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Big News: The Euro 2012 Blogger Bracket Challenge

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TOURRETTES SUR LOUP, FRANCE - MAY 28: Holger Badstuber, Toni Kroos and Thomas Mueller (L-R) are seen after a Germany training session at Stadium Tourrettes on May 28, 2012 in Tourrettes Sur Loup, France.  (Photo by Joern Pollex/Bongarts/Getty Images)
TOURRETTES SUR LOUP, FRANCE - MAY 28: Holger Badstuber, Toni Kroos and Thomas Mueller (L-R) are seen after a Germany training session at Stadium Tourrettes on May 28, 2012 in Tourrettes Sur Loup, France. (Photo by Joern Pollex/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Bongarts/Getty Images

Over the past week, we've been discussing the upcoming 2012 European Championships, and it appears that many of us are on the same page: hopeful that Germany has a good chance to win the tournament, eager to see FC Bayern players perform well (for Germany and other countries), and basically just excited for what should be a very fun competition. The tournament kicks off on Friday; to add some spice to the summer, we decided to bring in some other football bloggers and get a little competitive.

Seven entrants (whose identities will be revealed below) are competing in a "pick the winners" pool to see who really knows what about European football. If you're from the USA, the closest analogy would be an NCAA basketball tournament pool, only cooler and more exciting. If you don't know what that is, don't worry about it - really, it's just a bunch of soccer bloggers trying to earn points by picking winners and losers in the Euro 2012 competition. The winner will be crowned Blogger Champion of Europe.

Sound fun? Read on. Sound no fun? I don't blame you - check in next week, when we'll be back to the more conventional arguing over transfer targets. One warning: this is a REALLY long post, with some complex parts, so wait 'til you have some time to spare.

Alright, here are the ground rules: every contestant (again, they will be revealed below) picked the two teams that will advance from each Group, in order. Then, from those 8 teams, every contestant picked which 4 will advance to the semis, then which 2 will be in the Final, and then the Champions. Points will be awarded as follows:

- For each of the 8 teams that a contestant correctly picks to advance past the Group stage, 1 point is awarded.

- For each time a contestant picks the exact spot (1st or 2nd) in which any of those teams finish to advance, they are awarded 1 additional point. For example, if a person picks Greece to win Group A, and they do so, 2 points are awarded. If Greece were to finish 2nd, only 1 point would be awarded - the team was correctly picked to advance, but the bonus point for guessing the exact position won't be there.

- For each of the 4 semi-finalists a contestant correctly picks, they get 3 points.

- For each of the 2 finalists a contestant correctly picks, they get 5 points.

- Correctly pick the Euro 2012 Champions, and you get 8 points.

- The tie-breaker, in the event that multiple people were level on points, was supposed to be the contestant's pick for Golden Boot winner (most goals - individual). But some of the contestants didn't go to the trouble to select anyone for that question. So, I'm not sure what we'll do in the case of a tie. To be fair, my rules-explaining email was long and rambling, as readers who have exchanged emails with me can no doubt imagine.

Final note, before we get to the picks: readers are encouraged to make their own picks, according to the same scheme described above, and play along with us. Leave them in the comment section below, before the tournament starts (I'm sure some of you guys will end up beating the professional contestants). But, unfortunately, I won't be able to keep score of all the entries in the comment section. I don't have a computer program for tabulating all this, and the 7 official entries will be hard enough to keep track of. And, while we're on the subject, this whole thing is something I thought up off the top of my head. So if it ends up being weird or not working, we'll just quietly move on - but at least blame me, and not the other bloggers.

Alright, let's dive in.

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CONTESTANT: Ted Harwood, The Short Fuse

TEAM REPRESENTING: Arsenal

TWITTER HANDLE: @theshortfuse

Ted writes The Short Fuse, SB Nation's Arsenal blog, which is linked above. It's a very popular and well-run operation that I think some of you guys have already checked out. They even have complete team-by-team previews of every country involved in the Euro competition, and a lot of other smart, relevant stuff.

