Group D

This is a solid group.  Could contest Group A as the second toughest group and there?s nothing to be ashamed of here.  Spain is the class in the groups but all of the next three will fancy their chances at second place.  Will be fun to watch it play out. 

Odds 11/2
Spain will cruise through this group.  But how much farther they go will depend on their defense.  They have the best group of strikers in the world, and an excellent midfield.  But when your defense seems best suited to moving forward along the flanks and your key player along the back is an undersized central defender there begs a question as to whether that unit can take you all the way to glory.  Historically Spain is the most talented team in the world with the least to show for it.  They have one dusty trophy from the very first Euro tournament 34 years ago and empty spaces in the trophy case for every major championship since. 
Players to Watch: Fernando Torres (#9) is probably the best striker in the world at the moment.  He is clinical in front of goal and had never shrunk under any of the pressures put on him.  Sergio Ramos (#15) is possibly the best right back in the world.  He gets back well but is most noted for how we gets up the field and plays in excellent balls to the strikers from wide and deep.  The two X-men will be the focal point of the midfield.  Xabi Alonso (#14) will provide a lot of the grit while Xavi (#8) will open up the defenses with deft skill.  Also, Cesc Fabregas (#10) will move around the pitch with incredible guile and is perhaps the most dangerous finisher from that midfield. 

Odds 25/1
The Russians are here in place of the English, and given that they fell out on the last day to Israel and needed help form Croatia to get in they may still have something to prove.  They have been hit with a worrisome injury to striker Pavel Pogrebnyak, and have the star of the UEFA Cup Andrei Arshavin suspended for the first two games.  However, the first game is against the favored Spaniards which likely would have been a lost at full strength and the second is against the minnows Greece and will likely be a win either way.  Also, they have a world class coach in Guus Hiddink, a man who has been a winner at every level and every team he has gotten behind.  He also has a number of stars from a rising Russian Premier League to choose from and has put together a squad that will likely get stronger as the tournament progresses, IF they can progress as well.  The defense is underwhelming as it lacks the pace or agility to really shut down a creative offense but the goalkeeping is solid.
Players to Watch:  When Andrei Arshavin (#10) returns from suspension keep a close eye on him.  He is a playmaker of the highest order and has a killer knack for a decisive through ball.  Yuri Zhirkov (#18) must step up in Arshavin?s absence as must Roman Pavlyuchenko (#19) until Pavel Pogrebnyak (#13) returns from injury. 

Odds 25/1
Greece are the defending champs and the winners of EURO 2004 making them likely the biggest underdog to ever claim a major sports championship.  They won four years ago with the combination of a great team spirit, an unwavering commitment to their defense first game plan, a great deal of luck, and a never say die attitude.  Let it be said first that they deserve to be here having fought their way through qualification and building on past success in the wake of recent failure to qualify for the last World Cup.  However to watch them play is to watch the most unattractive football in this tournament.  They will rarely attack with much danger and their only really threatening play may come from set pieces.  The only likely excitement would come from that passion fro the underdog, being reminded that they are team in above their heads fighting for the slimmest hopes of retaining their crown.   Their best chance at points will come in their second match against a depleted Russian side, but like Romania in group C, any points they do steal will go much farther towards knocking another nation out than furthering their own cause. 
Players to Watch: Vasilis Torosidis (#15) is a right footed left back that will look to get forward when he can and could be the one bit of dynamism form the back line.  He defends very well and tackles strong and could become a star in this tournament.  Captain Angelos Besinas (#6) will battle from the midfield and Giorgos Karagounis (#10) will be the foot behind the free kicks, trying his luck anywhere near the goal. 


Odds 25/1
Sweden are a good side outright but line up very well in this tournament due to the relative lack of quality in the Greek side and the injuries and suspensions of the Russians.  These factors really give Sweden the advantage at grabbing the second spot in this group.  They are well organized in defense, sometime to a fault as they can struggle to score goals and look for chances on the counter attack despite have a number of quality options up front.  This predictability and stagnation has much to do with their coach, Lars Lagerback coming in as the longest tenured manager of any nation, having served at the helm since 2000. 
Players to Watch: Captain Freddie Ljunberg (#9) appears to be fit after missing most of this year away from his club to injury.  On the other side Kim Kallstrom (#16) will provide good service for the strikers up front.  The real problem is of the four solid choices for those strikers, the strength of the team, only two will be able to field the pitch at a time.  Regardless of who partners him, Zlatan Ibrahimovic (#10) will be the most skillful player on the pitch, almost regardless of even the opposition.  Ibrahimovic has a knack for crating wonderful goals with great imagination but the knock on him is that he doesn?t do so often enough.  I?ve heard him described as a scorer of great goals, not a great goal scorer.  He would like to shed that label here, but seeing as he hasn?t found the net for his country since October of 2005 it would be an accomplishment.  Paired with him might be Johan Elmander (#11) who looked strong in qualifying but a resurgent Henrick Larsson (#17) has come out of retirement just for this tournament and might provide the best partnership. 

Group D Predictions
Spain cruises and Sweden takes second on a strong head to head victory over the Russians who will be at full strength but not be able to react quickly enough on the back line to the Swedish counterattack.  However, the nations to progress here are not so lucky as to face the group winners form the Group of Death in the first knockout round and that may be as far as they go.