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Euro '08 Preview–Group B

I’ll get right to it — here’s a look at Group B, comprised of co-hosts Austria, Croatia, Germany, and Poland. If you’re a history buff and know anything about war in Europe over the past few centuries, you’ll understand why this group could provide some of the tensest, most passionate games in the tournament.

First, the match schedule (all times Eastern):

June 8:

Austria vs. Croatia (Noon; Ernst Happel Stadion, Vienna)

Germany vs. Poland (2:45; Wörthersee Stadion, Klagenfurt)

June 12:

Croatia vs. Germany (Noon; Wörthersee Stadion, Klagenfurt)

Austria vs. Poland (2:45; Ernst Happel Stadion, Vienna)

June 16:

Austria vs. Germany (2:45; Ernst Happel Stadion, Vienna)

Poland vs. Croatia (2:45; Wörthersee Stadion, Klagenfurt)


Coached by Josef Hickersberger, Austria will make their first appearance in the European Championships. They gained automatic entry, of course, as a co-host, but this is a country on the rise in soccer as evidenced by their run to the semifinals in last year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup.

The captain of that team, Sebastian Prödl, is a tall, commanding center back that has been included in Hickersberger’s provisional squad after scoring twice in a senior friendly against Holland on March 26 and is a very good bet to make the final cut. As you can go back and read in my preview and recap of the US-Austria quarterfinal from the U-20 World Cup, won 2-1 by Austria, I came away very impressed with Prödl (who was named to the all-tournament team by Gazzetta dello Sport) and his teammate, striker Erwin “Jimmy” Hoffer, who was deadly off the bench all tournament and scored the game-winning goal against the US. Hoffer is also part of this provisional squad, which is at 31 right now and will be trimmed down to the required 23 after tonight’s friendly against Nigeria.

Much of the team remains a mystery to the casual observer; the vast majority of players on the 31-man squad play their domestic soccer in the Austrian Bundesliga, though fans of the Premiership likely will recognize the name of Emanuel Pogatetz, who plies his trade for Middlesbrough and is the starting left-back for country and club. Several other players, Prödl included, have already finalized moves that will take them to clubs outside of Austria after this tournament finishes.

Coupled with the relative anonymity I just mentioned is the fact that Austria, like Switzerland, didn’t have to go through qualifying. Hickersberger hasn’t had to give anything away or use his full-strength lineup; his team played a whopping 12 friendlies last year and will end up playing four before they start their Euro campaign against Croatia, but you can’t take too much from those.

It would be foolish of me to speculate on a possible lineup because I simply don’t know enough about the team, but I would assume that Pogatetz, two midfielders, the captain, Andreas Ivanschitz, who also boasts a very nice left foot, and René Aufhauser, a defensive-minded player, and striker Roland Linz all will be in the starting XI. Other than that, I’d like to see Prödl right in the center of the back line and there seems to be a good possibility of that happening.

Avoiding Germany until the third and final group match could be extremely beneficial, as the Austrians aren’t likely to get anything out of that game and would have a better chance to get the points they need to advance in their first two games. The critical match is against Poland, in which one would think both teams would absolutely need a victory. In front of their home crowd, it’ll be Austria’s best opportunity for three points, and they can’t afford to let it slip by.


England fans know all about Croatia, the team that ended the Three Lions’ hopes of making it to Euro 2008 with a 3-2 victory at Wembley on the last day of qualifying in their group. Croatia had already booked their trip to this summer’s tournament as group winners and had nothing to play for, but their no-nonsense, never-quit attitude was enough to spoil England’s dreams.

Croatia is coached by Slaven Bilic, who is a hot commodity in the coaching world and already spurned advances from West Ham and several other clubs. This is a guy who speaks three different languages and has a law degree. For those who don’t know, trust me, he means business and with him at the helm, Croatia has to be taken extremely seriously.

It all starts at the top with Bilic, but he also has a lot of talent to pick from on his already-finalized roster. After his team’s uninspiring 1-0 victory over Moldova earlier this week, Bilic is considering changing from a 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 for the Euros. He has the players to do this; the Croatian midfield is absolutely loaded with quality, with Niko Kovac, Ivan Rakitic, Niko Kranjcar, Darijo Srna, and Luka Modric all in the mix. Up top, Ivica Olic, Mladen Petric, and Nikola Kalinic will fight it out for what now looks like one spot. In the back, an experienced group led by Dario Šimic and Robert Kovac, as well as Manchester City’s impressive young right back, Vedran Corluka, are all capable of shutting down the opponent’s front line. Stipe Pletikosa will be between the posts, reprising his role from World Cup 2006, which ended in a disappointing early exit for his nation.

This team is loaded, and all of this is without Arsenal’s Eduardo da Silva, who led Croatia with 10 goals in qualifying but as we all remember, suffered a freak injury in January and won’t take any part in the action in June. With a knowledgeable, savvy coach in Slaven Bilic, and talent all across the field, Croatia definitely is capable of making a deep run in this tournament.


