Action Images / Tony O'Brien
Euro2008: Spain's players celebrate with the trophy
Euro 2012 Preview Guide: Things to know about 2012 ChampionshipWhen it comes to crowning the football champions of Europe in the Olympic Stadium, Kiev, on July 1, the competition is likely to be intense.The best teams on the continent will gather in Poland and Ukraine for the chance to win that accolade, in what promises to be a European Championship to remember.The smart money says that you can never rule out Germany for the top prize.They might have been drawn in Group B, the so-called 'Group of Death', along with the Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark, but history tells us that Germany, regardless of the pool of talent available to them, always produce their best come tournament time.The statistics and the trophy cabinet do not lie: winners of three World Cups and runners-up on four other occasions; winners of three European Championships and runners-up on three occasions.And now, under their impressive manager Joachim Low, they are ready to add a dash of swashbuckling attacking and goal-scoring swagger to their renowned efficiency.It makes the young team that finished third at the World Cup two years ago a dangerous package, with game-winners in their ranks such as midfielders Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger and goal machines Mario Gomez and the ageless Miroslav Klose.They will need to hit the ground running, however, in their first match against Portugal, who possess the wonderful talent of Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo but perhaps not enough resilience to make it through to the knockout phase.The Netherlands, World Cup runners-up, have Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Klaas Jan Huntelaar. They have the class to go all the way but, as ever, it is what mood takes them when they reach Poland and Ukraine that matters most.It is often said that it is more difficult to win the European Championship than it is to win the World Cup because the competition is so much more intense right from the start.The Republic of Ireland will certainly have their work cut out in Group C where they face Croatia, Italy and reigning European and world champions Spain.Like Germany, Spain had a perfect record in qualifying and in Andres Iniesta, Xavi, David Silva and Cesc Fabregas, possess the most creative midfield in world football.Spain are beautiful to watch, that is not in doubt, but star striker David Villa sustained a fractured leg in the Club World Cup in December and will not be fit in time for the showpiece tournament.So coach Vicente del Bosque will be relying on either Fernando Torres, the striker who scored the winner in the 2008 final but has endured a frustrating season at Chelsea, or Athletic Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente to provide the firepower.Ireland will not be pushovers. They know how to defend but Croatia - inspired by Tottenham's Luka Modric - and Italy - runners-up in 2008 - present tough opposition.For Italy, a tough group and back-to-back home friendly defeats against Uruguay and the United States have dampened expectations for a side that unsurprisingly boasted the best defensive record in qualifying, with just two goals conceded. They showed their potential in August by beating Spain, who they face again in Group C. A semi-final spot cannot be ruled out.Spain and Italy look likely to go through to the knockout phase with hosts Poland and Russia progressing from Group A; most experts view Greece and the Czech Republic as the two outsiders in that group. Greece go into this year's tournament on an impressive run of form, with new boss Fernando Santos unbeaten in 17 matches until November's defeat to Romania. However, they have yet to play one of the big nations under Santos.As for England, they are in a Group D that was universally greeted as being kind to them.It's true, it could have been much trickier than Ukraine, France and Sweden for an England side that will be without the suspended Wayne Rooney for the matches against France and Sweden.England beat Sweden 1-0 at Wembley in November, while France failed badly at Euro 2008 and left the 2010 World Cup in disgrace and disarray with some players rebelling against the coaching staff.Laurent Blanc came in as head coach and immediately removed some of the old guard, bringing in striker Karim Benzema, who is key along with Manchester City's Samir Nasri and Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery if Les Bleus are to be successful.Despite an impressive and unbeaten qualifying campaign, England's preparations have been disrupted by the departure of head coach Fabio Capello and new boss Roy Hodgson has not had much time to prepare for the tournament.It would be wrong to write off England completely because they possess strong and powerful players and Rooney could return at a key stage to see them through the group, but there is nothing to suggest they have the quality to trouble the really top nations.Sweden continue to punch above their weight at international level, ruining the Netherlands' perfect qualifying record in their final Group E game to reach Poland and Ukraine as the best runners-up. France and England will be expected to qualify from Group D, but Sweden will fancy their chances of making the quarter-finals.But come the later stages, it is likely to be the nations with the most technically-gifted players, such as Spain, Holland and Germany, who make their class tell, although Greece proved in 2004 that you can win this tournament through organisation and teamwork.Ultimately, though, whoever makes the final the hope is that we will witness a tournament that no one will forget - and that when it comes to the night of July 1, the Olympic Stadium in Kiev and the millions watching around the world are treated to a footballing spectacular.