Euro 2012 Group A Previews

Euro 2012 Group A Previews

  • Posted by Geoff Reid
  • On June 5, 2012
  • Czech Republic, Dimitris Salpigidis, Euro 2012, Fernando Santos, Franciszek Smuda, Greece, Guus Hiddink, Otto Rehhagel, Petr Cech, Poland, Robert Lewandowski, Russia, Ukraine, Wojciech Szczesny

Geoff Reid believes Poland could escape Group A. (Getty Images)

By Geoff Reid

Group A
Ever since their magical run to win the tournament in Portugal eight years ago, Greece has qualified for every major tournament. And their blue print for success hasn’t changed either with former manager Otto Rehhagel’s system of keeping 11 men behind the ball and picking their moments to counter working to perfection. By all means, it’s not pretty football at all, and completely opposite to the ‘Tiki-taka’ that the Spanish employ, but with the technical level of the top Greek players not as high as the Spanish, the system is a great fit for the Greeks because manager Fernando Santos knows they won’t pass their way around the best. So in turn, organization and discipline is key and has worked. During his club management, Santos has been shown to favor a 4-4-2 formation, but with the success of Rehhagel’s 4-3-3, the system’s been unchanged for the most part. On paper, it’s basically a 4-3-3, but quickly turns into a 4-5-1 in getting men behind the ball. By playing this way, Greece scored 14 goals in qualifying and only conceded five over the course of 10 games. The front line will be lead by Turkish based striker Theofanis Gekas, who will hold the ball up and bring others into the passage of play. He will be flanked by Celtic’s Georgos Samaras, and Dimitris Salpigidis who are natural strikers, but will drop to fill the midfield with more bodies when defending. One question surrounding the team is will the problems back home affect the squad? Often controversy or crises help bring togetherness to squads, and helps build the team morale. Italy in the 2006 World Cup only proves that point.

Czech Republic
The Czechs made the most out of qualifying, barely scraping by Montenegro in the playoffs to get to the Ukraine and Poland this summer, so question marks will be all over this squad. During eight games, the team only scored 12 goals during the campaign. The attack started to look more livelier when veteran Tomas Rosicky moved into the middle as the team’s playmaker in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Before, the 4-2-2-2 formation was deployed with the team having no width and playing too narrow. Rosicky is the key to the Czech team, no question. If he plays well, so does the team, and in the middle is where he is at his best. Another key to the Czech’s success is Chelsea’s Champions League winning goalkeeper Petr Cech, who most of us thought was never the same goalkeeper after his concussion years ago. He ended up keeping Chelsea in the competition many times before they won the trophy.Another big influence on this national team is the success of club side Viktoria Plzen, being the first Czech side from outside Prague to make it to the Champions League group stage. Many of the young players gained valuable experience playing against AC Milan and Barcelona and will be a nucleus for the future with the national team.

While the draw was kind at best for the co-hosts, it is also going to be a real test for the Polish, who will be under pressure on their own pitch. Getting out of the group is definitely achievable, but progressing past the quarter finals may be a bit too much for manager Franciszek Smuda’s boys. Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny will be key and heavily relied upon, as will Borussia Dortmund’s trio of full back Lukasz Piszczek, right winger Jakub Blaszczykowski, and main striker Robert Lewandowski. In-particular the young striker has been in fine form for his club side this past season helping them onto their second consecutive Bundesliga title, while also scoring a hat-trick against Bayern Munich is the German Cup final to secure the domestic double. It’s also fair to say all three had standout seasons for the German champions with the biggest European clubs keeping eyes out on the standout Polish players. The formation Smuda should go with is the 4-2-3-1, but it can also turn into a 4-4-1-1 should they be defending a lead or want to counter attack.

Four years ago, Russia under the management of Guus Hiddink went on a magical run to the semi finals while playing some excellent football in the process. At this point, the Russians were thinking no longer were they an observer from a distance and finally felt like they were a major player at big tournaments. However, only two years later, the squad failed to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa, and Hiddink soon departed. He was replaced with fellow Dutch manager Dick Advocaat and the system is largely the same, with the same players and because of that a certain staleness is currently hanging over the squad, with a lack of freshness. Since Advocaat announced he will be leaving after the tournament, this is almost like a farewell for this generation of Russian players. Can they make a good showing and go out with a bang?

June 8th: Poland 2-1 Greece
June 8th: Russia 1-2 Czech Republic
June 12th: Poland 2-0 Russia
June 12th: Greece 1-3 Czech Republic
June 16th: Czech Republic 2-2 Poland
June 16th: Greece 1-1 Russia

1. Czech Republic 7pts
2. Poland 7pts
3. Greece 1pt
4. Russia 1pt