I expect a tournament with one or two surprises but which will ultimately see the established order prevail. For winners, it’s hard to see beyond Germany. The Mannschaft have been building up a head of steam since Jürgen Klinnsmann’s days in charge at the 2006 World Cup. After being frustrated twice by Spain in past tournaments, they now look a more assured, more streamlined side. Not that they are without defaults though; none of the combinations of Badstuber, Mertesacker, Howedes and Hummels make a fully confident centre-half pairing and they rely on support from the wing backs as well as Khedira and Schweinsteiger in front of them. But going forward, Germany are irresistible, with Mesut Özil now one of the best attacking midfielders in the world. Scoring goals is rarely a problem for the Germans but the wild inconsistency of Mario Gómez can throw up a few problems too. It’s hard to see how Joachim Löw can justify starting him ahead of Miroslav Klose.
Joining the Germans in the semi-final will probably be the Netherlands, who are still as strong as two years ago, while shedding some of the less savoury abrasiveness they displayed in South Africa. Though I have speculated on Spain having a shock early exit, if they get out of the group, they should reach the semi-finals too. A stern test from one of the Dutch or the Germans will probably be the undoing though of a heavily fatigued side. Rounding off the semi-finalists will be Italy, whom I expect to hit the ground running in the tournament, their poor form in friendlies notwithstanding.
The surprise package is likely to be Poland, who have a very manageable group and also some exciting young talent in Robert Lewandowski, Wojciech Szczesny and Jakub Blaszczykowski. They will fare better than co-hosts Ukraine, who have been looking only weaker than ever in the run-up to the Euros and who will need more than home advantage to seriously trouble Sweden, France or England. The French should impress too but they are probably still two years off being a fully formed side. The quarter-finals is likely as far as they will go.
As for Ireland, I am trying not to tempt fate. An incredibly difficult group makes it hard to see how they can advance. That said, I think they will acquit themselves well and, in one game at least, provide more excitement than many people expect. Four points from the three games would be a good tournament, even if it proves to not be enough to get through.
Posted by Oliver Farry