Atlanta Soccer News presents coverage of UEFA EURO 2012. Here is a preview of Group B.

GERMANY
The Germans seemed to figure out whatever had been plaguing them at Euro by time the 2008 tournament rolled around. After a pair of failures to advance in 2000 and 2004, Germany got back to what its fans have come to expect: winning with precision.
Croatia gave Germany a scare in the opening round, but it only seemed to light a fire under the German team, who was forced to go the long way to the Final, beating Portugal and the surprising Turkish team before getting blanked by Spain in the final.
The turnover amongst the team’s core over the last decade has produced a skilled group of tacticians that may be the answer to Germany’s 16 year major title drought. Exceptionally talented players that couldn’t get it done, like Michael Ballack and Oliver Kahn and the like are well in the rearview mirror now.
Here’s a look at the new breed.
Jason deVos Says: The Germans have to be considered the favourites to win the “Group of Death.” With options aplenty in midfield, coach Joachim Low is spoilt for choice. Expect a five-man midfield anchored by Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira, with Lukas Podolski, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller providing the attacking thrust. While Miroslav Klose led the Germans in qualifying with nine goals, don’t be surprised if Mario Gomez leads the line. With a steady supply line from midfield, Gomez should have chances galore.
Player to Watch: The biggest difference for Germany this time around may be in net. The team has been blessed with an uninterrupted stream of elite goaltending dating back to the days of Kahn. This time around it’s 25-year-old Bayern Munich keeper Manuel Neuer getting the gloves.
After spurning interest from Manchester United in favour of Bayern Munich, the man who led Schalke to the Semi Finals of Champions League last Spring could be the difference-maker, especially if the Germans have to go through Spain’s Iker Casillas once more.
Euro 2012 Squad:
Goalkeepers: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Tim Wiese (Werder Bremen), Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover).
Defenders: Holger Badstuber (Bayern Munich), Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), Benedikt Hoewedes (Schalke), Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund), Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich), Per Mertesacker (Arsenal), Marcel Schmelzer (Borussia Dortmund).
Midfielders: Lars Bender (Bayer Leverkusen), Mario Goetze (Borussia Dortmund), Ilkay Guendogan (Borussia Dortmund), Sami Khedira (Real Madrid), Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich), Thomas Mueller (Bayern Munich), Mesut Oezil (Real Madrid), Lukas Podolski (Cologne), Marco Reus (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Andre Schuerrle (Bayer Leverkusen), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich).
Forwards: Mario Gomez (Bayern Munich), Miroslav Klose (Lazio).
Road to Euro 2012:
Group: H – Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Kazakhstan, Turkey
Record: 10-0-0
Key Match: Few teams rolled over their qualifying group the way Germany did. Belgium appeared to be the only team of consistently putting up a fight, including Germany’s closest win, a mere 1-0 victory back in its first qualifying game on Sept. 3, 2010.
Tournament History: 2008 – Final, 2004 – Qualified, 2000 – Qualified
Best Finish: Champions (1996, 1980*, 1972*) * as West Germany
NETHERLANDS
Euro 2008 was a tough tournament for The Netherlands. The team rolled through the opening round under former Dutch star Marco van Basten, beating Italy and France before resting several regulars and still beating Romania.
However, one of their own undid them in the knockout phase. Former Dutch National coach Guus Hiddink led his surprising Russian side to a 3-1 extra-time victory over The Netherlands for a disappointing end to van Basten’s tenure.
The team responded to new coach Bert van Marwijk at the World Cup. Can he take them one step beyond at Euro 2012?
Jason deVos Says: At every major tournament, the Netherlands enters as one of the favourites, only to come apart at the seams. Beaten finalists in the 2010 World Cup, the Dutch will be hoping that they can go one better this time around, and hoist the trophy they won back in 1988. Back then it was the trio of van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard that led them to glory. In 2012, will it be the turn of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie to make history for the Dutch?
Player to Watch: One major change for the Dutch in net where, for the first time since the 1994 World Cup, the Dutch team will be without all-time caps leader Edwin van der Sar. His replacement, Maarten Stekelenburg, didn’t have to be exceptional in qualifying but got the job done, before resting the final few matches.
