With the European Championships beginning this Saturday, now is the time to preview the tournament and find out who will lift the trophy in Austria in a mere three weeks. We start with a preview of the four teams that make up group A.
Portugal - The Portuguese are definitely the favorites to win this group, and have the talent to make a run deep into the knockout rounds. They have successfully moved on from the "Golden Generation" and are now a squad built on young and creative players, who have the potential to become household names around the world during this tournament. Portugal's obvious star is Cristiano Ronaldo, who had a spectacular season for Manchester United and seems to be supplanting Ronaldinho as the world's most famous soccer player. However, it is highly possible he could be a huge distraction to Portugal in this competition because of his craving of the spotlight and his lack of a commitment to play for Manchester United next year, which has led to rampant speculation that he could transfer to Real Madrid. Even if Ronaldo is at his best, Portugal will need to find another scorer to support him. Its unlikely any of their forwards will provide much, they are either too old or too inexperienced. Thankfully for Portugal, their sublime midfield players can easily help out Cristiano. Ricardo Quaresma is basically a right-footed Ronaldo, Sabrosa Simao is one of the most underrated players in the world, and central midfielders Deco and Nani provide quality and reliability. Portugal's defense is average and unspectacular, but usually do not make huge mistakes while allowing the midfielders to do their thing.
Czech Republic - The Czech was the revelation of Euro 2004, playing beautiful football and looking like a tournament favorite until falling against Greece against the Semifinals. However since then, key players have either aged or stayed unhealthy causing the Czech to fall from darkhorse champion contender to middle-0f-the-pack team. Without Pavel Nedved and Tomas Rosicky in midfield, the Czech striking options lose much of their punch, and it is quite possible that they will rely on tight defensive tactics as opposed to the more free-flowing style they have employed in the past. The Czech has a very solid goalie in Peter Cech and several quality defenders, but without their best midfielders, they probably don't have enough to pose a threat to the best teams in Europe.
Switzerland - It always seems like the host nation of a major tournament gets a huge boost from the home support and plays way over its head and advances much further than expected. And out of the 2 hosting countries, it would seem that Switzerland has a much better chance of going on a run than Austria. It can definitely be argued that behind Portugal the entire group is up for grabs, and the Swiss have some talented players who could push them to the quarterfinals. The key for the Swiss will be to score goals, and if Alexander Frei is healthy enough to give them enough offensive punch, then their tough defense could shut down the other teams in the group, besides Portugal that is.
Turkey - Oh those wacky Turks. When they aren't playing wildly inconsistent soccer, they're getting in fights with their opponents. They have some decent attacking options in Nihat and Sukur, but quite possibly one of the worst defenses in the entire tournament. Their matchup with Switzerland will bring up memories of a fight between the teams in 2006 when they last met, and even though both teams aren't that good that match will be emotionally explosive. Unfortunately for the Turks, they dont have enough to advance beyond the group stage, and will actually be lucky to get a win against any of their three opponents.
Group Prediction: Look for Portugal to win the group rather easily. It is very important they do so because the runner up in the group will most likely face Germany in the quarterfinals. The battle for the second spot will come down to Switzerland and the Czech Republic, and because they are at home and the Czech has been struggling recently, I give the edge to the home Swiss.