Spain are worth taking on at Euro 2012 as they aim to become the first team ever to successfully defend the European Championship title.
You can’t argue with their status as favourites when we consider the reigning European and world champions have almost the same squad as they did when they won those two tournaments. But therein lies part of the problem. Almost. The absences of Carles Puyol and David Villa are two hammer blows to their chances because those are perhaps the two areas they could least afford to lose players. Fernando Torres comes into the tournament under-played and pretty unhappy with life, Fernando Llorente was excellent over two legs against Manchester United but anonymous in the Europa League final so maybe he cannot handle the biggest stages just yet. I’m not sure this business of playing without a recognised striker such as Cesc Fabregas as the player furthest forward – a ‘false number nine’ as the jargon goes - actually works.
History is against them as well, of course. No side has ever defended their crown as European champions. We are laying them.
There’s a lot to like about this team. They made the final back in 2008 and were beaten in the semis by the eventual winners in 2010. So it looks like they are vulnerable to Spain but maybe not the rest of the field.
They have goals throughout the team and that’s a big plus, but recent winners of Euros and World Cups have tended to be very strong at the back rather than up front, none more so than Greece in 2004.
You also have to wonder about the psychological damage caused to the Bayern Munich players in this side after they lost the Champions League final despite completely dominating the game. The Dortmund players who won the double this season may be on a high just now but then again they are not the senior players who the rest of the team will turn to for inspiration. And, whisper it quietly, but Germany are not shoo-ins to qualify from their group.
The Andy Murray of football betting? Well, not quite because at least the Orange have actually come good once, in 1988. But like the Scot, they have all the weapons on paper to go all the way but just don’t. Maybe they don’t really believe they can.
The strength is obviously in attack because their defence is no great shakes. But Robin van Persie looked tired towards the end of the season, we never know which Arjen Robben will turn up while Klaas-Jan Huntelaar may be destined to be a prolific goalscorer at a level just below this but not quite good enough to star when the pressure is really on.
I think it’s close but no cigar again.
The dark horses
England (13.0), France (12.5), Portugal (20.0)
There are plenty of similarities between the first two – they are in the same group, an almost identical price to win the whole thing and look to be teams in transition who may well be very good in two years time. But England are too short and France may be a little too over-reliant on Karim Benzema for goals – remember he had a poor Euro 2008 and missed out on the 2010 World Cup altogether. Though all things considered, that may have been a good thing. Just like England, a narrow quarter-final exit at the hands of a slightly better team looks to be on the cards.
Portugal are a far more unadventurous side than some think and in this case, that may not be a bad thing. You don’t win knockout matches by destroying the opposition, you win them by protecting a one-goal lead. But we can’t escape the fact that in Cristiano Ronaldo they are far too over-reliant on a player who far too often has gone missing when representing his country at major tournaments. God knows why, because it’s not like he doesn’t enjoy the limelight.
A betting scandal in the build-up to the tournament and no real big stars in the team…haven’t we been here before? And didn’t it work out last time, back in 2010? The fact Juventus players dominate the defence is no bad thing. It’s more than likely Gianluigi Buffon may have Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci in front of him and they didn’t do too badly as a unit this season. The midfield looks in good shape too with the genius that is Andrea Pirlo, the all-round skills of Daniele de Rossi and the ever improving Claudio Marchisio. Personally I probably wouldn’t have taken Mario Balotelli to the tournament at all but if he can be erratic, immature, selfish and impossible to manage, he can also be brilliant, brave and a genuine match-winner. Antonio Cassano and Antonio di Natale are outstanding alternatives if Cesare Prandelli doesn’t want to risk the Manchester City striker.
Italy seem to handle pressure better than most and have a good recent record in penalty shootouts, which are likely to come into play at some stage. They tick enough boxes to carry our money. Back them.
We should have an outsider in here because Denmark (1992) and Greece (2004) proved that in a tournament where you play six matches to win it, it’s possible for a seemingly weaker team to peak sufficiently over that period to give themselves a chance of going all the way.
It makes sense for that outsider to be Russia. Firstly, because they have a really good chance of making the quarters seeing as they are in by far the easiest group. Secondly, because they made the semis four years ago. Thirdly, because they have a highly experienced manager in Dick Advocaat and lastly because in Pavel Pogrebnyak and Aleksandr Kerzhakov they have just the sort of streaky strikers who could go on a good scoring run over the course of three weeks.
Lay Spain @ 4.0
Back Italy @ 15.5
Back-to-lay Russia @ 28.0