene Wenger. He was shipped out on loan back to his alma mater, Zenit St Petersburg, where he has found some form and regular playing time. He is still the fulcrum of this Russian team and if he fails to deliver this summer, they are staring at an early exit from the competition.

Arshavin’s national team-mates Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Yuri Zhirkov have all had stints in the Premier League and ended up as fringe players, only to return home and find their true form. It hardly presents a glowing image of the Russian game on the global stage but manager Dick Advocaat believes that the national team will benefit from these players getting regular game time. If you take out the 6-0 thrashing of Andorra, goals have been hard to come by - just 11 in 9 qualifiers. Whenever Advocaat opts for a big targetman up front, Russia seem to struggle to get going. But when Arshavin and Alan Dzagoev have been paired alongside Kerzhakov in a fluid 4-3-3 formation, Russia have looked threatening and close to the team they were in 2008. Alan Dzagoev has the potential to be Russia’s star man this summer if he can live up to expectations. The 21-year-old is an exciting prospect as an attacking midfielder and has already racked up three full seasons in the Russian League. He is no stranger to pressure and he may just be able to inspire Russia to success in a similar way to Arshavin in 2008.

GK Igor Akinfeev RB Aleksandr Anyukov CB Sergei Ignashevich CB Aleksei Berezutski LB Yuri Zhirkov DM Igor Denisov

CM Roman Shirokov CM Konstantin Zyryanov AM Alan Dzagoev AM Andrei Arshavin CF Roman Pavlyuchenko

Key Player Andrei Arshavin Despite his fall from grace and complete loss of form at Arsenal, Arshavin remains key to Russia’s hopes of making it big this summer. He is still the chief attacking midfielder of the side alongside Alan Dzagoev and may just be able to inspire his country for one last time on the big stage. He seems to perform best when paired with Kerzhakov up front but Advocaat seems to prefer Pavlyuchenko or Pogrebnyak which seems a bit odd.

This squad is one of the shortest in height at Euro 2012. Physical strength and stamina are a recognized shortcoming which may prove fatal in such a big tournament. Prediction: Should make it out of the group with ease but will struggle to get further.

The Netherlands remind you of ‘Total Football’, a concept that they invented with the greatest Dutch player of all time, Johan Cruyff, as the heir messiah. In the 1970’s, Holland were one of the most feared teams in world football. Their style of play epitomized the attractive football that the fans have come to love and adore, and it is that model on which Barcelona’s famous La Masia academy is based on. They are, however, one of the biggest chokers on the world stage, with their solitary tournament win coming at Euro 1988. They have qualified for nine of the 14 previous European Championships and have to have only failed to qualify from the group stage on one occasion. They have been semi-finalists in 1992, 2004 and 2004. In the last edition, they produced some scintillating football before falling in the quarter-finals to fellow countryman Guus Hiddink led Russia. Andrei Arshavin produced one of the most astonishing attacking displays that evening, with the Dutch unable to covert their possession into any meaningful chances. Ruud van Nistelrooy was starved of service as the Dutch bowed out in typical fashion.

But their qualifying campaign for Euro 2012 has been outstanding, winning nine out of ten games, with their only defeat coming in the final game against Sweden. They scored an remarkable 37 goals in the process, including a magnificent 11-0 win over San Marino, whilst conceding just eight. Their 4-1 over Sweden was the epitome of their attacking powers as the Swedes were brushed aside with consummate ease. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was the top-scorer for any nation in qualifying with 12 goals, and he is fast closing in on Patrick Kluivert’s 40 goals for the Dutch (Huntelaar already has 31 in 50 games).

Ruud van Nistelrooy was starved of service as the Dutch bowed out in typical fashion.

Coach Bert Van Marwijk has slowly phased out a second defensive midfielder (Nigel De Jong), and replaced him with the more attacking option of either Rafael Van der Vaart or Kevin Strootman. Van Marwijk’s dilemma is how to replicate Van Persie’s Arsenal form. He has flourished playing between two wingers, Gervinho and Theo Walcott. This puts pressure on van Marwijk to play Arjen Robben and Ibrahim Afellay on the wings, but he prefers Dirk Kuyt for his industrious work-rate even though he’s not a true winger. The other option is to play Van Persie on the right - which was tried on several occasions towards the end of qualifying - so that, like Robben, he can cut in on his left foot. But like the other opponents in the ‘Group of Death’, Netherlands are suffering from a lack of defensive options. Left-back Erik Pieters has been ruled out due to injury which means there’s no recognized left-back in the squad. At center-back Joris Mathijsen’s form has been poor for Malaga this season. He will partner Johnny Heitinga with much sought after Ajax youngster Gregory Van der Wiel on the right.

GK Maarten Stekelenburg RB Gregory Van der Wiel CB Joris Mathijsen CB Johnny Heitinga LB Stijn Schaars CM Mark Van Bommel

CM Rafael Van der Vaart RM Robin Van Persie LW Arjen Robben AM Wesley Sneijder CF Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

Key Player Robin Van Persie Arsenal fans have a saying - ‘Who needs Batman, when you’ve got Robin’ - which highlights the importance of the man in any side he plays in. Van Persie is one of the most gifted footballers of his generation and is coming into the tournament of the back of a fantastic season with Arsenal.. With Robben and Sneijder supplying the service, expect him to be up there in the goal-scoring charts.

