Ed Chamberlin picks the best bets for Euro 2012 and says unity could be the key to victory.
Last Updated: 31/05/12 1:53pm
Two key factors at Euro 2012 are going to be unity and fatigue.
Players arrive in Poland and Ukraine off the back of long and exhausting domestic seasons. The team that wins will be the one whose key players still have some juice in their batteries.
Unity is the other key ingredient. I was lucky enough to be with the England squad at their team hotel on Wednesday and was very encouraged by the atmosphere amongst the players. They seemed relaxed, happy and focussed on the task ahead.
They were able to unwind on the golf course after training and there were some decent players amongst them. James Milner is the best, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a bandit off his 18 handicap.
I was paired with Wayne Rooney, who has a short game to match Luke Donald's. He was a lot of fun to play with and we spent a good deal of the round discussing horse racing and he's particularly excited about the imminent debut of Switcherooney, who sounds pretty useful.
Team Rooney eventually finished second in the golf competition and I was delighted with that until I found out that the winning team contained a certain Gary Neville!
We had a barbecue with the players after the golf and it all seemed such a contrast to the unhappy camp at the World Cup in South Africa.
Spain have united their factions brilliantly to become European and World Champions. Can they do it again as the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona still rages? Have those players got enough energy left after a gruelling domestic campaign which only finished at midnight last Friday?
Team spirit in the Netherlands camp is always on a knife edge, England had none at all in South Africa, while for France it was even worse than that.
Euro 2012 will be won by the freshest and most united squad, which will be just as important as quality. Who will that be?
I think 12 or 13 of the 16 teams are good enough to win it and, as always in these tournaments, the team that lifts the trophy will need a lot of luck, which all makes it so hard for punters.
Spain (5/2 with Sky Bet)
It looks simple on paper as Spain remain the best side in the competition, largely down to their magnificent midfield. Can they pull it off again? They will be very hard to beat but I can't back them at 5/2 as there are enough doubts to put me off. There are no worries about the midfield but question marks in defence and attack. David Villa and more importantly Carles Puyol are big misses from the World Cup winning team.
Most worrying of all is that the Barcelona contingent - probably four of the starting XI - finished their season in the Copa Del Rey final only last Friday. That was the 20th competition in the last four years that Barcelona have been involved in right up until the last game. That is incredible but it's also started to take effect and the Euros could be one step too far.
I really fancied Germany to win the Euros prior to the Champions League Final. They have quality in every position and I expect Mesut Ozil to be one of the tournament's stars. However, their Bayern Munich players will surely still be suffering after snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against Chelsea and showed un-German-like vulnerability throughout that night. Without those players, Germany have since been beaten 5-3 by Switzerland and it all just puts me off backing them at 3/1, though they are bound to be hard to beat.
I backed them in this column to win the World Cup in South Africa and I left Soccer City that night thinking they'd missed their big chance. Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Schneider form the most potent attack in the competition but defensively they could be vulnerable.
I'd love to see England win it and like what Roy Hodgson has done so far. However, the usual questions remain: are we good enough and will fatigue be a major issue again?
The French look the value bet in the competition and I think it's just a matter of time before they are winning tournaments again. They have a frightening amount of talent at their disposal and their starting XI has the ability to set the tournament alight. Crucially Laurent Blanc has the team pulling together and full of confidence after a long unbeaten run, which includes victories in England and Germany. They lack experience but lessons will have been learnt from the debacle in South Africa and they look big runners at 12/1.
Like France, Italy are on their way back but don't have the flair the French have and still look vulnerable to me.
Dark horses: Croatia (55/1)
I fancy Croatia to go through from their group along with Spain, at Italy's expense. Slaven Bilic will want to go out on a high and, with nothing to lose, I sense he will have a real go with his Croatian side. In a tight, tense tournament a carefree team is very dangerous and I can see Croatia causing real problems. They aren't great defensively but have lots of attacking potential led by Luka Modric. Croatia could be the surprise package of the tournament.
I fancy France to go a long way so Karim Benzema would be my main fancy in Sky Bet's market for the tournament's top goalscorer at 14/1. I also think Croatia will have a decent tournament and I'm sure they will attack and score plenty of goals. Therefore I'm interested in Everton's Nikica Jelavic (28/1) and Mario Mandzukic (100/1), who could start together up front. I'm amazed to see the difference in price as Mandzukic is usually first choice. He's had an excellent season with Wolfsburg and is worth a small interest at 100/1 with Sky Bet.
France (each-way) @ 12/1
Mario Mandzukic (each-way) in top goalscorer market @ 100/1
We could easily see another superstar on Saturday at Epsom but Camelot looks pretty short at 8/13 with Sky Bet. He could be very special but if you are going to back him wait until after the preliminaries as he could easily boil over.
I'd love to see my good friend Andrew Balding win the Derby with Bonfire but he will also be one to assess in the paddock as he's quite a character. If there was a bigger field, the race would be ripe for an upset. The early part of the flat season was such a mess with Derby trials run in terrible conditions on bottomless ground.
Conditions could not contrast more and there should to be horses in the field capable of massive improvement. However, with such a small and disappointing turnout I'm not sure there is a joker in the pack.
The Oaks on Friday looks much more simple and I really fancy The Fugue to win the classic. She looked brilliant at York and has the quick ground that is so important to her.