The Short Fuse picks -

GROUP A: Russia, Czech (** for each set of Group picks, I've got the contestant's winner pick first, then runner-up pick **)

GROUP B: Germany, Netherlands

GROUP C: Spain, Italy

GROUP D: France, England

SEMI-FINALISTS: Netherlands, Spain, Germany, France

FINALISTS: Netherlands, Germany

WINNER: Germany

GOLDEN BOOT: [none picked]

The Short Fuse says -

"I want Denmark to advance out of Group B, but I just don't see it, unless Nicklas Bendtner suddenly turns in to the Greatest Striker Who Ever Lived. I think Netherlands will upset Spain in their semi, because I think that the key Dutch players are working a little better right now than some of the key Spanish players, although it's maybe absurd to say that.

Overall, though, I think Germany are just too strong for everyone right now -- Ozil, Schweini, Mueller, etc. Italy feels like they're lacking some offensive punch right now to me, and I think France has a ton of talent but maybe not the experience to do it right now."

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CONTESTANT: Danny Pugsley, Bitter and Blue

TEAM REPRESENTING: Manches' City

TWITTER HANDLE: @danny_pugsley

Click through the link, and you'll see that Danny writes for SB Nation's City blog, Bitter and Blue. I know they're not the most popular club, but it is a very well-written blog. Danny is especially valuable at numerical and statistical analysis, which he undertakes with a lot of attention to detail. Also, maybe they have some insight on Dzeko. So, go check them out.

Bitter and Blue picks -

GROUP A: Russia, Czech

GROUP B: Netherlands, Germany

GROUP C: Spain, Italy

GROUP D: France, England

SEMI-FINALISTS: Germany, Spain, Netherlands, Italy

FINALISTS: Germany, Spain

WINNER: Germany

GOLDEN BOOT: Mario Gomez

Bitter and Blue says -

"I was very tempted to take Italy to beat Spain in the semi's but bottled it a little. No side has won three tournaments back to back, I don't think, and Spain's squad has had very little turnover so the players will all have played throughout the summer (and at top club level) regularly for the past few years. Perhaps Germany's youth is maturing right about now and will steal their crown."

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CONTESTANT: Villarreal USA

TEAM REPRESENTING: Villarreal

TWITTER HANDLE: @VillarrealUSA

A true team effort from the guys over at Villarreal USA, SB Nation's Villarreal CF blog - they all combined for a set of picks. A bright a diverse bunch, they have maintained a consistent following and a high standard of writing on their site, linked above, despite a lousy season from their club. Hopefully, the Yellow Submarine will be back up to La Liga's top division after one year down.

Also, I think one of them lives in DC. Maddi, if you're reading this, we ought to meet up to watch a game. I live right off Wisconsin Ave.

Villarreal USA's picks -

GROUP A: Russia, Czech

GROUP B: Netherlands, Germany

GROUP C: Spain, Croatia

GROUP D: England, France

SEMI-FINALISTS: Germany, Spain, Netherlands, Croatia

FINALISTS: Spain, Netherlands

WINNER: Netherlands

GOLDEN BOOT: Robin van Persie

Villarreal USA says -

"Our golden boot is Robin van Persie, going along with the pick for the Netherlands to take the title in a rematch of WC 2010. The Dutch just have so much attacking strength, and while Spain will make it to the final, it will be a bit of a parallel with Barcelona from this year - a bit of complacency from what is probably the best team in the tournament, and it will cost the Spaniards the title.

Villarreal USA will be watching former favorite son Santi Cazorla, who we missed so dearly on the Yellow Submarine this term. We might have picked Italy, were Giuseppe Rossi healthy and included, but then, Villarreal would not be on our way to the Segunda were Beppe healthy all season - in our (perhaps biased minds), no Rossi=team failure. And finally, we will be watching to see if our picks for England and France to fall out in the first knockout round will come true. Both teams are very talented, but Spain and a surprise Croatia side will take care of them in the Quarters."

