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Wileman: Three key storylines heading into Euro 2012

Luke Wileman
6/6/2012 7:01:49 PM
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It's almost here. 24 days, 16 teams, two host countries, one trophy. UEFA Euro 2012 promises to be a stunning spectacle and TSN will have you covered every step of the way on TV, radio, online and mobile.

This week's blog highlights three key storylines heading into the tournament. Can Spain create history? Will Cristiano Ronaldo be able to reproduce his club form to help lift Portugal out of the toughest group in the tournament? Which countries have the potential to surprise people?

Building A Dynasty

Over the last four years, there has been little dispute that Spain has been the best team in the world, and now they have the chance to create history. No team from any continent has ever won three major tournaments back-to-back-to-back, but that's now a very real possibility for Spain, who are the reigning European and World Champions.

When Spain were crowned European Champions in 2008, it ended the country's 44-year wait for a major trophy. Until that point, they had become known as underachievers in big tournaments, but they followed their European success by winning the World Cup in South Africa two years later.

Spain's team has a very familiar look to it and includes many of the players that won the European Championship four years ago. They had a perfect record in qualifying, winning all eight of their matches.

They're very well organized with a wealth of world class talent that has a strong influence from the country's top two teams, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Spain are solid at the back with veteran goalkeeper Iker Casillas and star defenders such as Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos, but it is in midfield where they have an embarrassment of riches with Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets amongst the options available.

The one major question mark for Spain is how they will cope without the country's all-time leading goalscorer David Villa, who is recovering from a broken leg.

Should Spain manage to find success without Villa and lift the trophy in Kiev on July 1st, it would take them to a whole new level in the global game.

A Football Genius

When Cristiano Ronaldo is in full flow, there's little chance of stopping him. His pace, ball control and ability to use both feet is enough to give the opposition nightmares.

In the global game, there's only one player who can compare – and that's Lionel Messi. Ronaldo was named World Player of the Year in 2008, but since then, Messi has won the award three years in a row. With Messi being from Argentina, Ronaldo won't have to be in his shadow at Euro 2012.

There's no doubt Ronaldo is a man in form. At the age of 27, he had an incredible year, scoring 46 times in Spain's La Liga as Real Madrid won the championship. He finished with 60 goals in all competitions.

This is Ronaldo's chance to take centre stage and to showcase his extraordinary ability. His country needs him. Ronaldo led Portugal in scoring in the qualifying stages, but if they are to make it out of the toughest group in the tournament which includes Holland and Germany, he will have to shine once again. Ronaldo's first game of the tournament is on Saturday, when Portugal face Germany in Group B.

Chance Of A Surprise?

The start of any tournament brings optimism and high expectations. Every team heading into Euro 2012 will have ambitions of at least getting out of the group stage.

The three usual suspects, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands are the favourites to succeed, but there are plenty of teams lurking in the shadows hoping to emerge victorious. Here are my three dark horses for the tournament.

Poland failed to get past the group stage in Euro 2008, but this time around, the pressure will be on the co-host to make home advantage count, and they've certainly got the talent to surprise a few people.

Their squad includes three players from German champions Borussia Dortmund, including 23-year-old forward Robert Levandovski, who will be relied upon to score the goals.
 
Sweden had a change of direction after failing to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and under head coach Erik Hamren, they've assembled a squad that has a good mix of youth and experience.

A lot will rest on the shoulders of their veteran core, which includes Captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He is coming into Euro 2012 after finishing last season as the leading scorer in Italy's Serie A with a career-high 28 league goals for AC Milan.

Sweden are in Group D, along with the third of my dark horse picks. France are two-time European Champions, most recently winning Euro 2000. That was two years after they had won the World Cup on home soil in 1998.

Since then there have been a few lean years for the French, but coach Laurent Blanc seems to have them moving in the right direction once again.

Luke Wileman is host of UEFA EURO 2012 on TSN. Coverage begins Friday at 11am et/8am pt.

Luke Wileman

Luke Wileman


Luke Wileman is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca.

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