With 10 days remaining in the lead up to Euro 2012, now seems like a fitting time to preview the teams that will be participating. Managers have submitted their squad lists after this weekend’s friendlies and the final preparations are underway for Poland/Ukraine. Later in the week I’ll discuss the controversy the tournament hosts have already attracted controversy thanks to a BBC Panorama documentary highlighting potential danger to visiting minority fans. To start here’s a preview of Group A:
After finishing second behind Spain in Group I qualifying, the Czech Republic defeated Montenegro 3-0 over the two legged playoff to earn their qualification to the Euro 2012 final. The Czech side is managed by former Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic midfielder Michal Bilek in his first major tournament campaign. The former Sparta Prague manager will lend his watchful eye to the squad looks to return to their 2004 glory where they surprised many by making it as far as the semi-final.
Bilek will likely field a 4-2-3-1 formation, after experimentation with a 4-2-2-2 formation led to disastrous results. The squad is still led in attack by Euro 2004 Golden Boot winner Milan Baros and a lack of depth at the striker position leaves the 30 year old Galatasaray striker as the lone option up front. CSKA Moscow’s striker Tomas Necid and Nurnburg’s Tomas Pekhart are both young strikers that could emerge during the tournament, but expect Baros to see the majority of playing time up front.
Tomas Rosicky will captain the Czechs coming off a season where he helped Arsenal to a 3rd place finish in the English Premier League. The injury prone midfielder has managed to avoid the physio room over the last nine months and The Little Mozart will attempt to dictate the majority of play in the Czech midfield. He will be joined by defensive midfielders Tomas Hubschman paired with Petr Jiracek, who will provide the physical presence in front of the defensive line.
Michal Kadlec was the leading scorer for the Czechs in the qualifying campaign, and could be a danger during overlapping runs from his left back position. His counterpart on the right side Theodor Gebre Selassie is also a danger in the preferred counter-attacking strategy of Bilek. The Czech defense is led by goalkeeper Petr Cech, coming off arguably his best season where he was instrumental in Chelsea’s Champions League triumph. The squad lacks depth at center back with the preferred tandem of Roman Hubnik and Tomas Sivok lacking pace and experience.
Bilek’s squad boasts seven players from the domestic league, with four representatives from Viktoria Plzen including talented winger Vaclav Pilar. If this Czech squad is going to advance they will need a bit of luck and dominating performances in the midfield from Hubschmann and Jiracek. If their defensive line holds strong, Tomas Rosicky and Michal Kadlec are dangerous option in the counter attack. Their one known quantity is Petr Cech who should provide solid goalkeeping regardless of the opposition; the rest is a squad full of question marks. If the Czech Republic are able to find some goals they may be able to emerge from what is expected to be a very low scoring Group A, but still expect them to finish out of qualifying for the knockout stages.
2004 Euro winners Greece are looking to return to past glory, following disappointing finishes in both Euro 2008 and the World Cup 2010. Greece enjoyed a very successful qualifying campaign in which they emerged at the top of Group F without losing a game. Managed by the highly experienced Fernando Santos, Greece will employ a tactical discipline that will be difficult for opposing squads to match. They also possess the combination of veteran leadership and youthful talent that may make them dangerous in the knockout stages. With 16 members of the squad playing in the Greek league in the previous season, they will look to provide a much needed distraction for the austerity stricken nation.
Despite claiming to be more expansive and attacking minded than his predecessor, Greece’s main strength lies in their defense. Their preferred formation should be a defensive 4-3-3, although Santos could employ a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield or a 4-2-3-1. The Greek’s main weakeness is their lack of a certain first choice striker, despite having four attackers with over 50 CAPs the attack will likely be led in attack by Celtic’s Giorgos Samaras.
Throughout their qualifying campaign Greece scored only 14 goals, but their defense remained solid conceding only 5 goals. Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Avraam Papadopoulos provide the backbone of the Greek defense, joined by dangerous right back Vasilis Torosidis who provides a counter-attacking threat, a fantastic work ethic, and endless endurance. The left back and goalkeeper positions are question marks for Greece, with no candidate setting himself apart from the rest. The left back spot will likely be filled by Giorgos Tzavelas or Jose Holebas, while the goalkeeper spot will be filled by the aging Kostas Chalkias.
Giorgos Karagounis leads the midfield and should become Greece’s all-time leader in career appearances during the tournament. He is joined in the midfield by two of his Panthanaikos teammates Sortis Ninis and Kostas Katsouranis. Ninis is a talented young winger who looks to recover from an injury filled 2011-12 campaign, with good performances in Poland/Ukraine. He possesses a superb first touch and vision of a much older player and has already made a name for himself as Greece’s youngest ever scorer.
