Steve Nash is so big in LA, free beers on the highway.
Steve Nash is so big in LA, free beers on the highway.
Brooklyn Nets PG Deron Williams stopped playing Angry Birds just long enough to sign his brand new contract on the iPad.
Group D features co-hosts Ukraine, 1992 semi-finalists Sweden, 2000 winners France, and 1996 semi-finalists England.
Ukraine’s biggest strength will be their home fan support. It’s the closing of the Andriy Shevchenko era as ‘Sheva’ is now best used as a super-sub for late game theatrics. The new kid in town is attacker Andriy Yarmolenko, who is getting better with every game. Anatoliy Tymoshchuk provides Ukraine with the type of leadership in the midfield to stay competitive in games. Youngsters Yevhen Konoplyanka, Yaroslav Rakitsky and Denys Harmash will have to mature fast if Ukraine wishes to advance to the next round. Veterans Andriy Voronin, Artem Milevsky, and Oleh Husyev will provide steady flow of offence. The goaltending rests on the shoulders of Andriy Pyatov who hasn’t been overly consistent for his national side.
After a marvelous season at AC Milan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic hopes to continue his scoring ways with Sweden. No team’s hopes rely on one player more than Sweden does on Ibrahimovic. Andreas Isaksson already with over 90 caps under his belt and only 30 years old will be counted on to keep games close. Olof Mellberg has been a rock on defence for the Swedish team for the past decade. In fact with over 110 caps, he has more caps than the rest of the 6 defenders named to the squad combined. Anders Svensson, Kim Kallstrom, and Christian Wilhelmsson round out a veteran laden midfield.
This version of the French national team is much younger than the ones we’re used to seeing. Captain, goalkeeper, Hugo Llloris is only 25 years old and their main scoring threat, Karim Benzema is only 24. Samir Nasri, Yann M’vila and Olivier Giroud will also be threats offensively and are all young. Frank Ribery, Patrice Evra, Phillippe Mexes and Alou Diarra represent the old guard and will help the young players along. Anything will be better than the last major performance in 2010 at the World Cup where they only scored 1 goal in three games and were knocked out.
England can’t seem to catch a break, not only will they be missing Wayne Rooney for their first two games against France and Sweden, they have now lost Frank Lampard, Gary Cahill, and Gareth Barry to injury. Not only that but the controversy of leaving Rio Ferdinard off the team even after Cahill went down, recalling a young lad named Martin Kelly with one cap instead of Rio. But enough of the off field subjects, this English side unlike years past hasn’t been tabbed to go that far. Their are a few bright spots however. Ashley Young is an impressive midfielder, while Danny Welbeck is in great form. If speculation remains correct, you may not even see a lot of English fans out in Eastern Ukraine, which would be a shame.
When the groups first came out, it seemed as though England was a lock to advance, this is no longer the case – opening up opportunities for Ukraine and Sweden to advance. Group D begins on June 11th playing out of Kyiv and Donetsk, Ukraine.
Best Striker: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden
Best Midfielder: Ashley Young, England
Best Defender: Patrice Evra, France
Best Keeper: Hugo Lloris, France
Best Youngster: Andriy Yarmolenko, Ukraine
Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae (by FinsProductions)
Group C consists of 2008 Euro Cup champions Spain, 2000 runners up Italy, Republic of Ireland who is back in the tournament for the first time since 1988, and 2008 quarter-finalists Croatia.
Before 2008, Spain hadn’t won a major championship since 1964, after winning the Euro Cup they went onto World Cup glory in 2010 and have formed a dynasty in the process. If they are to win their third straight major trophy they’ll have to do so without David Villa and Carlos Puyol, who are both out with injuries. Despite the disappointing season at Chelsea, Fernando Torres will be counted on to turn things around in a hurry for his country. There may not be a better midfield in the game than the one the ‘Red Furry’ can field, Xavi Hernandez, Xabi Alonso, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas gives Spain a chance to repeat. Striker Juan Mata is the sleeper in all of this, look for him to make a name for himself in this tournament.
