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In Cleveland, hope dies last

Euro 2012 Preview – Group B

With Euro 2012 starting on Friday in Poland and Ukraine, we continue our look at the 16 teams today focusing on Group B, the glamour group of the tournament with Denmark, Portugal, Germany and the Netherlands (or Holland, depending on who you ask).

The Teams
Denmark, currently at No. 9 in FIFA’s world rankings, won all four of its home games in group play, including a 2-1 win against Portugal to clinch the group. Problem is, this tournament isn’t being played in Denmark.
The one thing the Danes do have in their favor is coach Morten Olsen, currently the longest-tenured coach of any national team. Olsen has led the club as it qualified for World Cups in 2002 and 2010 and for the Euros in 2004 and 2012, and that experience will be needed for the squad to have any hope of coming out of the toughest group in the tournament.
The same can be said of captain Daniel Agger, who knows all about playing on the big stage after spending the past six years with Liverpool. Agger’s ongoing injury issues – he only played in four of Denmark’s 10 qualifying matches – are a concern for a squad that doesn’t have much depth.
The Netherlands (No. 4 in FIFA’s rankings) are coming off an ugly loss to Spain in the finals of the last World Cup but enter Euro 2012 in good form, having won nine of their 10 qualifying matches.
With Robin van Persie (48 Premier League goals over the past two years), Arjen Robben (Footballer of the Year in Germany in 2010 for his play with Bayern Munich) and Wesley Sneijder (five goals in thee 2010 World Cup), the Dutch should not have problems scoring goals (and let’s not forget Dirk Kuyt, the hardest-working man in the game), but they need to be more creative, especially if they are going to play Nigel do Jong and Mark van Bommel as holding midfielders.
“The problem with two holding midfielders is quite simple, but somehow many coaches don’t see it,” complained Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, according to ESPN. “The build-up happens too slow; holding midfielders always need that extra touch, always need to have a look when they have the ball already … plus, having two holding midfielders means there is one less creative playmaker.” 
Portugal (No. 10 in FIFA’s rankings) is led by Cristiano Ronaldo, whom ESPN ranks as the No. 1 player in the tournament, and who has 84 goals and 22 assists in 67 games over the past two seasons for his club team, Real Madrid.
The squad struggled in qualifying, though, losing to Denmark and Norway in the group stage before a playoff win over Bosnia & Herzegovina secured a tournament spot.
Then there is Pepe, who some consider one of (it not the) dirtiest players in football. As ESPN points out:
Apart from being dirty, Pepe can be termed, to put it bluntly, a big baby. Not ashamed of clattering into opponents with no intent to win the ball, a faint touch sends the defender down. The latest example of his childish behavior came in the Champions League semifinals against Bayern Munich, when Pepe writhed on the ground after Franck Ribery made mild contact with his arm.
Germany (No. 3 in FIFA’s rankings) is a three-time winner of the tournament and is consistently a favorite in any competition. The team was perfect in group play, finishing 13 points ahead of second-place Turkey. The Germans scored three or more goals in eight of their 10 qualifying matches.
The availability of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who injured his thigh in the Champions League final, was in doubt but the midfielder has been cleared to play which can only be good news for Germany, which looks to end a 16-year title drought.
“This is the best national team I have ever played for,” Schweinsteiger, capped 90 times for Germany and going into his fifth major tournament, told The Daily Mail. “Everyone expects us to win the title and naturally it is something that we also desire.”  
Did You Know?
Games to Watch
Pretty much every one of them in this group, and when they are not busy delivering flying karate kicks to the opposition, Holland is just such a good team (plus we have to be partial to any team that has Orange as one of their primary colors). It will most likely come down to the final group game on June 17 between Holland and Portugal, but we think the Dutch will make it through.
Who Will Advance?
Wow, this is a tough one (they don’t call this the Group of Death for nothing, you know). Something really bad would have to happen to see Germany not make it out of this group, and Holland should have enough to advance as well.

For additional coverage, be sure to check out The Daily Mail, The Guardian, EPL Talk and ESPN.

(Photo by Getty Images)

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