The route to qualification for the next edition of Europea��s most elite international competition a�� UEFA EURO 2012 a�� is nearing its culmination point with as many as twelve nations having already secured their places for the event. Fortunes are still dangling for eight teams, out of which, only four shall make it to the finals to be held next year in Poland and Ukraine. The qualifying rounds that lasted over a yeara��s period, scheduled amidst the much-fancied European club football fixtures had failed to generate the equal amount of hype but did provide a general insight into the conditions of international football in Europe.

Spain, Germany, Netherlands and Italy a�� the four biggest names in European footballing circles a�� all lived to their billing and ensured a very formidable qualifying campaign having won their respective groups with utmost comfort without inviting any surprises. England and France too lived to their reputation but did not exactly dominate their groups; yet in the end did just enough to manage a direct entry into the group stages in the finals. England in particular, should be extremely content especially after their failure to find a place in the previous edition of the tournament held in 2008. Under Fabio Capello, the Three Lions havena��t exactly rocked the world but are surely forming a group that prospects to match to the weight of the big names that are part of it.

It hasna��t been ages since majority of players who composed the golden generation of Portugal hung up their boots but the team already appears to have lost all its sheen despite the presence of big name players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Nani and Fabio Coentrao. Amidst administrative and financial problems in the club football, the national teama��s fortunes too have been jeopardized and one should hardly be surprised to see them fail to ease past Bosnia & Herzegovina in the two-legged playoff fixtures.

Smaller nations who havena��t historically enjoyed bragging rights failed not to announce their presence and provided the more celebrated counterparts a run for their money to cement their positions at the summit. Teams like Russia, Denmark and Greece maintained the consistency levels throughout their qualifying run and toppled some of the more reputed teams in the process. An evaluation of performances of teams across all the nine groups divides the teams over several classes. The classification sheds light at the core strengths and areas of concern for teams. The pools determine the overall quality, technical attributes, physical and mental tenacity among other factors of teams categorized in different brackets.

Teams have been assessed only on the basis of their performance during the qualifiers.

Pool a�� A

Teams: Spain, Netherlands, Germany

Attributes:

  • Technically best equipped
  • A culture to do well in the competition
  • A fair number of players playing in their prime
  • Favourable depth in the squad/ Alternatives of great potential for almost all positions

Chances for Title: Extremely bright

Defending European and World champions Spain certainly will start as the favourites. Post the emphatic triumph in South Africa, there were some concerns raised over the future of the Spanish national team a�� after having won all the relevant international silverware a�� that whether the current crop of players could further maintain the fire within to claim more glory. Few results immediately after the World Cup were not convincing enough and the concerns were furthered with the ever-growing disdain between the players of Real Madrid and Barcelona a�� two of the most dominant zones in Spanish football. However, all the apprehensions were put straight to rest as Vicente Del Bosquea��s men meant business enough on their national duties managing a clean sweep winning all their group games comfortably enough to signal they arena��t done yet.

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All Geared Up For Yet Another Glory

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The key players in the Spanish side are all enjoying the best period of their careers collectively and there is a general consensus in the football world over the rarity of such desirable assemblage of players that La Furia Roja are equipped with currently.

Euro a��08 runner up Germany are enjoying their best possible run in the recent memory and despite having claimed no major silverware of late, this German unit has been largely acknowledged as one of the best ones in the world, if not the best. A section of fans find them better than the Spanish in terms of flair, fluidity and the attractive brand of football. The German administrative bodies have put in considerable efforts to improve the youth structure post the debacle in the tournamenta��s 2004 edition and the efforts are now bearing fruits. Prospects like Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira are certain to rule the world in the days to come while the likes of Mario Gomez, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm are most definitely raising the bar for themselves with every passing game. Joachim Loew knows this team inside out and if not for the incredible bad luck that they have witnessed for some major tournaments, this German outfit is bound to leave their mark on the world stage.

What does one make up of a team where Klaas Jan-Huntelaar a�� the most in-form European striker at international front presently a�� fails to find a starting place amidst the plethora of surreally talented players? Thata��s the story of the present Netherlands side. The attacking front of the Oranje is manned by the Arsenal skipper Robin van Persie who is flanked on either ends by Dirk Kuyt and worlda��s most feared winger Arjen Robben with Intera��s Wesley Sneijder who happens to be one of Europea��s most coveted playmaker today orchestrating the play in the Centre Attacking Midfieldera��s role. Such devastating force is supported by all the dirty work undertaken by two of the clumsiest and deadliest Defensive Midfielders – Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong. Bert van Marwijka��s men demonstrated a rampant run of form throughout the qualifiers before being undone by the Swedish on the last matchday in a scintillating contest. The Dutch scored an incredibleA�36 goals in the ten matches but their defence couldna��t remain the meanest and is touted to be vulnerable against sides that match them technically.

But for a miracle, one of the three should claim the crown of European supremacy, come the summer of 2012. The gulf in terms of quality and depth between these sides and the others is far too great for the odds turning against the three.

