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Pat Nevin's Euro 2008 verdict

Pat Nevin
By Pat Nevin
BBC Radio 5 Live Euro 2008 Pundit

THE POSSIBLE WINNERS

The usual suspects are the teams you would highlight as possible winners - Italy, Germany, Holland and of course France - but, for me, Russia look very difficult to beat.

They have got some very good players and they did not beat England in a Euro 2008 qualifier in October 2007 because England were poor, they beat England because Russia are a very good side.

And they obviously have an outstanding coach in Guus Hiddink. He is the man as far as I'm concerned.

On ability, he is the best there is along with Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Hiddink managed to take South Korea to the World Cup semi-finals in 2002, so just imagine what he could do with a team as gifted as Russia in a major tournament.

Fernando Torres
Liverpool's Torres can be a Euro 2008 star

Sure, South Korea were at home with all the benefits that entails but what Hiddink did with them was a phenomenal achievement. Their style of play was superb, all the players clearly had great faith in him and no-one enjoyed playing against them.

Hiddink is a very clever coach. He gets his players together, realises what they are best at and then decides the system. He does not go in there and impose a Hiddink system on players, he does what is best for the team.

He has got people like Pavel Pogrebnyak and Andrei Arshavin, who both showed with Uefa Cup-winning side Zenit St Petersburg that they are quality players who can play to a very high level. They helped to take England out of the tournament, correctly, because they were a better side.

These players will also have the extra stature and confidence clinching a major European trophy can give to you.

There will also be countries that have finished their league programmes and the players are exhausted, whereas the Russians will be relatively fresh. Plus, not that many of their squad play abroad, so if you put all this together - great coach and decent, fresh players - then I would keep an eye out for them and can see them getting to the final.

Spain are capable and it is about time they delivered in a major tournament, given that they have got players of the calibre of Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas. I think they will have a good tournament - I certainly do not think they will flop like they have in the past - but I still think they will just come up short.

A lot of their players have played Champions League football and that could mean there is a fatigue factor that will stop them emerging as winners of Euro 2008.

FRANCE'S RIBERY THE PLAYER TO WATCH

If I am picking a player to watch in this tournament, then it would be France's Franck Ribery by some distance. Some people were surprised when he joined Bayern Munich - I will be more surprised if he actually finishes his career there.

Franck Ribery
Franck Ribery has been in unstoppable form

I am a late convert to Ribery. He plays in the wide position, which I naturally keep an eye on given that I played there. I remember people kept telling me how brilliant he was for about a year and I did not quite see it but I have watched him this year and just said 'wow'.

He is actually bordering on unstoppable when he is on his game, which is quite a regular occurrence at the moment.

Ribery has fantastic pace, his vision is great and he has the knack of making very good players look like under-11s. I love Argentine Lionel Messi, who obviously will not be taking part in this tournament, but there is slightly more directness about Ribery, so I would suggest he - apart from the obvious choice of Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo - would be the player to keep an eye on.

Torres is clearly another one to look for but we know what he is capable of.

If you are from the the UK, I am pretty sure you will be talking about Ribery more than you have before by the time this tournament is finished.

CROATIA THE DANGEROUS OUTSIDERS

I hope if a so-called smaller nation comes out of the pack it is a positive team such as Croatia as opposed to a team that goes out in a very defensive manner. Greece played in an incredibly stifling way to take this crown four years ago, which is not a criticism but a statement of fact.

They were a team that was all about stopping the opposition scoring against them - all built around pure defence by their German coach Otto Rehhagel.

Croatia manager Slaven Bilic
Bilic has put together an attractive Croatia side

Greece did beat major teams but it was not the most enjoyable style to watch. This is not to take anything away from them and if you have got limited players, which they had, then that is they way to play. Well done and applause to them but I hope it is not a regular thing.

I hope it is a team that plays neat, nice, positive football such as Russia or someone like Croatia. I think having Eduardo missing is the thing that is going to stop Croatia from going further than they might.

They do not depend on one player but they need someone to put the ball in the net and Eduardo can do that. If any smaller team comes through I think it will be Croatia.

I really like their system.

THE EVER-CHANGING TACTICS

A lot of teams play in a 4-2-3-1 system these days and that is extraordinarily defensive. You have one forward then you have three people going to support him.

This is effectively an adapted 4-2-4 format but the difference being the two in that system are extremely defensive whereas in a 4-2-4 the two tend to go forward a wee bit.

When you employ a 4-4-2 system, all four in the midfield go forward to an extent and I am really hoping for some good attacking football in this tournament.

Otto Rehhagel
Otto Rehhagel employed strong defence to win Euro 2004

If it is going to be a tournament that exists with most teams playing four defenders and two sitters in midfield, then I am going to be asleep for most of it but I just do not see that because not too many teams are doing it.

We can look back at Greece and their success but football changes really quickly and what system did the new champions of Europe use? Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson put out a 4-4-2, which is extraordinary, almost unthinkable.

It was a 4-2-4 set-up with Patrice Evra, a full-back, bombing forward and one of those midfielders bombing forward. It is almost Brazilian in its offensiveness.

I think there is a nudge towards more positivity than there was three or four years ago. The Dutch will be more positive, as will the French - who are positive even when they play one up front. There are more positive teams out there so let's hope we see that reflected in the football we see in Austria and Switzerland.

THE REFEREES - WHEN PUSH COMES TO SHOVE

In every single Euro tournament there is a change in accent on the rules and my understanding is that they are going to have a crackdown on pushing, pulling and shoving by defenders in the box.

This is very interesting. I watched the Scottish Cup final and there was a blatant block by Rangers that should have been a penalty but it wasn't given.

The leeway given to defenders has become so great that people do not see these offences as fouls any more - and yet anywhere else on the field a foul would be given.

If the officials do go the way they should on it, which is ultra strong, then you are going to have a couple of joke games with five or six penalties and three red cards. If they do stick to it and come out the other side, the whole concept of how people defend will have changed. People will actually have to start challenging for the ball.

If this is adapted, it will lead to more goals because people will be able to run and challenge for the ball knowing people are going to have to try to challenge them rather than block them or nudge them - it will be fascinating to see how this pans out if it happens.

Pat Nevin was talking to BBC Sport's Phil McNulty


see also
You Are The Ref
03 Jun 08 |  Sport Homepage
Hiddink dismisses Blues job link
01 Jun 08 |  Chelsea
Who will win Euro 2008?
29 May 08 |  Euro 2008
Euro 2008: Who will you support?
27 May 08 |  Euro 2008
Can Spain win Euro 2008?
02 Jun 08 |  Spain
In defence of the champions
02 Jun 08 |  Euro 2008


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