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The 14th European Championships are about to kick off in Poland and Ukraine

Xavi and Wesley Sneijder have said recently that the Euros are harder to win than the World Cup. A bold statement, yes, but nevertheless it’s one many would agree with.

Unlike the World Cup, where nations from each of the FIFA federation are represented, you’re unlikely to find any minnows or whipping boys at the tournament, even during the group games.

The quality and competitive nature of the Euros is high from the first whistle, but we recommend you enjoy the current format while it lasts, because in France 2016 the tournament will be expanded from 16 to 24 teams. This will obviously give increased exposure to the lesser European football nations but will also impact on the quality of the football on show.

You may have noticed some of the pre-tournament press has been a bit depressing? with many column inches devoted to racism, hooliganism and the glut of 11th hour England squad injuries.

We thought we’d concentrate our efforts more ‘on the pitch’ and quickly assess each of the 16 participating countries chances of lifting the Henri Delaunay Cup in Kiev on the 1st July.

Group A

Poland

As joint hosts they’ll enjoy home advantage but the team is short on real quality and will rely on Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny continuing his good form at Arsenal. Defender Kamil Gilk, midfielder Tomasz Jodlowiec and striker Michal Kucharczyk all failed to make the squad.

The best they can hope for is to be hard to beat and a 0-0 draw with Portugal in February was at least a good sign. Prediction: Group Stage

Greece

Their squad is as notable for the omissions as the inclusions and the midfielder Panagiotis Kone did not make the cut due to his disciplinary issues. Alexandros Tziolis was also omitted from the 23-man squad as coach Fernando Santos has plenty of defensive midfielders.

However, the exciting Olympiakos Pireaus’ winger Yiannis Fetfatzidis is in along with his teammate Costas Mitroglou who finished the season with 16 goals. Prediction: Group Stage

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic should be competitive with Champions League goalkeeper Petr Czech and busy midfielder Tomas Rosicky, who had one of his best seasons for Arsenal.

Another name that will be familiar to premier league followers is Milan Baros, once of Liverpool and now of Galatasaray. Prediction: Quarter-Finalist

Russia

Undoubtedly Russia has an experienced coach in Dick Advocaat. But aside from captain Andrei Arshavin, who had a poor season for Arsenal, and the striker Roman Pavlyuchenko, who barely played for Tottenham Hotspur due to injury, the squad is short on quality.

Russia also has a few injury problems with defenders Vasily Berezutsky and Roman Shishkin failing to make the squad due to injury and illness. Despite this, they should just squeeze through the group. Prediction: Quarter-Finalist

Group B

Netherlands

World Cup 2010 runners-up the Netherlands are one of the favourites, but recent results have been poor with a 3-0 loss to Germany followed by a 2-1 loss to Bulgaria. The Dutch have one of the world’s best strikers in Robin van Persie but he has struggled to bring his club form to international level.

Wesley Sneijder also had a poor season for Inter Milan, and Arjen Robben missed the chance to win the Champions League for Bayern Munich. With a tough ‘group of death’ that involves the Germans and Portugal, this may not be the year for the Oranje. Prediction: Quarter-Finalist

Denmark

They have big problems at the back after Thomas Sorensen was ruled out by injury, to be replaced by Kasper Schmeichel of Leicester City. There is still some good defensive cover in the form of Simon Kjaer of Roma, Daniel Agger of Liverpool and Simon Poulsen of AZ Alkmaar.

In midfield a lot will be asked of the Ajax wunderkind Christian Eriksen while Nicklas Bendtner surely has to have a good tournament if he is ever to fulfil his promise. Prediction: Group Stage

Portugal

Despite the presence of star players such as Ronaldo and Nani, Portugal have struggled of late and are really up against it if they are to qualify from the group of death. Right now this is a group of talented individuals and not a team but they will need to start all pulling in the same direction if they are to be successful.

If they can do so they have the quality to go far with a squad packed with talent in the form of Fábio Coentrão, Raul Meireles and Helder Postiga. Prediction: Group Stage

Germany

Along with Spain, Germany are the tournament favourites, playing a slick brand of football that saw their young stars demolish England in the 2010 World Cup. The Germans are heavily reliant on stars from Bayern Munich, and when those players were rested for the recent match with Switzerland, who haven’t even qualified, the Germans lost 5-3.

As England fans know, German sides don’t do ‘lost on penalties’, usually. So it will be interesting to see if their aura of invincibility has taken a hit after Chelsea’s recent shoot-out victory over Bayern Munich.

