The Euro 2012 group stage starts on Friday 8 June and there are some exciting fixtures to savour
It’s getting close to the end of the domestic season and, once the Champions League final has been played on Saturday 19th May, all eyes will turn to the European Championships which take place in Poland and Ukraine.
The tournament kicks off with 24 group matches and we have picked five games where you should set aside the required 2 hours, settle down on the comfiest chair in the house and enjoy two teams battling it out for European glory.
GAME ONE: Germany v Portugal – Saturday 9 June
Group B could be the Group of Death considering that Germany, Portugal and the Netherlands are all trying to scramble into the quarter finals and this opener in Lviv should be an intriguing affair.
The Germans are second favourites to win Euro 2012 and were the most clinical side at the 2010 World Cup, even if they were overawed on the big semi-final stage against Spain. Their qualification record was impeccable and Mario Gomez hasn’t stopped scoring since the season began.
Portugal once again needed a play-off to qualify for this major tournament, although they do have the tools to make life tricky for Germany and the role of underdogs suits them reasonably well. In Cristiano Ronaldo, they have someone who can win the match with a piece of outrageous skill although the Real Madrid star has rarely shone on an international stage.
GAME TWO: Spain v Italy – Sunday 10 June
Spain are the reigning champions of Europe and the world, with Vicente del Bosque having an elegance of riches in his squad. The problem for the former Real Madrid coach is who to take on the plane to Gdansk, let alone which eleven players to field.
Even so, we should remember that Switzerland defeated the Spanish in the opening game of the 2010 World Cup and Italy will be confident of catching the champions cold, especially as Spain don’t come into this tournament with a great set of results behind them.
The Azzurri will aim to nullify Xavi and Iniesta in the opposition midfield and take their chances when they inevitably come. This will be a captivating encounter from start to finish.
GAME THREE: France v England – Monday 11 June
Both teams left the 2010 World Cup with their tails between their legs, although there is now fresh optimism within the French and English camps that they can perform much better at Euro 2012.
This match in Donetsk will see a new-look France team aim to beat England in the same way that they did at Euro 2004 in the opening group game.
England are without a permanent manager at the time of writing and will also be missing Wayne Rooney for this game, although Scott Parker, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard provide lots of clout in midfield with the latter pair able to play in an advanced role.
GAME FOUR: Netherlands v Germany – Wednesday 13 June
Whatever the outcome of the opening matches, this is clearly the biggest game of the group stage, pitting the 2nd and 3rd best teams at World Cup 2010 against each other.
The Netherlands were relatively negative in South Africa despite reaching the final, with Robin Van Persie playing as the lone forward and relying on scraps, although Wesley Sneijder had a tournament to remember.
This contest could see both teams approach the game in a cagey fashion depending on the results of the first match, although Germany are likely to be slight favourites to claim victory in Kharkiv.
GAME FIVE: Portugal v Netherlands – Sunday 17 June
The Netherlands and Portugal will have played Denmark and Germany by the time this final group fixture comes around, so we can only speculate on how many points each team will have.
However, it is unlikely that the Portuguese and Dutch will have lost both matches and there is likely to be plenty at stake in Kharkiv, where star players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Robin Van Persie and Rafael Van Der Vaart will take to the stage.