With Germany, Poland, Austria joined by by Croatia, Group B conjures up memories of Basil Fawlty and his hilarious “don’t mention the war” episode. Europe has moved on from that dark period, but the battles on the football pitch will be no tamer because of it. Co- Hosts Austria will be looking to their fans and home base to give them an extra push for qualification from this group, but Germany, many favourites for the competition, and Croatia must start as favourites to reach the quarter finals, although Poland had a very impressive qualification period, finishing ahead of Portugal’s in their group, and will look to spoil the party. The Austrians will fancy their chances, but it does not look good for them.
Group B will be based in Austria and play their games at the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna and the Worthersee Stadium in Klagenfurt.
Germany can best be described as a machine. While the likes of Portugal, Spain and France may look to enjoy flair and individual skill as their strongest attribute, it is the Germans efficiency that has made them such strong performers on the big stage. Teams that may have better individual players, such as Spain, seem to struggle when it comes to transferring their players superb club form to the international stage. Germany don’t have such problems. Indeed there players tend to play better when wearing their national colours than they do at club level. While the German unit may be the strong front of the team, they do not lack in individual talent either. In Ballack they have a player who is one of the most complete players of his generation. He struggled initially when he joined Chelsea, but since his return from injury last year has been their star player, and the reason they took the title race down to the final day. Ballack, along with a lot of his German team mates possess great self belief and big match temperament. While is form for Chelsea over the last two years may have been patchy, his form for his country has never been in doubt. Germany are strong in defence, tough and capable in midfield and in Klose up front they have the player that every winning team needs – a player to score the goals. Klose will by the end of the tournament be up there competing for the Golden Boot award. A player to keep an eye out for is Mario Gomez. The forward has forged a strong reputation for himself in Germany and will be in the shop window for a move to England, Spain or Italy during the next few weeks.
The Croatians are a team that are easily underestimated and in doing so can really do harm. Just ask England. Croatia finished 6 points clear of their more illustrious opponents England during qualification, having beaten England both home and away. While they do not have any stars they do have a great team spirit and a national pride that has forged an understanding and team work that makes them a formidable team to play against. They have a group of emerging players that could well be stars of the future, such as Luka Modric, who has just completed a big money move to Tottenham Hotspurs, and Manchester City’s full back Corluka. In Igor Budan, who has a impressive last few months of the season with Parma, despite their relegation, Ivan Klasnic, Niko Kranjar and Ivan Rakitic, Croatia are blessed with a lot of attacking talent, and just may be the surprise package of the tournament.
Germany and Croatia are the favourites to go through from this group, and on current form could be good value to go all the way.