Iberian rivals to light up finals

While home countries look on, Europe prepares to party

Ronaldo: Preparing to light up Euro 2008 finals

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The best parties are often the ones that you are not invited to. We look at the lessons that have been learned following a disappointing World Cup and why attacking flair should flourish at Euro 2008.

While Steven Gerrard and John Terry - not to mention Barry Ferguson, Ryan Giggs, Robbie Keane and David Healy - press their noses up against the window of Euro 2008, the rest of the continent's footballing powers should be enjoying a fiesta of football.

From a purely footballing point of view, the signs are that the tournament should be a good one.

The 2006 World Cup was overpowered by the negative approach of the national team coaches. Just about every country played the same system - a single striker and five-man midfields leading to a dearth of space.

The hope for Euro 2008 is that at least some coaches have fastened on to the new set-up now favoured by many of the successful club sides and based on a fluid attacking formation utilising three forwards. Manchester United, Barcelona and Arsenal are among those clubs to have discovered the benefits this season.

From a purist's perspective, it would be pleasing to see either Portugal or Spain go that extra step.

It's a realistic possibility too. Portugal are arguably even more talented than the Luis Figo-led 'golden generation' of the late 1990s.

Portugal's problem, and perhaps one that has plagued them for years, is that they do not have a world-class centre-forward, but they can boast one of the best defences in Europe.

Genius

And, it hardly needs saying they have Cristiano Ronaldo. Certainly there is no player in Europe currently who can rival him for sheer footballing genius.

Ronaldo hit eight goals in qualifying, and if coach Luiz Felipe Scolari can find the right balance in attack - Werder Bremen's Hugo Almeida looks a promising possibility - then few would bet against them.

Portugal also have the advantage of a straightforward draw for the group round, having avoided all the other powerhouses. With Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Turkey also in Group A, they should make the quarter-finals comfortably.

As for Spain, perennial underachievers in major tournaments since their 1964 European Championship success, they have a squad bursting with talent and the only question remains whether coach Luis Aragones can mould the players into a unit.

When you run down the squad list and see the likes of David Villa, Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabregas, Carles Puyol, Sergio Ramos - they have to be regarded as genuine contenders.

Toughest

Unlike Portugal, Spain are regarded as such by the bookmakers. Portugal are well down the pecking order behind favourites Germany, plus Italy as well.

As for France and Holland, they have almost been written off - possibly because along with Italy and Romania they are in Group C, by far the toughest in the competition.

Germany's reputation in major tournaments as much as anything else accounts for their position. Their qualifying campaign was not exceptional, and coach Joachim Low does not see his side as front-runners.

Low's biggest decision is whether to unleash Stuttgart striker Mario Gomez alongside Miroslav Klose or keep faith with Lukas Podolski.

Germany are in Group B which includes hosts Austria as well as Poland and Croatia, for whom the loss of Arsenal striker Eduardo is a huge blow.

For Italy and France not to be considered among the top three is a strange development considering that the two sides battled it out for the World Cup less than two years ago.

But there is a feeling that both teams are now ageing and few young stars have emerged. Neither country looked indomitable in qualifying either.

Chances

In Group D, Spain do have holders Greece, Russia and Sweden to contend with.

Anyone wanting to write off the chances of Otto Rehhagel's Greece not managing to make a name for themselves once more should think again - they had the best qualifying record of any country for the tournament and are now ranked by Fifa as one of the top 10 countries in the world.

It has the prospect of being one of the most open and fascinating international tournaments we have seen for a long time, and if Portugal and Spain do dominate then perhaps the start of a new world order.

For those fans in Britain, there will not be the tension involved when the home nations are at the major tournaments.

We may not be at the party, but at least we can sit back in our armchairs and enjoy it from afar.