After famously underachieving for 44 years, Spain has dominated international soccer over the past four.
“La Furia Roja” (The Red Fury) broke through to win the European Championship in 2008 and followed with its first World Cup title in 2010.
Now, Spain will try to become the first team to win three straight major international tournaments when Euro 2012 kicks off Friday in Poland and Ukraine.
“This is Spain’s tournament to lose,” SportsXradio.com handicapper Ken Thomson said. “They have so many top-of-the-line players, I’d be very surprised if they’re not in the final.”
Spain is a 5-2 favorite at the LVH to win the tournament behind midfielders Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, who scored the winning goal in the World Cup final two years ago.
But Spain appears more vulnerable than at any time during its run. Several of its key players endured long club seasons with Barcelona and Real Madrid, and the team is without all-time leading scorer David Villa and veteran defender Carles Puyol because of injury.
Then there’s the Fernando Torres issue. Can the Chelsea striker regain his form, and if not, where will the goals come from?
That could open the door for Germany or the Netherlands, which both were drawn into the “Group of Death” along with Portugal, led by superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, and Denmark.
Germany, the second choice at 3-1, features Real Madrid playmaker Mesut Ozil and is seeking its first international title since 1996. In the past three major tournaments, the Germans have reached two semifinals and a final.
“They’re the public’s favorite team,” LVH oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said. “Everybody loves them because they’re one team whose games tend to be really high-scoring.”
The Netherlands, the World Cup runner-up, is 4-1 behind striker Robin van Persie, who led the English Premier League in goals. However, the Dutch recently have opted for brawn over their traditional beauty, especially in big games.
“They’re the darling team, but, dang, they’re the world’s greatest underachievers now that Spain has won a World Cup,” Thomson said. “It’s now or never. If they’re going to win this, this is the year.”
The Euros tend to produce more surprises than the World Cup (see: Greece 2004), and France offers value at 8-1.
After a disastrous showing in South Africa two years ago, France enters this tournament on a 21-game unbeaten run. It also is in a favorable group with England, which is 12-1 but has been ravaged by injury and is without suspended Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney for the first two matches.
Thomson also likes Russia (15-1) and Croatia (25-1), which opened at 50-1 but could reach the quarterfinals with Italy facing the distraction of a domestic match-fixing scandal.
All the group matches will be televised live by ESPN or ESPN2 at 9 and 11:45 a.m., and Cantor Gaming plans to offer in-match wagering at its sports books.
“Out of all the soccer stuff we put up, we’ll see our second-largest handle behind the World Cup,” Sherman said. “These games are readily available on TV … and they’re not going up against the NBA or the NHL. We’ll have a lot of people who don’t normally bet soccer, and a lot of that has to do with the times of the games.”
Contact reporter David Schoen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4555.