I cropped Franck Ribery out of this picture. You're welcome. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
As usual, you can blame Will for this. Will, plus my paying way too much attention to Euro 2012, prompted a flurry of activity on my end, which culminated in the lazy man's way out: hey, let's just compare every team in Euro 2012 to a team from the SEC! Of course, it's not a perfect match (what with there being 16 teams in the Euros and only 14 in the SEC - in related news, this piece is going to be much easier for Euro 2020), but it'll totally work.
In keeping in form with the Euros, we'll present each team in their appropriate group, write off England from actually winning anything, and just kind of assume Germany's going to win it all.
For comparison, check out the Euro 2012 groups to get started.
Poland - they're just kind of there, really. They're likely never going to be elite, but in the right group (hint: this one), they can make enough noise to be dangerous. Now, stick them in Group B and it's a different matter, but they defend well and have just enough firepower to do something. It's a decent match with Mississippi State.
Russia - now, sometimes comparisons are difficult. Then again, given a country with a history of maniacal leaders and a cult of personality, a team who's kind of off in their own little world, is largely ignored by most of the soccer world, shows up once every four years, and speaks what might very well be a language from another planet? Why, it's almost like Mike Slive knew Texas A&M was coming on board. Thanks, Mike! It also helps their game is WOO EVERYBODY GO DEEP Y'ALL.
Greece - look, they won Euro 2004 but we all like to pretend that tournament never happened. When not setting the soccer world back half a dozen years, they play an uninteresting, defensive style, can't actually score except thanks to other teams' gaffes, and somehow end up making every game they play an absolute slog. If that doesn't sound like Vanderbilt, i don't know what does. The only thing they're missing: a loudmouth coach proclaiming them the favorites of their (really weak) group who will make noise (by making a squelching sound after getting absolutely flattened by Germany).
Czech Republic - just kind of ...there, really. They're more successful than you give them credit for, but also flame out spectacularly (see: the aforementioned Euro 2004, World Cup 2006). Most of their recent success came from a single crop of players, but they're basically overlooked at this point, which sounds a bit like Mississippi to me. Bonus: the Polish and the Czechs have to have some kind of rivalry, right?
Other groups are below the jump.
Germany - ruthless, efficient, winning, legions of bandwagoneering frontrunner fans, can reasonably field a squad of about 60 but due to squad limits only have 23. Cripes, they have to be Alabama, don't they? Heck, in both cases their key contributor is about 4'11".
Netherlands - okay, so the Dutch really should've won more than they have. All these other teams we're talking about who flame out in tournaments learned how to do that from the Dutch, and you know what? We still love them anyway, at least unless they're busy pounding our face in. I'm pretty sure Les Miles is penpals with Johan Cruyff, so pencil LSU in here. Ain't no party like a Dutch / LSU party because it probably isn't actually legal anywhere else save the Netherlands / Baton Rouge.
Portugal - even with a golden generation to speak of and no shortage of hype, really haven't won a whole lot. Recently, they've had to rely on their superior midfield / running game to actually do anything with the ball. In order to be successful, they had to build their team around Ronaldo / Cam Newton (and no, I'm not going to make the jokes about average wages, but you can!). Sounds like Auburn to me.
Denmark - a weird, kind of quirky country that puts out a better team than you realize. They'd be among the favorites in any other group, but here - like the SEC West - they kind of get overlooked. Sounds like Arkansas, plus or minus a FOIA or two.
Spain - I'm not a huge fan of this comparison, but Spain's in the middle of a fantastic golden generation right now, and if you roll back the clock a little bit for this one so was Florida. Open, expansive, dynamic football? Well, sure. I suppose. (Just because I'm making the comparison doesn't mean I have to actually *like* it.)
Italy - diving prima-donna kids who cheat, win, and infuriate the rest of the world in doing both of these? Well, I'm going to have to go out of the conference for this, but when I bring in USC, I don't think you'll complain.
Croatia - um, well, the awkward part of this is nobody really *knows* anything about Croatia. They're good enough, capable enough, and weren't a nation before about 20 years ago or so, which means we'll give a half-hearted nod to Missouri and not be particularly happy about it.
Ireland - scrappy, horribly overmatched, fielding second-rate talent, but way better in a sport about three nations care about, tops? Yeah, I see you, Big Blue. Kentucky for y'all. (And yes, UCLA is New Zealand, for completeness' sake.)
England - everyone's convinced they're going to be awesome! (Bomb out in the first round.) They're going to be awful! (Make the finals.) They have history! (Haven't won anything of note in decades.) They have talent! (And a complete, maddening inability to ever put it all together.) They play football the right way! (If you ignore the conclusive bodies of work that prove them wrong.) Yeah, this is Georgia all right.
France - okay, I'm going to come out and say it: this is Tennessee. No, really, it is - don't close the browser yet. Their best years recently were 14 years ago (World Cup, BCS Championship), 2010 was best forgotten, and right now they're both talented enough to make the leap - in theory, at least. Like France, there's no guarantee it'll happen with Tennessee, but all the pieces are there (and the group is winnable). In this, Peyton Manning plays Zinedine Zidane, but you better believe Peyton wouldn't have ever headbutted anyone. I'm not going that far.
Sweden - they're ...kind of there, really. Good, not great, capable of making noise but never really considered the favorite. Currently they're constructed around one insanely talented guy, and their biggest rivalry didn't even make the show. South Carolina, come on down! Yeah, we'll let you lord this over Clemson for the next few years.
Ukraine - tricky, dangerous when overlooked, but not really a strong team. I have a bit of a soft spot in my heart for Troy, and since they're an opponent in 2012, we'll just close out with them.