We looked over the draw, then Latinised our names. The Spanish had toiled, and were weak. France had indeed reformed, but remnants of a prior humiliation hung over. Across the Rhine, the Germans recovered. In the dark, we wrote our predictions.
Winner: The Netherlands.
Final: Germany v. the Netherlands.
Top scorer: Robin van Persie.
How far England will go: Quarter-finals.
Dark horse: Not Italy or France.
Dark horse that isn’t Italy or France: Sweden.
Player to watch: Robin van Persie.
Early casualty: Portugal.
Goals scored by Fernando Torres: Minus two. Two own goals in a semi-final defeat to the Netherlands.
Young player to watch: Ashley…Young.
Attempts needed before Ronaldo hoofs a free-kick in: 6.
Winner: Germany. More stylish than at the World Cup but still with that ‘likely to win something’ quality.
Final: Germany v. Spain. It should be a yawn-fest as well.
Top scorer: Olivier Giroud. You’ll see, you’ll all see!
How far England will go: Quarter-finals. And that would be an achievement (he wrote with a distinct air of cynicism).
Dark horse: France. If M’Vila is fit, and Ribéry can handle his ego, and if Benzema and Nasri don’t get the dreaded “can’t do it for my country” curse, and if Zidane comes out of retirement.
Dark horse that isn’t Italy or France: Poland. No comment.
Player to watch: Yoann Gourcuff…oh, wait. Mario Götze.
Early casualty: Italy, as man-by-man the Italian police disassemble their squad on allegations of match-fixing.
Goals scored by Fernando Torres: One.
Young player to watch: Christian Eriksen. He’s still young right? Look out for Kevin Strootman as well – he might struggle to squeeze into a star-studded Dutch midfield, but he’s being touted as the future of the European powerhouse.
Winner: Spain. There appears to be a common belief that they’ll all be tired, but Spain have an incredible depth to their squad – as do Germany, of course. That said, it’s important to remember that they are Spain, and Pele hasn’t yet said they’ll win – so they’ll probably do it.
Final: TheNetherlands v. Spain.
Top scorer: A group-stage hattrick usually seals the top scorer, so it’s Karim Benzema for me. France could really give Ukraine or Sweden something to think about (or England, for that matter).
How far England will go: Quarter-finals. The English media appear to believe that because there is no pressure on England, they should be able to play without fear, which could see them go far, so now there’s a pressure on them…to go far.
Dark horse: France. Look at that forward line: Benzema, Nasri and Ribéry, and plenty more drive from behind and off the bench. It’s frightening – and that’s just Ribéry’s face.
Dark horse that isn’t Italy or France: England. No, wait, don’t go! It’s a fairly solid side that’s more than capable of stringing a few 1-0 wins together, and we’ve seen all too often this season that upsets under the most unlikely of circumstances are possible.
Player to watch: John Terry. With an appearance in court hanging over his swollen head, it’ll be very interesting to see how focussed he is. Look out for him at the trophy presentation too.
Early casualty: Portugal. Not a particularly brave prediction, but I think we’ll all enjoy watching Ronaldo petulantly stomping up and down as the rest of his side disappoint him – again.
Goals scored by Fernando Torres: One, as a substitute.
Young player to watch: Russia’s Alan Dzagoev. Attracting interest from Spain and England; he’ll should revel in the opportunity to thrive in a competitive Group A.
Final: Germany v. France.
Top scorer: Lewandowski and Jelavic; joint top scorers.
How far England will go: Out in the group.
Dark horse: France.
Dark horse that isn’t Italy or France: Croatia.
Player to watch: Ibrahimovic in the hole for Sweden.
Early casualty: The Netherlands.
Goals scored by Fernando Torres: One – but it’ll see him named player of the tournament.
Young player to watch: André Schürrle.
Winner: Spain. Who else?
Final: A repeat of either the final of Euro 2008 or the World Cup of 2010; I’ll go for Spain v. Germany.
Top scorer: Miroslav Klose. When it comes to international tournaments, he has come, seen, and conquered.
How far England will go: If they get out of their group, a quarter-final exit seems likely – a normal performance for England in that respect. I wouldn’t be too surprised if England drew all three games and left undefeated. They won’t concede many goals but they are unlikely to score many either.
Dark horse: France, if they can win their group, a semi-final slot should await them.
Dark horse that isn’t Italy or France: I can’t see past the Netherlands, Germany and Spain in the semi-finals. If one team can upset the odds, I think Russia could cause some problems.
Player to watch: If he gets the opportunity, Ibrahim Affelay could demonstrate his potential which has been somewhat hindered by injury thus far.
Early casualty: I think this could be Italy. If they lose to Spain in the opening group match, and there is a clear winner between Croatia and the Republic, it places Italy in a very awkward position. The match-fixing scandal engulfing the country does not appear to be having the unifing effect it had on the previous two occasions (in 1982 and 2006).
Goals scored by Fernando Torres: I’m torn. Spain desperately need a striker, otherwise they could end up playing with 4 defenders and 6 midfielders. Out of form, I don’t think Torres will start against Italy as del Bosque typically opts for control. If the team get off to a good start, chances could be at a premium for him. One goal.
Young player to watch: Assuming that I can include Jordi Alba, who has just turned 23. Given the complete lack of width in the Spanish squad, Alba will need to move up and down on the left flank and offer an outlet when Spain are faced with teams defending deep. Better going forward than defending (although you would expect that from a converted winger) if Spain are to retain their crown, Alba will need to perform well.