Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Football: Bilic Moulds Side Capable of Challenge; UEFA EURO 2008 Austria-Switzerland England's Conquerors Capable of Producing Shock

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Football: Bilic Moulds Side Capable of Challenge; UEFA EURO 2008 Austria-Switzerland England's Conquerors Capable of Producing Shock

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Douglas

THE intriguing battle between an emerging force in European football and one of the Continent's traditional superpowers dominates one of the tournament's two "Groups of Life" - Group B.

Croatia arrive in Austria with a reputation as a dangerous dark horse after eliminating England and dominating Russia in the qualification stages, but a German side that have gone from strength to strength since their impressive World Cup performance look well placed to have a tilt at European glory.

The draw has been kind to Slaven Bilic's side and even without Arsenal striker Eduardo they have players capable of making an impact at Euro 2008. Luka Modric - no stranger to Newcastle fans after United's ultimately futile attempt to sign the midfield playmaker - is their creative fulcrum and they play a brand of quick, passing football that was simply too much for Steve McClaren's sluggish side in qualification.

But there is absolutely no danger of Germany adopting the same fatal flaw as England - complacency. The Germans shocked many observers with their strong showing on home soil two years ago and even though Jurgen Klinsmann no longer coaches them, they've managed to maintain the momentum under his former assistant Joachim Low, and the commitment to attacking football that carried them so far in the World Cup.

Newcastle fans should keep an eye on the supremely talented Stuttgart forward Mario Gomez - his name has been linked with a move to Tyneside but a good championships will probably move him out of United's range and into the sights of a team with genuine aspirations of winning the Champions League. Low has presided over a team that has a real chance of adding another famous chapter in Germany's illustrious footballing history with a first XI that is among the strongest in the tournament. Established international players like Michael Ballack, Christoph Metzelder and Torsten Frings give them a very strong spine and with Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose up front there shouldn't be a shortage of goals in the team. In the face of that challenge, Croatia's emergence as a genuine threat - based on two victories over England and a win against a mediocre Russia - faces a big test. Perhaps for Fabio Capello, who leads England back to Zagreb for a crucial World Cup qualifier in September, a poor Croatian performance would be a blessing in disguise. And if Bilic's side do turn out to be much ado about nothing, Poland are waiting in the wings. Barely mentioned in pre-tournament dispatches, the team led by wily Dutchman Leo Beenhakker deserve to be treated with respect after bettering Portugal in the qualification stages.

Their cagey 4-2-3-1 formation ensures the Poles are difficult to break down, and in Racing Santander's Ebi Smolarek they have a dangerous striker who scored nine goals in qualification. …

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