KIEV, June 8 — With Germany, Netherlands and Portugal all legitimate title contenders and Denmark dreaming of repeating their surprise success of 20 years ago, every Group B match at Euro 2012 promises intrigue.
Germany, who last won the European Championship in 1996, and Netherlands are among the tournament favourites, but with Cristiano Ronaldo in seemingly unstoppable form for Real Madrid last season, Portugal cannot be discounted.
Then there is Denmark, who beat Portugal to the top of their qualifying group leaving Paulo Bento’s side to battle through a playoff with Bosnia. What the Danes lack in big names, they make up for in effort.
Despite being four attack-minded sides, none will want to drop points, and it may be the most prudent and pragmatic of the quartet that prospers in what is undoubtedly the toughest group at the finals being co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine.
Joachim Loew of Germany and Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk can call on squads full of household names playing in the top European leagues and the Champions League.
The backbone of Loew’s team is made up of Bayern Munich players who suffered defeat in the Champions League last month in a most un-German manner, losing to Chelsea on penalties.
For Loew, success will hinge on helping the likes of Manuel Neuer, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Mueller and Mario Gomez to get over the disappointment and atone for that failure by winning the Euros instead.
Group B also revitalises the age-old rivalry between the Dutch and the Germans, with one of these two football superpowers likely to end up winning the group.
Van Marwijk’s Netherlands, beaten by Spain in the 2010 World Cup final, appear to no longer be the flamboyant side of old.
The coach often deploys midfield enforcers Mark van Bommel and Nigel De Jong to stop others playing the kind of beautiful passing football the Dutch were once famous for.
That is not to say they have become a kick-and-rush side. With the mercurial Arjen Robben on the wing and striker Robin Van Persie in the form of his life, the Dutch will be a dangerous proposition.
The only team in the group never to win the tournament, Portugal’s status as dark horses has been confirmed by some puzzling results in recent friendlies, including a 3-1 home defeat by Turkey last Saturday.
Despite abundant riches in attack and a tough defence, Bento’s team have yet to register a win in 2012.
But it would be foolish to discount any side containing the irrepressible Ronaldo, who hit 46 goals for Real in La Liga last season.
Ronaldo scored against Denmark in both Euro 2012 qualifiers and the job of marking him in their clash in Lviv next Wednesday should fall to Michael Silberbauer.
Though they might worry about individuals like Ronaldo, the Danes do not fear any team in the group.
Even if a repeat of Denmark’s 1992 heroics is unlikely, they still hold the key to success in the group — any side dropping points to them will be doing serious damage to their chances of making the knockout stage.
In opening Group B matches, Netherlands face Denmark in Kharkiv tomorrow before Germany take on Portugal in Lviv. — Reuters