As far as attention for groups in the European Championships goes, Group D isn’t getting nearly as much attention as it deserves. It isn’t the Group of Death like Group C, and doesn’t have a host country in it like Groups A and B. What Group D does have though is the defending champion, and the team I think will win the 2008 European Championship.
Germany is the popular pick to win the title, but Spain is loaded and ready to erase some bad memories of so many past tournament failures. Spain doesn’t exactly have the cakewalk of a group that Germany does, but it matches up well against Sweden, Russia and Greece.
The Swedes have some stars, but questions in their defense make them a questionable pick for the quartefinals. I see the Russians, led by master tactician Guus Hiddink edging Sweden out for a place in the quarters.
And then there is Greece. If you are still trying to figure out how the Greeks won the last European Championship, you are not alone. The miracle won’t come again for Greece head coach Otto Rehagel.
Here is a closer look at Group D:
TUESDAY– Spain vs. Russia (ESPN2, ESPN Deportes) 11:50 a.m.
TUESDAY– Greece vs. Sweden (ESPN2, ESPN Deportes) 2:30 p.m.
JUNE 14– Sweden vs. Spain (ESPN2, ESPN Deportes) 11:50 a.m.
JUNE 14– Greece vs. Russia (ESPN2, ESPN Deportes) 2:30 p.m.
JUNE 18– Greece vs. Spain (ESPN, ESPN Deportes) 2:30 p.m.-
JUNE 18– Russia vs. Sweden (ESPN2) 2:30 p.m.
PLAYERS TO WATCH– Fernando Torres, Xavi, David Villas, Iker Casillas
NAME TO LEARN– David Silva. Often overshadowed by his club teammate David Villa, Silva is a 22-year-old midfielder who can play in multiple positions and should get a chance to play if any of Spain’s stars gets hurt. Could be one of the surprises of the tournament.
Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Andrés Palop (Sevilla), José Reina (Liverpool)
Defenders: Raul Albiol and Carlos Marchena (Valencia), Alvaro Arbeloa (Liverpool), Joan Capdevila (Villarreal), Juanito (Real Betis), Fernando Navarro (Mallorca), Carles Puyol (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid
Midfielders: Xabi Alonso (Liverpool), Santi Cazorla and Marcos Senna (Villarreal), Ruben de la Red (Getafe), Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal), Andrés Iniesta and Xavi (Barcelona), David Silva (Valencia)
Forwards: Sergio Garcia (Real Zaragosa), Dani Güiza (Mallorca), Fernando Torres (Liverpool), David Villa (Valencia)
OUTLOOK– Spain has a history of coming up short in the big tournaments, but I have a feeling about this group. With Torres and Villa up top, Xavi and Fabregas in the middle and Casillas, Puyol and Ramos in the back, Spain has the perfect combination of skill, experience and youth and I think this team has what it takes to win the tournament.
PLAYERS TO WATCH– Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Kim Kallstrom, Tobias Linderoth, Freddie Ljungberg.
NAME TO LEARN– Markus Rosenberg. Ibrahimovic gets the headlines, and Henrik Larsson’s return will garner much attention, but Rosenberg was a deadly striker for Werder Bremen this season and will be hard to keep off the field.
Goalkeepers: Andreas Isaksson (Manchester City), Rami Shaaban (Hammarby), Johan Wiland (Elfsborg)
Defenders: Mikael Nilsson (Panathinaikos), Olof Mellberg (Aston Villa), Petter Hansson (Stade Rennais), Fredrik Stoor (Rosenborg), Daniel Majstorovic (Basel), Andreas Granqvist (Wigan), Mikael Dorsin (CFR Cluj)
Midfielders: Tobias Linderoth (Galatasaray), Niclas Alexandersson (IFK Goteborg), Anders Svensson (Elfsborg), Fredrik Ljungberg (West Ham), Kim KÃ¤llstrÃ¶m (Lyon), Sebastian Larsson (Birmingham City), Daniel Andersson (MalmÃ¶ FF), Christian Wilhelmsson (Deportivo de La Coruna)
Forwards: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Inter Milan), Johan Elmander (Toulouse), Henrik Larsson (Helsingborg), Marcus Allbeck (FC Copenhagen), Markus Rosenberg (Werder Bremen)
OUTLOOK– The attacking talent is there for the Swedes to do well, but they could be exposed defensively by Spain and Russia.