Their inability to convert victories into a trophy winning campaign has haunted them for a long time, no more so than the 2010 World Cup. But this group of players has come together as a solid unit and that might prove to be a decisive factor in their fight to reclaim the crown that has eluded them for 24 years. Prediction: Could reach the final but will be pipped to the crown.

In the last 10 years, Germany have made the final of a World Cup, two semi-finals and a European Championships final, but they have not been able to convert that into trophies. It is very unlike a German team to convert the chances they get. The problem lies in the fact that, in all of those big games, Germany faced an opponent that was better than them, and better than the rest of the teams in the competition. It was Brazil in 2002, Italy in 2006, Spain in 2008 and Spain were their nemesis again in 2010. Being second best has not gone down well with Germany and they are determined to go one step further this time. It is a well known fact that the Germans always turn up at the big events - they are the side with the most number of Euro crowns, having won the competition thrice, and have reached the final a record six times. They are traditionally good starters and their first big challenge is navigating through the ‘Group of Death’. Holland could prove to be a stumbling block, but they are expected to overcome Denmark and Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal with some ease. They are the bookies favorites to lift the trophy come July 1st.

The only chunk in the German armor, it seems, is their defence. They have an outstanding goalkeeper in Manuel Neuer, but the back four protecting him give off a jittery vibe. The Dutch are known for their attacking prowess and with the likes of Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in their offensive ranks, can pose a serious threat to Philipp Lahm and company. Even Portugal rely on their star-studded attacking line-up to get them results, so we should not be short of goals and entertainment value in this group of groups.

It is due to this threat that coach Joachim Low will opt for two deep-lying midfielders in the form of Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Khedira will be expected to do the ‘dirty’ work - break up the opposition attacks and keep the play ticking - while Schweinsteiger, with his exemplary vision and passing technique, will look to dictate the tempo of the game and get the wide players usually Thomas Muller and Lukas Podolski involved. But the main threat in this attacking-minded German line-up will come from Real Madrid’s Mesut Ozil. Having helped Real Madrid win their first La Liga title in 4 years, he will be keen to add the Euro crown to his growing list of title triumphs. Such is the strength in depth at Low’s disposal that the likes of Toni Kroos and Mario Gotze will have to make do with a place on the bench. Up front, Mario Gomez has been on fire for his club but there seems to lack a clinical edge in his finishing. This was in evidence in the Champions League final when chance after chance passed him by. Miroslav Klose is enjoying an Indian summer with Lazio and Low seems to be very fond of him so it remains to be seen who gets the nod ahead of the opener against Portugal on June 9th.

GK Manuel Neuer RB Jerome Boateng CB Matt Hummels CB Per Mertesacker LB Philipp Lahm CM Sami Khedira

CM Bastian Schweinsteiger RM Thomas Muller LW Lukas Podolski AM Mesut Ozil CF Miroslav Klose

Key Player Mesut Ozil Historically known for their industrial team ethic, the current German side is also bursting at the seams with flair and creativity and no one has more of both qualities than Mesut Ozil. Notching up five goals and seven assists in the qualifying rounds, he has been unstoppable for both club and country this season. His clear vision and an eye for a pass are right up there with the best in the world of football.

Schweinsteiger and Lahm have suffered enough heartache and it is time for them to stand up and counted. They need to win this to put a medal to all the excellence that this German team has shown over the past few years. Prediction: Definite favorites along with Spain to win the tournament.

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. For all of the talent in Portugal, they always seem to fall short of expectations. The Portuguese national football team is regarded in the world as one of the biggest under achievers on the world stage. At Euro 2004, it seemed as though they had finally done it when they reached the final at home, only to run into the stone wall set up by the Greeks. They once again come into the tournament with high expectations, especially having one of the world’s best players as their captain. Drawn in the ‘Group of Death’ once more, their fight starts on day one and any slipup would mean an early group stage exit from the competition. This Portuguese team seems to suffer from erratic runs. They would lay low and show nothing for 75 minutes of the game and then suddenly burst into action with some dazzling football. Unfortunately, that has been the problem for them and no matter who the coach is, this is a recurring problem. The other problem lies in the fact that the team seems to fade away in any big match and is just not able to do justice

to the immense talent this side possesses. A slow start for Portugal this summer would mean an early exit and that is something Paulo Bento just cannot afford. Their defense is another area of concern, as the main man there is Pepe. Although, another superb defender and strong headed too, his determination sometimes goes overboard. His disciplinary issues mean that a game without him seeing red is a source of relief for his manager and colleagues. His partners in crime are considerably weaker when it comes to mental strength but Real Madrid team mate Coentrao is an emerging talent himself.

that the team seems to fade away in any big match and is just not able to do justice

Madrid team mate Coentrao is an emerging talent himself.

The midfield is the strongest area for Paulo Bento with the likes of Nani, Raul Meireles, Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso and Cristiano Ronaldo all coming into the tournament on the back of a successful season with their respective clubs. Bento has time and again tried to take the burden off Ronaldo’s shoulder by insisting that Portugal are not a one man team, but the fact remains that if Ronaldo has an off-day, Portugal struggle to score. He has acquired a reputation of going missing in the big games but given the season he has had with Real Madrid, it is safe to assume that he is going to be on fire come the opener against Germany on June 9th. Portugal had to navigate their way through the play-offs as they struggled to top their qualifying group and were pipped by Denmark, who they now face again in the group stage. Their main striker, Helder Postiga, has been ravaged by injuries in recent times and this may be his last chance on the big stage to make it count.

