by Liam McConville
After an incredible season of breaking records and helping deliver Real Madrid their first La Liga title in four years, Cristiano Ronaldo now looks to bring his scintillating form to the international stage. Following the heartbreak of Euro 2004, Portugal has dipped as their ‘golden generation’ moved on. Their poor showing at the 2010 World Cup saw them fall into pool three for the group draw. They were duly punished by going into the undoubted ‘group of death’ alongside Germany, Netherlands and Denmark.
According to FIFA’s rankings that means four of the top ten teams in the world will be fighting it out in the same group. While it is a tantalising prospect for the neutral it makes Portugal’s task of even getting out of the group that much harder. For Ronaldo the Euros are a stage where he won’t be compared to that pesky genius Lionel Messi. If Ronaldo could drag his country to glory then maybe he can claim that he really is the best player in the world, a title he clearly craves.
The Russian talisman comes into this tournament on the back of a successful return to Zenit St Petersburg following a loan move in January. Arshavin had become somewhat of a joke figure in the latter stages of his spell at Arsenal and although he may yet return it seems likely that the Russian captain will look to stay in his homeland if possible. Arshavin will be desperate to prove just how good he is and with Russia being in the easiest group by far chances are he could well make his mark again following their run to the semi-finals four years ago.
Following a 3-0 win over Italy last week, Russia appear to be in good shape with a team mainly built up of Zenit and CSKA Moscow players, there should at least be a strong cohesion between the team. Arshavin who is now thirty-one will not have many big tournaments left in him and if this does prove to be his international swansong, the playmaker will be desperate to go out with a bang.
It’s been a mixed season for the maverick Swedish forward. Personally he was phenomenal scooping the Serie A top scorer award with a great return of twenty-eight league goals, confirming his place in the upper echelons of European strikers. However for the first time since 2003 Zlatan did not record a league winner’s medal. After missing out on the 2010 World Cup a move that prompted a short-lived international retirement, Sweden are back at a big tournament and will be a force that should not be underrated (take note Roy).
If Ibrahimovic brings his Milan to Group D then Sweden could be a real danger to France and England. With set-piece specialist Seb Larsson in the ranks, the Swedes should certainly not be written off. Zlatan scored goals in both of Sweden’s warm-up games and will be looking to add to his respectable record of thirty-one goals from seventy-seven games.
Following on from an egotistical striker I’ve chosen another, the difference being that Ibrahimovic has actually backed up his self-belief on the pitch whilst Bendtner has yet to really prove himself. Denmark are unfortunate to be in such a difficult group but it could yet be an opportunity for the likes of Bendtner to emulate the class of 1992 with some upsets in Group B. Bendtner will have one of the best prospects in Europe playing behind him in Christian Eriksen, their link-up play will be key if the Danes are to make an impact.
Bendtner will be the main goal threat though and the chances are he will be playing for a move in the summer as his time at the Emirates may well be running out. He has a lot of potential but at twenty-four years old he is no longer a prospect and really has to make an impact soon if he wants the rest of Europe to agree with his views of his ability.
The explosive French winger will certainly want to remind the French public just how good he is after the debacle in South Africa. Ribery seen as one of the ring makers of the infamous revolt and was vilified in his homeland. This tournament could prove to be his redemption. The twenty-nine year old will be desperate to eradicate the bad memories of Bayern Munich’s dramatic defeat in the Champions League final.
The build-up has gone well; Laurent Blanc has brought pride back with a twenty-one game unbeaten run that includes wins over Brazil and a fine victory over Germany in Bremen. Their final warm-up game was a comfortable 4-0 win over Estonia with Ribery on the score sheet for the third successive game. France are purring into life and Ribery is right at the heart of it, England beware.