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CONTESTANT: Matilda Hankinson, Lion of Vienna Suite

TEAM REPRESENTING: Bolton Wanderers

TWITTER HANDLE: @LionOfViennaSte

Matilda supports and blogs about Bolton at Lion of Vienna Suite, linked above. She also interviewed me in my capacity as chief of the QPR blog earlier this year - you can see the interview here. She's one of the more knowledgeable bloggers on SB Nation, with her vast wisdom having been honed in the the soccer hotbed of Texas.

We invited her partly because she knows a lot about the English national team and the English game, but also partly because she could stand to catch a break after watching Bolton get relegated on the last day of the year. Also, we need her around to "pretty-up" the competition a bit.

GROUP A: Russia, Poland

GROUP B: Germany, Netherlands

GROUP C: Spain, Croatia

GROUP D: England, France

SEMI-FINALISTS: Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Croatia

FINALISTS: Netherlands, Germany

WINNER: Germany

GOLDEN BOOT: Thomas Mueller

Lion of Vienna Suite Says -

"As an England fan, it truly pains me to pick Germany as the Champions, but they have looked like a team that deserves to win something for years. They are all of the German stereotypes, the phrase well-oiled machine comes to mind, but they execute these characteristics well. I am a big admirer of the Netherlands, partially due to personal connections to the country, and partially just because they are a compelling team, but this should be Germany's year. Football like that should be rewarded with silver."

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CONTESTANT: Gianfranco, AC Milan Offside

TEAM REPRESENTING: AC Milan

TWITTER HANDLE: @ACMilanOffside

As his website indicates, Gianfranco blogs about the Rossoneri, the city of Milan's only truly great club. He came over from The Offside, like me, but his site (click through the link and you'll see) is a modern, SB Nation-style blog. He just chose to keep his URL the same. I considered doing the same, but once I thought of the new name, I couldn't resist.

AC Milan Offside is always popular, but they're especially well-known for their deep and comprehensive coverage of the transfer season. So this is pretty much their busy time.

AC Milan Offside's picks -

GROUP A: Russia, Greece

GROUP B: Germany, Portugal

GROUP C: Spain, Italy

GROUP D: France, Sweden

SEMI-FINALISTS: Portugal, Spain, Germany, France

FINALISTS: Spain, Germany

WINNER: Germany

GOLDEN BOOT: [none picked] ** UPDATED - he likes Benzema as well **

You can see that Gianfranco has picked a few upsets. OK, Portugal to get out of the group is not a huge upset, but he's the first one to pick Greece advancing ahead of Poland or Czech Republic. Also, you can see that his love of AC Milan doesn't necessarily translate into a ton of confidence over Italy's chances: Gianfranco likes the Azzurri to get out of the group stage, but not into the Final Four.

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CONTESTANT: Oatbag

TEAM REPRESENTING: FC Bayern

Regular readers recognize the name as one of this site's most well-informed and well-spoken commentators. I asked him to participate because he knows a lot about the game, and I was genuinely curious to see how he saw the tournament developing. Also, he might be joining me for a Podcast later this summer.

Oatbag's picks -

GROUP A: Russia, Poland

GROUP B: Germany, Netherlands

GROUP C: Spain, Italy

GROUP D: France, Ukraine

SEMI-FINALISTS: Netherlands, Germany, Spain, France

FINALISTS: Netherlands, Germany

WINNER: Germany

GOLDEN BOOT: Benzema

Oatbag says -

"Russia I think will have two good games and one that doesn't matter, and then will get schooled by the Dutch because they won't commit to parking the bus. And the Poles look about as good as they ever have (although I'm no Polish football historian). The BVB striker is very good; now I don't think he will look as good and consistent as he does with the black and yellow, but the home advantage will help with the rest of the team's work-rate. Unfortunately Klose and Poldi (if the later plays; buuuurn!) will have to knock them out in the quarters, which will make for a terribly bitter-sweet match. Thereafter, one hopes that the poles will favour the Germans for the remainder of the tournament, but I won't hold my breath.