GK Rui Patricio RB Lars Jacobsen CB Bruno Alves CB Pepe LB Fabio Coentrao CM Raul Meireles

CM Miguel Veloso CM Joao Moutinho RW Nani LM Cristiano Ronaldo CF Helder Postiga

Key Player Cristiano Ronaldo We have run out of superlatives to describe the goal-machine that is Cristiano Ronaldo. He is in the form of his career right now and this tournament may have come at just the right moment for him. He’s been breaking all sorts of records at club level, and there may never be a better time for him to do that for his country. The burden of expectations has never affected the Portuguese star. In fact, he seems to thrive under it. If he gets going, expect fireworks.

The Portuguese are traditional chokers at this level and the bookmakers believe they will fail once again. Too many players in this side are brittle and the shoulders start to droop at the first sighting of trouble. Ronaldo’s ambition, drive, determination and concreteness are not qualities that have infected the team up to the right levels. Over-reliance on him in the goalscoring department may prove to be fatal once again for Paulo Bento’s team in the group of death. Prediction: In a group with favorites Germany and Holland, you’d have to say an early exit is the most likely outcome.

Denmark are used to being written off before a European Championship even starts. It was 20 years ago that they even failed to qualify, but as late replacements for Yugoslavia, beat the might of Germany and Holland to win Euro 92. The Danes will line up against those sides again in Group B, but coach Morten Olson has no intention of letting his team be the whipping boys of the first round. Being christened the ‘weak link’ in the ‘Group of Death’ might just work in favor of Denmark. In Euro 92, they rode on impressive performances from Michael and Brian Laudrup in attack and Peter Schmeichel in goal as they pulled off one of the biggest shocks in European Championship history. Their successors, though, haven’t exactly produced the kind of quality and grit that was in evidence during that memorable tournament. They come into this edition with a bunch of players who boast individual quality and if underestimated, have the ability to hurt even the best of teams. With Morten Olsen as their manager since 2000, Denmark managed to qualify for the World Cup in 2002 and then again in 2010

This is the second time he has guided them to the European Championship finals, the first coming in 2004. Olsen has been rigorous in his player management regime and hardly any player has been overlooked during his reign. The only downside to his years in management has been the fact that they haven’t really impressed on the world stage when they have managed to qualify. Being in the same qualifying group as their Group B opponents Portugal, most expected the Danes to finish as runners up and go into the play-offs. However, all that changed when they beat the Portuguese 2-1 in their own back yard in the penultimate game to

2000, Denmark managed to qualify for the World Cup in 2002 and then again in 2010

when they beat the Portuguese 2-1 in their own back yard in the penultimate game to

win the group and gain automatic qualification to the group stages of Euro 2012. They have a resolute defence as Olsen believes in building from the back. Daniel Agger will be the leader in the backline with Simon Kjaer as his partner in crime. Lars Jacobsen and Simon Poulson are the full backs on either side of Agger and Kjaer. The Danes will have to rely on this defensive unit if they are to proceed in the tournament. The Danish midfield is a mixture of creativity, flair and experience. Stuttgart right-back William Kvist plays the role of the holding midfielder alongside Club Brugge’s Niki Zimling. Ahead of them is the attacking trio of Dennis Rommedahl, late bloomer Michael Krohn-Dehli and Ajax youngster Christian Eriksen. This is Eriksen’s first big chance at this level and there is huge pressure on him to live up to the hype (not helped by comparisons to Michael Laudrup).

GK Thomas Sorensen RB Lars Jacobsen CB Daniel Agger CB Simon Kjaer LB Simon Poulson CM William Kvist

CM Niki Zimling LW Michael Krohn-Dehli RW Dennis Rommedahl AM Christian Eriksen CF Nicklas Bendtner

Key Player Christian Eriksen The current Danish Player of the Year is without a shadow of a doubt Denmark’s player to watch this summer. The youngest player at World Cup 2010 and the youngest ever scorer in Euro qualifying, Eriksen is a young star (still only 20) with a bright future ahead of him. He is not inexperienced though, as he already has a taste of title winning and Champions League football under his belt.

Up front is the erratic Nicklas Bendtner, much more dangerous for his country than his club. While Bendtner can be brilliant on certain days, he can easily fade on others. There is a real paucity of options in the striking department for Olsen and they have to rely on the midfield trio to chip in with the goals. They are under-rated and this is what drives them. While the Portuguese will be aware of the drive and determination of this side, Germany and Holland may be in for a shock. Prediction: Will need a miraculous showing to break the German-Dutch stranglehold.

Spain had been living in the shadow of their more illustrious rivals for a long time before their triumph at Euro 2008. The tag of perennial underachievers was firmly in place and no matter how hard they tried, even with the likes of Raul and Fernando Hierro, they couldn’t overcome it. And then it all changed at the last edition of the European Championships. The Barcelona stars make up the majority of the Spanish national side and as success at club level started to come, it carried on to the international stage. Stunning, sparkling and slick football flowed from the boots of the Spaniards as first Europe, then the world was conquered in 2010. Their build-up to the tournament has been marred by one or two excruciating defeats in friendlies, especially when England shut them out at Wembley, but they still remain the team to beat. Even if the Dutch and the Germans can claim superiority in the statistical details of how to qualify and make a statement of intent at the same time, Spain still thrashed their opponents in their group, strolling to the top with a 100 per cent win rate and a stunning goal ratio of 26-6.

