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Euro 2012 Preview: Group A

With just five days to go until Poland and Greece get the 2012 European Championships under way in Warsaw; anticipation is building across the continent. Spain are the bookmakers’ favourites, whilst Germany and the Netherlands are also much fancied following impressive qualifying campaigns. Will there be an early big name casualty? Who will be the surprise package? Many questions will be answered between now and 1st July; and over the next four days, Sport Report will preview the tournament group by group, starting with Group A.

Group A has been identified by many as ‘the weak group.’ Whilst it is true that it contains none of European football’s so-called giants, the four teams contesting the group are fairly evenly matched. Four must become two however, and so Group A promises to be hotly contested.

Czech Republic

Manager: Michal Bilek

Captain: Tomas Rosicky

Star Player: Michal Kadlec

Czech Republic qualified for the playoffs from Group I, which contained only five teams. They finished second to Spain, but in truth did not exactly impress in a group containing Scotland, Lithuania and Liechtenstein. They finished with four wins, three defeats and a draw from their eight matches, form that would not have seen them progress from many of the other groups. Two defeats to Spain are nothing to be ashamed of, but a 1-0 defeat to a poor Lithuania side is worrying. Furthermore, they were reliant on a very questionable penalty decision in the last minute against Scotland to salvage a draw, a result which proved to be the difference between elimination and playoff qualification. Their form improved in the playoffs as they coasted to a 3-0 aggregate win against a capable Montenegro side, but they will do very well to progress beyond the group stage here.

Michal Kadlec starred during qualification (This image is the property of Sky Sports)

Michal Kadlec was the star man during qualifying. The Bayer Leverkusen full back turned in a string of impressive performances and found the net four times. Tomas Rosicky enjoyed his best form in three or four years for Arsenal during the second half of last season and if he can rediscover the form that has seen score 20 times for his country and orchestrate proceedings from midfield, then maybe the Czechs will have a chance of progressing.

Sport Report Verdict: Group stage elimination

Greece

Manager: Fernando Santos

Captain: Giorgos Karagounis

Star Player: Theofanis Gekas

A second championships victory for the team that shocked Europe in 2004 would be the perfect tonic for a country in the throes of an economic meltdown, but the chances of a repeat are remote.

There are some survivors from the victorious team coached by Otto Rehhagel and the similarities in playing style were evident during Greece’s successful qualifying campaign. They topped a group that included a highly talented Croatia side to qualify automatically and once again, their game was built around a miserly defence. The Greeks conceded only five goals in ten games and they will need to be as tight if they are to progress beyond the group stages as they struggle for goals. With the exception of Theofanis Gekas, they do not have a proven scorer at international level and no one player netted more than twice for them during qualifying. This could ultimately prove their downfall in a group that contains three teams with very capable attacking players.

Theofanis Gekas is a proven goal scorer at international level (This image is the property of Sky Sports)

Gekas has enjoyed a good start to life at Samsunspor and boasts 21 goals at international level. 20 year old Schalke defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos is a promising young talent but he will need to play the best football of his life at the heart of a defence on which Greece will be reliant if they are to progress. Whilst they impressed during qualifying, I cannot help but feel this will be a bridge too far for them.

Sport Report Verdict: Group stage elimination

Poland

Manager: Franciszek Smuda

Captain: Jakub Błaszczykowski

Star Player: Robert Lewandowski

As one of the host nations, Poland did not have to qualify for the tournament. This means that they have not played a competitive fixture for over two years, which some see as a disadvantage. I do not however think that this will be an issue as they have played plenty of football in that time and at this level, you always play to win. I have said for a while that I feel Poland could be something of a dark horse at this tournament as they have a squad of talented players. The likes of Jakub Błaszczykowski, Lukasz Piszcek and Ludovic Obraniak are top class players and like much of the squad, now ply their trade in Europe’s top leagues. Wojciech Szczęsny is one of the best goalkeepers on show this summer and promising youngsters Adam Matuszczyk and Maciej Rybus will be looking to really make a name for themselves on home soil. Star striker Robert Lewandowski will be eager to build on a burgeoning reputation and perhaps attract interest from some of Europe’s biggest clubs. The 23 year old is coming off a double-winning, 30 goal season for Borussia Dortmund and has already scored 14 times for the Białe Orły. He will be central to Poland’s bid for glory in their own country.

Robert Lewandowski is fast earning a reputation as one of Europe’s top strikers (This image is the property of Marek Zakrzewski)

Poland have long been underachievers but there is a sense of optimism amongst fans who now feel they have a squad capable of competing with the best. Fervent home support should motivate the players and this, coupled with their ability, should see them make it through to the knockout stages.

Sport Report Verdict: Group winners

Russia

Manager: Dick Advocaat

Captain: Andrei Arshavin

Star Player: Alan Dzagoev

On the face of it, Russia should make it out of Group A with very few problems. Wins against the Czech Republic and Greece seem likely, with a potential draw against Poland. I am certain Dick Advocaat would take that but very few things in football happen as expected.