Greece possesses several aging options in attack to go along with Samaras. 36 year old Nikos Liberpoulos and Theofanis Gekas lack the creativity and quality in attack that would make Greece attack dangerous. Look for the majority of their goals to come off the counter or set-pieces. Despite lacking a quality goal scorer, Greece is a dangerous team because of their solid defense. Their fate likely hinges on their result against hosts Poland, but expect Greece to make it to the knockout stage where their solid defense makes them a team to fear.
The co-hosts Poland are the lowest ranked team in the Euro 2012, but may become a threat due to playing all three group stage matches in their home nation. Manager Franciszek Smuda is one of the most decorated managers in Polish football history, and was given the job after being considered a top candidate for a number of years.
Since being given the management position, Smuda has experimented with a number of formations, but will likely settle on a 4-3-2-1 formation. The squad boasts only four players from the Polish domestic leagues, with the majority of the squad playing abroad and nine coming from Germany alone. The heart of the squad is led by the reigning German champion trio from Borussia Dortmund of Lukasz Piszczek (right back), captain Jakub Blaszczykowski (right wing), and Robert Lewandowski (striker). What the rest of the squad lacks, this trio looks to make up for with creativity, determination, and skill. Lewandowski poses a real attacking threat and could cause trouble to any opposition defense and a combination with Blaszczykowski or the newly capped emerging talent Rafal Wolski could provide some attractive attacking football.
Poland’s main weakness lies in their defense. Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny is the only dependable option for the Polish defense. Their defense will be led by center backs Marcin Wasilewski and French-born Damien Perquis, both of whom are inconsistent at best at the international level. Sebastian Boenisch will likely feature at left back after a successful season with Werder Bremen
Despite being the co-hosts, Poland are widely regarded as the tournaments weakest side. Despite playing in the comparatively weak Group A, Poland would do well to win a single game, and qualification for the knockout stages seems out of the realm of possibility. However, strange things can happen at these tournaments and with the enthusiastic support expected, anything can happen.
After an impressive campaign in the 2008 Euros, Russia shocked many by failing to qualify for the 2010 World Cup after falling to Slovenia in the qualifying playoff. The squad looks to rebound featuring many of the same players that captured the hearts of neutral spectators during the 2008 competition in Austria/Switzerland with their attacking flair. The majority of the squad plays their club football in Russia with only two members spending the previous season playing abroad.
Dick Advocaat has taken over the squad previously manages by Guus Hiddink, but has stuck to Hiddink’s 4-3-3 formation, preferring the tactical versatility and squad depth with that formation. The squad will rely heavily on its contingent from Zenit St. Petersburg that has sent six players including captain Andrei Arshavin. Despite falling out of favor with Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, Arshavin has returned to form since being loaned to Zenit in February. He is joined by central striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov, midfielder Igor Denisov, and right back Aleksandr Anyukov as the members of the Zenit contingent most likely to have an impact on the squad.
Kerzhakov will feature in the center flanked by Arshavin and CSKA Moscow’s Alan Dzagoev, giving them a potent attacking force. Kerzhakov’s backups are equally competent in the form of Tottenham’s Roman Pavluchenko and Fulham’s Pavel Pogrebnyak. 34 year old midfielders Konstantin Zyryanov and Igor Semshov will provide Russia with an experienced influence, despite much of the squad remaining unchanged under Advocaat’s leadership.
The defense is seen by most as the weakest point of the Russian team, but that may be overstated because Russia conceded only 5 goals throughout the qualifying campaign. Yuri Zhirkov will lend his versatile talents well to the left side of the defense, while Aleksei Berezutskiy will be without his twin brother Vasili to partner at center back. Instead, Vasili will be replaced by Sergei Ignashevich who is a the most capped member of the squad. Igor Akinfeev is still recovering from a knee injury, but his steady hands should be ready when called upon for the competiion.
Russia has to be considered the favorites of Group A, boasting what has to be considered the most formidable squad in the group. With manager Dick Advocaat leading the squad in his final competition as manger before returning to PSV for the 2012-13 season, they will look to go out with a bang, hoping to improve on their 2008 semi-final appearance. Russia is also likely to be the squad with the most attack minded style of play and their superiority at striker and in the attacking midfield will be for other Group A members to compete with.
Look for Russia and Greece to emerge from this group, with all except Russia expected to play defensive minded tactics. I predict Alan Dzagoev will be the top scorer from Group A going into the knockout stages and Russia being the only real competitor with a chance of reaching the finals.
Group B Preview will be tomorrow, followed by C and D on Thursday and Friday.