Perennial tournament favorites Germany enter Euro 2008 in their customary position. As hosts of World Cup 2006, they beat Portugal 3-1 in the third-place game and led all nations in goals scored with 14. They finished second, two points behind the Czech Republic in a ridiculously easy qualifying group for this competition and haven’t really been tested in a while on the international level.

The 26-man provisional roster named by coach Joachim Löw is stacked, and just screams 4-4-2. Jens Lehmann, of course, will be in goal, this time without the considerably large shadow of Oliver Kahn lurking behind him. If recent friendlies are any indication, Heiko Westermann and Phillip Lahm will occupy the left and right back positions, respectively, but Arne Friedrich can’t be counted out and I’d expect to see him reclaim his right back position from World Cup 2006, which would then shift Lahm over to left back. The twin towers, Per Mertesacker and Christoph Metzelder, will anchor the middle. In the midfield, Michael Ballack and the more rough-and-tumble Torsten Frings will be in the center, with Bastian Schweinsteiger and possibly David Odonkor on the wings. Up front, Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski, the Best Young Player of the 2006 WC, will form one of the most lethal strike duos in the tournament.

This is a group Germany should advance from, and although it won’t be easy, there is more than enough talent here to do the job. Their first game is against Poland, a rematch of Germany’s charged, exciting 1-0 victory in the last World Cup, followed by Croatia and then Austria to close out the group stage. If they come into that game against Austria needing a victory to progress, look out, as that would be one of the must-watch games of the competition.


Closing things out on this preview of Group B, let’s get to Poland, who will also be making their first appearance in the Europe’s continental championship.

Poland won their qualifying group, which was probably the most competitive of its brethren with Portugal, Serbia, Finland, and Belgium all competing. With that said, take a look at their squad and you’ll wonder how they did that; Poland has been known in recent years to produce some very good goalkeepers and some above average strikers, but from an outside perspective, there just doesn’t appear to be much in the way of talent in the defense and in midfield.

They have a Dutch coach, Leo Beenhakker, who is as experienced as they come and has led many high-profile club teams as well as the Dutch national team. By all accounts, he’s blended a solid team together — winning a qualifying group can’t be a fluke, and even though there isn’t a lot of name recognition here, Poland will be very competitive.

I know even less about Poland than I do about Austria, so again, but here’s my educated guess as to their starting lineup based on the research I did: Artur Boruc will be in goal, although Tomasz Kuszczak and Lukasz Fabianski are also capable at that position. Michal Zewlakow will be ahead of Boruc at left back, with Jacek Bak and Mariusz Jop in the center and Marcin Wasilewski on the right. In the midfield, veteran Jacek Krzynówek will be on the left in a more advanced role, with both Mariusz Lewandowski and Dariusz Dudka sitting in holding positions and Wojciech Lobodzinski, wide right. Up front, the captain, Maciej Zurawski has a guaranteed place, alongside either Southampton’s Marek Saganowski or Euzebiusz Smolarek, who led Poland’s qualifying group in goal scoring with 9.

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  1. Michael

    May 28, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    I think the fact that Podolski and Klose have done it before at this level and the fact that they’re teammates and have a good idea of what the other will do, they’ll get the starts, but if Podolski comes out flat, I can see Gomez stepping in and replacing him.

    I didn’t mention Jansen because I really haven’t mentioned any of the players I thought would be coming off the bench. If I did that, these already long previews would be even longer, so I just go with what I believe the starting lineup will be.

  2. Jack

    May 28, 2008 at 6:03 pm

    Did you really fail to mention Marcell Jansen and Mario Gomez when previewing Germany? Jansen will likely start on the left and Podolski? He’s got little chance of starting ahead of Gomez.

  3. Lonnie

    May 28, 2008 at 8:25 am

    I don’t know about actual points totals or order of finish but my money is on Germany and Croatia to advance. Poland were good in qualifying but were in a weaker pool of teams (Portugal excluded). They beat up the weaker sides and either drew or lost against the more competitive sides in the group. Austria may nick a point off of Poland but anything more will be a big upset.

  4. Barney

    May 28, 2008 at 5:47 am

    Poland to surprise in this group. Germany to struggle. Austria 4th but you might get to see what a good player Andreas Ivanschitz is – he has been real quality for Panathinaikos.

  5. Ivan

    May 28, 2008 at 1:35 am

    For Germany. Odonkor should make the final cut, i’m a big fan but was surprised he managed to get himself into a strong germany squad considering he has had an injury ridden season at Real Betis. Mario Gomez if he gets himself fit will and should partner Klose upfront.

  6. Django

    May 27, 2008 at 11:58 pm

    Oh no intent to have you change it, I was just bullshitting more than anything, great previews, keep up the good work.