Consider this: neither Iker Muniain, Javi Martinez, Fernando Llorente, Jordi Alba, Santi Cazorla nor Roberto Soldado played any significant role in adding the World Cup crown to their Euro 2008 triumph. Scary, isn’t it? The first real problem manager Vicente Del Bosque faces is up front, where there is a growing striker crisis for La Roja. Fernando Llorente looks most likely to start after David Villa ruled himself out having failed to recovered from a broken leg. Fernando Torres has an outside chance of making the starting XI but his form, despite having

found somewhat of his old touch back under Roberto Di Matteo. The good news for Spain is that the tensions between Real Madrid and Barcelona seem to have simmered down after they avoided each other in the Champions League draw. Another round of clasicos would hardly have done wonders for morale in the Spain camp. The one real weakness in this usually compact and solid La Roja outfit is at the back. The defence is hardly Fort Knox without the combative Carles Puyol (injured). Pique has suffered an alarming dip in form this season, and his pairing with Sergio Ramos in the center of defence will hardly strike fear into opponents hearts.

GK Iker Casillas RB Alvaro Arbeloa CB Sergio Ramos CB Gerard Pique LB Jordi Alba CM Sergio Busquets

CM Xabi Alonso LW David Silva RW Andres Iniesta AM Xavi Hernandez CF Fernando Llorente

Key Player Xavi Hernandez Spain possess an abundance of talent, but the one man who keeps them ticking over, the orchestrator of the symphony, is Xavi. The Catalan playmaker is the heartbeat of the Spanish side. He loves controlling the tempo of the game, pulling the strings from the center of midfield and has been aptly nicknamed “The Puppet Master�. Stop Xavi and you stop Spain from functioning as a unit.

But despite all the flaws, there is a real buzz surrounding the Spaniards. There is a winning mentality, something they lacked five years ago. They know they can win. This is a fruitful, golden epoch for La Roja - Martinez, Muniain, Herrera and Thiago all won the under-21 Euros last season in emphatic style; David Silva has found his true form at Manchester City; Soldado and Llorente have come of age - both of them have had a fantastic season with their respective club sides; and there is a queue of some absolutely quality youngsters still waiting to break through. Can the Spaniards lift themselves up for a crack at threetournaments-in-a-row immortality? That remains the million dollar question. Prediction: Tiredness may play a factor, but they still remain the team to beat.

Anything would feel better after the disastrous tenure of Marcello Lippi and Cesare Prandelli’s reign, despite not scaling the dizzying heights of previous years, has felt like a breath of fresh air for the Italians. Prandelli is a progressive manager, more receptive to the idea of giving youngsters a chance. Things have gone downhill after the World Cup triumph in 2006. After exiting Euro 2008 at the quarter final stage, they produced one of the most insipid campaigns in recent memory as they were unceremoniously dumped out of the World Cup in the group stage. As far as Euro qualifying campaigns go, Italy’s was a fairly routine one (bar the drama at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris when the match had to be abandoned after the Serbian fans rioted and Italy were eventually awarded a 3-0 win) and they finished as group toppers with a record points haul. A goalless draw in Northern Ireland and a squeaky 1-0 win over the Faroe Islands is hardly the stuff of European champions, though.

Mario Balotelli has been given a fresh lease of life under Prandelli, but no matter how many chances he’s given, he seems to squander every single one of them. He was dropped along with Daniele De Rossi for a high-profile friendly against the USA after illdiscipline at club level, a warning to everyone that Prandelli’s tolerance level had been stretched. Antonio Cassano has recovered from his heart operation in time to make the squad for the Euros which is just as well for a team who are severely lacking proven goalscorers up front.


Antonio Di Natale has sparkled again for Udinese but seems to struggle in blue colors, Giuseppe Rossi has been ruled out due to injury and Super Mario is not a reliable entity, so Cassano’s inclusion will come as a boost for the Italians. In midfield, a rejuvenated Andrea Pirlo will be the key to Italy’s chances. After another magnificent Serie A season, he will be all too keen to bow out of the international scene on a high. Protected by the fiery De Rossi in front of him, and with Antonio Nocerino and Claudio Marchisio plying their trade alongside him, Italy look solid and compact through the middle. Prandelli likes to play a high back line that links up well with the midfield and he likes his front men to pull the opposition defence out of shape with their fluid movement. There’s not much width in this system but there is a certain flexibility in the midfield which adds a zip to their passing.

GK Gianluigi Buffon RB Christian Maggio CB Giorgio Chiellini CB Andrea Ranocchia LB Domenico Criscito DM Andrea Pirlo

CM Daniele De Rossi CM Claudio Marchisio AM Antonio Nocerino CF Antonio Cassano CF Antonio Di Natale

Key Player Andrea Pirlo Released by AC Milan, even Pirlo could not have imagined in his wildest dreams the season he would have with Juventus. The team went unbeaten throughout the Serie A season, and Pirlo was at the heart of everything good about them. Italy will be looking to their playmaker again as they harbor hopes of ousting Spain as tournament favorites. The Italian midfield looks fluid, expect Pirlo to have a brilliant tournament.

Led by the always vocal Gianluigi Buffon from the back, Italy are rank outside favorites to lift the trophy. Prandelli has kept a lid on expectations which may work in favor of the Azzurri's come June 10th when they face the Spaniards in their tournament opener. Look out for Fabio Borini if he gets a chance - the former Chelsea striker has a big future ahead of him. Prediction: Semi-finals. Outsiders for the trophy.

