Euro 2012 Outright Preview
Get ready for the Oranje boom!
They came so close at the last World Cup, they were sensational until being knocked out of Euro 2008, is 2012 going to be Holland's (13/2) year?
Well for me, they've got a really good chance in Poland and Ukraine as they should have a semi-finals spot in the bag at least thanks to their draw.
Being in a group with Germany (3/1) is not ideal, but Denmark (100/1) should not cause them too many problems and Portugal (20/1) are pretty much a one-man team (Cristiano Ronaldo 12/1 top scorer, 14/1 player of the tournament), granted that player is arguably the best player at the tournament. (Until Jordan Henderson gets called up of course).
Holland's main two strikers, Robin van Persie (10/1 TGS, 14/1 POTT) and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (14/1 TGS, 20/1 POTT), rifled in 85 goals for their respective clubs last season, annoyingly for the pair though they yielded no silverware, but did help to secure Champions League places.
Even if they fail to score as prolifically this summer, goals aren't going to be a concern as they have an abundance of fantastic attacking options to call upon; Wesley Sneijder (33/1 TGS, 25/1 POTT) was joint-top scorer in the World Cup, Arjen Robben (40/1, a great each-way price for TGS, 20/1 POTT) bangs them in for fun for Bayern Munich and Rafael van der Vaart (33/1 TGS, 40/1 POTT) is always going to be a threat over free-kicks and when running from deep.
Their forward players are superb but their defensive options are not to be sniffed at either.
Maarten Stekelenburg is a cracking goalkeeper and was one of the best shot-stoppers of the last World Cup, Gregory van der Wiel has developed a good reputation from his stellar performances for Ajax and is part of a defence that features Everton player of the year Jonny Heitinga and Champions League-bound Malaga player Joris Mathijsen.
The Dutch should give you a great run for your money, but the stumbling block could be not winning the group and then probably having to get past Spain (11/4) in the semis.
That great Spain team have been the benchmark that others aspire to now for the last five years.
Defending champions of course, their squad is full of superstars that would just walk into any team in the world internationally and domestically.
Such is the embarrassment of riches at Vicente del Bosque's disposal, he might not even call upon the likes of Juan Mata (40/1 TGS) and David Silva (33/1 TGS, 12/1 POTT) who we purr over each week in the Premier League.
I'm not the manager of course, these two might be integral to his plans, but you would have to think that Barcelona aces Andres Iniesta (50/1 TGS, 14/1 POTT) and Xavi (100/1 TGS, 16/1 POTT) will likely make up two of the midfield and Real Madrid pass-master Xabi Alonso (150/1 TGS, 66/1 POTT) is pretty likely to start, it all depends on the formation that Spain are going to play.
Their plans have suffered a bit of set-back with the loss of their top scorer David Villa and commanding centre-back Carles Puyol.
Villa would certainly have started if he'd have won his fitness battle, now they have to decide whether Fernando Torres (18/1 TGS, 20/1 POTT) will play with Fernando Llorente (14/1 TGS, 16/1 POTT) or whether he'll be back-up, or the other way around!
Torres recently got dropped from the national squad during his goal-drought at Chelsea, but his form picked up at the end of the season, while Llorente, despite a great tally of 29 goals for the campaign, tailed off towards the end of the year and was non-existent in Athletic Bilbao's two finals.
Whichever Fernando plays, you know exactly what else to expect from this gifted Spanish squad, they will look to frustrate teams with their excellent ball retention and wait for the right time to pounce.
If they don't miss Villa too much then you write them off at your peril.
In between Holland and Spain in the betting are Germany (3/1), and many have been talking up their chances of going all the way this summer.
The one thing that's almost a constant with Germany is that they're there at the business end of a tournament, they know what it takes to win the big games and go deep in competitions.
I would argue that the Germans have probably the best squad in the tournament, their competition for places is incredible and Joachim Low will have a tough task on his hands trying to keep everyone happy in that camp.
One player that has been performing for Germany for several years is Lukas Podolski (25/1 TGS, 20/1 POTT), the Arsenal-bound star has a superb left foot on him and links up so well with 63-goal hit-man Miroslav Klose (14/1 TGS), he could chalk up his 100th cap during the summer.
Those two have been excellent in the last few international tournaments, but the same can't be said of Mario Gomez (8/1 TGS, 10/1 POTT).
The Bayern Munich striker pummelled in the goals last season, but was dreadful at Euro 2008 and was a bit-player in South Africa, his confidence should surely be much higher this time around though.
The Germans have a plethora of outstanding midfielders to call upon.
Their top talent is undoubtedly Mesut Ozil (66/1 TGS, 12/1 POTT), the Real Madrid play-maker was the top assister in La Liga last season and should create plenty of chances once again in international colours.
