Olov Norbrink is the editor-in-chief of a satirical magazine in Sweden. He also wrote a popular weekly sports column in Sweden’s largest newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, and regularly bets on European football.
Romania (4.75) vs. France (1.70) Draw (3.30)
Netherlands (2.95) vs. Italy (2.35) Draw (2.95)
Italy have a reputation as slow starters. In Group C, the so-called “Group of Death”, this could cost them dearly. Could the reigning World champions even be eliminated? It looks entirely possible.
Another ominous sign is that the Italians have the oldest team in Euro 2008. It may well be that they field a team against Holland on which no player is under 30 – except of course Andrea Pirlo, the Milan midfielder who’s a mere 28. Pirlo and forward Luca Toni have to be on top of their game or Italy will struggle offensively against the well-organized defences of this group, particularly France and Romania.
But if Italy does make it through, they will be lethal. They are master tacticians and have loads of players who have lifted big trophies before. If not, the unbelievably harsh Italian sports press will have a field day trying to come up with new, innovative ways to insult them.
Soccer players have become almost as important a French export product as cheese and red wine. French players are everywhere these days and yet, when called upon to play for their country, they always seem to find their way back to the typical French way of playing: elegant, smooth but not always very efficient. In their finest moments, the French are the embodiment of “the beautiful game.”
Practically every player on this squad is an international superstar or destined to become one very soon. This has actually caused France some problems in the past. How will guys like Evra and Anelka react if there’s no place for them in the starting 11?
Another question mark is goalkeeping, which has never been France’s strong suit. Still, for a team with players like Ribery, Malouda and Henry, that may not even matter in the end, as they are not likely to let their opponents spend much time with the ball anyway.
Romania is another one of these countries that often make it to the big tournaments but rarely go very far. In a group like this one, nothing is expected of them, but they’re certainly not a team without quality.
Romania looked very impressive in the qualifying stages, easily winning their group ahead of, among others, Holland. Interestingly, they used as many as 39 players in their 12 games, many of them from the domestic league. That also says something about the sheer class of Romanian soccer.
The current generation of Romanian players, led by stars like attacker Mutu and defensive midfielder Chivu, seems more disciplined than previous ones, who had a reputation of being “prima ballerinas” unable to cope with adversity.
Dutch coach Marco van Basten was himself named European Player of the Year on three occasions during his playing days, so it’s no surprise that he’s set the bar high as manager as well. He runs a tight ship and has no problems benching players that don’t perform to his standards.
Like with many other teams, there’s always a risk that the biggest Dutch stars are a bit tired after the wear and tear of a long season with their clubs. On the other hand, this is a young, emerging team, hungry for success. Many of the key players like midfielders Sneijder and van der Vaart, are still under 25. For this reason, among others, the game between Holland and Italy on Monday June 9 is probably the one I am personally looking forward to most in Euro 2008.
The Dutch, li