When Ivan Klasnic smashed Croatia into the lead in the final minute of extra time in their Euro 2008 quarter-final against Turkey, coach Slaven Bilic looked unstoppable. They were on course to face Germany in the semi-final, a team they had already beaten in the group stage. But two minutes into injury time, Semih Senturk put a spanner in the works as he pulled the Turks level and a shattered Croatia were knocked out on penalties. Recovery from that blow has been slow and painful for the Croats. Niko Kovac had been the unsung hero of that squad, and it was only after he had gone that his importance in the team was recognized. The Croatia back four was brutally exposed in World Cup qualifying - even a usually reserved England side put nine past them in two games. Eduardo’s broken leg and subsequent loss of form cost Croatia and, off the pitch, Bilic’s relations with the local media soured following unsavory allegations about his personal life. Things had gone terribly downhill for the usually solid Croats.

Bilic could easily have walked away and found a better paid job elsewhere, but he stuck to his task and got his reward in qualifying. Modric was moved to a deeper position, playing as the deep-lying creative force protected by the man in front of him. This move has given more balance to the Croatia system. They are still not the force they used to be in 2007 but at least there is a sense of progress.

But vitally, there was a huge victory in the playoffs over Turkey. The return of Ivica Olic for the front line provided a much needed boost, and that in turn gave respite to the talented but fragile Mario Mandzukic who was able to drop into the ‘hole’ and link up with the midfield four. This change in roles meant leaving Eduardo and Nikica Jelavic on the bench, which highlights the strength in depth of the attacking options Bilic has at his disposal. Croatia went ahead after two minutes in Istanbul and then sat back and hit their opponents on the break to snatch a convincing 3-0 win, leaving them to play out a drab 0-0 draw back in Zagreb. Modric is the star attraction of this Croatia squad, but equally important in captain Darijo Srna. He plays as an attacking right-back for Shakhtar but is deployed as a winger for the national side, ensuring that they get the benefit of his crossing abilities and dead ball expertise. This also provides a balance to the squad - Bilic can field an attacking winger like Niko Kranjcar on the left of the midfield.

GK Stipe Pletikosa RB Vedran Corluka CB Josip Simunic CB Dejan Lovren LB Ivan Strinic CM Ivan Rakitic

CM Luka Modric LM Niko Kranjcar RM Darijo Srna FW Mario Mandzukic CF Ivica Olic

Key Player Luka Modric Since joining Tottenham Hotspur in 2008, Luka Modric has developed into one of the most influential midfielders in the Premier League. Olic and Jelavic will look to the diminutive playmaker to pull the strings in the center of the park and provide them the requisite service. A fine passer of the ball who also possesses sublime vision, Modric will be looking to dictate the tempo of the play against the likes of Spain and Italy.

But the weakness of Bilic’s squad lies in defence. With Kovac gone, there is not enough protection for the back four and Croatia have proven themselves inadequate at dealing with set-pieces - they conceded two silly set-piece goals to Greece in qualifying. A lack of pace is also an issue with the back four and coupled with the poor form they are having, it could spell bad news for the Croats. Prediction: Group stage exit due to lack of defensive options.

The Republic of Ireland are back among the elite of international football and they only have one man to thank for it - Giovanni Trapattoni. He has earned a new contract and the undying gratitude of the Irish public after guiding them to the Euros after a 24 year break from the tournament. They are the only third-seeded team at the start of the qualifying campaign to reach the finals. Ireland have made steady progress under Trapattoni since he took over from Steve Staunton in 2008 - they have climbed to 18th place in the FIFA rankings from 42nd, a stunning achievement. Under ‘The Trap’, the Irish have lost just twice in 24 competitive matches. But this has come at a cost, the fluidity of their attacking play has been sacrificed for a more hard-working and defensive style, something the Irish fans are still not used to. Sections of the Irish media have been open critics of Trapattoni’s style which has frustrated the loyal supporters. Trap’s safety first approach does not provide much of a spectacle and a sense that Ireland are selling themselves short in terms of quality, creativity and player development.

But in keeping with the legendary manager’s management style, he does not care about what others think. “If you want entertainment, go to La Scala (the Milan opera house),” he has often said to his critics. He doesn’t care about the quality, he gets the results and points on the board. The only flair player to travel to Poland and Ukraine looks like James McClean, after much media and fan clamoring. He isn’t guaranteed a start however, with Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady the preferred wing pairing. There is a lot of experience in this squad, but that might not be enough in a group containing Spain and Italy.

Robbie Keane, Richard Dunne, Shay Given and Damien Duff have 4-2 caps between them, John O’Shea and Kevin Doyle, another 121. Trapattoni will draw on this vast bank of experience to pull off a miracle in the ‘other group of death’. Defensive solidarity is a real strength in the system under Trap, every player knows exactly what is expected of him. They went on a run of eight successive clean sheets last year, which included a 2-0 win against Italy. O’Shea, Dunne, St Ledger and Ward form a formidable unit in front of the ever reliable Shay Given. The problem with this Ireland line-up lies in midfield. Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews are not players who can run the game, so Ireland struggle to keep possession. Darron Gibson is another option but he has been unable to build on the initial promise he had shown. He does possess an educated right foot however, which could well prove to be Ireland’s trump card. But Duff and McGeady are Ireland’s shining beacons on either wing. Duff is in the twilight of his career and will want to bow out in style. McGeady can provide the spark needed on a dull day to get the team going and Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle will be looking to him to provide the service for them to feed off.

