The primary objective for most, if not all, teams in their Euro 2012 opening matches is to avoid defeat.
If you don’t lose your opening game then you’re still in the driving seat for qualification to the knockout stages, your fate is still very much within your own hands.
Of course those ambitions may vary depending on the strength of the opposition, but in general a draw or a win will keep optimism levels at a premium. That isn’t to say that most teams settle for a point to kick off the campaign. At Euro 2008 only Romania and France began the campaign with a draw, while four years earlier three of the eight opening round fixtures ended level.
This summer’s tournament begins with hosts Poland up against Greece, closely followed by Russia versus Czech Republic. But the real juicy ties, and enticing betting opportunities, begin on Saturday with Group B.
Portugal’s journey to Euro 2012 was far from straightforward having been required to play Bosnia & Herzegovina in the play-offs after finishing second in their group behind Denmark. Once qualified for the championships life wasn’t made any easier when they were drawn in the ‘Group of Death’ alongside tournament favourites Germany and Netherlands, and the now-familiar Danes.
They begin the campaign with a daunting match-up against Germany. Die Mannschaft won every game in qualifying for Euro 2012 and come into this one as deserving favourites. If they can nullify, or at least minimise, the threat of Cristiano Ronaldo then it should be a routine victory for Joachim Low’s side. At odds of 23/20 they look good value to oblige.
One of the matches that does not fit in with the philosophy of a draw being an acceptable result for both teams is the contest between Republic of Ireland and Croatia. Drawn in a group alongside Spain and Italy both these sides will be keen to start the campaign with maximum points, and go into more difficult games on the front foot.
Since taking over The Boys in Green Giovanni Trapattoni has instilled a stereotypical Italian ethos to the side. Extremely difficult to break down and largely reliant on picking up narrow 1-0 wins Ireland could cause an upset or two in ‘Polkraine’.
The Irish look slightly overpriced at odds of 11/4 to beat Croatia on Sunday night, while a bet on the 1-0 scoreline at 13/2 looks a good accompaniment to any punt on the Emerald Isle.
Conversely, England and France would, one suspects, be more than happy with a point from their opening match. With seemingly easier games against Sweden and Ukraine to come both Roy Hodgson and Laurent Blanc will be happy to build on an opening draw.
With that in mind the draw looks an obvious and sensible bet at odds of 11/5. Despite France looking the more likely Euro 2012 winners of the two teams, England appear to be a more organised, resolute and focussed side under Hodgson, and will certainly have a game plan in place to frustrate the French.