Back when the Euro 2012 draw was made, amongst the excitement of the continuation of the Germany-Holland and France-England rivalries, was Group A. At first look, it looks a dire combination of the unattractive teams of the tournament, offering little in either stars or excitement. However, whilst that may true, there are a few bright sparks among the dross, we have a host team in the Poles, a Russia that delighted 4 years ago at the previous tournament, surprising many, the Czech’s who have been reinvigorated by inspired playmaker, Arsenal’s Tomas Rosicky, and Greece…Greece are still awful.
The joy of winning the rites to joint host Euro 2012 back in 2007, are slowly coming back to haunt Poland now. Corruption, racism and construction issues have hit both the Poles and co-hosts Ukraine, with perhaps a tint of regret at their successful bid over the established footballing nation of Italy. However, the attraction of tournament football, will see millions flock to Eastern Europe, producing a wealthy boost to the economies, and a feel-good factor that will be inescapable.
Incredibly, this may just be the boost the national team needs, who’ve been floundering in recent years, finishing above only San Marino in their 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign. Since then, changes have been made. 15 club manager Franciszek Smuda is outspoken and unafraid of giving his ailing side a kick up the backside. The rise of double title-winning German side Borussia Dortmund has helped the Poles, rearing the ridiculously named trio, Lukasz Piszczek, Jakub Blaszczykowski and star striker Robert Lewandowski. With these three, especially Lewandowski, Poland have star quality who know what it takes to win something, with the striker’s 22 goals and 8 assists accompanying a double over rivals Bayern Munich in both league and cup football in Germany. Weaknesses arrive in the underwhelming defence, with Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny shoring up at the back, covering for the ever-changing foursome in front of him.
We’ve seen the positive effects of home support, with both South Korea and Japan reaching the knock-out element of the 2002 World Cup against the odds, and the negatives with both Austria and Switzerland failing to get out of their groups 4 years ago. With a combination of luck, home support, the odd bit of star quality (check out Lewandowski’s most recent strike below) and in such an open group, Poland just might sneak through.
Former winners Greece are an ageing side, who continue to defy the odds and have successfully qualified for their last 3 tournaments, outstanding for a side with literally NO stars. Their lone frontman is Celtic’s Georgios Samaras, a man who plundered just 7 goals in the scorching hotbed of football that is Scotland. Euro 2004 winning captain Giorgos Karagounis is still in amongst it in midfield, in a side that needs refreshing, in personnel and style. The hoof-ball most certainly works in qualifying, with their vicious home support also helping, but they’ve not managed to get out of a tournament group since the glory-days of 2004. And in all honesty, I cannot see that changing. Youngsters Kyriakos Papadopoulos and the ‘Greek Messi’ in Ioannis Fetfatzidis, following a similar growth hormone treatment that the great Argentine had to have from an early age, look to show that the team have a future of some sort, but won’t be able to drag the rest of their team-mates from the depths of Group A.
Russia would be slight favourites in my opinion, they have a winning mentality, a massively experienced coach in Dutchman Dick Advocaat and stars who will look to reinvigorate themselves, living up to previously billed reputations, that they never quit managed. This really refers to those who tried the Premier League, and returned back to the motherland after failure, Yuri Zhirkov never managing to hold down a solid spot at Chelsea, and both Roman Pavlyuchenko and Andrey Arshavin departing from North London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal respectively in the most recent January transfer window.
Euro 08′ saw Russia hit the heights of the semi-finals, which the players just mentioned entertaining the world with free-flowing attacking displays. Since then, the demise of said players and a change of manager have seen the Russians turn into a mini-Greece, conceding just 4 goals in qualifying, mainly due to a solid back four, three of whom play for club side CSKA Moscow. One ray of attacking sunshine comes in the emergence of Alan Dzagoev, of CSKA. With Champions League experience, and playing for the biggest side in Russia, Dzagoev, only 21, has a bright future ahead, and will perhaps be the successor to Arshavin as the nation’s hero. Providing they keep things steady, Russia should have enough for the rest of the group.
The Czechs are a mixed bag. With their England-esque ‘golden generation’ of players slowly departing the national side, the new wave looks to be slightly less impressive…just like England! Barely squeezing past the Scots in the group stage, with a dubious penalty decision helping them reach the play-offs, before duly dispatching Montenegro, they look to be a team that could perform on the day, or just not fancy it. There are, however, a few highlights within the team. Keeper Petr Cech looks to have found his mojo again, with a great second-half of the season seeing him and Chelsea victorious in the FA Cup and, most notably, the Champions League, where the rigidness of the side annoying opponents, but working perfectly.
Similarly, playmaker Tomas Rosicky, of Arsenal, has ended the season strongly, looking like the Rosicky of old, sending passes flying and partially filling the massive void left by the departing captain Cesc Fabregas. There are most certainly doubts about the Czechs strike-force, though, with the lone man Milan Baros, unbelievably only 30 years old, still going upfront. This compounded with the 12 goals scored in qualifying, suggest it may be a battle for the Czechs to qualify for the Quarter-Finals. Their last group game against Poland, may turn into a potentially huge winner-takes-all match to rival even the likes of Germany-Holland!
There may be a few tongue-twisters to put off commentators, and a couple of water-tight defences, but Group A could surprise us all, the sheer randomness of the group gives it a slight edge for a start, we’ll have to wait and see whether this shall be the best one of the lot!