The European Football Championship, formerly the Nations Cup, is invariably a better tournament than its elder brother, The World Cup.
Certainly in recent years the competition has had a stronger overall quality than the FIFA flagship, despite the absence of Brazil and Argentina. There’s 16 teams from Europe, most of which are good enough to appear in the World Cup. They are also unpredictable, witness the 1976 win for Czechoslavakia, the 1992 Danish triumph and Greece’s shock win in 2004. So, the chance of being drawn against good sides is high, too high for the likes of England, who have never won the competition.
England’s average World Cup performance is last eight. That just about equates to a last four European Championship placing. And that’s been England’s best showing, in 1968 and 1996. They didn’t even quality for Euro 2008 in the Alpine countries!
There’s been some outstanding winners of the competition: 1972 West Germany, 1984 France, 1988 Holland, 2000 France and 2008 Spain. But equally important is that Euros in recent years have been more interesting than the World Cup: 1984, 1988, 1996, 2000 were all better than any recent World Cup.
This year, Spain, World Cup and Euro double winners between 2008-10, are favourites, but a lot of smart euros will go on Germany, including my own. This could be the Germans’ time – their team looked good in South Africa, but just fell short. They are older and wiser now and look very strong. Their striker Mario Gomez is favourite to end the tournament as top scorer but he’ll have to be sharper than he was in the Champions League final!
Germany have been building up to this for two years and have been in excellent form. It’s also about time Germany won something – their last success was in 1996! With the likes of Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Ozil, Mueller (there’s always a Mueller) and Arsenal-bound Podolski in their ranks, Germany have plenty of strength in depth. They also might have a couple of jewels in Borussia Dortmund’s Mario Goetze, who has been thrust into the squad by coach Joachim Loew, and Moenchengladbach’s Mario Reus.
Germany qualified by winning all 10 of their group games, scoring 34 goals and conceding only seven. They are in a tough group, Portugal, Denmark and Netherlands, but I’m tipping them to come through and eventually win the title.
Right now, Europe could do with a barnstorming competition to lift the economic gloom that has engulfed the continent since 2008. Greece may feel that a couple of weeks in Poland or Ukraine may be light relief away from what is looking like a fiscal war-zone. Germany can lead the way, but they will have tough competition from Spain, the Netherlands and possibly one of the two host nations.