Pool a�� B

Teams: Italy, France, England

Attributes:

  • Players yearning to prove a point after a dismal showing at the World Cup
  • Largely overhauled squads

Shortcomings: Over-reliance on the first team/ Lack of alternatives/ Not exactly deep squads

Chances for Title: Unrealistic but not impossible

All the three teams in this bracket did the worst possible they could to their reputation in South Africa last year and one must admit have since come a long way, though the refurbishing process is not concluded just yet. All three were placed in very convenient groups with none of the competitors matching the weight of their reputations. However, only Italy of the three could manage a smooth run throughout, though not in the most convincing fashion. Both England and France experienced certain hiccups en route and neither of Fabio Capello and Laurent Blanc would be particularly pleased already a�� not that they can afford to either. It took Les Blues a late equalizer on the final matchday to win the group and secure a direct berth to the finals, which isna��t talking for the reputation the likes of Zidane, Henry and Vieira have built over the years.

Under coach Cesare Prandelli, Italy have experienced a very definite resurgence in one yeara��s time but a lot more is desired out of the Azzuri unit to match to the expectations of the fans. The likes of Antonio Cassano, Giuseppe Rossi and Giampaolo Pazzini have enjoyed a considerable amount of playing time under Prandelli after their mysterious omission from the teams picked by Marcello Lippi but none of them has been able to set the stage afire during the qualifiers and given the pragmatic, rotational approach Prandelli has so far observed, the likes of Balotelli, Matri and Quagliarella might expect some playing time for the manager to tinker slightly with the formation and the personnel both. The defence has done a remarkable job and the fact that Italy havena��t lost a single competitive game in over a year now speaks of defence in a very high regard.

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One Last Chance For Lampard?

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England and France on the other hand are oozing with talented youngsters but when the effort is made to fit them into one unit, the team always comes up short of expectations. Few random uninspiring results against teams of much lesser repute disturbed the rhythm of progress of both the teams and especially in case of England, the playera��s continuous involvement into one of the most unkind and demanding leagues is more than suggestive of the lacklustre display while donning the national colours. This may be the last major tournament for the so-called golden generation of English football and should Fabio Capello extract the best out of allegedly over-the-hill players, England can most definitely script the biggest surprise element for the tournament.

France football has undergone a tremendous political and administrative conundrum in last few years and the issues have been personally faced by Laurent Blanc straight from the horsea��s mouth. However, the world champion that Blanc is, his biggest task lies in being able to instill that vigour and zeal among this bunch of ridiculously talented but unmotivated players who boast of similar potential to that of teams being deemed favourites to win the championship.

Pool a�� C

Teams: Sweden, Greece, Denmark, Russia

Attributes:

  • A knack to unsettle the bigger teams
  • Moderate expectations that ease out the pressure to deliver
  • No big name individuals but a solidified team-first mentality

Chances for Title: Should the draws be slightly kind to them, at least one or possibly two could makeA�it to the semis.

Russia, Greece and Denmark were placed alongside teams like Republic of Ireland, Croatia and Portugal in their respective groups and after a very stiff competition for the top spot, the three ultimately reigned supreme and booked a direct place in the finals. The Danes on the final day managed a memorable 2-1 victory over Cristiano Ronaldoa��s Portugal to secure the much coveted spot in the group stages for the finals. Greece and Russia too just managed to marginalize Croatia and Ireland with the thinnest of difference and brought about a perfect ending to their eventful qualifying campaign.

The Euro 2004 champions Greece have since failed to impress at major tournaments but qualifiers have remained their forte and the tradition was pretty well maintained. Among the three, the Greeks are the only side having remained unbeaten throughout the two-legged round robin matches a�� the resolve with which they conquered the continent seven years ago. However, once the final show commences, the shortcomings in their squad are bound to be exposed and they are expected to resort back to their ugly defensive tactics once they find themselves creatively outdone.

Ideally, when Niklas Bendtner is able to find a place in your squad, it should arouse the realization of the bitter truth of not being good enough to compete at the highest level but the Danes have defied the popular notion. Despite Bendtner being part of the squad, they have denied Portugal a chance to win the group and are now a team nobody can afford not to take seriously. However, at this level, they are much remembered for having spoilt the Italian party in 2004 when the Azzuri failed to advance past the group stages despite not losing a single game. Danish players ply their trade into some of the best club teams across Europe and coach Morten Olsen has somehow successfully clubbed together the experience players have earned playing abroad and the rate at which this unit has excelled during the qualifiers makes a strong statement for their intent.

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Andrei Arshavin Must Rise To The Occasion For The National Team

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The Russians stunned the world three years back shredding the Swedish and the Dutch dreams apart in Euro a��08 and have since succeeded to excel with every opportunity. The likes of Arshavin, Zhirkov and Pavlyuchenko are household names today in England and their presence in the Russian squad inspires the entire team to elevate the standards even further.

The Swedish were allegedly the accomplice of the Danes in scripting the Italian ouster in 2004, who themselves faced a tragic end to their run four years later in Austria. The irony was furthered when they missed out on footballa��s biggest extravaganza last year in South Africa and hence have got all to play for with this opportunity to have come their way. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the skipper is the most influential and inspirational player for the team who many feel a�� himself included a�� is one of the greatest Centre Forward of the present generation. Sweden have secured themselves a place by gathering maximum points among all teams who finished second in their groups but the latest victory over the Netherlands in the most dramatic fashion should raise their spirits to the next level.

Those Still Hanging By The Tail

The eight teams whose fortunes are still undecided are to feature into the two-legged playoff matches scheduled during the second week of November. Portugal, Croatia, Republic of Ireland, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Estonia, Czech Republic and Turkey are the eight teams out of which only four should make it to the finals at the end of playoffs. From the looks of it, Ireland, Portugal, Czech Republic and Croatia should make it through. However, given the sporadic nature of football, making presumptive predictions makes little or no sense.

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