His performance with Roma this season was not overly impressive, but neither was the team. He has shown capable of standing on his head when necessary, including a trio of eight-save performances in Serie A this past season.
Euro 2012 Squad:
Goalkeepers: Maarten Stekelenburg (Roma), Michel Vorm (Swansea), Tim Krul (Newcastle).
Defenders: Khalid Boulahrouz (Stuttgart), John Heitinga (Everton), Joris Mathijsen (Malaga), Ron Vlaar (Feyenoord), Wilfred Bouma (PSV Eindhoven), Gregory van der Wiel (Ajax), Jetro Willems (PSV Eindhoven).
Midfielders: Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona), Mark van Bommel (AC Milan), Nigel de Jong (Manchester City), Stijn Schaars (Sporting Lisbon), Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan), Kevin Strootman (PSV Eindhoven), Rafael van der Vaart (Tottenham).
Forwards: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke), Luuk de Jong (FC Twente), Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool), Luciano Narsingh (Heerenveen), Robin van Persie (Arsenal), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich).
Road to Euro 2012:
Group: E – Finland, Hungary, Moldova, San Marino, Sweden
Record: 9-1-0
Key Match: With all due respect to the Dutch’s 11-0 dismantling of lowly San Marino, the Dutch were seldom pressed by their group competitors. The one team that did get the best of them was second-place Sweden, who beat them in the final group game on home soil to clinch a qualifying spot of their own.
Tournament History: 2008 – Quarter Final, 2004 – Semi Final, 2000 – Semi Final
Best Finish: Champions (1988)
DENMARK
When the lots were drawn for qualifying group H, Denmark would have been considered second-favourite to a Portugal side who were expected to overwhelm with their offensive skill. However, under the stewardship of long-time head coach Morten Olsen, who has been at the helm since 2000, the Danes where able to secure automatic advancement into the main draw of the tournament on the final day in front of their home fans.
Denmark does have a history at the European Championship that they can look back on as they captured the title in the 1992 contest that was played in Sweden and have also placed third and fourth in previous tournaments.
Their World Cup record, however, has not been nearly as good. They have only qualified four times though they were able to escape the group stage in three of those tournaments.
With some in Demark already clamoring for Olsen’s job, his reign could come to an end if Denmark can’t find their way into the knockout stages of Euro 2012.
Jason deVos says: Luck hasn’t done Denmark any favours. The Danes are a strong side, and in any other group, would fancy their chances of getting to the second phase of the tournament. Unfortunately, they have been drawn in a group with three of the top five teams in the FIFA world rankings, and I suspect their tournament will end after the group stage. Christian Eriksson is the rising star of Danish football, and will be looking to impress against the likes of Germany and the Netherlands. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is anything he can do to prevent the Danes from an early exit from the tournament.
Player to Watch: Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner will be a key to the Danish attack.  The 24-year-old forward was co-leader in scoring for Denmark during the qualification for Euro 2012.  Bendtner, who is currently playing on a one-year loan to Sunderland, was injured playing for his country during the 2010 World Cup so he will be hoping to have a much bigger and healthier impact during this tournament.
Euro 2012 Squad:
Goalkeepers: Stephan Andersen (Evian), Anders Lindegaard (Manchester United), Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester).
Defenders: Lars Jacobsen (FC Copenhagen), Michael Silberbauer (BSC Young Boys), Simon Busk Poulsen (AZ Alkmaar), Daniel Wass (Evian), Simon Kjaer (Roma), Daniel Agger (Liverpool), Andreas Bjelland (FC Nordsjaelland), Jores Okore (FC Nordsjaelland).
Midfielders: William Kvist (Stuttgart), Christian Poulsen (Evian), Niki Zimling (Brugge), Jakob Poulsen (FC Midtjylland), Lasse Schone (Nijmegen), Christian Eriksen (Ajax).
Forwards: Dennis Rommedahl (Brondby), Tobias Mikkelsen (FC Nordsjaelland), Michael Krohn-Dehli (Brondby), Thomas Kahlenberg (Evian), Nicklas Bendtner (Sunderland), Nicklas Pedersen (Groningen).
