Euro 2012: Group A Preview
Although widely considered the weakest group at this year’s tournament, Group A does have history on its side; three of the four countries have won a European Championship (albeit when Russia was the Soviet Union, and the Czech Republic was Czechoslovakia).
Czech Republic were the second lowest scoring country in qualifying that managed reach the Euro 2012 finals, netting only 12 goals as they finished runners-up to Spain in Group I.
They met Montenegro in a playoff to determine who would make it to Poland and Ukraine, triumphing 3-0 on aggregate over two legs.
Defender Michal Kadlec ended the qualification process as Czech Republic’s top scorer with four goals – three of which came from the penalty spot.
Had he not struggled so frequently with injury, Tomas Rosicky would boast a century of caps for Czech Republic, and he remains vitally important to his country’s chances of success.
Rosicky has not scored in a competitive fixture since November 2007, but travels to Euro 2012 with the captain’s armband and off the back of a superb few months of form for Arsenal.
The 31-year-old was one of the star performers during the Gunners’ mid/late season resurgance, and will be key for Czech Republic this summer.
Michal Bilek scored 11 times in 35 appearances for his country before moving into management in 2001, while his most notable achievement was leading Sparta Prague to the domestic double five years ago.
Czech Republic were at a low ebb when he took over in 2009 following failure to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa, being promoted from a coaching role to succeed Ivan Hasek.
Despite critics suggesting he lacked the experience to rebuild the national side, Bilek ensured Czech Republic conitinued their record of making every European Championships since the split from Slovakia in 1993.
There is a good mixture of experience (Rosicky, Petr Cech, Milan Baros) and youth, and prior Euro successes will have them playing confident football. They should make it out of the group fairly easily, and the semifinals are a realistic goal.
v Russia – June 8, Wroclaw.
v Greece – June 12, Wroclaw.
v Poland – June 16, Wroclaw.
Greece were the only side to make the Euro 2012 finals to have scored less goals than Czech Republic during the qualifying process.
Ethniki may have scored only 14 goals, but they did win their group, beating the likes of Croatia and Israel to automatic qualification for this summer’s tournament.
Greece pipped Croatia by two points, with a 2-0 victory in Piraeus in the penultimate game of qualifying proving to be the pivotal result.
Sotiris Ninis has already earned himself a move away from Greece for next season having recently signed for Parma from Panathinaikos, and Euro 2012 will only enhance his reputation.
Although Greece’s system does not play to the strengths of the 22-year-old attacker, Ninis will be a threat to any opponent.
His goal against Israel in qualifying – only his second for Greece – all but assured his country claimed a spot at Euro 2012.
In Fernando Santos, Greece have a vastly experienced manager, who has taken charge of almost 650 matches in three decades of management.
The Portuguese was tasked with taking charge of Greece following the departure of Euro 2004 winning coach Otto Rehhagel and has done a sterling job, albeit adopting similarly negative tactics.
Of the 18 matches that Santos has been in charge, Greece have won ten, drawn seven and lost only once.
There is a tendency to believe that the Greeks are at their most dangerous when they are overlooked, but this is simply not a team with enough talent to make a run in this tournament.
v Poland – June 8, Warsaw.
v Czech Republic – June 12, Wroclaw.
v Russia – June 16, Warsaw.
Poland were not required to qualify for the European Championships given their position as co-hosts, but they have recorded some impressive results over the same period.
A 2-1 defeat of Argentina last summer can be deemed their most notable scalp, while there have also been draws against Germany and Portugal in recent months.
There is likely to be a clamour for the services of Poland striker Robert Lewandowski this summer, and Manchester United have already been linked with a move for his signature.
The 23-year-old scored 30 goals as Borussia Dortmund claimed a league and cup double for the first time in their history, and will enter Euro 2012 as one of the most in-form forwards on the continent.
Lewandowski has scored 14 goals for Poland, and he will be vital to any postive showing on home turf this summer.
Franciszek Smuda has ruffled a few feathers with his disciplinarian approach, and critics have suggested his rules will be detrimental to the Poland team at Euro 2012.
The 63-year-old has already suspended former Celtic goalkeeper, while dropping Slawomir Peszko and Marcin Wasilewski after indiscipline also caused somewhat of a stir.
Smuda can, however, boast a record of success on the field, having won the Polish league championship on three occcasions.
Host countries often overachieve in major tournaments, and they would be disapointed not to progress to the quarterfinals based on the strength of this group. Their match vs Russia looms large – three points there and they likely finish in the top two.
v Greece – June 8, Warsaw.
v Russia – June 12, Warsaw.
v Czech Republic – June 16, Wroclaw.
Russia conceded just four goals on their way to Euro 2012, topping Group B ahead of the Republic of Ireland.
Although able to boast a soild defence, goalscoring proved to a be concern for the Russians and, take away the 6-0 drubbing of lowly Andorra, they mustered only 11 goals in nine games.
Russia do, however, travel to Poland as the favourites to top Group A.
Alan Dzagoev looks set for a bright future indeed, and Euro 2012 will bring the talents of the 21-year-old to a wider audience.
The CSKA Moscow midfielder was Russia’s joint top-scorer alongside Roman Pavlyuchenko in qualifying and has established himself as one of Dick Advocaat’s most consistent performers.
The Russian team will be built around Dzagoev in the years to come, and a move
to a high-profile European league surely beckons.
Dick Advocaat is one of the most experienced managers at Euro 2012, and has coached Netherlands, Belgium and South Korea during a 25-year career.
The 64-year-old’s record with Russia stands at ten wins from 18 matches, while he has overseen five draws and three defeats.
Advocaat will leave his post at the end of the European Championships, having agreed to return to manage PSV Eindhoven next season.
They have more than enough talent to finish first in this group, and would be dangerous in the knock-out phase too.
v Czech Republic – June 8, Wroclaw.
v Poland – June 12, Warsaw.
v Greece – June 16, Warsaw.