Major soccer tournaments are one of my favorite betting opportunities. Every aspect of the World Cup and Euro is covered in the international press, the coaching staffs and players are far more candid than most sports, and all of the games are available to be seen, and scheduled in such a way that you can see them. Because of that I was very excited when Euro 2008 started on Saturday, and I have been watching closely. All 16 teams in the tournament have now played one game, so it is a good time to look back on what we have seen so far to see which teams look good and which ones really don’t. You don’t have to be a major soccer fan to enjoy these tournaments or do well betting on them. I only tune into world soccer for about six weeks every two years.
Spain – Spain absolutely destroyed the Russians. It was 4-1, but it could just as easily have been 9-0. David Villa had three goals for the winners, and he played one of the all-time great single games in international soccer history. No kidding. The Spanish had reasonably high hopes coming into the tournament, but they have a long history of being incredibly disappointing when it matters most. On top of it all, they were playing the Russians, and they are newly coached by Guus Hiddink, the guy who has previously performed international miracles with Korea and Australia. The setting was prime for the Spaniards to have an off game, but instead they played about as well as they could. They were already favored to win Group D, but now it isn’t even a contest.
Netherlands – Until Spain stole the thunder today, the Dutch were the stars of this show so far. They are playing in the so-called Group of Death along with Italy and France, but they absolutely annihilated the Italians 3-0 on Monday. The first goal was controversial, but it didn’t matter. The most impressive part of this game, though, wasn’t the goal scoring. The Dutch got complacent and looked like they might coast laster on in the game. They had the self awareness, though, to get their game back together and play strong at the end. They are now easily the favorites in Group C.
Germany – The tournament favorites didn’t overwhelm Poland, and they perhaps should have made it look easier, but they still won 2-0, and they are still well on track to make it to the final thanks to their comparatively easy draw both in the round-robin and in the early stages of the elimination round.
Portugal – I liked the Portuguese a lot coming into the tournament, and I didn’t see anything to change my mind in their first game, a 2-0 win over Turkey. They didn’t do anything breathtaking, but then they didn’t need to to beat the Turks. They didn’t even play their full starting lineup. It was nothing more than a tuneup, but they look like they are well tuned.
Czech Republic – The Czech’s beat Switzerland, but it was only 1-0. More significantly, it was a deadly boring game, and the Czech’s never looked like they found any rhythm. I wouldn’t have worried about it to much if the coaching staff didn’t seem bothered, but they have panicked. They are promising lineup changes and changes in strategy. That doesn’t give me a lot of reason to like this team.
France – The French should have been able to beat Romania with their eyes closed. Instead, the Romanians bored the French to death, and the French let them. The game ended up in a scoreless draw. France has injury concerns with Thierry Henry and others, but that’s no excuse for their flat, listless performance. Their games only get harder from here on, so they need to step it up significantly.
Italy – That disgrace against the Dutch was their worst Euro loss in history. As the game went along they looked whiny and childlike. They are forced to play the tournament without injured captain Fabio Cannavaro, and it is surprisingly obvious how much he is missed. They will rebound, but there are now serious questions about whether they can rebound enough. Even if the play better, the bad loss to the Dutch puts the in serious goal-differential problems if it comes down to a tie-breaker situation.
Greece – The bad news is that things look bleak for the Greeks, the surprise defending champions, after a convincing 2-0 loss to Sweden. The good news is that no one expected much more than that from them anyway.