2008 Euro Soccer Value Bets
by Trevor Whenham - 06/05/2008
With Euro 2008 finally just around the corner, and the favorites firmly established, now is as good a time as any to take a look to see which of the longshots could be worth a closer look. This is a great tournament to look for upsets. Last time around in 2004 no one was expecting Greece to make it to the final, or out of the first round for that matter. They ended up winning the whole thing, and they even knocked out the heavily-favored French to get there. On the other hand, everyone would have guessed that Germany, Italy and Spain would have been key players in the elimination round, but none of them made it that far.
In 2000, Portugal and Romania made it out of Group A, and Germany and England didn't. Italy made it to the final of the World Cup in 1994, but couldn't get out of the group stage two years later. Upsets are par for the course, and because bettors tend to lock in on the most popular and obvious teams they can also be very profitable if you correctly spot them. Here are three teams that could potentially be live longshots in this year's version of the tournament.
Poland - Germany is heavily favored to win Group B, and are favored to win it all. Some team will have to fill the second qualifying spot, though, and it could be Poland. They are the third choice at 9/1 to win the group. Germany is at 4/7 and Croatia sits at 11/5. Poland is certainly a longshot, but they are a pesky team with nothing to lose, and that is just the kind of team that could be dangerous here. On the surface they are coming off a disappointing World Cup. The one bright light hidden in that tournament, though, was their performance against Germany. The Germans won that game 1-0, but they needed a goal in injury time to do it. Poland frustrated Germany, and played beyond themselves for a lot of the game because of the intensity of the rivalry they feel with the Germans.
Since that tournament the Poles have made significant changes, the key one being the installation of coach Leo Beenhakker. He has the team playing better, and most importantly he has the team believing that they are legitimate contenders. They come into the tournament relatively healthy and determined. If they could find a way to play Germany to a draw then they would stand a good chance of moving on. Croatia is clearly a better team, but not so much so as to be insurmountable. The game against Croatia will essentially be a one-game playoff, and you will likely be able to back Poland at a very pleasant price.
Greece - They captured magic in a bottle once, so why couldn't they do it again? They certainly don't have a harder draw than last time. They aren't as unknown as last time when they were 80/1, either, but at 25/1 to win it all they still aren't seen as a serious contender. Their group, Group D, is wide open. Spain is the clear favorite, but Russia and Sweden have as many problems and concerns as the Greeks. There are a few things I like about this team. First, they have experience. Ten of their 23 players return from 2004, so the team will know how to handle the pressure of the situation.
Ironically, I also like the Greeks because they have struggled in recent games. They got beat by Armenia in a friendly tune-up for this tournament, and many will point to that as proof that this team is in trouble. I hope they do, because that will just add more value to the prices the team faces. More significant that those unimportant tune-ups in my mind is what they did in qualifying for this tournament. They won 10 of their 12 games, and the 31 points they earned was more than any other team in the tournament. They are ready. They also still play the relentless defense that got them to the championship last time. They allowed just 10 goals in their 12 qualifying games, and four of those were in one disastrous game, so they can shut down teams as well as anyone. That frustrates their opponents and causes mistakes that they have shown they can exploit. Finally, I like this team because they have something to play for. Everyone thinks that their win last time was a fluke, but they clearly don't. The best way to prove their point is to go out and put up another solid showing. I don't expect them to defend their title, but I won't be surprised at all to see them make it beyond round one.
Romania - I am least confident about this team, but they are still worthy of a quick look. They are stuck in an absolute group of death, Group C, with France, Italy and the Netherlands. With three teams in a group, though, you can be certain that they are going to damage each other. That could leave room for a team to sneak right up the middle and grab one of the two qualifying spots. Romania has an uphill battle, but they are a tough, feisty team. They showed that off in October when they shocked the Dutch in qualifying.
The team hasn't played in an international tournament since 2000, but they got to the second round there in a similar situation - a group with three strong teams and them. Victor Piturca coached that team, and he is back at the helm after a four-year absence. He gets the best out of his team, as shown both by the win over the Dutch and a stunning 3-0 defeat of the Russians in a friendly. They have some decent talent and an excellent work ethic, and bettors will almost certainly underestimate them.