Germany surprised the world during the 2010 World Cup when they reached the semi finals with a squad that had very little international experience. Now that players like Ozil, Muller, Khedira and Boateng have had time to mature over the last two years, one can expect them to play some devastatingly-good football during the championships. Qualifying was a breeze for the Germans - 10 wins out of 10 and 34 goals scored made the other teams in their group look like a bunch of pub outfits, but the friendlies afterwards highlighted some potential problems. Joachim Low's side cannot seem to establish the correct balance between attack and defence, evident in their 3-3 draw with Ukraine and a 5-3 loss against Switzerland (both teams sit outside the top 20 in the FIFA World Rankings). No doubting that they have attacking prowess, but the defence does need tightening. Once their defensive vulnerabilities have been amended, there is no doubt that they will be able to progress far in this competition again (just like they did in 2008, only to be stopped by the magnificent Spaniards in the final). Germany are runaway favourities with many bookies, but the question is, who can stop them?
Like the Germans, Holland made mincemeat of their qualifying opposition (bar the 3-2 defeat to Sweden suffered at the end of the campaign) which included an 11-0 thrashing of lowly San Marino. Top goalscorer Klass-Jan Huntelaar has been in inspired form, averaging a goal every 57 minutes during the eight matches he featured in. Add to that players such as Van Persie, Van Der Vaart, Sneijder and the returning Arjen Robben (who did not feature at all during qualifying), then you have yourself a formidable attacking force that would be capable of penetrating any defence worldwide. Northern Ireland certainly found this out the hard way as the Flying Dutchmen hit six past them in a friendly last week. There are some defensive frailties however. In three games against Bulgaria, Hungary and Sweden, the Dutch conceded eight goals, not the sort of display you'd expect from a team ranked fourth in the world. Due to injuries to key defenders Erik Pieters and Joris Mathijsen, manager Bert Van Marwijk has been forced to play two rather inexperienced defenders; Jetro Willems and Ron Vlaar. Even though these two were largely untested in the previous friendly, they will face a bigger challenge against their fellow group opponents. Nevertheless, Holland are in a very strong position to advance with the amount of talent at their disposal.
The Danish haven't got many big star names amongst their ranks, but the fact that they play well together as a collective has meant that they topped their qualifying group, ahead of group opponents Portugal. Similarly to Holland, they have strength in defence exploitation (since facing England last February they have only fired blanks in one game against Russia) but their defence itself is shaky, with captain Daniel Agger the only recognisably stable centre back. On a brighter note, playmaker Christian Eriksen has emerged as one of the players to watch throughout the tournament. Aged just 18, he was named man of the match for his performance against England, a clear indication that Eriksen has more to offer, and what better stage to boast his talent than at a major tournament. Aswell as their playmaker, the Danes have the goalscoring threat of Bendtner and the pace of Dennis Rommedhal... remember him from his Charlton days? Even though this side is expected to become the Group B whipping boys, the unity of their squad could make them a surprise contender for qualification, now that would be something!
The only country in this group that hasn't got a European title to their name, Portugal will probably be more eager than most to replicate their achievements of 2004 and reach the final. Unluckily for them, they have been drawn into the hardest group possible. The current side do lack a certain consistency needed to win the tournament though. A 5-3 win against Iceland was followed by a 2-1 defeat to Denmark in the final two games. They then went on to play Bosnia & Herzegovina in the play offs, drawing the first leg 0-0 before a spectacular 6-2 victory sent them to the championships. On the other hand, Paulo Bento's side contains two of the best wingers in world football, Ronaldo and Nani, with the dangerous looking Helder Postiga on hand to supply a portion of the goals in attack. The defence and midfield also look fairly solid, but there are some question marks over the quality of the performance the team gives, evident in their pre-tournament goalless draws with Poland and, more embarrassingly, Macedonia. If Portugal want to make it through to the next round, they will have to step up their performances considerably.