Road to Euro 2012:
Group: H – Cyprus, Iceland, Norway, Portugal
Record: 6-1-1
Key Match: On October 11th 2011, Denmark hosted group favourites Portugal in what amounted to a play-in game for Euro 2012.  The winner would get automatic qualification while the loser would have to try their luck in the knockout playoff.  In front of their home crowd, Denmark took a two-goal lead into stoppage time and held on for a 2-1 victory to secure their Euro place.
Tournament History: 2008 – Did Not Qualify, 2004 – Quarter-Final, 2000 – Group Stage
Best Finish: Champions (1992)
PORTUGAL
Coming into qualification, Portugal was considered one of the early favourites to not only advance straight into the tournament but be one of the top teams when everything was said and done. However, a disastrous start to qualification left the Portuguese side in disarray. An early draw to Cyprus followed by a 1-0 loss to Norway left the team looking for answers and ended up costing then-head coach Carlos Queiroz his job. The team replaced him with former Sporting Lisbon coach Paulo Bento.
The team was able to turn their fortunes around. However, with an automatic berth in the Finals on the line, the team came up one goal short against Denmark on October 11. Luckily for Portugal, the team’s goal-differential was enough to break a second-place deadlock with Norway and enter them into the second-chance play-off where they drew Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Portugal is never a team to be taken lightly, and – as they proved in the return-leg against Bosnia and Herzegovina – they are capable of pouring goals into the net at will.
Jason deVos Says: Portugal won Group A in 2008, but unfortunately came up against a stubborn German side in the quarterfinals, coming out on the wrong side of a 3-2 score line. Cristiano Ronaldo has had another stunning club season, leading Real Madrid to the Spanish title and notching 46 goals along the way. Can he lead Portugal into the knockout stages? Will the supporting cast of Nani, Postiga, Meireles and Moutinho be enough to overcome the might of Germany and the Netherlands? Portugal fans will be hopeful, but I’m afraid they might come up just short.
Player to Watch: Manchester United forward Nani will never generate the headlines of his international teammate Cristiano Ronaldo but for Portugal to have the type of success they expect of themselves they will need him to deliver a world class performance. While his domestic season was not up to his normal production, contributing eight goals and 10 assists to the United attack, his skills in front of the net have never been in question. Look for Ronaldo to hammer in the goals but look for Nani to shape and create the offence.
Euro 2012 Squad:
Goalkpeers: Rui Patricio (Sporting Lisbon), Eduardo (Benfica), Beto (Cluj).
Defenders: Bruno Alves (Zenit St. Petersburg), Fabio Coentrao (Real Madrid), Joao Pereira (Sporting Lisbon), Pepe (Real Madrid), Rolando (FC Porto), Ricardo Costa (Valencia), Miguel Lopes (Braga).
Midfielders: Joao Moutinho (FC Porto), Miguel Veloso (Genoa), Raul Meireles (Chelsea), Ruben Micael (Zaragoza), Custodio Castro (Braga), Hugo Viana (Braga).
Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Hugo Almeida (Besiktas), Helder Postiga (Zaragoza), Nani (Manchester United), Ricardo Quaresma (Besiktas), Silvestre Varela (FC Porto), Nelson Oliveira (Benfica).
Road to Euro 2012:
Group: H – Cyprus, Denmark, Iceland, Norway
Record: 5-2-1 (won aggregate play-off 6-2)
Key Match: It’s rare that a loss is instrumental in a team’s qualifying path in a positive way, but Portugal’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of Denmark may fit the bill. With a chance to directly qualify atop Group H, the Portuguese side was outclassed and shutout through 90 minutes on the final match of qualifying. Cristiano Ronaldo would save face in injury time with a spectacular free kick, but the loss meant the team would have to go through the playoff round to make the tournament. After a scoreless opener, the team responded with a 6-1 thrashing of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Lisbon. Could the Danish loss have lit a fire underneath the team? The answer could come in the team’s second opening-round test: a rematch against the Danes.
Tournament History: 2008 – Quarter Final, 2004 – Runners-Up, 2000 – Semi Final
Best Finish: Runners-Up (2004)

 

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