The launch of Euro 2012 means that the two-year wait for quality international soccer has ended. Euro 2012 has finally kicked off in Poland and Ukraine to a dramatic start with a loss by the Dutch and a tie salvaged by Greece. But will the drama continue, or will the underdogs of the tournament be forced to accept their fate?
Group A: Czech Republic, Greece, Poland and Russia
This is easily the weakest bracket in the tournament, and therefore the most likely to finish according to their respective FIFA rankings. Russia is the obvious frontrunner, as it has had a good run up to the tournament. Their defensive form has been exceptional, but will have to continue and accompany a clinical striking performance if they plan on advancing past the quarterfinals.
The onus of that offensive surge will fall to captain Andrei Arshavin. He cannot afford to go missing at any point during the match. He will be his teammates' first option when they look to play the ball, if he shirks his playmaker responsibilities, Russia will stall.
Poland has to be the choice for second finisher. Being the host nation puts stress on a team to perform, but it also ensures them stadiums packed with supporters. It's easy to get excited and play well when some 40,000 people are cheering you on. It is unlikely Poland will get past the quarterfinals, but any success they have will be owed to Robert Lewandowski. The striker had a great year in Germany, and will have to continues his form if Poland are hoping for a Cinderella run to the final.
The Czech Republic is the darkhorse of the group. Greece is too anemic on both sides of the ball to challenge for progression, but the Czechs have Petr Cech to anchor their defense and Tomas Rosicky to lead the attack. Don't be surprised if the Czechs show up in the quarterfinals.
Group B: Denmark, Germany, Netherlands and Portugal
It's been dubbed the group of death for a reason. The opposite of Group A, this is by far the most talented group of the tournament. While some would say that this would make the ideal group for an upset, it's unlikely to contain too many surprises.
First and second is essentially a coin flip between Germany and the Netherlands, and will likely come down to the head-to-head result. Most likely, Germany will take first, due to their experience in the tournament.
Denmark and Portugal are both solid teams with the bad luck of being in the group from which the eventual champion is likely to emerge. The Danes will challenge everyone, but lack the tactical experience to progress beyond the group stage.
The Portuguese always have the potential to dazzle with beautiful footwork and wonder-goals, but they rely too heavily of Cristiano Ronaldo. Despite his awe-inspiring talent, he tends to go missing in international games. Remember his abysmal performances 2 years ago in South Africa?
The bottom line, Group B has two of the three likely champions. Look here for the best matchups of the tournament.
Group C: Croatia, Ireland, Italy and Spain
Here is where things get interesting. Defending champions Spain are the obvious choice for first place in the group. Surely the media will be flooded with stories of the team's humble yet condescending comments about how they respect each and every opponent.
For some reason it never comes off as sincere. Maybe it has something to do with the rumors of infighting amongst the representatives from Madrid and Barcelona. One wonders how a team can respect one another if they don't respect each other?
If Spain is upset, the fault will lie with their strikers. Without David Villa, their energy up front will have to be provided from Fernando Torres, Alvaro Negredo or Fernando Llorente.
Second place is a toss-up. Italy has experience on their side but it could be their own worst enemy. The inclusion of the volatile striker Mario Ballotelli is understandable but dangerous. Balotelli is a talented attacker but a cancer in the locker room and it is possible that he will be the cause the Italian locker room to self-destruct.
Ireland has some solid players across the pitch, but their lack of experience and desire to prove they belonged in the World Cup over France will create an environment in which they cannot succeed. That makes Croatia a likely second place finish. With the attacking talents of Mikica Jelavic and Luka Modric and a history of good performances in big tournaments, look for the Croats in the quarterfinals.
Group D: England, France, Sweden and Ukraine
It's only appropriate that the final bracket of the tournament is a bit of an enigma. It would be easy to say France and England will finish first and second as history would suggest, but this group more than any other is primed for an upset.
France has all the pressure on their shoulders as they will be trying to atone for their abysmal performances and conduct at the 2010 World Cup. Odds are this will be too much for their sieve of a defensive line. Tip England to finish above them as they will be playing relatively stress free with some good performances entering the tournament, a younger team than they usually field and a new coach who will take the brunt of any blame headed their way.
In fact, tip the Ukraine to finish above France in the second place spot. Just like with Poland, hosting the tournament and playing in front of packed houses will elevate their play and carry them through the group stage. If they hold fast against the French attack, they will be poised for success.
Regardless os who wins, few things bring nations together like good competition and great soccer.