Group A

There is an obvious Group of Death here, and that is Group C.  However, I think this group is the second most difficult.  Switzerland have been on the rise since they emerged from a very difficult qualification group to make it into the last World Cup.  Portugal are a big favorite to win it all.  The Czech Republic are one of the most well rounded and better sides in the tournament.  And there is a lot of unknown talent in Turkey, mostly unknown I think because the names on the jerseys are too foreign for the western world to accept the skills from the boots under those jerseys. 

Odds 22/1
I am high on the Swiss.  Granted I love the country and have spent ample time there so my bias is evident, however I see a good coach with a lot of young talent and a very lax immigrations policy that has allowed them to very selectively fill holes in their squad.  They are the host nation and will be the team with the only true home field advantage of the tournament.  However the worry is that expectations of the nation will bear too weighty on the shoulders of the players.  Also, I really think missing out on the qualification process will hurt this team as they will not have had the time to really gel under the pressure of win or go home matches against quality competition. 
Players to Watch: Alexander Frei (#9) is Switzerland's all time top scorer and looks to be fully back from injury.  The offense will run through him but start with Tranquillo Barnetta (#16).  The defense will be anchored by Phillipe Senderos (#4) and look for the fearless defender to be dangerous coming forward on set pieces.  I had picket Johan Vonlathen (#22) to make a big impact as a young player in the world Cup but an injury in the preparations leading up to that grandest of stages saw his tournament end before it had even began.  Hopefully this will be his chance to shine but also look for another promising youngster in Eren Derdiyok (#12) up front. There will be a lot of eyes on his play and a big move to an elite league could be in his immediate future.

Odds 15/2
Many are picking the Portuguese to win this tournament.  They will likely be the most exciting team to watch, as they have flair all across the pitch.  Just a few days ago they held and inter-squad scrimmage and sold out the stadium for the Portuguese vs. the Portuguese with yellow pennys over their jerseys.  I would say that the Portuguese, especially given that they reached the finals four years ago and only fell that one game short and the semifinals in the World Cup only two years prior, have more pressure on them than any other nation, even the hosts.  Can they step up?  They seem to have the hunger for it but that will be determined on the pitch.  I have no doubt, however, they will be the most entertaining team to watch in this tournament.  They have one of the best coaches in the world, THE best midfield in the world, a solid defense, and capable goalkeeping.  Despite all the talent coming forward from the midfield, they follow a defense first mentality that I believe is key to championships.  Their only weakness is that they lack a clinical finish at the very top.  If one of their strikers can step up and find a way, any way to get the ball in the net then they will be a deadly team. 
Players to Watch: Ronaldo, Ronaldo Ronaldo.  Christiano Ronaldo (#7) is the best player on the planet.  One of the fastest, unrivaled at moving with the ball at his feet with pace, fantastic in the air, can play on either wing, one of the deadliest free kicks, strong on the ball.  He?s moved past his younger days when he was a silly dive monkey and the only real issue I find is that he?s involved in a convoluted transfer saga between his club and employer Manchester United and the ?other? biggest club in the world Real Madrid as they bicker over where he will be playing his football next year.  Ricardo Quaresma (#17) is another fantastic winger.  The only criticism comes form his total inability to use his left foot, but he uses his right so cynically that he can make almost any left foot preferred pass with just as much effectiveness and even more flair from his right.  He has the best right foot in the world.  Ricardo Carvalho (#16) with marshal the defense and Brazilian born Deco (#20) will be the maestro to orchestrate the attack from the middle.   

Odds 50/1
If there was one word to describe Turkey it would be this: inconsistent.  They have more talent than the west gives them credit but so often fail to find the form that would make them a real threat.  I am not enamored enough with their defensive play enough to make them a genuine contender, but I think they?ll find the back of the net a few times with some very creative play on offense.  Ultimately I think their inconsistency will be their undoing.  I see them finding a way to pull of a surprising upset in the group stages yet still failing to advance any farther that that. 
Players to Watch: For me it starts with Tuncay Sanli (#17) (pronounced Toon-jai).  He is fighting to be fit, with a back muscle problem keeping him out of the training sessions leading up to their opener.  He is such a threat coming forward in the midfield, especially from long range it can open up a lot of space and lanes behind the defense, as they must come forward to respect his powerful striking from distance.  Look for Hamit Altintop (#22) to create chances with his service from the right and Nihat to finish them off.  It starts with Tuncay but ends with Nihat Kahveci (#8).  He has great technical ability and should be able to score a few good goals. 

The Czech Republic
Odds 12/1
The Czech Republic were my team in the World Cup.  I really thought it was their year but they failed to get out of the group stage in what I thought was the real group of death.  I do believe that failure was much more due to the group and some unfortunate injuries than their ability, but here we are, two years on and I don?t think they?ve improved.  They are still relying on the same team that didn?t advance in the world, cup, only a few years older and missing some very important cogs.  The story here isn?t the players to watch but the players watching from their summer homes, most notable the retired jack of all trades Pavel Nedved and their own captain and midfield maestro, the ?Little Mozart,? Tomas Rosicky.  The one thing that does impress me and leads me to believe they might have a shot at advancing at least past the group stages is their defense and goalkeeping.  Even despite some horrific injuries in the last two years including a skull fracture which nearly took his life, Petr Cech is the best goalkeeper in the world and there is a very good back four in front of him.  However, baring a penalty shootout, I can?t see them past the first round of the knockout stages, and that at best. 
Players to Watch:  As I said, Petr Cech (#1).  He?s the best goalkeeper in the world and if your curious as to the funny little helmet he wears, just google his name with head injury and all the details of his on field collision, skull fracture, and near death will be at your fingertips.  He has fantastic size, great range, good distribution, is decisive, and is very calm under pressure.  Tomas Ujfalusi (#21) will anchor the defense form the center.  He has some good years of experience behind him and is coming off an excellent season for the Viola of Fiorentina.  Marek Jankulovski (#6) will be very entertaining and dangerous rampaging up the wings from the back and Jan Koller (#9), the tower of a striker will be the target up front.  I fear they may become one dimensional looking for him to bang in the goals, so while he is a great bet for a fantasy team, I have issues with the limitation as it translates into real life. 

Group A Prediction
The winner of the opening match of this group, and consequently the opening match of the tournament, Switzerland vs. the Czech Republic, will really have the edge in advancing.  I would say that first match will be the most important in this group.  I see the Portuguese cruising through and advancing from first place.  Turkey?s inconsistency will do them in.  They might pull off a big upset somewhere in there but I don?t see them getting enough points over the three games to get out of the group.  Leaving the Swiss and Czechs fighting for second place and the other advancing spot.  But something tells me the home field advantage and the scrappy play of the Swiss will find a way over the uninspiring Czechs that lack a real playmaker, and I?m tipping Switzerland to advance in second place.