With the European soccer championship just days away, Vancity Buzz is previewing each of the four groups every day leading up to the first game on Friday June 8th. The UEFA European Championship is one of the biggest tournaments in the world, so whether or not you’re a soccer fan, take some time to get acclimated with these teams; you’ll be hearing a lot about them in the coming weeks.
Considered one of the easier groups in the competition, Group A, consisting of the Czech Republic, Greece, co-hosts Poland, and Russia, is very much open for the taking.
Though host nations typically fare well in these competitions, the issue facing the Polish squad will be their relative inexperience. They are one of the younger teams in the tournament, sporting an average age of 25, and no player on the team has been capped (appeared in an international game) more than 62 times. They’ll rely heavily on the trio of Łukasz Piszczek, Jakub Błaszczykowski, and Robert Lewandowski, who after a cup winning season with their club team Borussia Dortmund in Germany, will look to continue their run of good form into the Euro. In net, the internationally inexperienced Wojciech Szczęsny will need to be top class in order to push Poland past the group stage. He’s been stellar for his club team Arsenal, but with only 9 international caps to his name, he’ll need to up his game in front of the home supporters.
Home field advantage will be big for Poland who aren’t considered a huge threat, but also consider that because they are a host nation, they didn’t have to go through qualifying. As such, they’ve faced sub-par competition in recent international matches. This lack of real competitive games could hurt the team’s overall form.
Player to watch: Robert Lewandowski – The 23 year old striker had a breakout year, scoring 30 goals in 46 competitions. If Poland is to be successful, they’ll need Lewandowski to translate his great club form into international play.
You wouldn’t consider Russia to be a good soccer nation, but just four years ago they made it all the way to the semi-finals of the Euro, where they lost to eventual winners Spain. Though manager Dick Advocaat has stated he will step down after the tournament to focus on his club career, Russia remains a focussed team. They come into the tournament in good form having won their qualifying group losing just one game and conceding four goals in the process. Much of the team that went deep into Euro 2008 remains, but look for a young player like attacking midfielder Alan Dzagoev to play a big role. The 21 year old has been mentioned in the same breadth of other young superstars like Neymar and Mario Balotelli and his superb passing skills have already seen him have an impact on the first team.
Player to watch: Andrei Arshavin – in 2008 Arshavin broke onto the soccer scene, establishing himself with some great performances on the international stage. Since then his form has been inconsistent, leading to a loan move away from his club Arsenal. If Russia is to be successful, they’ll need a revitalized Arshavin and hopefully for them, another big tournament will be the catalyst to do just that.
It’s been a roller coaster of a decade in soccer for Greece who surprised many by beating hosts Portugal back in 2004 to win the Euro in that year, only to go winless and pointless in defending their title in 2008. Now, having topped their group in the qualifying stages going undefeated, Greece will look continue their run of good performances into the group stages of Euro 2012. When it comes to tactics, the Ethniki will be a very tough team to break down. As they’ve never been a team to score many goals (two defenders and a midfielder led them in qualifying tied with two goals), defense is a cornerstone of the Greek game and they should prove a tough opponent for any attacking minded team.
Player to watch: Sotiris Ninis – There isn’t a whole lot in the way of attacking talent on the Greek squad, but in Ninis they have a bonafide offensive midfielder. A gifted passer, Ninis has also been known to boast a great long range shot, so expect him to play a big role in the majority of Greece’s attacking opportunities.
If any nation is familiar with Greece’s 2004 win, you can certainly consider the Czech’s who lost out to the eventual winners in the semi-finals. Their chance at redemption will be a tough hurdle however as their team lacks many of the stars that have graced their starting eleven in past years. Midfield veterans Tomáš Rosický, Jaroslav Plašil, and forward Milan Baroš will lead the squad in hopes of replicating their success eight years ago. Baroš in particular will need to provide most of the offense up front as he will be the focus for the Czech Republic in the final third.
Player to watch: Petr Čech – Those who were fortunate enough to have watched the Champions League Final will be no stranger to Čech’s heroics. The 30 year old goalkeeper is considered one of the best in the world, and is just entering his prime. It’s perfect timing for the Czechs whose back four is considerably weaker since the last major tournament with the retirements of Tomáš Ujfaluši and Marek Jankulovski. Čech will be relied on heavily to the ball out of the net and give the Czech Republic a chance to win.
Group A Prediction: Group Winners – Russia; Runner Up – Poland