  7. Michael

    May 27, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    I’ve got to be honest with you Damir, I think this will be the third most competitive group of the four, behind Group C and Group A. The final point margins may not truly indicate this, but I think we all know that there is a big gap in quality between the top two teams in the group, Germany and Croatia, and the bottom two, Austria and Poland. The reason I’m excited to watch these games isn’t so much for the soccer itself, but for the historical and ethnic backgrounds of the countries involved, which I touched on briefly above.

    Concerning Poland, you may be right, I may be underestimating them and selling them short, but I just don’t see the talent and I don’t see where they’re going to pick up their points. They’re just not good enough to beat Germany or Croatia in my opinion, and I can’t see them beating Austria (even though on a neutral field, I’d takae Poland) on Austrian soil.

    As for your point about home field advantage, you can’t even compare Germany and Austria in that regard. Germany is a much, much better team than Austria and could’ve reached the semi-final of the last World Cup even if it wasn’t played in Germany, whereas Austria likely wouldn’t have even qualified for this tournament if they weren’t a co-host. Home field advantage is significant when it comes to two evenly-matched teams or teams that are close, like Poland and Austria. As I just said, I can see Austria getting a draw in that game and I’m going to go out on a limb and say they pick up a point against Croatia, who is a much better team.

  8. damir

    May 27, 2008 at 9:12 pm

    After Group C, I rate this as the most competitive group. Why?
    Well It’s simple, even though Eduardo is out for Croatia they’re still able to win games. And that was shown at Wembley (I know Dudu played, but he didn’t score).

    And mate, if you’re talking sense, I’d hate to see stupid. Because Poland, with ONE point!? That’s just insane. They’ve been strolling through the qualifications. They have a better chance to advance than Hervatska.

    Then, Austria with two draws? They’re a host nation, so that won’t happen. I though Deutschland wouldn’t do anything in the ’06 WC but home field advantage is a BIG one.

    Then, check out who’s been scoring all the goals for Bayern Munich lately, it’s been Luca Tonia and Frank Ribery, no sight of Miroslav Klose. I admire the guy because he can score, but I’m just saying, he’s dropped in his performances at the wrong time. I dig their striker core, and apart from a solid, solid midfield, I see a leaky defense.

    Just because I don’t see a lot of conservative play in these match-up’s I’m going to go with low points for the teams that advance, even lower than 7.

  9. The Gaffer

    May 27, 2008 at 8:54 pm


    I mean this in the nicest way possible, but you’re nuts!

    The host country (or two, in this case) always does better than most people imagine especially with the home field advantage.

    Venezuela did better than most people expected in Copa America, just as one recent example.

    The Gaffer

  10. Kartik

    May 27, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    Austria will not get a point

  11. The Gaffer

    May 27, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    Dave and Michael,

    Not sure why the Group A story is generating a 404 error and won’t allow comments. Must be the spirits in the material world (reminds me of a song by The Police)!

    The Gaffer

  12. Michael

    May 27, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    Actually wait, looking at it again, I never even called it a freak “accident” in the first place, I called it a “freak injury”, which it was. So with that in mind, I’m not going to change it, but still Django, I see where you’re coming from.

  13. Michael

    May 27, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    I know what you’re saying, and I’ll go back and change my wording right now to make it sound less controversial, but we see poorly timed, studs-up challenges all the time that don’t result in what happened to Eduardo. On that basis, I said it was a “freak accident”, but I definitely see your point.

  14. Django

    May 27, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    Great previews Michael, very helpful. One thing though…not sure I would call Eduardo’s fibula turning into a right angle by Martin Taylor’s boot a “freak accident”. When I hear “freak accident” I think bird flying into someone’s head or the earth beneath the pitch cracking in two, not a poorly timed, studs-up challenge that makes Cesc Fabregas cry.

  15. Michael

    May 27, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    Dave, thanks for the heads up about the Group A preview, I’m not sure why that error page pops up when you try and comment but it does that for me too. Can’t explain that one, but at least it’s viewable.

    As for your first point, you’re correct, I completely forgot to mention Eduardo da Silva’s absence. With Croatia’s one striker system, he’ll be missed, but I think they’ll be able to cover for him because they still have some dynamic wing players. My apologies for not mentioning that; that one is all on me. It slipped my mind partly because Eduardo was injured back in January, but that’s no excuse.

    Thanks for the correction.

  16. Tippo

    May 27, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    I think Germany will top this group. However, Poland had good qualification but they dont tend to do well at tournaments and so I may see Croatia joining Germany in the next stage.

  17. Dave M

    May 27, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    What? A Croatia preview with no mention that they’re without their top scorer from qualification?

    Also, I got 404 errors when I tried to access the earlier (group A) postings, so look no further when you wonder why there are no comments.

    Very informative, though – thanks.

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