Euro 2012 Preview: Group A

Can Poland make home advantage count? Will Greece stun Europe again? Are Russia the dark horses? And can the Czech Republic roll back the years?

 

Poland

The Coach: Franciszek Smuda

One of the country’s most respected coaches, the 63-year-old former defender was appointed in October 2009 following Leo Beenhakker’s failure to guide the National Team to qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. He won three Polish Championships with Widzew Łódź (2) and WisÅ‚a Kraków (1). 

Key Player: Robert Lewandowski

The Borussia Dortmund striker comes off a domestic season which saw him score a far better than expected 30 goals. Despite being strong in the air, nifty with his feet and working the channels well, the Manchester United-bound centre-forward will have to rely on good service from the flanks in captain Jakub Blaszczykowski and Maciej Rybus.

Formation: 4-2-3-1

Smuda’s team will line up defensively and look to break on the counter attack. Their strength undoubtedly lies down their right flank with the Borussia Dortmund duo of Lukasz Piszczek and Jakub Blaszczykowski linking up extremely well. They are solid in defence and boast attacking options in the form of Ludovic Obraniak but questions remain as to whether their unambitious central midfield can create attacking opportunities for Lewandowski.

How Did They Qualify? Qualified directly as co-hosts of the tournament

Best European Championship Finals Performance: Group Stage (2008)

 

Greece

The Coach: Fernando Santos 

Voted in February 2010 by the Greek Football League as the best coach of the last decade, the 57-year-old has coached three of Greek football’s top club sides – AEK Athens, Panathinaikos and PAOK Salonika. He steered Greece undefeated through qualification after replacing the long-serving Otto Rehhagel.

Key Player: Sotiris Ninis 

With his impressive technique and range of passing, the 22-year-old midfielder is the creative outlet for the National Team. The Parma-bound attacker is best used high up the pitch, in the hole behind the striker, but he will face stiff competition for a place in the starting XI from another very promising player, Giannis Fetfatzidis of Olympiacos. 

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Formation: 4-3-3

The reactionary football played by the class of 2004 remains in part, but the class of 2012 is more creative and technically accomplished. The team is still broadly defensive in its nature and their attacking thrust will come in the form of both full-backs. Just as in 2004, set-pieces will be a determining factor in their success with Dimitris Salpigidis and Georgios Samaras providing the main aerial threat.

How Did They Qualify? Winners of Euro 2012 Qualifying Group F

Best European Championship Finals Performance: Winners (2004)

 

Russia 

The Coach: Dick Advocaat

Aside from success at domestic level, the ex-Rangers manager has plenty of experience when it comes to international tournaments. The Dutchman led his native Netherlands at both the 1994 FIFA World Cup and Euro 2004 as well as South Korea at the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

Key Player: Andrey Arshavin 

Having been deemed surplus to requirements at Arsenal, his subsequent loan move to former club Zenit Saint Petersburg in February has coincided with an upturn in form. The captain appears to be rejuvenated, hitting the sort of impressive form that he showed in Euro 2008. His pace and trickery is a worrying sight for any defender.

Formation: 4-3-3

Just like Spain, Russia have successfully combined their two most powerful club forces together to create a wonderfully free-flowing side. CSKA Moscow provide the goalkeeping and defensive base of the team whilst Zenit Saint Petersburg provide the midfield and attacking flair. Their fluidity allows for a change in formation, switching to a traditional 4-4-2 or more sold looking 4-3-2-1. Their main dilemma lies upfront: Pavel Pogrebnyak or Aleksandr Kerzhakov?

How Did They Qualify? Winners of Euro 2012 Qualifying Group B

Best European Championship Finals Performance: Semi-finals (2008)

 

Czech Republic 

The Coach: Michal Bílek

Qualifying was by no means plain sailing for the man who represented Czechoslovakia 32 times. A play-off win over Montenegro guaranteed their place at this year’s competition. His most notable managerial achievement came in the 2006-7 season when he led Sparta Prague to a domestic double.

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Key Player: Tomáš Rosický

At the age of 31, the Arsenal midfielder remains the most creative outlet for the Czechs. He produced his best form towards the end of the season which will give him confidence going into this year’s competition. His experience and creativity could be the difference between the Czech progressing or going out of the Group Stages.

Formation: 4-2-3-1 

Functional, well-organised and with a good mix of youth and experience best describes this Czech Republic team. Bílek does not have an attacking side at his disposal and thus he may look to a more direct style of play. They have a solid spine running through the team in goalkeeper Petr ÄŒech, midfielder Tomáš Rosický and striker Milan Baroš whilst their two wingers will carry the attacking threat.

How Did They Qualify? Runners-up in Euro 2012 Qualifying Group I 

Best European Championship Finals Performance: Winners (1976)

 

Twitter: @aleksklosok