Will Mario Gotze be the key to a German victory this summer?
Hello one and all. Personally, up until a week or so ago, I wasn't all that bothered about the upcoming European Championships. However, having had to write about them constantly at work, and a good session on the add-on pack on Fifa 12 has got me right in the mood for the tournament.
Dave picked up Group A earlier in the week, four teams that possibly don't look like setting the tournament on fire you would have to say. Imagine my delight then when I realised that I had been allocated the famous 'group of death'. That's right, good old Group B. The group that contains Denmark, Germany, Holland and Portugal. But you already knew that, didn't you, so let's just straight into it.
Denmark - 80/1
How time flies. It seems like only yesterday that I was a boy of single-figure age, watching the European Championships in 1992. That it should be 20 years ago is a terrifying thought. Of course, as the story goes, the Danes weren't even supposed to be taking part in the competition, and only got in as Yugoslavia were disqualified, and the rest, as they say, is history.
In the modern day, Denmark certainly don't have too shabby a squad at all. The Fifa rankings, and take those as you will, has them in 10th position, which leaves them seventh in all of Europe, apparently. Unfortunately for them, however, they have been drawn in a group with three teams all ranked higher than them, hence their long odds.
Although ex-Sunderland stopper Thomas Sorensen has been left out of the squad through injury, a player that we all know plenty about will be lining up in his other famous red and white, and that's Nicklas Bendtner. The frontman is a different proposition when it comes to his national team, and rather than being the box-shy and sometimes wasteful striker that took to the field at the Stadium of Light, he revels in being his country's main man, which is backed up by his 18 goals in 47 starts at this level.
Elsewhere in the squad, Premier League fans will see familiar faces in Liverpool's Daniel Agger at the back, and ex-red-turned Evian midfielder, Christian Poulson. Add Anders Lindgaard, Kasper Schmeichel and ex-Chelsea winger Dennis Rommedahl to that list too. It will almost certainly, however, be Christian Eriksen that will catch the eye for this Danish team. The young Ajax midfielder was named both Danish Player of the Year and Dutch Football Talent of the year in 2011, and will be desperate to shine on the biggest stage.
From a Sunderland point of view, Martin O'Neill spoke just yesterday of his lack of options in switching James McClean to the other wing. He knows that Seb Larsson isn't the kind of player to be able to do that, so perhaps, despite his advancing years (something that hasn't bothered O'Neill in the past) - a punt on winger Rommedahl might still be worthwhile. One thing's for sure, he would be a damn sight better signing than Emile Heskey.
There is of course also the subject of Mr Bendtner's future. Few are backing a return to the North East, and tellingly, none of the journalists from the area have much hope of it either. It sounds like he is Germany bound, but you just never know, do you. Speaking of Germany...
Germany - 3/1
What is there to say about the Germans that hasn't been said before? The most successful team in the history of the competition, England's conquerors on penalties, and only slightly behind Spain this time around in terms of favourites to take home the trophy.
Their squad is of course littered with phenomenal talent, and names such as Manuel Neuer, Phillip Lahm, Thomas Muller, Mario Gotze, Mario Gomez, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski should strike fear into any team in the world, never mind just in Europe.
The rise of German football has been well documented, and their willingness to let one tournament pass them by as they built for the future is admirable. It would have also surely been the blueprint that the FA should have looked at before appointing Roy Hodgson (England fans, I'm totally pro Hodgson, before you start - just think we should have looked more long term).
What else is there to say about the Germans? Well, not a lot. They will almost certainly be a force to be reckoned with, and we can all just live in hope that their players are knackered. Even if Gomez has one of his off days, as he has done in the past when it comes to big tournaments, remember that Miroslav Klose might be getting on a bit, but he's scored 63 goals for his country. Yep, 63.
From a Sunderland point of view, I'd love to say that Edin Dzeko's apparent move to Bayern means that we could snap him up, but it doesn't. I think the same applies to most of their squad actually, so instead, here's a nice video of baby faced assassin Mario Gotze doing what he does best.
Netherlands - 13/2
Ahh Holland, seen by so many as the perennial underachievers, it's easy to forget that they have one more European Championship trophy than we in England have to show for ourselves. However, one look at their squad and you can see why so many people fancy them to do well in this tournament, especially considering their near miss in the 2010 World Cup final.
Many were put off Holland that day, mainly thanks to their 'rough arm tactics', to put it as lightly as a feather. Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong proved on that day why they are both players you would only even want to have on your team, not play against, and despite their ill discipline, they almost toppled Spain to become champions of the world.
Robin Van Persie's form for Arsenal this season has been remarkable, but equally impressive is that of Klass-Jan Huntelaar, who notched 42 goals in 30 games this season, and any system that allows them to play in the same team, with everyone's favourite greedy b*stard Arjen Robben supplying them, it is inconceivable that the Dutch won't do well in Poland and Ukraine. Also, at 16-1, Huntelaar can't be a bad bet for top scorer.
Another hot shot striker in the squad is FC Twente's Luuk de Jong. With almost a goal every other game in his career to date, the 21 year old is the kind of player that the Black Cats are desperate for, but it is almost certain that bigger fish than Sunderland will be looking at him in the summer.
A player that I would like to see us have a go at though, and again I might be slightly optimistic, is Dirk Kuyt. With Brendan Rodgers taking over at Liverpool, don't be surprised to perhaps see Nathan Dyer follow his manager to the club, and his preference to play with two pacy wideman might signal the end of the line for the Dutchman. He's as hardworking a player as any in the Premier League, can play through the middle or on the wing, and would be a perfect fit at the Stadium of Light. Pipe dreams? Maybe.
Portugal - 18/1
Ahh, the men in red. The fan's favourite when it comes to Fifa 2012's European Championship add-on pack. Basically, get the ball, smash a high through ball and let Cristiano Ronaldo do the rest.
In all serious though, the Portugese obviously have a lot more about them. Despite having to take Ireland's route to the finals and qualify through the playoffs, only a fool would write them off, although being in such a tough group has thrown a considerable spanner in the works.
Although many people have their own opinion of defender Pepe, you don't get in the Real Madrid squad unless you are a top footballer, and although their star man is undoubtably Cristiano, their midfield boasts stars such as Miguel Veloso, Joao Moutinho, Ricardo Quaresma, Raul Meireles and Nani. A number of people have claimed in the past that the frontman is a 'big game bottler', and if he has played poorly on occasion in the big games, there are hundreds of matches where he has changed the complexion of an encounter in seconds.
While such attacking flair can only serve them well against smaller countries, their group suggests that defence will be infinitely more important to them than attack, and that's where Portugal might fight themselves struggling when it comes to the tournament proper.
While you're admiring the rest of the page, I've had a video for every other team, so you may as well enjoy a bit of arguably the finest player in the world for a little bit.
Following Quaresma's falling out with the management at Turkish club Besiktas, he's another player that can fill in the gaps in our squad on the right wing. He's an exciting talent, and one that, despite not shining during his time at Chelsea, could be a big hit in the Premier League.