The man of the hour?
Before I start, I just wanted to ask all of you to share your own predictions in the comment section. At the end of the group stage, I'll tally a blog leaderboard to see who the real experts are. On to the predictions...
GROUP A: Russia, Poland, Greece, Czech Republic
If there is an upset team to win the tournament, I see the team coming from Group A. None of the teams here are by any means footballing superpowers, and because of this, a heavy underdog will probably be in the knockout rounds. Russia is traditionally the best of this bunch, but after failing to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, their stock has fallen slightly. They possess a good balance of attacking threats, although due to our friend Andrei Arshavin's decline, there isn't much sparkle or creativity to their game. Greece likes to present somewhat of a defensive brick wall to their opposition and then score a flukey goal near the end of the game to win. While that plan sounds good, they usually only succeed in playing good defense and usually don't score much. Although they have a world class goalkeeper, I personally don't see the Czech Republic doing much unless Tomas Rosicky provides a surprise spark. Lastly, there is co-host Poland, who I'll be pulling for to shock the world. Honestly, their team is trending upwards with some young talent and I see someone like Robert Lewandowski of Borussia Dortmund (22 league goals) possibly leading Poland into the knockout stages.
Verdict: Poland, Russia
GROUP B: Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Portugal
This is a group full of expectation and talent. The Netherlands is an absolute machine in its midfield with world class game changers Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart attacking through the center and Arjen Robben patrolling the right-wing. Taking a closer look at this side presents a few questions however, as manager Bert van Marwijk will have to decide between in-form strikers Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Robin van Persie (they have not played well together). Also, the Dutch defense can be spotty at times. Denmark, the group underdog, has some household names that should make their games close. Amongst the names are our very own Daniel Agger, Sunderland's Nicklas Bendtner, and Ajax's new man of the future, Christian Eriksen. Germany is a heavy favorite to win the tournament, and I don't see many issues here. They can attack, keep possession, and defend (it also doesn't hurt to have one of the best goalkeepers in the world). Calling Portugal the "Ronaldo Show" doesn't give the rest of the squad nearly enough credit. Nani is turning into a wonderful player of his own, and the midfield is filled with talent. I also disagree with the people who say the defense isn't good enough to compete-last I checked, Pepe and Bruno Alves where amongst the best in the business.
Verdict: Germany, Portugal
GROUP C: Spain, Italy, Ireland, Croatia
Spain seems too big to fail in this group, so I see this as a three-way race for the other advancing spot. Italy are the favorites with the established midfield trio of Pirlo, Marchisio, and De Rossi. I like Italy because of their wonderful team chemistry, but see age as an area of concern. Mario Balotelli will either be a scoring beast or a red-card clown, though I personally prefer the latter. With some luck, the Irish could see their way to the next round, especially if either poacher Robbie Keane or speedster Shane Long catch fire. Croatia is led by Tottenham star Luka Modric, and if they can figure out how to defend Spain and Italy they may advance.
Verdict: Spain, Italy
GROUP D: England, France, Sweden, Ukraine
The group of underachievers. Even with all of the negativity surrounding England with the Hendo call-up and the Hodgson hiring, this group looks good for Gerrard's boys. If they can play together, they'll play well. Also, the addition of Joe Hart over Rob Green since last World Cup should make a big difference. While France inexplicably crashed out of South Africa, there is arguably more talent in this squad with the additions of Philippe Mexes and Karim Benzema alongside longtime fixture Franck Ribery, and a bounce back could be in the cards. For Sweden, if Zlatan can be at his best, wins against both France and Ukraine are highly probable. Sorry Ukraine, I'm not giving you a chance.
Verdict: England, Sweden
Comment with your predictions!