Euro 2012 Preview: Group A

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A preview of Group A of Euro 2012, for groups B, C and D follow the links. Remember to join our free Wessex Scene fantasy league for a chance to win prizes (TBA).

Czech Republic

Manager: Increasingly unpopular with Czech supporters, Michal Bilek has got his work cut out with an ageing and diminishing squad. Along with his assistant Vladimir Smicer, Bilek will be hoping to prove fans wrong and push through to the knock out stages.

Key players: Tomas Rosicky, Petr Cech, Michal Kadlec

Star player: Petr Cech. The Chelsea goalkeeper will be called on more often than not to dig the Czechs out of trouble against big teams, but his experience will also be needed to give them any hope. Consistently brilliant for both club and country, Cech is undoubtedly the key man.

Young player: Tomas Pekhart. This youngster deserves his place, a hard worker; he has proved indispensable at FC Nuremberg with 9 goals in his 30 league appearances.

Did you know? –The Czech Republic has the highest beer consumption per capita in the world.

Can They Win It? – With Russia and home nation Poland in their group, as well as 2004 freak winners Greece, the Czech Republic will consider themselves lucky to get through their group.

Probable Starting XI: GK Petr Cech; DEF Theodor Gebre Selassie, Tomas Sivok, Roman Hubnik, Michal Kadlec; MID Jaroslav Plasil, Petr Jiracek; Jan Rezek, Tomas Rosicky, Vaclav Pilar; FWD Tomas Pekhart.

 

Greece

Key players: Vasilis Torosidis, Giorgos Karagounis, Theofanis Gekas

Manager: Fernando Santos. Despite relative success with Greek and Portuguese clubs, Santos went unbeaten in his first 14 games in charge of Greece. Nonetheless, the Portuguese will have a major task on his hands to top former boss Otto Rehhagel and his unlikely 2004 win.

Star player: Sotiris Ninis. An incredibly skilful creative midfielder, he has both fantastic long-range shooting ability and pace to boot. Unlucky to not play at the last World Cup, he will be eager to prove his worth.

Young player: Kyriakos Papadopoulos. Both a centre-back and defensive midfielder, he has established himself for Schalke 04 in Germany. Blessed with ability to tackle and read the game, he has a bright future for the national team.

Did you know? – Greece qualified for the tournament winning their group, but scored the least amount of goals for any team at the finals.

Can they win it? – A true ‘dark horse’ in every sense. The odds are stacked against them, the group fixtures are tough and it seems unlikely, but they were never favourites in 2004 either.

Probable starting XI: GK Kostas Chalkias; DEF Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Avraam Papadopoulos, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Jose Holebas; MID Kostas Katsouranis, Giannis Maniatis, Giorgos Karagounis; FWD Sotiris Ninis, Fanis Gekas, Georgios Samaras

Poland

Manager: Franciszek Smuda. In charge since 2009 Smuda has managed or played for 28 different clubs. He has faced some criticism for calling up players born outside of Poland but in the last 18 months the results have spoken for themselves.

Key players: Lukasz Piszczek , Jakub Blaszczykowski, Robert Lewandowski

Star Player: Robert Lewandowski. It is rather fortunate for Poland that their best player happens to be in the form of his life right now 30 goals in all competitions including a hat-trick in the German Cup final sums up a remarkable season for the young man who is carrying a nation’s hopes on his shoulders.

Young Player: A well-established player for club and country but at the tender age of 22 Wojciech Szczesny still has many years ahead of him at the top level. He still has much to learn about his own game but if he keeps making progress like this he could go down as one of the great number ones.

Did you know? – Germany’s star striker Miroslav Klose was born in Poland but chose to play for Germany. With over 60 international goals how much different would Poland’s fortunes have been if he had chosen to play for his homeland.

Can they win it? – Even with home advantage it is extremely unlikely that Poland will get much further than the second round let alone out of this tricky group. They have players who are at the top of their game but overall their team is not strong enough to mount a serious challenge. The best they can hope for is get through their group and give their fans some knock-out football.

Probable starting XI: GK Wojciech Szczesny; DEF Lukasz Piszczek, Marcin Wasilewski, Damien Perquis, Jakub Wawrzyniak; MID Dariusz Dudka, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Adrian Mierzejewski, Eugen Polanski, Ludovic Obraniak; FWD Robert Lewandowski

Russia

Manager: Dick Advocaat. Despite topping their qualifying group, the Russian media have been highly critical of the manager’s defensive style and his reluctance to put young talent into the squad, opting to go for the experienced, notably the inclusion of 35 year old Roman Sharanov of Rubin Kazan. Nevertheless, the Dutchman will stay true to his beliefs; he’ll feel vindicated as a consequence of his pedigree. Managing a number of Europe’s top sides, he also led the Dutch to the semi-finals of the 1994 World Cup.

Key players: Andrey Arshavin, Alan Dzagoev, Aleksandr Kerzhakov

Star player: Andrey Arshavin. After an indifferent season at Arsenal, the attacking midfielder was loaned back to former club Zenit St. Petersburg where he appears to have re-ignited his career with a number of glittering performances. The diminutive Russian captain will need to display will need to be on top of his game and display his wizardry if he is to lead his county to success this summer.

Young player: Alan Dzagoev. The CSKA playmaker has got quality in abundance. He has a good first touch, pace, skill and vision that can dissect a defence. Currently he is in a race for match fitness ahead of the European Championships, but if fit, he will make a significant difference to his team.

Did you know? – Recently, Arshavin aroused a sexism storm with his prehistoric claim about women’s football, stating that “Although it is OK for females to play football, the quality is too low for it to be taken seriously.”

Can they win it? – Despite being unreliably inconsistent, this Russian side have an abundance of talent across the pitch and should get through the group. Anything less than the knock-out stages would be a disaster and the end of Advocaat, especially considering their excellent 2008 showing.

Probable starting XI: GK Igor Akinfeev; DEF Alexander Anyukov, Alexei Berezutsky, Sergei Ignashevich, Yuri Zhirkov; MID Roman Shirokov, Konstantin Zyryanov, Marat Izmailov, Alan Dzagoyev, Andrei Arshavin; FWD Alexander Kerzhakov

 

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