Yes all the teams have played one game each. Yes I realize I predictions are traditionally made before a tournament starts. But you can't honestly expect me to make any semblance of a correct prediction before the tournament even starts, I'm no Nastrodamus. That being said it's still gonna be tough to guess this one right. Halfway through the last World Cup people were pegging the German hosts, the Argentines who mauled Serbia 6-0 and an impressive Iberian peninsula as the favorites. France looked just plain woeful and Italy barely squeezed past Australia in the first knockout round but they both ended up in the finals. Go figure.
So anyway let's run the rule over the 16 and seperate the pretenders from the contenders, alphabetically:
Austria: Co-hosts so I have a soft spot for them but they can't avoid the tag of pretenders. Simply don't have enough quality across the board, probably the weakest team in the tournament. Valiant defensive effort vs Croatia but they still ended up on the losing end and it won't get easier against Poland or Germany.
Croatia: An enigma of a team. Sometimes they can look so dangerous and other times just stale. Good enough to finish 2nd in the group but will bow out in the quarterfinals.
Czech Republic: Don't have the offensive quality they've had in past tournaments and were fortunate to beat a poor Swiss side. They won't make it out of the group stages, losing to a hungrier Turkish side in the deciding final group game.
France: Deja vu of their slow start to their last World Cup run. The difference is now they don't have Zidane to inspire them. At risk of them proving me wrong again I'm gonna label them pretenders because despite their solid defense, Thierry Henry is a shadow of his former self and thus they don't have the finishing touch up front to be considered a contender. But they'll still get out of the group ahead of Italy and Romania. Maybe.
Germany: Definite contenders. Ballack is in the type of form that helped carry Germany to the 2002 World Cup final. Klose and Podolski are two of the most potent offensive threats in the entire tournament and they've got a strong and physical lineup from top to bottom. Goalkeeper Jens Lehmann could be their Achille's heel, wasn't even good enough to start for his club team. I say they lose to Portugal in the semi-finals. There isn't a German that can stop the likes of Joao Moutinho, Quaresma and Deco, let alone that selfish prick of a best player in the world who shall remain unnamed.
Greece: Pretenders. This team needs to get out of this tournament ASAP. They are reigning champions of Europe but they are also a gratingly-boring, defensive-minded, leg-hacking scourge upon the world of football that systematically kills any and all joy a fan might get from watching them play. Sweden finally picked the lock to their defense and as a result we won't see them advance past the group stages, thankfully.
Italy: I guess I can't call the reigning world champions pretenders but they definitely aren't contenders. Simply put, they got rolled on by the Netherlands. They are too old, too poorly coached, and too disjointed and uninspired to get far in this tournament. That being said, they'll probably squeeze a win vs Romania and play for the draw vs France to get 2nd place in the group. Then they'll get rolled on by Spain in the quarterfinals.
Netherlands (Holland): Contenders and in my mind favorites to win it all. They absolutely dismantled and defending world champions. They scored 3 great goals against an Italian team that let up 2 goals throughout their entire run to the World Cup two years ago. Their only weakness could be an unheralded defense but if they can hold it together back there they've also got arguably the best 'keeper in the tournament, midfield steel in Engelaar and de Jong complemented perfectly by creative attackers van der Vaart and Sneijder and led by one of the most reliable and prolific strikers of his time in van Nistelrooy. They'll beat Sweden in the quarterfinal, though not easily, blow by a defensively undisciplined Spanish side in the semi-finals and take out Portugal in the final like they should have 2 years ago. Total football has returned to Holland.
Poland: Plucky bunch of guys, I really feel for em'. Can't call em' pretenders because they play too hard to be stuck with such a tag, but they won't beat Croatia so they won't make it past the group stages.
Portugal: Definite contenders. Probably the most fun team to watch in the tournament and they win games to boot. They Ooze with flair and attacking ability from just about every position, even central defender Pepe has shown he has an eye for goal. They'll beat Croatia in the quarterfinal and might have to go to extra time or penalties to beat Germany in the semi-finals. With the best player in the world in their ranks they can never be counted out but I think Holland will match their speed and one-up them in the final thanks to superior finishing up front.
Romania: Ah these boys hold a special place in my heart. They hold in their ranks a certain Adrian Mutu so despite their atrocious yellow jerseys I always root for em'. Doesn't mean they'll make it out of the "Group of Death" ahead of Italy or Holland. But hey the draw vs France is still something you can hang your hat on.
Russia: Uhh..k I'll be honest, they all have names that end in -ov or -chenko or something ridiculous with a lot of consonants. I can't recognize a single player on that team. They've got some fight in em I guess but any team that lets up 4 goals can't possibly expect to make it out of their group. And they won't.
Spain: Goodness they are fun to watch. Their technical ability is unparalleled and they have hands down the best forward partnership in the tournament with David Villa and Fernando Torres. And I know I said before that Holland's van der Sar is arguably the best 'keeper in the tournament but I take that back now, Casillas is the best in the tournament, unarguably. Still, I'm not convinced by their defense. They're undisciplined and lack focus at times which will cost them against a predatory finisher like van Nistelrooy.
Sweden: Will finish 2nd in the group behind Spain and lose in the quarterfinals to a superior Holland side. That being said if there is one chance of a major upset its Sweden over Holland. So I guess this is a quasi-upset special but not really because I have faith in the Oranje.
Switzerland: Co-hosts so I'm rooting for them. They won't make it out of the group but I think they'll give at least one of the host nations something to cheer about when they pull the minor upset vs Turkey, even without their injured captain/all-time leading goalscorer.
Turkey: Baklava and kebabs aside, I'm just not feeling the Turks. They lack a distinct identity, another sort of enigma of a team that has talent in its ranks but just can't pull it together. Which is why they'll be the victim of my actual upset special when they fall to the Swiss.
So, to recap:
Group winners Portugal, Germany, Netherlands, and Spain will advance to the semi-finals and proceed to beat the hell out of each other. When the dust has settled Netherlands will be top of the pile with coach Marco van Basten, the man who hoisted the trophy as a player 20 years ago, lifting it once again to the delight of the Dutch. Golden Boot (top goalscorer) winner will be Ruud van Nistelrooy. Player of the tournament will be Wesley Sneijder. Or maybe selfish man purse wearing Portuguese prick who shall remain unnamed, can't count that guy out he's not half-bad. Now disregard everything I just said, I'm no Nastrodamus.