After conceding only 2 goals in 10 Euro qualification games, Italy allowed 3 against Russia on June 1st in a pre-tournament friendly. While it is unlikely Italy will be conceding three goals a game, the problem lies in scoring them. Antonio Cassano is back, but don’t count on him to be in 100% form, Mario Balotelli is talented, but lacks consistency. However look for striker, youngster Fabio Borini to step up. Gianluigi Buffon will be fine in goal and will keep Italy in games. Riccardo Montilovo, Daniele De Rossi, and Andrea Pirlo will need to stay healthy as Italy lacks depth at midfield.
The key’s to the Republic of Ireland’s success may be in the hands of their coach, Giovanni Trapattoni who has them playing with swagger which included an undefeated qualification round. Shay Given will be counted on to keep games close, the veteran of over 120 caps is one of the most experienced players in the tournament. Robbie Keane is in great form and can still fill the net, despite playing against lesser competition in the MLS. Aiden McGeady and Shane Long are youngster’s names to remember who will help Keane on the offence. John O’Shea and Richard Dunne are two rugged defenders who will try and make life miserable for the opposition.
Croatia comes into the tournament as always usually seem to do. A darkhouse team, that no one wants to play. That’s a pretty great reputation to have. Croatia boasts a well balanced team led in the middle by captain Darijo Srna, who also see’s time on defence. Keeper Stipe Pletikosa is a veteran of 91 caps so there will be no issues there. Croatia is blessed with ample amount of scoring depth. Eduardo, Ivica Olic, Nikica Jelavic are all very capable scorers. Midfielders Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Niko Kranjcar control the middle. It’s the last kick at the can for head coach Slaven Bilic who leaves the team after the tournament ends.
Losing David Villa and Carlos Puyol hurts Spain, but not enough to not get out of the group. The rest of the group is tough to call but will be very exciting to watch. Group C gets underway on June 10th from Gdnask and Poznan, Poland.
Best Striker: Robbie Keane, Ireland
Best Midfielder: Xavi Hernandez, Spain
Best Defender: Darijo Srna, Croatia
Best Keeper: Gianluigi Buffon, Italy
Best Youngster: Fabio Borini, Italy
Group B features 1988 European Cup champions Netherlands, 1992 champions Denmark, 1996 champions Germany, and 2004 runners up Portugal.
After losing out to Spain in the 2010 World Cup final, Netherlands hope to take care of business and win a championship for this generation of Dutch football. They will be heavy favourites to not only advance through group B, but to go all the way. The scoring duo of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Robin van Persie is nearly unstoppable. Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder control the middle and can strike at any time. While their defenders are loaded with experience, vice Captain John Heitinga leads the way. The depth on the Dutch squad is embarrassingly rich in talent, Barcelona midfielder Ibrahim Afellay is a name you may not have heard of yet, but you will have when this tournament is said and done.
No one is giving the Danish national team a chance in this ‘Group of Death’ but they have a quiet confidence, and if taken lightly – could cost one of the major contender’s valuable points. It will be interesting to see if the lack of experience in goal will affect the amount of goals against Denmark will allow. Stephan Anderson and Anders Lindegaard step in with only 15 caps combined, stepping in for the injured Thomas Sorensen who has collected over 100 caps. Captain Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer will protect the backend while Nicklas Bendtner, Christian Eriksen, Jores Okorewill be counted on to provide offense, but are young aged 24, 20, and 19 respectively.
It’s hard to believe a powerhouse like Germany hasn’t won a major trophy since Euro 1996, but it’s true. Is this the year? This side is stacked from top to bottom. Manuel Neuer is a world class keeper. Captain Phillip Lahm, Per Mertesacker provide solid defending, while Mats Hummels is a defender rising quickly in the German ranks. Mesut Ozil may be the best player in tournament and is an early favourite for the ‘Player of the Tournament’ award. Bastien Schewinsteiger, Thomas Muller, Lukas Podolski control the middle, while Mario Gotze is a name to remember here. Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez will pile up the goals. Interesting fact regarding the German side, they selected the youngest squad – average age of 24.