That said, a look through Russia’s squad reveals a great deal of quality and a nice blend of youth and experience. In Igor Akinfeev they have one of Europe’s finest goalkeepers and his CSKA Moscow teammate Alan Dzagoev is one of the hottest properties in club football. The 21 year old impressed hugely during Russia’s march to qualification, scoring four times. Andrei Arshavin seems to have discovered some form since returning to Zenit St Petersburg on loan in January and Roman Pavlyuchenko is a proven threat at this level with 20 international goals (just six behind Vladimir Beschastnykh’s all-time record.) Fellow striker Pavel Pogrebnyak enjoyed a goal-filled spell at Fulham during the second half of last season and so Russia look to have key players coming into form at just the right time.

Alan Dzagoev will be key to Russia’s bid for glory this summer (This image is the property of Eurosport)

They qualified by winning Group B ahead of the Republic of Ireland with seven wins, two draws and a defeat from ten matches, conceding just four goals in the process. This is not stellar but they achieved their objective and a highly impressive 3-0 victory in last week’s warm-up friendly with Italy has made people sit up and take note. There are several survivors from the squad that made it to the semi-final four years ago, including Akinfeev, Arshavin, Pavlyuchenko, Pogrebnyak and vice captain Aleksei Berezutski. Dick Advocaat has plenty of experience on the sidelines too and this, along with the class and youthful exuberance of Dzagoev should be enough to see them progress.

Sport Report Verdict: Group runner-up

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Categories: Football
  1. June 5, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    Hi Rich. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    Baros is a proven player at this level and you are right to flag up his record. I do however feel that he is past his best now and as I say, I can see the Czechs struggling overall and so he may not get a lot of chances. I may be wrong, but that is my opinion as it stands.

    As for Poland, Lewandowski will be the main man but I don’t think they will be entirely reliant on him. They have three Bundesliga winners in that squad and Szczesny is a very good keeper in my opinion. That said, I was surprised to see Smuda leave out Ireneusz Jelen, who would have been a useful option for them up front, and Slawomir Peszko has also been omitted. He played for a side that was relegated last season (Cologne) but proved that he can make goals and Poland may miss that creativity.

    Russia to win the group is a good shout and I was pretty undecided myself, but I had to plump for one so I went with the Poles. I can actually see them drawing with each other and beating the other two teams to finish level on 7 points. They look to be in good form having beaten Italy 3-0 and like you say, they have quality in the likes of Pavlyuchenko and Dzagoev. I can’t see them reaching the semis again though.

  2. June 5, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    I’m surprised there isn’t a mention for Milan Baros, who at aged 30 is ranked in joint 4th along time the Euros goalscorers list, he has 5 goals in this competition and whilst he isn’t probably their go to guy anymore he did find the net in qualifying. In his career he now has over 130 goals, if the Czech’s can stay resolute and organised, i think he could be once again their hero.
    I have to agree with the assessment of the Greece national football team, from the 10 games they played in qualifying their game focuses so much around being able to shut out the opposition, they came through a group consisting of similar teams and were one of only a handful of sides that remained unbeaten after the qualifying campaign. (Germany, Italy, England & Spain).
    Greece are the epitome of the general rule of defensive football at its finest, if your defence is on form then one goal is all you should need to win a game.

    I’m relieved to see some other interest in one of the two host nations, I also agree that Poland have a better chance of qualification than the other host nation, i do think this is more to do with the outright threat of Lewandowski, my one concern for them is that they’ll be too relient on him. Whilst they do have a handful of players that ply their trade for sides like Dortmund, Lille and Werder Bremen the rest of the squad play for lower sides such as Terek Grozny, Mainz and Dussledorf, aside from both Blaszczykowski and Lewandowski i really can’t see anyone else impressing me so much.

    Russia i think will win this group. Few fancied them in 2008 in which they were matched against Spain, Sweden and Greece. Russia qualified for the knockout stage after a disastrous opener losing 4-1 to eventual winners Spain. They did overcome both Sweden and Greece in that group as well. Once they got through that group they defeated the much fancied Netherlands, before losing again to Spain in the Semi finals. Russia have been without a championship win since the 1960 side won it as the USSR, considering their previous achievement and their qualification for the tournament, both Dzagoev and Pavlyuchenko scored 4 goals each in qualifying. Also of note is that to date Pavlyuchenko appears on the Euro’s goalscorers lists, tied with Lukas Podolski and Cristiano Ronaldo (3 Goals).

    I think Russia and Poland will qualify, and even though we’ve picked the same teams for qualification i think Russia will win with Poland sat in behind them, i actually think Russia will beat Poland in that game, i think out of the strength of the squads i think Russia’s preparation is alot better than that of the host nation.

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