Polish promise hints at happy start for hosts

NO host nation has won the European Championship since France in 1984, and while Poland are 50/1 shots to scratch that 28-year itch, they do look set for an extended involvement in their own backyard.

They will be more encouraged by the fact that of the 15 countries to have held the previous 13 tournaments – Belgium and Netherlands were co-hosts in 2000 and Austria and Switzerland the same in 2008 – 12 have reached at least the last four.

Poland might be the only member of Group A not to have won the competition previously, but they can beat Russia (1960 winners), Czech Republic (1976) and Greece (2004) to top spot in the pool, at a best-priced 13/5 with Coral.

Russia will be the main danger, at 6/4, and I’m not writing them off by any means, but home support will be a big boost to the Poles and they have plenty of talent in their line-up, not least the free-scoring Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski, whose odds to win the golden boot have been hammered in to, from 33/1 to 22/1.

There are another three ex-winners in Group B, in the shape of Denmark (1992), Germany (1972, 1980, 1996) and Netherlands (1988), as well as Portugal, the 2004 runners-up.

Of the quartet, there is no shortage of hype about Germany, who won all 10 of their qualifying games to reach Euro 2012. They are rightly favourites, at 11/10 with Coral, to come out on top.

They certainly look impressive and I’m pretty sure they will progress, at the expense of the overrated Dutch, along with Portugal.

The Germany/Portugal dual forecast – backing the duo to advance in no particular order – is advised at 3/1 on Betfair.

Paulo Bento’s troops might have scraped their way to the tournament, finishing below Denmark in qualifying, but, from five previous appearances at European Championships, Portugal have reached one final, two semis and another two quarter-finals.

On paper, Group C looks like it will be a straight race between Spain and Italy, but I wouldn’t advise writing off either Croatia or Republic of Ireland.

Despite my doubts about La Roja lifting the title, they should be all right here. Italy, on the other hand, could be in all sorts of trouble.

They arrive in Poland and Ukraine on the back of more match-fixing allegations in Serie A, which cost defender Domenico Criscito a place in the squad after he was dropped to clear his name. But more pressing is the concern over their current form of three consecutive defeats, with no goals scored, against Uruguay, USA and Russia.

The straight forecast of Spain/Croatia appeals at 4/1 with Betfred, but Ireland could be this summer’s surprise package.

Ireland are undefeated since March 2011, with their 14 game run including a 2-0 win against Italy a year ago. The Spain/Ireland straight forecast represents great value at 9/1.

Expectations about England are at an all-time low – and I’m only too happy to dampen them further.

I can’t even see them escaping Group D, let alone Steven Gerrard holding the trophy aloft on Sunday 1st July.

England are 11/8 not to qualify and I’m more than happy to sell their Group D index at 11 with Sporting Index. That will ensure a profit if they finish second or lower and my money’s going on the France/Sweden straight forecast at 10/1.

Ukraine, ranked 52nd in the world by FIFA, are a poor side and although home support will give them a boost, it won’t be enough to see them progress.

Sweden, though, are very capable and make it to the second round more often than not.

In their three tournament meetings with England they have drawn twice – at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups – and Three Lions followers hardly need reminding of the Scandinavians’ victory in the other match, courtesy of Tomas Brolin’s winner, at Euro ‘92.