Also formerly known as the Group of Death. But Game of Thrones is way cooler and more relevant if you think of each team as a plotting kingdom trying to muscle out the other in taking over King’s Landing in a heavyweight fight that is all blood, gore, and strange beauty.
Germany, Netherlands, Portugal, and Denmark between them have 30 appearances in the Euros. They have won five titles with Germany winning three of those. Each one of them has a legitimate shot at advancing to round two. There are no pretenders here. On historical strength Germany and Netherlands should be overwhelming favourites but Portugal has its share of superstars and Denmark is renowned for its compact, attacking football exemplified by Martin Laudrup, Brian Laudrup, Jesper Olsen, Morten Per Olsen, and Jan Molby. They also won the 1992 Euro replacing Yugoslavia who had to withdraw under sanctions.
The House of Baratheon: Germany’s transformation into a freewheeling attacking power continues under Jogi Low. What we saw at the 2010 World Cup was just the precursor to the Euro qualifiers as the Mannschaft swept the opposition unbeaten piling 34 goals and conceding just seven in the process. Those teams included Turkey, Belgium, and Austria who cannot by any stretch be considered pushovers. In that interim the Germans uncovered so much more talent that Mesut Oezil feels positively dated with the likes of Marko Reus, Mario Gotze, Lars Bender and Ilkay Gundogan now tantalizing the palate of fans across the globe.
The youth of this German team is astounding. Eleven of the 23 are 23 years or under. This is a dynasty waiting to happen. The oldest is Miroslav Klose, still productive at 33 years of age. The midfield looks classy and the attack remains potent with Mario Gomez regaining his best form. Thomas Mueller has faded somewhat but there is no doubt about his quality and if he fails there is always André Schürrle. In Manuel Neuer you have a superstar goalie who can stroke a penalty easy as you like. Phillip Lahm is still one of the world’s best wingbacks and anchors an excellent back line. Arsenal fans will keep an eye on Lukas Podolksi whose stellar national career dwarfs his club performances.
The House of Lannister: Their redoubtable opponents, the Netherlands, in contrast have a well worn look with Wesley Sneijder, Nigel De Jong, Rafael Van Der Vaart, Arjen Robben, and Mark Van Bommel all hardened veterans of many an international campaign. The Dutch under Bert Marwijk have given up on the illusion of the Johann Cruyff – Dennis Bergkamp stylistic axis going instead for industrial grade bitumen. Nothing in the squad suggests that there will be anything different from what we saw at the World Cup. The bright spots are Robin Van Persie and Klaas Jan Huntelaar who has reinvented himself at Schalke after those dismal years at Real Madrid and AC Milan. The Dutch had a somewhat flattering qualifying campaign knocking in 37 goals which is a substantial number. A massive caveat, 16 of those came against doormats San Marino. But any side boasting Robben can score goals out of the ether. Which is what makes Netherlands so potent.
The House of Greyjoy: Cristiano Ronaldo is Portugese but Portugal is not Cristiano Ronaldo and this maxim has been upheld time and time again. CR7’s past problems stem from the fact that he always seems to take on too much with his team mates as willing accomplices. Much of the success will be predicated on whether CR7 can trust Joao Moutinho and Hugo Viana to deliver for him. The Portugese have pace down the flanks in Fabio Coentrao and Nani and they will be entrusted to deliver the ball to veteran striker Helder Postiga for an alternative scoring source. However Portugal’s defense looks suspect. They barely held off Norway in the qualifying conceding 12 goals.
The House of Stark: Denmark has Nicklas Bendtner, the best striker in the world. A legend in his own mind. However, they do have Christian Ericksen who broke Michael Laudrup’s record of youngest Danish goalscorer by nine days. He is 21 years of age and he’s been linked with Arsenal many times mostly by Goal.com and other reputable media outlets. Denmark’s defense is quite water proof led by Daniel Agger and given further sealant by Christian Poulsen who Mickey Rourke modeled his looks on for the role in The Wrestler. The team is therefore a nice mix of the artistic and the industrial which should give it an edge. Will it be enough?
