Euro stars going for glory


FOOTBALL fans will be glued to their TV screens over the next three weeks as some of the world’s top stars battle it out for the glory of winning Euro 2012.

The action kicks off on Friday when co-hosts Poland take on Greece in the opening fixture and will culminate with the final in Kiev on Sunday, July 1.

So check out our guide on each team’s prospects and then sit back, relax and watch the action unfold.

CROATIA - A tournament always throws up a dark horse and Croatia could be the ones to watch. In a tough group but capable of overcoming Ireland and have a decent past record against Italy. Vital they take something from their opener against the Irish.

Player to watch - Nikica Jelavic. Heading for the Euros with confidence sky high after taking the Premiership by storm following his move from Rangers.

Prediction - quarter-finalists.

CZECH REPUBLIC - Might not be there at all but for that dodgy penalty at Hampden. Rebuilding and without stars or quality of previous years, but have a good record in the Euros. Are in probably the easiest group but will face hosts Poland in potentially decisive third game.

Player to watch - Tomas Rosicky. Inconsistent Arsenal midfielder will have to shoulder responsibility and hit top form to lead his side into the last eight.

Prediction - elimination at group stage.

DENMARK - Unlucky with horrendously difficult draw. Ranked 10th best team in the world but lowest in their group. Usually give a good account of themselves and could make life difficult for all three of their opponents, but collecting enough points to progress is a big ask.

Player to watch - Christian Eriksen. Ajax midfielder is only 20 but long regarded as a star of the future.

Prediction - elimination at group stage.

ENGLAND - Lower expectations than normal - with good reason and not just because they are without Wayne Rooney for the first two games. In a deceptively difficult group. France easily beat them when they last played, they have a terrible record against Sweden and may have to beat co-hosts Ukraine to reach last eight.

Player to watch - Joe Hart. England look to have solved one of their problem positions at last and he will be vital if they are to progress.

Prediction - elimination at group stage.

FRANCE - Fell apart during the last World Cup but are undergoing a renaissance under Laurent Blanc who has improved team spirit considerably. Opener against England will be crucial - victory will pave the way to the quarter-finals.

Player to watch - Karim Benzema. Has finally proved he can cut it with Real Madrid - now time to do it on the international stage.

Prediction - semi-finalists.

GERMANY - Strong contenders for a first title since Euro 96. Will have to hit ground running in ‘Group of Death’ but have stunning squad of young talent. Denied only by Spain at last two major tournaments and will be desperate to avoid the same fate.

Player to watch - Bastian Schweinsteiger. Inspirational midfielder determined to make amends for his Champions League penalty shootout heartbreak.

Prediction - winners.

GREECE - Surprise winners eight years ago but little chance of a repeat. Best hope is a place in the quarter-finals but even that may be beyond them.

Player to watch - Giorgos Samaras. One of the few Greeks known to SPL fans and likely to be one of their main goal threats.

Prediction - elimination at group stage.

HOLLAND - Runners-up in 2010 World Cup and among the favourites but will have work cut out simply to get out of their group. No margin for error but if they do make the last eight they have potential to go all the way.

Player to watch - Robin van Persie. Out to round off his amazing season with Arsenal by firing his country to Euro glory.

Prediction - semi-finalists.

ITALY - Go into tournament on back of match fixing scandal - last time that happened they won the 2006 World Cup. But lack quality of previous Italians squads and all three group opponents will fancy their chances against them.

Player to watch - Mario Balotelli. Has ability to ignite country’s hopes but also the temperament to sink them completely.

Prediction - elimination at group stage.

POLAND - Carry expectations of home fans but no-one else expects them to be a force, However they are in the easiest group and that, plus home support, could see them into last eight.

Player to watch - Robert Lewandowski. Borussia Dortmund striker will be his side’s main hope of goals.

Prediction - quarter-finalists.

PORTUGAL - Dreadful draw pits them against two Euro superpowers and the team who finished above them in the qualifying stages. Last eight would be a major success - from there anything can happen.

Player to watch - Cristiano Ronaldo. Potentially the top star on show at Euro 2012 - but does he have sufficient quality round about him?

Prediction - elimination at group stage.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND - Won’t lack effort and have one of the crafiest managers in the game in Giovanni Trappatoni. In a very difficult group but won’t be a pushover and even if they don’t qualify could have a major say in who does.

Player to watch - Robbie Keane, Record Irish goalscorer will be keen to add to his legendary status.

Prediction - elimination at group stage.

RUSSIA - Good record at past Euros and have avoided big guns in the draw. Have enough quality to make the last eight but will face a difficult task when they get there against one of the ‘Group of Death’ qualifiers.

Player to watch - Andrei Arshavin. On his day a world beater but frustratingly inconsistent.

Prediction - quarter-finalists.

SPAIN - Going for an unprecedented third major triumph and won’t be far away. Will be out to prove wrong critics who suggest they are on the wane and that they have at least one major tournament in them. Will miss David Villa, but 1-0 has been enough for them in the past.

Player to watch - Fernando Llorente. With Villa out and Fernando Torres struggling for goals the Athletic Bilbao striker could be handed a key role.

Prediction - runners-up.

SWEDEN - Invariably give a good account of themselves without having that extra quality needed to be winners. Opponents will underestimate them at their peril.

Player to watch - Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Has been the main man for Sweden since the retirement of Henrik Larsson and at 30 is at the peak of his powers.

Prediction - quarter-finalists.

UKRAINE - the lowest ranked of all 16 participants but do have home advantage. That could propel them into the last eight at a push but they are unlikely to get any further.

Player to watch - Andrei Shevchenko. Legendary forward will carry home hopes in his tournament swansong.

Prediction - elimination at group stage.