Germany coach Joachim Loew has adopted the ultimate laissez-faire approach with his star-studded squad, allowing players the freedom to do as they please away from the field. However, the professionalism of the German side means it is unlikely to take full advantage of Loew's leniency, although a handful of players make no secret of the fact that they enjoy a cigarette and a post-match pint.
Questionable habits aside, Germany is my pick to lift the Euro 2012 trophy as the tournament kicks off Friday and Europe's 16 finest teams do battle for the second most important title in soccer.
Perhaps Loew is happy for his troops to indulge in guilty pleasures and entertain their wives and girlfriends in the team hotel – strictly prohibited in the camps of many other participating nations – precisely because he knows the depth of talent he has at his disposal.
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Although Spain is both the European and World Cup champion, it is the Germans who have the tools to get the job done over the next few weeks and clinch a major trophy for the first time since they won this event in 1996.
Here is how we see things stacking up, with the usual caveat that anything can, and usually does, happen in a huge international event such as this. We did manage to correctly pick Spain to emerge victorious in South Africa two years ago though, so we will (cautiously) put our eggs into a German basket with some degree of confidence.
Some fans are calling this the real "Group of Death," not because of its strength, but because of its lack of perceived interest. Certainly it is the weakest of the four, but such a dire prognosis is a little unfair. Host nation Poland will have a point to prove, and each of the other nations have reached at least a semifinal in recent memory.
Russia looks to be the class act of the group, with all eyes on rising star Alan Dzagoev as he steps onto a big international stage for the first time. The current incarnation of the Czech Republic lacks the class of its predecessors, yet brings more cohesion, while Greece will once again bring stout defense and a ruthless approach.
Prediction: 1. Russia, 2. Czech Republic, 3. Poland, 4. Greece
It is hard to imagine a more mouth-watering lineup than this one, a scenario only made possible by UEFA's ludicrous policy of handing both relatively weak host nations a No.1 seed. It is fair? Probably not. Will it be entertaining? Absolutely.
Thanks to the balls falling into place at the draw, Group B features perhaps the world's best team in Germany, the World Cup runner-up in Netherlands, and a Portugal side featuring one of the top two players on the planet in Cristiano Ronaldo.
Those three are expected to slug it out for the two quarterfinal slots, although Denmark, ranked 10th in the world and having qualified top of a group that also featured Portugal, may have something to say.
Prediction: 1. Germany, 2. Netherlands, 3. Portugal, 4. Denmark
Spain might not love the idea of facing Italy, the team that provided its only real scare in 2008, before Cesc Fabregas sealed a tense penalty shootout in the quarterfinal. However, the reigning champion should still feel good about its chances of winning the group and putting itself in contention for an unprecedented third straight major title.
Italy is an unknown quantity this time around, with the fallout from its nation's match-fixing scandal a potential distraction – or a galvanizing factor. Croatia, sparked by the creative talents of Luka Modric, has the capacity to provide a shock to either of the big guns, but even that might not be enough to progress.
Ireland makes a welcome return to the world stage after a 10-year absence, and its colorful traveling support will add spice to the event.
Prediction: 1. Spain, 2. Italy, 3. Ireland, 4. Croatia
Plenty of fun and games can be expected, with subplots abounding in a group where no one is without issues and problems. England has a new coach in Roy Hodgson, but will be missing a bunch of senior players through injury and Wayne Rooney – for the first two matches – through suspension.
France is a worthy favorite having pulled things together under coach Laurent Blanc following a disgraceful World Cup campaign marred by in-fighting. Even so, the French's potential is to be either brilliant or abysmal remains.
Sweden has made a habit of foiling bigger-name opposition in previous group stages, but may not have quite enough depth to get through this one. Ukraine will be buoyed by public support and home advantage, but is the weakest side in the group by some margin.
Prediction: 1. France, 2. England, 3. Sweden, 4. Ukraine
This is where the power nations start to assert their authority, and expect the field to take on a similar look to the latter stages of the 2010 World Cup. The Netherlands may not have things their own way but should exact revenge on Russia for a defeat at the same stage four years ago.
- Netherlands beats Russia
- Germany beats Czech Republic
- Spain beats England
- France beats Italy
A repeat of the World Cup final produces a similar result, and France's impressive run comes to an abrupt end.
- Spain beats Netherlands
- Germany beats France
For all Germany's recent near misses, this is the tournament the German public expects its national team to win. Germany had an inferiority complex when it tamely surrendered to Spain in the World Cup semifinal but two years ago, has more belief and is hungry to set things right. The Bayern Munich players in the German squad suffered the pain of losing in the Champions League final, and this offers the ideal chance to make amends.