Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Sat 7 June 2008

Euro 2008 - Guide to Group C

Group C
The Official Group of Death for Euro 2008. There must have been dozens of Groups of Death down the years… I wonder how this one ranks against the others? (Mental note to self: look into this for a future article on SPAOTP…)

France

Qualifying
France were pitted up against Italy in Group B of the qualifiers and lived to tell the tale. Though Italy won the group overall, France beat the Italians 3-1 before a 0-0 draw ensued in the return match, plus they finished as top scorers in the group, largely down to the goals of Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka.

Players you might have heard of
Second only to the Dutch, France ooze household names of some quality throughout their ranks, many of which will be all too familiar to the British. There's Chelsea's triumvirate of Makelele, Malouda and Anelka, former Arsenal stars Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira, Man United defender Patrice Evra and Portsmouth's Lassana Diarra. If you're still not satisfied with that, the names Thuram, Ribery and Benzema should leave you in no doubt as to the strength of the squad.

Players you won't be seeing
One Zinedine Zidane, for a kick off. The mercurial captain of the side and Headbutter Supreme has now retired leaving Patrick Vieira to run the ship. Without his skill and all-seeing vision, some say France lack that bit of sparkle they once had and those self-same people are predicting a decidedly normal-looking team will be there for all to see this summer. One way or another, he'll be much missed - except possibly by Marco Materazzi, but that's understandable.

Recent friendlies
May 27: France 2 Ecudaor 0
May 31: France 0 Paraguay 0
June 3: France 1 Colombia 0

Stingy…
Whether France reproduce their halcyon days of the late 90's remains to be seen, but one thing remains certain - it won't be easy to score against them. Since the summer of 2004, they've conceded on average 0.48 goals per game.

Further proof of their resilient defence is that they've only conceded one goal in their last five matches (in their 1-0 defeat to Spain in February) and the only two teams to score more than one goal against them since the middle of March 2006 are Morocco and Ukraine, the latter being France's last Euro 2008 qualifier.

SPAOTP's Top Tip For Greatness
Franck Ribery. He's just had the season of his life with Bayern Munich and is arguably the brightest star of all those in the French team. As chief playmaker, you can expect him to run at opposition defences with great gusto whenever he isn't inviting others to do the same. Expect this tournament to be his making on the world stage.

Italy

Qualifying
After a shaky start that saw them lose to France in Group B, they strode on confidently with all the hallmarks of a team that called themselves world champions. Unlike France, Italy also managed to beat the Scots in both matches which, as far as we’re concerned, is good enough to qualify for any tournament these days on its own.

Current Form
On the whole, pretty good. They've not played many friendlies since the end of the Euro 2008 qualifiers, but they can include victories over Belgium and Portugal among them. The only fly in the ointment was a 1-0 defeat to Spain at the end of March, but if it's any consolation, that's their only defeat in nine games.

That coach looks familiar…
When Marcello Lippi having steered Italy to their first world championship for 24 years, the man selected to take over was former Milan midfielder Roberto Donadoni. A surprise choice for some as he was still considered to be going through his managerial apprenticeship with Livorno, but having got them up to sixth place in Serie A, he was deemed the ideal choice by the Italian FA.

For all that, we still remember him as the nippy winger that won titles galore with Milan over a 10 year period and helped Italy to third and second place respectively at the 1990 and 1994 World Cups. With a career like that behind him, he must stand at least half a chance of achieving something as a manager. Watch this space...

Recent friendlies
February 6: Italy 3 Portugal 1
March 26: Spain 1 Italy 0
May 30: Italy 3 Belgium 1

Playing style
When possible, the Italians are encouraged to attack in big numbers to flood their opponents half of the field. While all that's going on, one midfielder usually stays back to mop up any counter-attacks, but this mob mentality to looking for goals has proven highly effective, largely due the quality of players that can make it happen in all parts of the pitch.

SPAOTP's Top Tip For Greatness
Luca Toni, Bayern Munich's free-scoring attacker who continues to net goals in Germany just as he did at Palermo and Fiorentina prior to his 2007 transfer. A man for the big occasion, he scored twice in Italy's 3-0 quarter-final victory over Ukraine and hit the crossbar with a header in the Final against France. Expect more fireworks again - and then some.

Netherlands

Qualifying
The Dutch didn't have it all their own way during qualifying. Playing in Group G, they went about the business of picking up points in a modest, business-like manner, but so did a resurgent Romania and an awkward Bulgarian team too.

