France -vs- Romania
As usual the French come in with a team loaded with superstars. They have veteran stars such as Thierry Henry, Claude Makelele and Franck Ribery. They also boast some of the best young players in strikers Karim Benzema and Bafe Gomis and winger Florent Malouda. They certainly have the talent to go far in this tournament, but also questions abound. Will an aging and vulnerable defense be able to hold up for an entire tournament? Will their airhead manager Domenech be able to make the crucial decisions when it is required of him? And how will France respond in their first major tournament after Zidane? We should get a good glimpse at how France will fare in this tournament in today's game against underrated Romania. Even though most of their players are not as the big clubs of Europe, the Romanians always feature a solid team that is competitive to the final whistle. They also hold 2 huge advantages over the favored French. First, their team cohesion is much greater, thanks to 6 of their starters playing for the same club team in Bucharest. This familiarity is so important in a tournament in which many teams starting 11 rarely play with each other during the course of the year. While the names on the back of the jersey may not be as well known, the Romanians will have confidence in each other more than the French will in their teammates. The second advantage for Romania is that they have a dangerous striker who can score at any time. Legendary cokehead Adrian Mutu has had a career restoration at Fiorentina and has once again become one of the most dangerous players in the world. He can impact a game at any moment and could get some excellent chances against a sluggish French back line. French strikers may have the name value in Thierry Henry, but Mutu had a better year than them and has to be considered more reliable than the unproven Benzema and Gomis.
Prediction: France always seems to struggle at the beginning at the tournament, and this is no Austria they are facing today. Its hard to think that a team with France's talent can be stopped for an entire game, but its also hard not to see them making a mistake and letting Romania get a goal. Therefore i see a 1-1 tie in today's game, with goals apiece from Ribery and Mutu.
Italy -vs- Netherlands
The best matchup of the tournament so far features two teams with a legendary soccer history. The Italians are fresh off victory in the last world cup and return another very strong team, even with superstars Cannavaro and Totti out with injury. We always know Italy's defense is going to be rugged, and this year's edition should be no different. We also know that with midfielders like Pirlo, Gattuso and Daniele De Rossi that the Italians can usually control the pace of the game to their desire. Finally, they have adept strikers like Luca Toni and Di Natale and a deep bench which means they are definitely a side that could win this entire tournament. Today they go against a Netherlands team with great injury concerns and an overall feeling that this may be the worst Dutch side in decades. With star players Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie out injured today, and midfield dynamo Wesley Sneijder not at 100%, the Dutch are really going to struggle to create offense against the tough Italian defense. Their defensive backline also has major issues and could be ripe for the taking for the Italy attack. Edwin Van der Sar will have to continue to play like he has at Manchester United for the Dutch to have any chance. Overall, it seems like Holland is at a point where Germany was in 2000-2004. They had a successful generation of players grow old and there isn't enough quality behind them to maintain the lofty standard that has been created for the national team. But it would be smart to beat the Dutch while they are down now, because just like Germany you'd have to be a fool not to the think another generation of Dutch superstars isn't going to come along.
Prediction: Italy is in really good form now and has to be considered the favorite to emerge from the bottom half of the bracket. Combine that with the injury issues that Holland is facing right now, and Italy will win 2-0 with goals from Toni and De Rossi