GK Shay Given RB John O’Shea CB Richard Dunne CB Sean St. Ledger LB Stephen Ward DM Keith Andrews

CM Darron Gibson RM Damien Duff LM Aiden McGeady FW Robbie Keane CF Kevin Doyle

Key Player

It is imperative that Ireland get something from their opening game against Croatia or they can kiss goodbye to their hopes of reaching the knockout stages. Prediction: Experience will not be enough in a group as tough as this.

Robbie Keane He was the top scorer in qualifying with seven goals and will be Ireland’s main threat at the Euros. He may have lost a yard of pace but possess a very good footballing brain which still enables him to play at the highest level. The 32-year old skipper knows this is going to be his last crack at a major tournament - how’s that for incentive?

French football was in the doldrums after the World Cup when the French Football Federation threatened to ban football in the country following the farce in South Africa. The disastrous reign of Raymond Domenech reached it’s zenith as Les Blues were dumped out of the group stages. Players rioted, there were talks of racial abuse and it all ended up with newly appointed manager Laurent Blanc suspending all 23 members of the squad in his first game in charge. He gave a chance to a new generation of players like Yann M’Vila, Yohan Cabaye, Adil Rami and Jeremy Menez who have now cemented their place in the French squad and will look to lead the charge in Poland and Ukraine. Since losing their first qualifier at home to Belarus, France have gone on an 18-game unbeaten run beating the likes of England and Brazil along the way. It might have been easy playing down expectations after the failure at the World Cup, but it is something else to beat Euro favorites Germany, 2-1, in their own backyard.

The midfield trio of M’Vila, Abou Diaby and Alou Diarra was the cornerstone of Blanc’s early success but Diaby’s injury prone nature got the better of him and Diarra lost all semblance of form when he moved to Marseille last season. Samir Nasri - a player overlooked after a row with Domenech at Euro 2008, and Cabaye, were pencilled in to fill in for the unfortunate duo and they have been outstanding since.

fill in for the unfortunate duo and they have been outstanding since.

Karim Benzema endured a terrible debut season at Real Madrid and was consequentially left out of France’s World Cup squad. But under Blanc, he has been a regular starter and has contributed in the big games. His form at club level has picked up dramatically and has carried on into the international games. He scored the opening goal against England and the winner against Brazil, adding to his three goals in qualifying. Focal point of the attack, he will be one to look out for. The chief concern for Blanc has been the search for a captain, a leader of men to skipper Les Blues. He trialled Florent Malouda, Philippe Mexes, Eric Abidal and Alou Diarra before finally settling on the goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris. He is a quiet person, not one for the limelight, so it came as a surprise at the time of the appointment. Mexes seemed to be a good choice for the role but his temperament has often been called into question, which might have swung the pendulum in Lloris’s direction.

GK Huge Lloris RB Bacary Sagna CB Adil Rami CB Philippe Mexes LB Patrice Evra CM Yohan Cabaye

CM Yann M’Vila LW Franck Ribery RW Jeremy Menez AM Samir Nasri CF Karim Benzema

Key Player Karim Benzema With 3 goals in qualifying and the winner against Brazil under his belt, Benzema has repaid Blanc’s faith in him by scoring on a consistent basis on the big stage for France. He’s coming into the competition on the back of a hugely successful season at Real Madrid where Jose Mourinho has managed to bring out the best of his qualities. He is close to fulfilling the promise he showed during his days at Lyon and this represents a chance for him to shine on the big stage and cement his credentials as a world-beater.

The tainted World Cup campaign and all the ghosts it brought will be forgotten if this team packed with talented stars can produce a stellar campaign. The quality is there and it is all set up for them to take this opportunity with both hands. Only England pose a real threat in the group stage, and even that might be stretching it. This is a golden chance for Blanc to sign off on a high note and he will be all too keen to show the world that he’s worth the hype. Prediction: Dark Horses. Outsiders for the final.

It’s always a case of “if’s” and “but’s” when it comes to the English national team and the build-up to the Euros has been anything but ideal for the perennial under-achievers. Roy Hodgson’s squad selection has raised eyebrows about the credibility of his management style and it will take an exceptional tournament for him and his squad of stars to prove the critics wrong. The disruptions to their preparations for the tournament have left even the usually grueling English press with a willingness to write off England’s chances as a learning curve for the younger members of the squad. This will certainly take the pressure off the shoulders of the older generation like Frank Lampard, Scott Parker, John Terry, Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole for whom this tournament promises to be a swan song the last hurrah on the big stage before the young guns take over for World Cup 2014. The under performing unit will look to step up together for the sake of the everdemanding public.

The big question for Roy Hodgson is who will replace the suspended Wayne Rooney for the opening two games of the group stage (against France and Sweden). With Darren Bent ruled out through injury, Hodgson’s choice boils down to the underused Jermaine Defoe, Danny Welbeck or Andy Carroll. Carroll found his feet toward the end of a tumultuous season at Liverpool and that might tilt the decision in his favor. With Gerrard in line to play in the ‘hole’ just behind the main striker, it would make Carroll the ideal target man.