The end result was that the Dutch qualified as runners-up but the fans weren't entirely happy with the manner of their doing so. The Netherlands laboured to dual 1-0 victories over Luxembourg, were unable to beat group winners Romania and ended the campaign losing 2-1 away to Belarus. Had they scored one point fewer, we'd be talking about Bulgaria now, not the Dutch.

Tactical switch
Marco van Basten had to swallow something hard and jagged not so long ago. Having settled on a 4-2-3-1 formation that initially brought the Dutch team many a decent result, things soon started to go wrong. Going in at half time 3-1 down against the Austrians was a key moment when Van Basten knew his tactical astuteness didn't have the depth it needed, but he sought advice from some of his own players and the boat was soon steadied again.

The likes of van Der Sar, van Nistelrooy and Seedorf were all quick to point out that perhaps the team might be better off playing a traditional 4-3-3 system instead, and they were right. They've not lost since and the players seem a lot happier knowing they're playing to a more appropriate system.

Recent friendlies
May 24: Netherlands 3 Ukraine 0
May 29: Netherlands 1 Denmark 1
June 1: Netherlands 2 Wales 0

Players you might have heard of
Er, how long have you got? There's almost as many players affiliated with British clubs just now as there are Dutch ones in the current squad. In goal, there's Van Der Sar of Man United and in defence we have Aston Villa's Wilfred Bouma, Wigan's Mario Melchiot and Blackburn's Andre Ooijer. Up front, take your pick from Robin van Persie (Arsenal), Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool) and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink (Celtic) and that's without the likes of van Bronckhorst and van Nistelrooy who used to play in the Premier League.

Players you won't be seeing
Mark van Bommel. He's had an on-off involvement with the national team over the last few years thanks to van Basten's critical view of the midfielder. The coach has even gone out of his way to criticise van Bommel's poor performances at times, all of which led him to announce he no longer wanted to be picked while van Basten was in charge of the side.

Oh, and there's also Edgar Davids. The Ajax star broke his leg in a pre-season friendly which kept him out of the game for three months. A lack of match fitness reduced his likelihood of being chosen by the coach for the national team with other younger, fitter players available, all of which means we may have seen the last of the begoggled one on the international stage.

SPAOTP's Top Tip For Greatness
Rafael van Der Vaart. Despite suffering numerous niggling injuries, he's come through this season at Hamburg with 21 goals from 44 appearances (including those for the Netherlands) so this could finally be his chance to shine in the spotlight - as long as he stays fit.

Romania

Qualifying
In the end, Romania qualified at a canter in Group G along with the Netherlands and Bulgaria (as we've just heard). They were a lot more convincing than the Dutch, losing just one of their twelve games - to Bulgaria, strangely - and they scored an admirable 26 goals along the way too. The Dutch could only manage 15 and the Bulgarians only did slightly better with 18.

Top scorer for the Romanians was the former Chelsea attacker Adrian Mutu with six goals. Stuttgart's Ciprian Marica was one behind on five.

Current form
Apart from a 1-0 slip-up away to Israel back in February, they've looked quite accomplished. A 3-0 win over Russia and a 4-0 win over Montenegro have given them the perfect boost going into their first Euro 2008 game against France on Monday.

Players you might have heard of
Apart from Adrian Mutu, there's just the one for all British football fans to spot. It's Marius Niculae of Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Don't laugh - he's scored 13 goals in his 30 appearances for Romania and scores on average once every three games for the Scottish club too.

Recent friendlies
February 6: Israel 1 Romania 0
March 26: Romania 3 Russia 0
May 31: Romania 4 Montenegro 0

Not just making up the numbers
As mentioned earlier, Romania are quite happy to score goals for fun and love to play attacking football, but they can also defend as well. Fans of the Netherlands will tell you their team found it frustrating getting through the Romanian back line, failing to score in the two games they played against them.

Though Romania have been absent from the last three major tournaments, it's very likely they'll make up for that at Euro 2008 despite their label of 'outsiders'. Expect the other teams in their group to treat them with great respect on match days accordingly.

SPAOTP's Top Tip For Greatness
Adrian Mutu. After leaving Chelsea under a cloud due to that cocaine issue we don't talk about anymore, his career has been given a much needed shot in the arm at Fiorentina. Forming a formidable partnership with Luca Toni, he's reminded everyone just how versatile he is by not just scoring goals regularly but providing assists for others too.

Oh and a quick factoid for all of you out there: Romania have only lost once in games when Adrian Mutu has scored. They'll be hoping he's got his shooting boots on during Euro 2008, we're sure.

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