When the draw is made for any competition, be it at club level with the Champions League, or at international level with the World Cup or in this case the Euro Champs, there is always a group that gets labelled the group of death, because it is a bit stronger then the others and so harder to qualify from. In Group C we truly have a group of death, one that fully lives up to its name, with current world champions Italy drawn against France, Holland and Romania.
Group C will be based at the Letzigrund Stadium in Zurich and the Stade de Suisse in Berne.
Interestingly the group is made up of the qualifiers from just 2 groups, with France and Italy qualifying from the same group and Holland and Romania getting through from the same group.
While it is tough to call anyone favourites from this group it is perhaps fair to say that Romania should be the weakest team in the group, and thus the most dangerous. With the big 3 focusing on matches against each other the Romanians could just cause a few upsets and sneak through against careless bigger teams. Romania finished top of their qualification group, 3 points clear of Holland, whom they drew with away and beat at home. In Chivu and Mutu they have two of the best players in the world, both stars of Italian football with Inter and Fiorentina respectively, and while Chivu will be looking to keep the opposition out, Mutu will look to score the goals that take Romania through. Other players to look out for are Lazio’s Stefan Radu at the back, and Nicolae Dica and Ciprian Marica in attack.
The Dutch, much like Spain and England, are Europes perennial under achievers, bringing talented generation after generation to the international scene, but have only a Euro Champs in 1988 to show for their efforts. This year the Dutch team will look to put behind them in fighting and prima dona behaviour and put forward a disciplined approach that will hopefully carry them through this tough group. The Dutch team is packed with attacking options, an embarrassment of riches really, with Ruud van Nistelrooy, Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vart and Arjen Robben, giving them an endless list of options going forward. However it is in defence that they look vulnerable and a lot of be asked of keeper Edwin van der Sar, with the Dutch perhaps needing to score more than their opponents rather than relying on keeping things tight at the back. This will have to be the tournament for van der Vaart to really announce himself on the international scene and in so doing seal a move to one of Europe’s elite, if the Dutch are to have an aspirations of winning.
The French were not at their best during the qualification campaign, losing twice to Scotland, and finished 3 points behind the Italians, but they were still the groups top scorers and meanest defence. In a big tournament the French can never be discounted, as they showed at the World Cup, reaching the finals, only to lose on penalties to Italy, despite many predicting that they would struggle. They have a blend of youth and experience in the squad that will keep them fresh, while at the same time keeping the spine of the squad as players who have been here done that before. Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema will have the world watching their progression, and many chairman keeping the cheque book close at hand, although Nasri seems to have already agreed to join Arsenal. Ribery and Henry will once again pull the attacking strings, and look to supply the deadly Benzema who will look to enhance his growing reputation by leading France towards the final.
World champions Italy have brought a fairly old and aging squad to these finals, but with Italian teams you tend to find that knowledge and tactics will out weigh any tiring legs and carry them through. For a lot of this squad, the likes of Del Piero, Matterazi, Panucci, Pirlo, Zambrotta and Toni this will no doubt be their last big international tournament, and they will be looking to make it a World Cup and Euro double, just as France did in 98 and 2000. Luca Toni will look to score the goals, after yet another prolific season at club level, this time in his first season at Bayern Munich, where he finished as the Budesliga’s top scorer. Del Piero will perhaps be used as an impact player from the bench. Much will depend on how Italy cope without caption, and rock at the back, Fabio Cannavaro, who was injured just days before the tournament. Cannavaro’s loss will give an opportunity to Barzagli and Gamberini to show case the almost endless supply line of outstanding Italian defenders. Of particular interest will be how the Italians use Antonia Cassano, who has the ability and talent to be a match winner, but also the self destructive tendencies to bring down team spirit and cost Italy dearly.
The group of death is no doubt the most interesting and hard fought of the four groups and thus the most difficult to predict. Going by history, big match temperment of their players, and form, I’d look at Italy and France to go through from this one. But keep a close eye on the Romanians who will be the deciding factor in this group.