The inclusion of Stewart Downing at the cost of Adam Johnson has taken a few people by surprise. Downing has had one of the worst seasons of his career, failing to register a single assist or goal in the Premier League all season. Adam Johnson, while not a regular starter at Manchester City, adds a bit of flair and unpredictability to the team which can come in handy in big tournaments like this. But England do have the likes of Ashley Young, Theo Walcott and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain in the wide positions to pose a threat to the opposition. The center of midfield looks much more balanced than in recent times with England finally having found a replacement for the perennially banjaxed Owen Hargreaves, albeit a short-term one, in the form of Scott Parker. Parker has had a smashing season at Tottenham and will be looking to carry that form into the Euros. He is a latecomer on the international scene having collected only 3 caps before the age of 30.

GK Joe Hart RB Glen Johnson CB John Terry CB Joleon Lescott LB Ashley Cole CM Scott Parker

CM Frank Lampard LW Ashley Young RW Theo Walcott AM Steven Gerrard CF Andy Carroll/ Wayne Rooney

Key Player Steven Gerrard Gerrard has long been Mr. Consistent for his national team and they will need him to step up to the plate once more in Poland/Ukraine. With increased responsibility on his shoulders in the absence of Wayne Rooney, he will have to grab the initiative in the group stage and get England going. He thrives on the big stage and will be relishing going into battle in what may well be his last big international tournament.

Fabio Capello’s reign may not have been the most successful one, but one thing he did bring to the table was a defensively sound unit. That seems less likely now. Hodgson will look to the likes of John Terry, Gary Cahill, Joleon Lescott and Ashley Cole to carry them through the group stage - all four being experienced campaigners on the international stage and with Joe Hart in between the sticks for the long haul, the Three Lions at least have a level of consistency in one part of the pitch. Prediction: Quarter-Finals.

Ukraine will begin their first ever European Championships in less than auspicious circumstances. After working their way through three managers - Alexei Mikhailichenko, Myron Markevych and Yuriy Kalitvintsev - in two years, they returned to former coach Oleg Blokhin last April. The former Soviet Union and Dynamo Kiev striker led Ukraine to their only previous major tournament, the 2006 World Cup in Germany, and managed to guide them to the last eight and he is determined to make a mark on home soil. A look at their friendlies played over the last couple of years offer bleak optimism for the co-hosts. Apart from a 3-3 draw against Germany, they have lost to every single decent side they have come up against. They have already fallen to Sweden and France, the latter smashing them 4-0 in their own backyard. They have also lost to the Czechs and the Italians so this is not going to be an easy ride for the home side. Goal-scoring has been a real cause of concern despite Andriy Shevchenko still leading the line. He continues to skipper the team despite looking a spent force for the best part of

five years. His continued presence in the startling line-up really underlines a paucity of options at Blokhin’s disposal. Artem Milevskiy and Andrei Voronin have shown glimpses of quality but their lack of effort on the pitch has drawn the ire of the media and supporters. They seem to spend more time modeling off the pitch than trying to perform on it and this has incensed Blokhin. One player who has been a regular feature of Ukrainian sides for the past few years has been Anatoliy Tymoshchuk. The Bayern Munich player is a steady presence in the middle of the park and brings a certain calm to proceedings around him - a vital cog in an otherwise static Ukrainian machine.

Having played no competitive football for two years, will Ukraine be ready to go? Their pretournament schedule includes friendlies against Austria and Estonia, teams they have already beaten in the last year. This feels like an attempt to get soft victories rather than a proper buildup needed to face the challenge of France, England and Sweden in the group stage. The pressure of wanting to please the home support might weigh down on their shoulders and prove to be a burden. Unity will be key for a team representing a country embroiled in controversy. The league season has been tainted by dirty politicking and the Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kiev players will have to put that aside and focus on the tournament, not an easy task.

GK Andriy Pyatov RB Bohdan Butko CB Oleksandr Kucher CB Yaroslav Rakitskiy LB Yevhen Selin DM Anatoliy Tymoshchuk

CM Ruslan Rotan LM Yevhen Konoplyanka RM Andriy Yarmolenko CF Artem Milevskiy CF Andriy Shevchenko

Key Player Andriy Yarmolenko Yarmolenko isn’t a name many are familiar with outside Ukraine, but he is capturing hearts in his own country. He was originally used as a winger and occasionally a left-back but is now deployed as a playmaker and loved pulling the strings. He has been dubbed as the ‘new Shevchenko’ such is his growing reputation. His strengths include a frightening pace and quick feet. He has had a superb season at club level (Premier League clubs are monitoring him closely) and will be looking to add to his glowing stature in June.

But if anyone is capable of pulling this side together and forming a cohesive unit, it’s Oleg Blokhin, who has always stressed the importance of “playing for the shirt”. Tactically this group of players is best suited to sitting back and hitting the opposition on the counterattack as they demonstrated in the first half of the 3-3 draw with Germany. But those three goals conceded highlighted a huge weakness in the system - any quick, classy and fluid team will punch holes and take the Ukraine defence apart in the blink of an eye. Ukraine will have to get a win against Sweden in their opening match to have any hope of reaching the knockout stages. Prediction: Group stage exit.

For many years since the mid-‘70s, following the reigns of Bobby Houghton and then Roy Hodgson, the Swedish national team has been more English than the English themselves wedded to a solid 4-4-2 system that made them tough to beat but less than inspiring to watch. The arrival of manager Erik Hamren in 2009 changed all that, as Sweden turned into an unknown and unpredictable quantity. The Swedish bosses tried to emulate the German model after the 1970 World Cup and it was this system that Houghton and Hodgson, followed by Tord Grip and SvenGoran Eriksson, overturned. A solid formation was established and they stuck to their guns as a level of consistency was achieved. Three years ago though, they returned to Germany for inspiration, seeing Hamren as the ideal man to mould the squad the way Joachim Low had done - looking to build from the under-21 side, with PSV Eindhoven’s Ola Toivonen lined up in the Mesut Ozil role. There is a youthful promise to the squad in the likes of Martin Olsson and Behrang Safari, along with Toivonen, which adds some much needed flair.

