"Let the football begin!": Ruud Gullit's exclusive Euro 2012 blog



By Laureus Ambassador and Dutch football legend Ruud Gullit

You can get surprise winners in major tournaments like the European Championship - as Greece showed us in 2004, under Otto Rehagel. But they are rare events.
When the 2012 European Championship begins on Friday, I fully understand why most people expect one of the two favourites – Germany or Spain – to win.
But I truly believe that if my own country Holland can get it right, they have an excellent chance of winning.
They are two years further on as a team than 2010 when they reached the final of the World Cup and they have some of the greatest attacking players in the world at the moment – Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Ibrahim Afellay, Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder, Dirk Kuyt.
Holland’s problem is they have not always found the right balance or the right shape or the right combination of players.
So the big question is: can coach Bert van Marwijk find the formula to get the best out of his players?
I would love it to be Holland, for whom I so enjoyed playing, but if they do not win, and if I had to pick between Germany and Spain, I would say Germany.
I think with their bright, young, exciting team, they might just edge it against World Champions Spain, where perhaps one or two of the key players are past their peak.
The Germans provided so much entertainment in the last World Cup in South Africa. And they have some marvellous players that I shall enjoy watching - Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller and Mesut Ozil in midfield and Miroslav Klose at the front.
And, of course, their rock, Bastian Schweinsteiger. People have said to me they wonder if he will be the same man after missing in the penalty shoot-out for Bayern Munich against Chelsea in the European Champions League final.
I can answer that. He will.
It was an awful moment for him, but he is strong enough to fight back. And victory in the European Championship would be some consolation for that desperate moment in the Allianz Arena.
It will be fascinating to see how home advantage affects Poland and Ukraine. Borussia Dortmund's Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek have enjoyed another superb season with Lewandowski capable of becoming one of the stars of Euro 2012.
Voted Bundesliga Player of the Year for 2011-12, he scored 30 goals including a hat-trick against Bayern Munich in the German Cup final.
Ukraine will be hoping Andrey Shevchenko can help them through to the knockout stages, but I fear that they will struggle to get out of their group.
I do not think this will be a very good tournament for England and Italy, two countries where I had good times as a player.
In English football, there is a problem: the most important positions in most of the major clubs are always occupied by non-native players - whether goalkeeper, defender, playmaker or striker.

So, although England have very good players, they are without, for example, a world class playmaker.
They also have a new coach, Roy Hodgson, who was appointed only six weeks ago. He is very experienced, but this will be a big challenge for him. Six weeks is very little time to prepare an international team for a major tournament.
Italian football now finds itself in the middle of allegations of corruption and match-fixing with police raids at dawn. And the Italian Prime Minister calling for the suspension of football. Not the ideal way for the Italian players to prepare for a major championship.
I am very upset with what is happening to Italian football at the moment. I had so much happiness playing in Italy and I owe so much personally to Italian football. I hope that this can be sorted out quickly. Without a strong Italian league and national team, European football is weaker.
France have some superb players – as they always do – but it seems unlikely that Laurent Blanc can restore the great days when they won the 1998 FIFA World Cup and 2000 European Championship in quick succession.
I mentioned Greece at the start of this blog. When they won the 2004 European Championship they also received the Laureus World Team of the Year Award. Whoever wins in Poland and Ukraine will be hot favourites for Nomination for that Award next year.
We all enjoy these great championships, whoever we support, and we look to celebrate the arrival of wonderful new players and to applaud majestic play.
So now let the football begin.

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