Portugal’s record of never having failed to advance from the group stage at the European Championships will surely be challenged this time around. Cristiano Ronaldo’s woes for his performances with Portugal remain a concern, but a world class talent like Ronaldo can only struggle for so long. They play an exciting type of football, a wide-open game which sometimes can hurt them letting in more goals than they’d like. Goaltending may be a concern as Rui Patricio and Eduardo haven’t been able to consistently deliver positive results. But midfielders Nani, Moutinho should give opposing defenders fits.
This group is Netherland’s and Germany’s for the taking, any other combination would be shocking and would turn this tournament wide-open. Group B begins on June 9, playing out of Kharkiv and Lviv, Ukraine.
Best Striker: Robin van Persie, Netherlands
Best Midfielder: Mesut Ozil, Germany
Best Defender: Daniel Agger, Denmark
Best Keeper: Manuel Neuer, Germany
Best Youngster: Mario Gotze, Germany
Group A consists of co-hosts Poland, 2004 Euro Cup Champions Greece, 2008 Semi-Finalists Russia, and 1996 Runner’s up Czech Republic.
Poland will be relying heavily on their home crowd to serve as the extra boost if the White Eagles hope to advance through the group stage and return to the glory years of 1974 and 1982. A trio of players in key positions lead this era of Polish football. Arsenal London goalkeeper Wojcech Szczesny provides his national side with world class goaltending, while it will be Borussia Dortmund’s striker Robert Lewandowski providing the offense. Polish Captain Jakub Blaszczkowski, otherwise known as ‘Kuba’ stabilizes the midfield. Other players to keep an eye on is defender Lukasz Piszczek and up and coming attacker Rafal Wolski.
Just like in 2004, not a lot of football experts are expecting much from the Greek National team – but this bodes well for the blue & white as in 2004 it resulted in them hoisting the Euro Cup. This year’s team resembles a lot of the 2004 team which was a conservative, defensive approaching, low scoring side. Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Avraam Papadopolous are quality backs who steer the ship defensively. Veterans Theofanis Gekas and Giorgos Samaras will be counted on to score timely goals, if Greece hopes to get through the group stage.
After failing to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the 2008 Euro Cup semi-finalists hope to continue where they left off 4 years ago. Most notably captain Andrei Arshavin seems to play his best football playing for his national side. Russia boasts a very stingy defense and is one of the most well oiled units on the back-end where experience dominates. Defenders Sergei Ignashevich, Aleksander Anyukov, Vasili Berezutskiy, and Yuri Zhirkov all have over 45 caps. 21 year old midfielder Alan Dzagoev is someone the opposition will have to keep tabs on. While the goaltending situation is not yet settled as coach Dick Advocaat will announce whether he’s starting Igor Akfineev or Vyacheslav Malafeev on the eve of their first game on June 8th.
Czech Republic has failed to advance past the group stage in a major tournament since 2004, something they hope to change in 2012. After his strong performance in the Champions league final, Petr Cech has shown that he is still one of the best keepers in the world. Tomas Rosicky and Milan Baros both have over 80 caps for Czech Republic and will be counted on to provide the offense. Combined they’ve been good for over 60 goals in their international careers. Michal Kadlec will provide a spark for the back-end while Tomas Necid is a young striker on the rise.
With their impressive form as of late, Russia has emerged as the favourite to win Group A, leaving Poland, Greece and Czech Republic fighting it out for the other spot to advance. Group A begins on June 8th and will played out of Warsaw and Wroclaw, Poland.
Best Striker: Robert Lewandowski, Poland
Best Midfielder: Tomas Rosicky, Czech Republic
Best Defender: Yuri Zhirkov, Russia
Best Keeper: Petr Cech, Czech Republic
Best Youngster: Alan Dzagoev, Russia
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Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux won’t let two casted wrists stop him from playing beer pong.
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