This youthful exuberance is blended with a number of experienced players like Olof Mellberg, Andreas Isaksson and Anders Svensson. The key to Sweden’s success, however, remains Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The AC Milan striker is as arrogant and enigmatic as ever, a captain who couldn’t be any less like a captain. His temperament has been called into question many a time and the tag of “big game choker” seems to follow him wherever he goes. He hasn’t enjoyed a glittering career as far as his country goes so he will be spurred on given that this might be his last big chance.

likes of Martin Olsson and Behrang Safari, along with Toivonen, which adds some much needed flair.

country goes so he will be spurred on given that this might be his last big chance.

His arrogant side was on show during the early days of Hamren’s reign, as there were suggestions that he was frustrated to be lining up with players of lesser quality than he was used to week in week out at club level. His form dipped and when he was suspended for the decisive Euro qualifier against Netherlands, the Swedish media came up with all sorts of statistics which pointed out that Sweden had won every Euro qualifier they had played without Ibrahimovic. The trend continued as Sweden beat the Dutch 3-2 with Johan Elmander starring the position vacated by Ibrahimovic. Just as the anti-Ibra bandwagon was starting to roll, he came up with a stunning performance in a 3-1 friendly win over Croatia. Elmander had retained his place, but Ibrahimovic was moved back into the ‘hole’ - a position just behind the striker. From there, he was able to pull the strings and draw the defenders out, thus creating space for Elmander.

GK Andreas Isaksson RB Mikael Lustig CB Andreas Granqvist CB Olof Mellberg LB Martin Olsson CM Anders Svensson

CM Kim Kallstrom LW Sebastian Larsson RW Ola Toivonen FW Zlatan Ibrahimovic CF Johan Elmander

Key Player Zlatan Ibrahimovic He has failed to shake off the tag of “big game choker” as he consistently flops in the important games for both club and country. He is supremely talented and boasts extreme self-confidence but he has unable to marry that into his game when the occasion calls for it. But this tournament might be the 30-year old’s last chance to prove his doubters wrong and carry his team through. Sweden’s success will all come down to whether Ibrahimovic can fire from the start. Fail to inspire, and that might be the end of the road for the giant striker.

That formation has become the default one for Hamren since, with two attacking full backs ably supporting the front men. Sweden have transformed into a fluid unit from a rigid system but they will need Ibrahimovic to be on top form to have any hope of qualifying from a group containing France, England and co-hosts Ukraine. Another player to look out for is Feyenoord’s on-fire, on-loan (from Manchester City) striker John Guidetti, if he gets a run. Prediction: Everything depends on Ibrahimovic. Unless he fires, group stage exit is likely.

READY TO TANGO Adidas claim that this is the most extensively tested ball in history. It has taken over two years to develop and it is finally ready to be used in this summer’s extravaganza in Poland and Ukraine. The official ball of UEFA Euro 2012 - The Tango.

The headquarters of Adidas, situated on the outskirts of Nuremberg in the south of Germany, is almost a city in itself.

A few buttons are pushed and the leg whirrs into action. It sends the ball flying into the goal exactly where Koeger had predicted - the top right-hand corner.

Around 3,000 employees from more than 50 countries work in the secluded complex, with every door, every room and every laboratory hiding a new secret.

The Robi-leg is part of a gigantic strategy by Adidas, which is desperate to avoid another disaster on the scale of which took place during the last World Cup in South Africa, when the Jabulani football came in for some heavy criticism.

Harold Koeger, a senior researcher at the company, and his team of dedicated individuals have been working tirelessly for the last two years on Adidas’s latest new football - the Tango 12 - which will be used at the European Championships this summer. The testing has been carried out in a laboratory with the help of a strange-looking robotic leg. This device, called the Robi-leg, is exactly what it sounds like - a robotic leg with a football boot tied to it and wired to a number of screens and sensors. It simulates the impact of a human foot on the football at speeds of up to 100mph. In the testing phase, Koeger places the football twenty yards away from the goal and points to the top righthand corner indicating the place where the Robi-leg will whack the ball.

The company maintains that the ball was a perfectly good one, and the Tango is technically at the same level. However, they worked hard behind the scenes by redoubling their testing and were determined to make up for the Jabulani fiasco. Adidas took the ball around the world - to countries hot and cold, to park players and international stars, to boggy swamps - to get proper feedback. Special attention was paid to what Matthias Mecking, director of footwear, calls “the moment of truth”. This is the time when the players first feels the new ball in his hands, getting a good look at its texture. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. It strikes a perfect balance between close control and spin.

Euro 2012 guide Check out our Euro 2012 section on our website All the 23-man squads have been updated and can be seen here The website will be updated with all the fixtures, results, match highlights and goals as the tournament progresses.

Editor: Pranav Dar ( Writers: Pranav Dar & Abhimanyu Nagpal ( Designer: Pranav Dar

Final Whistle Euro 2012 Guide  

A comprehensive 40 page guide that covers all 16 teams participating in this summer's Euro 2012.