Euro 2012 – Group A Preview

During Euro 2012 one of our non-English British correspondents will be supporting the Czech Republic (solely on the basis that his girlfriend is Czech), so here is a preview of Group A:

Czech Republic

Who have I definitely heard of?

Petr Cech and Tomas Rosicky are established Premiership players, while Milan Baros is still knocking about.

Who should I be talking up in the pub to sound knowledgeable?

Vladimir Darida, a midfielder who only started playing first team football for Viktoria Plzen last year and was drafted in as cover in case Rosicky was injured. But he’s taken his chance and was one of the few to impress in the recent friendly against Hungary. Also Theodor Gebre Selassie, the first black player for Czech, is an attacking full back with a terrific turn of pace and great cross.

Seriously though, are they any good?

Not a patch on previous incarnations of the Czech sides who have lit up previous tournaments. The centre of the defence is weak and they are struggling up front where an ageing Baros is still an automatic number one choice. But they do have pace out wide and the central midfield is very strong.

Any random stuff we should know?

Petr Cech is the equivalent of Joe Hart fulfilling his potential and becoming a talisman for the England side, but doing so while being called Peter English. Czechs love singing ‘kdo neskace, neni Cech!’ which means ‘If you’re not jumping, you’re not Czech’.

Prediction?

Scrape through the group, out in the quarters.

Greece

Who have I definitely heard of?

Giorgios Samaras plays for Celtic in Scotland and had a spell in with Manchester City.

Who should I be talking up in the pub to sound knowledgeable?

Theofanikis Gekas is a quality striker who you may not be familiar with, he’s scored goals in Greece, Germany and now Turkey. The responsibility for leading the line will lie with him. Sotiris Ninis is a playmaker who’s off to Parma in the summer and has just come back from injury. Ninis is one of the most exciting young players to come out of Greece for a long time.

Seriously though, are they any good?

As you’d expect from Greek teams, they are built on a very solid defensive unit, albeit one that is considerably more athletic and skilful than before. The midfield has a strong anchor in Katsouranis, but the goals are going to be hard to come by.

Any random stuff we should know?

There will numerous references by British commentators to either holidays or beaches as well as the crippled economic situation. Expect a few classical Greek references, maybe the odd Roman one chucked in there by mistake.

Prediction?

Exit at the group stages, though maybe unbeaten.

Poland

Who have I definitely heard of?

Wojnech Sczczesny is the Arsenal keeper.

Who should I be talking up in the pub to sound knowledgeable?

Everyone should be talking about Robert Lewandowski and you may know him depending on how much you follow German football. He was instrumental in Borussia Dortmund’s fantastic season, finished 3rd top scorer in the Bundesliga despite scoring no penalties and was named player of the season. It’s not exaggerating to say the hopes of a nation rest on his shoulders and he could emerge as a star of the tournament if Poland progress.

Seriously though, are they any good?

They play fairly wide, with attacking full backs but their centre of defence is weak. The heart of the team (Piszczek, Blaszczykowski and Lewandowski) all play for the exceptional Borussia Dortmund side and if they click with the others around them they will play well.

Any random stuff we should know?

Poland have got a massive grudge match against Russia in Warsaw where the pressure on them will be huge. Their match against the Czechs may not be much of a home banker, they’re playing in Wroclaw only an hour from the Czech border so a sizeable Czech contingent could be there. The pressure on the team is going to be massive in a country that genuinely loves football.

Prediction?

Out in the groups under the crushing weight of expectation.

Russia

Who have I definitely heard of?

Arsenal’s Andrey Arshavin, while Pavel Pogrebnyak had an excellent season with Fulham after joining in the January transfer window. Former Chelsea man Yuri Zhirkov is in the side as is former Spur Roman Pavyluchenko.

Who should I be talking up in the pub to sound knowledgeable?

Alan Dzagoev, just 21 and one of the best young players in Russia. He’s an attacking midfielder and could usurp Arshavin as the talisman for the side in this tournament. Great on the ball with an eye for goal, he provides the link between the midfield and the forwards.

Seriously though, are they any good?

After their semi final appearance in Euro 2008, Russia have struggled. Their ‘golden generation’ hasn’t really delivered (sound familiar?) and there has been internal strife, mainly centred around the woefully out of form Arshavin. They’re more defensively sound than before and as ever technically excellent, but really lack any kind of punch when attacking.

Any random stuff we should know?

Russia could end up playing Germany on the anniversary of the day World War Two started for the Soviet Union. Big spending Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala fly into Dagestan for home matches as it’s so dangerous there.

Prediction?

Through the groups, but out in the quarters.

Prospects for the group?

It may not be the most thrilling football in Group A as there are a couple of highly organised sides with strong defences, some poor attacks and some teams that rely on counter-attacking. However, the teams are closely matched so it could be a very tense group. The final round group match between Czech and Poland could be one of the best of the group stages for end-to-end football and tenseness. The overall winner is not going to emerge from here though.

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