Thomas Muller (25/1 TGS, 20/1 POTT), Bastian Schweinsteiger (20/1 POTT), Sami Khedira (150/1 TGS) and Mario Gotze (100/1 TGS, 40/1 POTT) are just a few of the all-star midfielders that Low will pick from.
As ever, England (10/1) are amongst the favourites, but expectations are a little bit lower this time around after the appointment of Roy Hodgson.
Personally I think Hodgson is a fine manager, but some England fans out there will remember the coach that had Liverpool struggling rather than the man that led Fulham to a European final and stopped West Brom being a yo-yo team.
The Three Lions are the bookies best friend at big tournaments as they always under-perform but patriotic punters will continue to blindly back them, when they failed to qualify in 2008 it was not a good result for William Hill that's for sure.
Hodgson has selected a pretty dreadful squad, going again for reputation and club before form.
Peter Crouch, who has a fantastic record internationally, and Grant Holt both scored plenty of goals this season but were overlooked, Aaron Lennon would have tormented defences coming off the bench and Joe Cole could've been an option after a fine season at Liile.
Instead we have a load of players that have had poor seasons lining up in Ukraine and Poland because they play for bigger teams; Stewart Downing (150/1 TGS), Glen Johnson and Andy Carroll (50/1 TGS, 100/1 POTT) were all part of that awful Liverpool team that hit the heady heights of eighth, but they are all likely to play a big part for England this summer.
Combine these poor players with the fact that Wayne Rooney (33/1 TGS, 66/1 POTT) will miss the first two games thanks to his stupidity in getting sent off in the qualifiers, and I think you're looking at an early exit for Roy's boys - it's 13/8 they get knocked out in the group stage.
In England's group of course are France (10/1), and they have the potential to go far in Ukraine and Poland.
Do not think of the French as the team that were at loggerheads in South Africa and exited in the group stage, think of them as a team that have had discipline instilled in them by Laurent Blanc and that have become very hard to beat having lost just two of their last 21 games.
Their team has pace to burn with the likes of Franck Ribery (66/1 TGS, 33/1 POTT), Karim Benzema (14/1 TGS, 25/1 POTT) and Hatem Ben Arfa (66/1 POTT).
They perhaps have a bit of the unknown quantity about them too such is the overhaul their squad has overtaken in the past couple of years; Olivier Giroud (50/1 TGS) was the top scorer in Ligue 1 with the champions Montpellier, but he's a practical nobody on the international stage, likewise Jeremy Menez (66/1 TGS) played a key part in gaining Paris Saint-Germain a Champions League spot, but his Les Bleus career is only just starting really.
I think the French could take a few by surprise; they have players that are coming into the event in great form such as Yohan Cabaye (80/1 POTT) and Mathieu Valbuena and they also have the likes of Patrice Evra and Florent Malouda (66/1 TGS) who have been there and got the t-shirt in terms of big-game experience.
Another team who need to bounce back from the last major tournament are Italy (14/1), and like France they have seen it all before on this stage.
The nation is engulfed in yet another match-fixing scandal, which led to Domenico Criscito being excluded from the squad, but the rest of the team will hope to shake off all that negativity and give their passionate support something to cheer about.
The Italians are in with the defending champs, Croatia (50/1) and Republic of Ireland (80/1), I can't see them having any problems negotiating that group, but it's very likely to be as runners-up to Spain.
Then, they could well face a battle with France in the quarters, it's not going to be easy for Cesare Prandelli's men to win this tournament.
Their skipper Gianluigi Buffon (80/1 POTT) might be advancing in years now, but he's still one of the best goalkeepers in the business, and with bruising centre-back Giorgio Chiellini (100/1 POTT) in front of him, the Italians are going to be tough to score past.
That has been their forte over the years; shut them out at one end, try nick one on the counter at the other, you can't argue it hasn't worked with the honours they've won.
I sense it will be more of the same from the Azzuri this time, but they don't have a shortage of exciting attacking players to call upon.
One that is very familiar to us in the UK is Mario Balotelli (25/1 TGS, 33/1 POTT), the Man City forward has been allocated the number 9 shirt, but he's got Antonio Cassano (33/1 TGS, 40/1 POTT), Antonio Di Natale (33/1 TGS, 40/1 POTT) and Sebastian Giovincho to compete with and it's not a given that he'll start each time.
Two players that you would imagine are likely to start are Daniele De Rossi and Andre Pirlo (80/1 TGS, 80/1 POTT), the latter is still just a joy to watch with his range of passing and set-piece skills; if he can make the Italians tick again then they will be a force.
Those are the teams that I think will be in contention, but don't forget, even if a team isn't likely to challenge, you can still get some money out of them with our huge range of outright markets.
Will Nikica Jelavic (10/1) be the top scoring Premier League player? Will Ronaldo help Group B (7/4) be the highest scoring group? Could a team win the trophy having won every match in 90 minutes (9/1)? Holland v Germany (16/1) could be a cracker, but will it be the highest scoring group match?