Germany will win the tournament, in total 16 players will see minutes. This year, journalists will coin the term 'super-bench.' The Dutch will do just fine until the final thank you. Embarrassing defense will give hope to their opponents but a they will have two of the three best goals in the tournament. The infighting will be contained until the spain game, when they will win in extra time. RVP or Hunter will score the winner and demand sole striker position in the next game. Whomever is chosen gets the Arjen disease and has a miss to cost them the final.

Spain will be decent, and certainly best of the batch. We'll hear too many commentators talk about the wee Argentinian. Italy will wobble and then impress against Spain, I expect a draw but either could win (perhaps obvious). The Italians will suddenly mature and play sophisticated football against the French, but Benzema, Nasri and Ribery will each have a handful of moments of individual brilliance to win the game. The Spanish will take too long to score first against the ukis, but will then make it a "convincing win" (2-0, one pk one error/gift, tons of self-gratifying passing). They will look much better against the Dutch, but will fail to shut the door in regular time, only to have an nearly unsavable Dutch strike knock them out.

The French will have a really good game against the English, who will bomb it to Carroll enough times to make it seem like its a plan. But slow defense and impressive French movement with the ball will dismantle the English on the break. The Swedes will be poor with Zlatan getting one goal in the last game when they're already out. The Uki's will have a hard earned win in their opener against Sweden, will draw France and beat the English 2-1 to make then seem plausible until we remember they'll face Spain. Despite a good showing of Italian tactical cohesion, the french will win, only to be choked out with a 3-1 loss to the Germans. After the game, Ribery will say something that will make me like him even more.

Benzema gets the golden boot with 6. Germany gets the edgy win when the Dutch fail to punish a mistake, and Germany score on the next beat."

I'd just like to quickly note that I don't know why he says "favour" instead of "favor."

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CONTESTANT: Phil Pierson, Bavarian Football Works

TEAM REPRESENTING: FC Bayern

TWITTER HANDLE: @bayern_offside

I'm sure everyone's bored by this point, so I'll spare you any more introduction.

GROUP A: Poland, Czech

GROUP B: Netherlands, Germany

GROUP C: Spain, Croatia

GROUP D: France, Sweden

SEMI-FINALISTS: Germany, Spain, Netherlands, Croatia

FINALISTS: Germany, Croatia

WINNER: Germany

GOLDEN BOOT: Benzema

As you can see, I think Germany might stumble somewhat in the Group Stage (maybe even in the first match?), and barely advance as runners-up. Once things get to the knockout stage, though, I think Die Nationalelf will be hitting on all cylinders - much like Spain during the World Cup, who lost their first match and then won everything subsequent to take the trophy.

Croatia? Well, I think Modric is going to have a great tournament, I think their fans will be there en masse to give them an edge, and I think they have been stewing for 4 years over that late loss to Turkey in 2008. And ... I wanted to pick something different. It's no fun when everyone picks the same 2 or 3 teams to do great. I felt like I should choose a surprise team to upset a few people and advance pretty deep, and Croatia is who I settled on. Besides, Olic and Pranjic vs. Germany in the Final would be fun viewing, no?

So there you have it. Six of the seven contestants like Germany to win it all, and everyone like some combination of Netherlands, Spain and Germany in the Final except me (I have Germany vs. Croatia). A little more variance in the picks to advance from the Group Stage, with Sweden, Croatia, Greece, and Ukraine getting a bit of love. Nobody expecting much from Ireland or Denmark.

Leave your own picks in the comment section, if you're interested. To the blogger mentioned above - if I missed something in transcribing your picks or your commentary, or if you want to submit your Golden Boot pick, do so at your leisure (but before the first match starts this Friday). Thanks for reading.