Trying to make predictions in this event is a mug’s game , so I will openly admit here and now that I haven’t got a clue who will qualify from this group. It’s far easier to make predictions of style and content (or lack of either), so I will go with that. Stick with what you know, that’s what I always say, and what I know is that most of the teams in Group A would rather spend the tournament in a cuckoo clock museum than in the opposition’s penalty area. Anyone hoping for score-fests please try another group. In fact you’d probably be best off skipping this tournament altogether. Come to think of it, have you ever tried Basketball?
Switzerland – That is probably the one and only time you will see the co-host’s name spelt with one ‘Z’ in this blog, for once they have taken the field I usually find it appropriate to add several more. Lest we forget, this is the side that exited the 2006 World Cup after keeping four successive clean sheets, but so unfamiliar were they with the concept of scoring that, when it became a necessity in their penalty shoot-out against Ukraine, they failed to find the back of the net even once. The Swiss basically have Plan A – get everyone behind the ball and hope for a streaky counter attack/deflection/dodgy pen/bored opponent to get red card. There is no Plan B. Hang on a minute though – this sounds familiar doesn’t it? Don’t Greece currently hold the trophy thanks to this exact tactic? The truth is that any team organised enough to bore the opposition to death cannot be dismissed, and host nations generally don’t flop whoever they are, so the Swiss are not without their chances. Any tournament is improved 100% if the home fans unite behind their charges, so from that perspective, I’d like to see the Swiss do something. However, it shall not be pretty, you have been warned.
Portugal – Oh dear oh dear, this group is cursed. Blessed with midfield talent but (still! after all this time!) no striker, the Portuguese can be incredibly frustrating. Big Phil Scolari is clever, and not just because no amount of money could persuade him to manage Manchester City. He realises that no amount of showing off from Ronaldo and co is going to do him any good if there’s no-one up top to stick it in the net. So he goes back to basics; defend properly, men behind the ball, la la la, you know the rest. I cannot believe I’m about to watch Nuno Gomes play with his hair whilst defenders around him head balls away for yet another tournament, surely someone must have pointed out by now that this doesn’t work! Portugal were pretty dire in qualifying, and scraped through at the expense of the likes of Finland and Serbia, but qualifying form is pretty meaningless here. The facts are that Portugal’s record in the last two big tournaments is losing semi-finalists, and losing finalists, and with a striker they would probably have won both those games. It’s a record to be respected, but if someone’s prepared to really have a go at them I think Portugal could be vulnerable. Can’t see that coming from at least two of their opponents in this group though, so they’ll probably come through.
Czech Republic – Ah, a shining beacon of light for Group A. The Czechs arrive with their inevitable ‘dark horse’ tag, but the truth is in the last two tournaments they have been genuine contenders and missed their chance. Euro 2004 really was theirs for the taking, but the loss of their creative genius Nedved early in the semi-final cost them dear against the Greek defensive wall. They should still have had enough to win though, and thoroughly choked on the day. In Germany, the Czechs started the World Cup playing like champions, but injury to their talisman, the giant striker Jan Koller, destroyed their campaign. All of which suggests the Czechs were a class outfit with their best first 11 on the park, but never had much depth in the squad, which means that the subsequent retirement of Nedved and the injury which robs them of Tomas Rosicky may be too much for them to overcome. They will, however, at least try and score the odd goal here and there, and that courageous nature could be enough to see them through against the lily-livered company they have in this group.
Turkey – Turkey will start this group a comfortable fourth in the betting market, but I’m not sure why. Their matches against Portugal and Switzerland are likely to be turgid affairs which will be settled by one goal, and there’s no reason that goal couldn’t fall to them. It must be said though, if Turkey had been given a tougher qualifying group, they may well not be here. They qualified in second place, just seeing off Norway, and finishing seven points behind the group winners Greece, which doesn’t exactly make them a form horse. Also, their strike force contains such Premier League giants as Tuncay of Middlesbrough, and Kazim Kazim, better known to us as Colin Kazim-Richards, relegated with Sheffield United in 2007. Not exactly a strike force to be feared. However, Kazim appears to have improved since then, if his stunning goal for his current club Fenerbahce against Chelsea in the Champions league is anything to go by. The Turks can be a little unpredictable tactically, mostly setting out to keep it tight, but with a tendancy to indulge in some tomfoolery at the back, which can on occasion lead to some excitement.
So, my verdict for this group – is that I still have no idea. I just have a suspicion that the Swiss will qualify because tournaments where at least one host nation doesn’t qualify for the second stage are incredibly rare, and that responsibility appears to be solely in the hands of the Swiss in this competition. I can visualise qualification being a complete scramble after a succession of draws in the earlier games, which could at least provide us with some fun in the last ten minutes of the final matches. Just don’t expect too much before that.
Match to Watch – Czech Republic v Turkey
Match to Miss – Portugal v Switzerland