The more I look at the upcoming Euro 2012 tournament, the more I like the chances of Croatia and Russia to upset the apple cart somewhat.
Whilst I’m not expecting either side to go all the way and win the tournament, I feel Russia could easily repeat their feat of four years ago when they reached the semi-final stage. Their team is made up the same bunch who excelled in 2008 and with more experience under their belt, not to mention a favourable group draw, they could quite easily find themselves in a quarter-final clash with one of Germany, Holland, Denmark or Portugal. I fully expect them to win the group and therefore meet Portuagl or Denmark in the quarter-final stage, a game that would not strike fear into Advocaat’s men. (Yes, I expect Germany to win the group and Holland no to qualify)
Finally, Croatia are being written off in Group C as they were drawn with both Spain and Italy in their group and a resilient Ireland team. if you had read the Racing Post’s pull-out on the tournament, you’d have seen a lot of their writers tipping Ireland to qualify from the group. Frankly, I cannot see that occuring (despite my Irish heritage) and feel that Croatia are more than equipped to take on the two ‘giants’ in the group.
Here is my reasoning as to why I fancy both nations to do well – and Holland to fail.
My best bet of the whole tournament is an 8-1 shot in the Top Nation Goalscorer market. A lot of money has come recently for Nikica Jelavic as top tournament goalscorer following his fruitful finish to the end of the season. 10 goals in 10 games for Everton saw his price halve from 100/1 to a best price 50/1 to top the tournament’s scoring charts – but there is no guarantee that the former Rangers striker will even finish top scorer for his country.
Wolfsburg forward Mario Mandzukic (100-1 top goalscorer Hills, SkyBet, Betfred, BetVictor, Blue Square) has been the best striker Croatia has exported this season. Mandzukic, in to his second season in Germany, saw him score eight goals in his debut season but he has excelled that by scoring 12 goals in a team which finished 8th in a highly competitive Bundesliga season.
Mandzukic notched three goals in Croatia’s qualifying campaign (Niko Kranjcar top scored with four) and this suggests that he will be the main hope for goals for the Balkan side. A bet on him to win the outright goalscorer market may be ambitious as Croatia face Spain, Italy and a stubborn Ireland team in their group – making the 8-1 with Coral, Betfred and Blue Square for him to finish as the top Croat scorer huge value. Jelavic is far too short at a best-priced 5-1 to lead their attack considering he has ten caps and three goals less than Mandzukic.
At over six foot tall, he is very good in the air and this quality could be vital with the service from the wings of Darijo Srna and overlapping full-back Daniel Pranjic. However, being tall isn’t his only asset and his movement and finishing ability saw him linked with a move to Tottenham last January. On this occasion, Spurs baulked at the £10m asking price – but that valuation could be even higher come the end of this tournament.
Consequently, if Madzukic is to have the successful tournament predicted, that would link in to making Croatia a good bet to qualify from a tricky group. An odds-against (7-4) shot to qualify with Bet Victor, the Balkans must feel they are more equipped than Ireland (4-1) to qualify from Group C. They have also been drawn against Spain and Italy, but with Spain missing influential captain Carles Puyol and David Villa and Italy lacking real quality across their whole team, the Croats look a good bet to get through the group stages. To enhance the prices, if they were to qualify, they would most likely finish second to reigning World and European champions Spain in the group – an 11/4 shot with William Hill.
In Group A – it is hard to see past Russia coasting through to the quarter-finals. The 2008 semi-finalists have been drawn in a group with overrated hosts Poland, a floundering Czech Republic and a woeful Greece and this should be comfortable enough to see them top the group at widely-available odds of 6-4. The Russians are unbeaten in their last 12 games and only Italy conceded less goals than them in the qualifying stages, including six clean sheets in their last seven outings.
As with Croatia, the form of their main striker could be key to their qualification. Andrei Arshavin, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Pavel Pogrebnyak are contesting the attacking starting berth for the Soviets, but with 23 goals for Zenit this season, Aleksandr Kerzhakov looks set to get the nod for Dick Advocaat’s side. Russia’s weak group should see them score plenty of goals and with Kerzhakov scoring a classic poacher’s goal against Uruguay, he can be fancied to continue his scoring form and top the charts at constantly-shortening 50-1 with Betfred.
When you look at the attacking talent that litters the Dutch side it is easy to want to back them to win the tournament. But the further back you move from the frontline, the easier it gets to oppose them. A midfield containing a 35-year-old Mark van Bommel and Nigel De Jong, who has featured intermittently for Man City, are ‘protecting’ a depleted backline. The only natural left-back in the squad is 18-year-old Jetro Williams following the injury to Erik Pieters, meaning centre-midfielder Stijn Schaars looks set to get the nod over former Aston Villa defender Wilfred Bouma. Meanwhile, Everton defender John Heitinga is not the calibre of defender required to win a major European championship.
Therefore, as the Oranje are drawn in the ‘group of death’ alongside Portugal, Germany and Denmark, it is worth thinking about them not surpassing the group stage. Their fragile backline could be exploited by any of Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil or Cristian Eriksen from any of their opponents and this could be a factor that their attacking prowess may not be able to combat.
Therefore, a bet on Portugal and Germany to be the top two in the group looks tempting at 3/1 with Sportingbet
Mario Mandzukic top Croatian goalscorer – 8/1
Croatia to finish second in Group C – 11/4.
Russia to win the group – 6/4
Aleksandr Kerzhakov top goalscorer 50/1
Germany/Portugal Group B dual forecast 3/1