Five-minute guide to Euro 2008

Thursday June 5th, 2008's Gabriele Marcotti is in Switzerland and Austria for the 2008 European Championship. Here's his primer for the tournament.

The Euros, far more than the World Cup, serve up surprises. In 1992 Denmark wasn't even supposed to be in the competition (it was recalled at the last minute due to sanctions against Yugoslavia) and it won the tournament. And, of course, four years ago Greece pulled off one of the biggest shocks in international soccer history, when it triumphed in Portugal. So take all predictions with a grain of salt.

Raúl, Fabio Cannavaro, Francesco Totti, Clarence Seedorf, Oliver Kahn, Andriy Shevchenko, plus, of course, the entire English national team.

Cristiano Ronaldo. A shoo-in to win any end-of-season award, he led Manchester United to the English Premier League and Champions League crowns. He's far and away the biggest star in this competition. And, if Real Madrid has its way, he could be making tracks this summer...

Spain. The biggest underachievers in the game have a deep and talented squad, led by Fernando Torres, Iker Casillas and Cesc Fàbregas. Unfortunately, it's also a poorly assorted team whose midfield is made up of too many guys who are far too similar (Xavi, Fàbregas, Andrés Iniesta). Still, the talent is there. Is this the year it lives up to the height?

Mark your calendars: June 17, France vs. Italy in Zurich. Raymond Domenech, the French coach, is loathed in Italy and the feeling is mutual. It's a replay of the World Cup final between two sides who know each other all too well. Here's hoping Domenech actually plays his best XI (signs don't look too good after he didn't even call up David Trézéguet, Philippe Mexes or DjibrilCissé) and that the Azzurri can weather the storm of losing skipper Cannavaro to injury. Oh, and that the match will actually mean something.

Germany is the popular choice. An apparently easy group, Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez up front, Michael Ballack back to his best and possibly the best pair of fullbacks around in Marcell Jansen and Philipp Lahm. Before you get carried away, however, note that goalkeeper Jens Lehmann is not just old, he's erratic too (and possibly a bit crazy) and that there is little depth behind Christoph Metzelder, a guy who is about as durable as a Fabergé egg.

Luka Modric (Croatia), Artur Boruc (Poland), Pavel Pogrebnyak (Russia), Jansen (Germany), Karim Benzema (France), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Holland), Volkan Demirel (Turkey), Johan Elmander (Sweden), SebastianProdl (Austria).

Gigi Buffon (Italy) Franck Ribéry (France), Rafael van der Vaart (Netherlands), Carles Puyol (Spain), Petr Cech (Czech Republic), Cristian Chivu (Romania), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden), Ricardo Quaresma (Portugal).

Ballack (Germany), the Kovac brothers (Niko and Robert, Croatia), Alessandro Del Piero (Italy), Edwin van der Sar (Netherlands), Angelos Basinas (Greece), Lilian Thuram (France), Henrik Larsson (Sweden), Jan Koller ( Czech Republic).

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