PLAYERS TO WATCH– Andrei Arshavin, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Alexei Berezutsky, Igor Akinfeev.
NAME TO LEARN– Vladimir Bystrov. Wondering who the fastest player in the tournament is? It just might be this speedy left winger, who will be key to an attack that won’t have Arshavin for the first two matches due to suspension.
Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Gabulov (Amkar Perm), Vyacheslav Malafeyev (Zenit St. Petersburg).
Defenders: Alexander Anyukov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Alexei Berezutsky (CSKA Moscow), Vasily Berezutsky (CSKA Moscow), Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Denis Kolodin (Dynamo Moscow), Renat Yanbayev (Lokomotiv Moscow).
Midfielders: Diniyar Bilyaletdinov (Lokomotiv Moscow), Dmitry Torbinsky (Lokomotiv Moscow), Vladimir Bystrov (Spartak Moscow), Yuri Zhirkov (CSKA Moscow), Konstantin Zyryanov Zenit St. Petersburg), Roman Shirokov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Igor Semshov (Dynamo Moscow), Sergei Semak (Rubin Kazan).
Strikers: Roman Adamov (FK Moscow), Roman Pavluchenko (Spartak Moscow), Pavel Pogrebnyak (Zenit St. Petersburg), Andrei Arshavin (Zenit St. Petersburg), Dmitry Sychev (Lokomotiv Moscow), Ivan Sayenko (Nuremberg).
OUTLOOK– Arshavin’s suspension and an injury to striker Pavel Pogrebnyak has Russia feeling a little vulnerable heading into the tournament, but Guus Hiddink is still the coach and there is still plenty of talent on the roster to edge out Sweden and reach the quarters. Look for Hiddink to work his magic yet again and reach the secound round.
PLAYERS TO WATCH– Kotsas Katsouranis, Antonis Nikopolidis, Georgios Samaras, Giorgos Karagounis.
NAME TO LEARN– Vassilis Torossidis. The 22-year-old left back will be crucial to Greece’s chances of posting a defensively strong tournament like it did when it won the tournament four years ago. Currently at Olympiakos, Torossidis could play himself into a big move with a strong tournament.
Goalkeepers: Antonis Nikopolidis (Olympiakos), Costas Chalkias (Aris), Alexandros Tzorvas (OFI Crete).
Defenders: Paraskevas Antzas (Olympiakos), Giourkas Seitaridis (Atletico Madrid), Loukas Vyntra (Panathinaikos), Vassilis Torossidis (Olympiakos), Sotiris Kyrgiakos (Eintracht Frankfurt), Christos Patsatzoglou (Olympiakos), Traianos Dellas (AEK), Yiannis Goumas (Panathinaikos), Nikos Spiropoulos (Panathinaikos).
Midfielders: Kostas Katsouranis (Benfica), Angelos Basinas (Real Mallorca), Giorgos Karagounis (Panathinaikos), Stelios Giannakopoulos (Bolton), Alexandros Tziolis (Panathinaikos), Ioannis Amanatidis (Eintracht Frankfurt).
Strikers: Georgios Samaras (Celtic), Dimitris Salpigidis (Panathinaikos), Angelos Charisteas (FC Nuremburg), Fanis Gekas (Bayer Leverkusen), Nikos Lymberopoulos (AEK).
OUTLOOK– With all due respect to what Greece was able to do in winning the tournament four years ago, it isn’t going to happen again. In fact, I don’t see the Greeks getting out of this underrated group. With Russia and Sweden both battling for second behind Spain, I see Greece falling well short of its championship form.