First Game of the Day: Austria vs. Croatia. Austria are co-hosts, and they are playing their first game in Vienna, which you would think would give them a huge advantage. And it does. Unfortunately, they aren't very good. Let me quote Cardillo on this one: "Put it this way, Austria's current FIFA ranking is 101, which nestles them between Algeria and Tanzania. On the plus side, the Austrians have a full seven spots on Burkina Faso." You can see how that isn't good, right? The Austrians are in because they are hosting. No other reason. Croatia may be missing their Brazilian-Croat Eduard da Silva (who got crumpled in the Premiership a few months back), and their offense is in a bit of a funk lately, but they certainly have the talent to beat Austria. Look out for Niko Kranjcar, who has proven himself a dangerous player at times in the Premiership. Yahoo says to look out for new Tottenham signing, striker Luka Modric. The Spurs paid over 16 millions pounds to get him, so he might be pretty good.
Prediction: Austria definitely loses. But how badly? That depends. Rallied by the home partisans, if they can limit the damage in the first 20 minutes, they may end up a respectable 1-0. If they give up a goal early, though, expect the floodgates to open. I think the floodgates are more likely to open than not. I'm going to go 3-0.
Second Game of the Day: Germany vs. Poland. For some reason, some people are pointing to this game as the first true rivalry. Apparently, these two countries have bad blood between them or something?
Germany has to be one of the favorites to win this thing. They are technically sound, their veterans have come off some great league play (Michael Ballack, for instance) and their great young players from 2006 have gained two years of experience. I don't think that there is a more intimidating central defense than Metzelder and Mertesacker. Phil Lahm might be the most dangerous offensive right back in the world. In the midfield, you've got Frings, Schweinstieger ("Pig Climber") and Ballack--all capable of dangerous runs and thunderous shots. Up front, Klose continues to just score headed in goals in big games.
The Poles have always reminded me of the US--goalkeeping, scrappy, tough, limited in offensive technicians, and a bit slow in key positions. If they can't get up for this game, they can't get up for anything (and if you've ever been to a Polish neighborhood, you know they can get it for anything. Ha! I'm calling Polish women ugly there. Which was silly, and immature, and not necessarily true.)
On offense, the Poles will be counting on Euzebiusz Smolarek, who has some moves, but this is the wrong team to be playing if you are hoping for one guy to beat a defense. But again, what the Poles lack on talent, they make up for in "grit", or if you prefer "borderline dirty play." Expect some yellows in this game, and a hard fought struggle.
Prediction: Germany comes out on top--let's say 2-1. They also lose an important player for the rest of the tournament due to a "tough challenge."