On Friday, 16 teams from the continent of Europe will kick off play in one of the biggest soccer competitions in the world. The European Championship (Euro 2012) takes place every two years and shows off some of the best soccer on the planet. The tournament runs for the duration of the month of June in Poland and the Ukraine.
Teams are broken down in four groups with the top two teams from each group advancing after round robin pool play is completed. Will the Spanish repeat? Will the upstart Germans fulfill their potential? Will a surprise come out of nowhere to take the title (Greece- 2004)? Read ahead and see.
Group A- In my opinion, the easiest of the four groups by far and one that will be decided by which of these teams decides to take risks and go forward in the attempt to break up very defensive contests.
Four teams (in predicted order of finish)- Russia, Poland, Czech Republic, Greece
Russia- By far, the most talented of any of the teams in the group. Russia, led by Dutch coach Dick Advocaat, has played very composed football leading up to the competition. They are scary up front with strikers and wingers who have performed well in Europe’s top club leagues. Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow- Russia) is the key player for Russia. The 21 year-old is a creative midfielder with a deft finishing touch. If he can provide balls to men like the enigmatic Andrei Arshavin (Arsenal- England, loaned to Zenit St. Petersburg- Russia), Pavel Pogrebnyak (Fulham- England) and Roman Pavlyuchenko (Lokomotiv Moscow- Russia), Russia should be able to bury some goals against the competition they will be facing.
The most impressive thing about the offensively minded Advocaat is how well his team played defensively during qualifying. The gave up the 2nd least amount of goals of any team in Europe. Feisty midfielder Roman Shirokov (Zenit St. Petersburg- Russia) helps organize the defense along with former Chelsea defender/midfielder Yuri Zhirkov (Anzhi Makhachkala- Russia).
Goaltender Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow- Russia) is among the world’s best. Akinfeev is an injury concern (knee) and missing him would hurt Russia’s chances as you might see communication mishaps in the defense with a substitute goaltender in place.
Key Game- Czech Republic (June 8th)- For Russia to get their momentum moving forward, they need to secure victory in game one of pool play against the Czech Republic.
Outlook- I think Russia could be the surprise team of this tournament. They have had moments during qualifying that have been both great and dismal, but their preparation right before the tournament has them peaking. I see them advancing out of this group and into the quarter-finals for sure. From there, who knows. I think they have the talent to get into the semi-finals and wouldn’t be surprised if they did just that.
Poland- The Poles are one of the host nations giving them home field advantage which could play into some success in this tournament. Striker Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund- Germany) is fearless and ruthlessly efficient. Every team in the pool better prepare to stop him first. His club teammate, Jakub Blaszczykowski aka Kuba, will play the main role of setup man as the Poles will seek to try to bang home some goals early in the tournament.
Their defense is shaky to say the least. Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund- Germany) is a talented young right back who will try to anchor the backline. But, the rest of the lineup is inexperienced and it is unclear as to who will start.
The Poles backstop is a good one, Wojciech Szczęsny (Arsenal- England). The Poles are not that strong defensively and it could cost them in this pool where goals will be at a premium. Szczesny will have to be very good for the Poles to move on.
Key Game- Czech Republic (June 16th)- They need to take at least a point out of this game to advance. The Czechs will be their top competition for that 2nd spot and a loss here would prove catastrophic for their chances of advancement.
Outlook- Losing to the Czechs or the Greeks marks the end of the road for the Poles in my opinion. The Polish people will give them a boost and I think they will go through, but by the slimmest of margins (goal difference).
Czech Republic- A very cautious side, the Czechs are going to have to come out of their shell to advance in this group. Tomas Rosicky (Arsenal- England) will have to be at his playmaking best to try to coax the best out of veteran striker Milan Baros (Galatasaray- Turkey) to score critical goals. Baros has a serious injury concern (groin) and faces a serious fitness test to see if he will play at all in the tournament. If he can’t go, 22 year-old Tomas Necid (CSKA Moscow- Russia) will be asked to fill the void. Young midfielders will have to help out Rosicky. Tomas Pekhart (FC Nuremberg- Germany) and Vaclav Pilar (Viktoria Plzen- Czech Republic) are going to get plenty of playing time and need to produce to help take the load off of the aging Rosicky.
The Czech defense is decent and I think this gives them a decent chance to go through. Theodor Gebre Selassie (FC Slovan Liberec- Czech Republic), Marek Suchy (Spartak Moscow- Russia) and Michal Kadlec (Bayer Leverkusen- Germany) will help control the chances against the Czech goal. In a pool that will not see a ton of goals scored, the Czechs defensive capabilities could prove pivotal.
The Czech goalie is their strength. Petr Cech (Chelsea FC) is coming off a wonderful season which saw his club team win the Champions League. He is one of the top 3 goalies in the world and can singlehandedly change the outcome of games. If Cech plays well, the Czechs will have an edge over everyone in the group.
Key Game- Greece (June 12th)- If the Czechs don’t take 3 points from this game, they will go home after the group stages.
Outlook- I put their chances at 50/50 to go through. With goal difference being important, I don’t think the Czechs have enough offense and therefore won’t go through. They will get eliminated in the pool stages by goal differential.
Greece- The Greeks play soccer very similarly to how they fought the ancient Battle of Thermopylae. They hold, hold, hold and then counter-attack hoping to use ruthless efficiency and timely scoring to help them win games. The problem with Greece is that they are the least talented team in this group. They have a trifecta of players who need to perform well up front in the attack. Sotris Ninis (Parma- Italy), Georgios Samaras (Celtic-Scotland), Theofenis Gekas (Samsunspor- Turkey) need to produce offensively if the Greeks have any chance. They need to hook up with crafty midfielder Giorgos Karagounis (Panathinaikos- Greece) who will be charged with providing service to the aforementioned attackers.
On the back end, Greece will count on Avraam Papadopoulos (Olympiacos- Greece) and Kyriakos Papadopoulos (FC Schalke- Germany) to halt the bombardment that they will surely face from each of their opponents.
The one weakness that the Greeks have is their goaltender. Kostas Chalkias (PAOK- Greece) will try to keep out the onslaught and he will have to be absolutely magnificent for the Greeks to go through. He is a veteran goalkeeper (30 caps) for the national team, but isn’t as highly regarded as the other 3 keepers in this group and doesn’t play against the level of competition that the others in the group play against day in and day out.
Key Game- Russia (June 16th)- This is their last group game and if they can salvage anything against Russia, it could be instrumental in giving them a chance to advance.
Outlook- Not great, but not insurmountable. They have to play a tight, defensive contest each time out and hope to eke out victories or draws. They will need some goals and that is where I see them struggling. There will be no magical repeat of 2004 as the Greeks will go home early this year.
About the Author
Written by Michael Jenkins
I was born and raised in Phoenix, AZ. Graduated from THE University of Arizona. I now reside part time in San Francisco, CA. I am a diehard Phoenix Coyotes fan (season ticket holder since Day 1) and a diehard Chelsea FC fan. I am passionate, energetic and highly grateful to get the opportunity to work in this business again.