The sheer number of potential match winners in their squad, such as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller mean they are our tip to win the tournament, albeit through gritted teeth. Prediction: Winners

Group C

Republic of Ireland

The Republic of Ireland have some experience in their ranks with Giovanni Trapattoni and Marco Tardelli in the dugout and Robbie Keane as captain. Wolves defender Kevin Foley is unfortunate to miss out on the tournament due to injury. At least he has an experienced replacement in the form of Paul McShane.

They have a quality goalkeeper in Shay Given and experienced utility man John O’Shea, though injuries have plagued the squad so far. Prediction: Group Stage

Spain

It would take a brave man to bet against Spain, winner of the last two international tournaments and with a squad that is envied the world over. Second and third choice goalkeepers Victor Valdes and Pepe Reina would have had long international careers in most other countries, but Iker Casillas is quite simply the best in the world. Add the class of Carles Puyol and Gerard Piqué at the back, the Barcelona midfield of Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas and all you are missing is Lionel Messi.

However the failure of Barcelona or Real Madrid to win the Champions League does provide a glimmer of hope to opponents. Also with David Villa injured and Fernando Torres misfiring at Chelsea they may lack a cutting edge, so we can’t quite see them going all the way. Prediction: Runner-Up

Italy

They have a tricky group with Spain and Croatia, and a national game that is reeling from yet more match fixing scandals. Despite being implicated, a defender from champions Juventus, Leonardo Bonucci has been included, as has Manchester City live wire Mario Balotelli.

Cesare Prandelli will certainly have his work cut out fostering team spirit, but you can never count out an Italian team, especially one that has developed a siege mentality. Prediction: Semi-Finalist

Croatia

Some supremely talented players have worn the unique red and chequered shirts over the years. The current crop includes in-form Everton striker Nikica Jelavic and the Tottenham playmaker Luka Modric. Since Croatia’s independence from Yugoslavia they have established a proud, if relatively short footballing pedigree. The team finished third in the France 1998 World Cup, and have only ever failed to qualify for international tournaments on two occasions.

Croatia’s recent form is not so encouraging. Of the recognised nations played over the last year they have lost to Greece and Sweden while drawing with Turkey. Prediction: Group Stage

Group D

France v England Mon 11th June 17:00 Donbass Arena, Donetsk
Ukraine v Sweden Mon 11th June 19:45 Olympic Stadium, Kiev
Ukraine v France Fri 15th June 17:00 Donbass Arena, Donetsk
Sweden v England Fri 15th June 19:45 Olympic Stadium, Kiev
England v Ukraine Tue 19th June 19:45 Donbass Arena, Donetsk
Sweden v France Tue 19th June 19:45 Olympic Stadium, Kiev

England

Shock managerial choice Roy Hodgson has started his tenure with two 1-0 wins against Norway and Belgium, even if not entirely convincing. The forward line of Andy Carroll and Ashley Young looks the best bet for the initial games in which Wayne Rooney is suspended, and now Danny Welbeck hopes to feature following his great finish against Belgium.

Glen Johnson has been deemed fit, even though many were surprised at Micah Richards being left out. Late injuries to Frank Lampard, John Ruddy, Gareth Barry and Gary Cahill has resulted in Jordan Henderson, Jack Butland, Phil Jagielka and Martin Kelly being drafted in from the stand-by list.

Meanwhile the omission of Rio Ferdinand continues to grab the headlines whilst mystifying many supporters and journalists alike. The squad is looking a little sparse on quality and goals appear in short supply. A last 8 place would be a decent showing with the tools available to Hodgson. Prediction: Quarter-Finalist

Sweden

The one to watch will be the mercurial but troubled star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who had a good season with AC Milan. Unfortunately their other star player this year, a young man by the name of Guidetti who has been on fire for Feyenoord, helping them to re-qualify for Europe for the first time in many years, is injured.

Sweden have also included Johan Elmander in their squad for Euro 2012 despite a foot injury sustained while playing for Galatasaray. Prediction: Group Stage

France

The French will be desperate to put the ignominy of their world cup campaign behind them. They have the players to do so in the form of Karim Benzema, who had a great season with Real Madrid, Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye who lit up Newcastle United, as well as Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri who won the Premier League title with Manchester City.

We predict France giving a far better account of themselves this time, but Laurent Blanc’s side may just miss out in the last 4. Prediction: Semi-Finalist

Ukraine

The depth of co-host Ukraine’s problems is illustrated by the fact that they have had to include forwards Andriy Voronin and Andriy Shevchenko, who both looked completely out of their depth the last time they played in the Premier League.

The squad also lacks quality goalkeepers and with England and France in their group Ukraine will struggle to qualify, despite home advantage. Prediction: Group Stage

* Kick-off times are BST


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