A guide and short breakdown of all 16 European nations that qualified to the 2012 Euro, co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine. Germany, Spain and the Netherlands are the early favorites to win the tournament.
Spain – The World and European Champions, the #1 ranked team in the world according to FIFA and many others. They had a perfect qualifying campaign, winning all 8 matches with a 26-6 Goal record. David Villa led with 7 goals. It will be Spain’s, coached by Vicente del Bosque, ninth Euro. They have won the competition twice (1964, 2008) and have played in the last four tournaments.
Netherlands – World Cup finalists in 2010, the #2 team in the FIFA rankings. Finished first in their qualifying group with a 9-0-1 record, finishing well ahead of Sweden, who also made it in. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was the top scorer of the qualifying tournament with 12 goals. Bert van Marwijk coaches the side that has one Euro win, back in 1988. It’s will be the Dutch’s ninth Euro, their seventh in a row.
Germany – Many would argue that this is the best side in the world right now. A 10 out of 10 qualifying campaign, scoring 34 goals and conceding only 7 would suggest that many would be right. Still, Germany have lost to Spain in the 2008 Euro final, cancelled out by the brilliant side. It happened again in 2010, as Germany looked again like the best side of the tournament. Another 1-0 loss, this time in the Semi Final. The Germans, coached by Joachim Low, have made the last 11 Euro tournaments, finishing as champions three times (1972, 1980, 1996).
England – Struggled to make it through, winning five and drawing three, edging out Montenegro and Switzerland for the ticket to Eastern Europe. Four players scored three goals for England during the qualifiers. Never a successful Euro side, it will be England’s 7th trip to the Euro after failing to qualify in 2008. According to the winds blowing around Wembley, it will be Fabio Capello’s final summer with the side.
Portugal – Had to go through Bosnia again in the playoffs to reach the tournament, with Denmark playing their usual part of upsetting the Ronaldo troupe. Unlike the World Cup campaign, Cristiano was in good form during the qualifying group, scoring 7 goals. It will be Portugal’s fifth Euro, their fourth in a row. They find more success in the continental tournament than the World Cup, always making it out of the group stage. They finished as runners-up in 2004, hosting the competition.
Croatia – Slaven Bilic’s men didn’t impress over the last two years, finishing behind Greece. Their Playoff form, especially the 3-0 win in Turkey, was very impressive. Since beginning to play as an independent nation, Croatia have made the Euro every time except for the 2000 tournament, reaching the quarter final in 1996 and 2008.
Italy – Four time World Cup winners, only one European Champions trophy. Italy won the Euro in 1968, but since then have missed out on qualifying four times, and early group stage exits have been known to happen more than once. They did reach the final in 2000, losing to France by a Golden Goal. They qualified easily to the tournament, finishing undefeated in their group.
Denmark – Once again, finished ahead of Portugal with Moren Olsen, more than a decade at the position, keeping on the fantastic job, making it to Denmark’s 7th Euro since 1984, missing out only once. They weren’t part of the celebration in 2008, but reached the quarter finals in 2004 and won the tournament in that unforgettable stunner in 1992, knocking out the Netherlands in the Semi Final and beating Germany in the final.
Russia – The Champions of the first ever UEFA European championship as the USSR, Russia have made it to six of the last seven tournaments, reaching the Semi Final last time as Andrei Arshavin put out a magical few weeks, including that huge performance against the Netherlands. Russia finished first in their group, two points above Ireland, conceding only four goals in 10 matches.
Greece – A name that strikes fear in the name of every soccer fan, the 2004 European Champions gave a poor performance in 2008, losing all three matches. Their style under head coach Fernando Santos hasn’t changed very much, although flair and sparks do who from time to time. They finished first in their qualifying group, in front of Croatia, not losing once in the 10 matches, conceding only 5 goals.
France – The French struggled in their qualifying group, suffering a humiliating home loss to Belarus, eventually making it out one point ahead of Bosnia. The problems for a talented but disjointed side, that failed to qualify from the group stage in both the 2008 Euro and the 2010 World Cup continue to show, with the expectations from the Golden Generation of more than a decade ago continue to burden those today. Their are two time European Champions, in 1984 and 2000.
Sweden – The best of the group runner-ups during the qualifiers didn’t need the playoff to make it in, and the side coached by Erik Hamren made it to their fifth Euro since 1992, missing out only in 1996. They didn’t make it out of the group stage in 2008 and didn’t qualify to the 2010 World Cup. As expected, Zlatan Ibrahimovic led the scoring with 5 goals.
Republic of Ireland – Ireland haven’t been to a major tournament since the 2002 World Cup. This will be their second Euro appearance, making the one and only back in 1988. Giovanni Trapattoni coached Ireland to a second place finish in the qualifying stage, earning a rather easy playoff draw, facing Estonia. They beat the Estonians 5-1 in the aggregate of the two legs. Robbie Keane, still Robbie Keane, scored 7 goals during the qualifying tournament.
Czech Republic – A Euro kind of side. The Czech’s have made the World Cup only once since the split. They have made every Euro since 1996, reaching the final in 1996 and the Semi Final in 2004. According to the up and down record, they should make it out of the group stage this time, despite the low expectations. They finished well behind Spain in the qualifying group, but beat Montenegro twice in the playoffs.
Ukraine – The co-hosts will play in their first European Championships, although Ukrainian players were always a major part of the USSR teams over the years. Coached by Oleg Blokhin, the side didn’t enjoy the Polish luck in the draw, getting England, France and Sweden for group-mates. The Ukraine have made it to only one major tournament so far, the 2006 World Cup, reaching the quarter finals.
Poland – The lowest ranked team in the competition, Poland are 66th in the FIFA rankings, between Belarus and Mali. 2008 Was their only visit to the European Championships, drawing once and losing two matches before getting knocked out. Their World Cup heritage is far more impressive, but they were knocked out in the group stage in both the 2002 and 2006 tournaments, not seeing a knockout stage match since 1986.