Advance to round two: Germany, Netherlands
Players to watch for: The entire German team, Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie, Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Luciano Narsingh, Luuk De Jong, Cristiano Ronaldo, Joao Moutinho, Pepe (for possible cannibalism), Christian Ericksen, Simon Kjaer, Anders Lindegaard
Goalkeepers: Stephan Andersen (Evian Thonon Gaillard), Anders Lindegaard (Manchester United), Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City)
Defenders: Lars Jacobsen (FC Kobenhavn), Daniel Wass (Evian Thonon Gaillard), Daniel Agger (Liverpool), Simon Kjaer (Roma), Andreas Bjelland (Nordsjaelland), Simon Poulsen (AZ Alkmaar), Jores Okore (Nordsjaelland)
Midfielders: Christian Poulsen (Evian Thonon Gaillard), Jakob Poulsen (Midtjylland), William Kvist (FC Nurnberg), Niki Zimling (Club Brugge), Thomas Kahlenberg (Evian Thonon Gaillard), Christian Eriksen (Ajax), Michael Silberbauer (Young Boys), Lasse Schone (NEC Nijmegen)
Forwards: Dennis Rommedahl (Brondby), Nicklas Bendtner (Arsenal), Michael Krohn-Dehli (Brondby), Tobias Mikkelsen (Nordsjaelland), Nicklas Pedersen (Groningen)
Coach: Morten Olsen
Goalkeepers: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Tim Wiese (Werder Bremen), Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover)
Defenders: Holger Badstuber (Bayern Munich), Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), Benedikt Howedes (Schalke), Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund), Marcel Schmelzer (Borussia Dortmund), Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich), Per Mertesacker (Arsenal)
Midfielders : Lars Bender (Bayer Leverkusen), Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich), Thomas Mueller (Bayern Munich), Mesut Ozil (Real Madrid), Sami Khedira (Real Madrid), Marco Reus (Borussia Monchengladbach), Andre Schurrle (Bayer Leverkusen), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Mario Gotze (Borussia Dortmund), Ilkay Gundogan (Borussia Dortmund)
Forwards: Miroslav Klose (Lazio), Mario Gomez (Bayern Munich), Lukas Podolski (Cologne)
Coach: Joachim Low
Goalkeepers: Maarten Stekelenburg (Roma), Michel Vorm (Swansea), Tim Krul (Newcastle)
Defenders: Khalid Boulahrouz (Stuttgart), John Heitinga (Everton), Joris Mathijsen (Malaga), Ron Vlaar (Feyenoord), Wilfred Bouma (PSV Eindhoven), Gregory van der Wiel (Ajax), Jetro Willems (PSV Eindhoven)
Midfielders: Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona), Mark van Bommel (AC Milan), Nigel de Jong (Manchester City), Stijn Schaars (Sporting Lisbon), Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan), Kevin Strootman (PSV Eindhoven), Rafael van der Vaart (Tottenham)
Forwards: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke), Luuk de Jong (FC Twente), Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool), Luciano Narsingh (Heerenveen), Robin van Persie (Arsenal), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich)
Coach: Bert Van Marwijk
Goalkeepers: Eduardo (Benfica), Rui Patricio (Sporting), Beto (CFR Cluj)
Defenders: Joao Pereira (Sporting), Fabio Coentrao (Real Madrid), Bruno Alves (Zenit St Petersburg), Rolando (Porto), Ricardo Costa (Valencia), Pepe (Real Madrid), Miguel Lopes (Braga)
Midfielders: Raul Meireles (Chelsea), Miguel Veloso (Genoa), Joao Moutinho (Porto), Ruben Micael (Real Zaragoza), Hugo Viana (Braga), Custodio (Braga)
Forwards: Nani (Manchester United), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Hugo Almeida (Besiktas), Ricardo Quaresma (Besiktas), Silvestre Varela (Porto), Helder Postiga (Real Zaragoza), Nelson Oliveira (Benfica)
Coach: Paulo Bento