With the Euro2012 knocking on our doors, it is about time I started writing something, I believe. I will do a simple preview of the tournament in several. installements, one on for each group and then one for general considerations on the tournament,We’ll strat with group A.
Contrary to most people, I find that the expression “group of death” better applies to this group than to group B. In group B, whatever the strength of the teams involved (any of them would be the favourites in group A), there are two clear favourites. In group A, however, neither team could be considered the strongest favourites. Even the theoretical weakest team, Poland, are expected to get a lift from the home support which could even the odds.
Russia are the obvious favourites and have the most impressive group of players, but most of them come on the back of a one and a half year internal season which, despite all the breaks, may have taken a toll on the best players. The fast running and counter-attacking game displayed at Euro2008 was strongly supported by the fact most players were in the middle of their seasons and therefore in top physical condition. This will not be true at poland and Ukraine however, and the surprise factor may therefore be absent. The impressive results in preparation matches may be an indication of form, but that is not necessarily an indication of strength. Russia will play with strong support but also with high expectations, which my well turn against them. Furthermore, despite being known as a good coach, Dick Advocaat does commit the occasional tactical blunder (the most famous of which if somewhat unjustly, was the substitution of Robben at the Holland-Czech Republic match at the Euro2004) and all these factors may reduce the favouritism placed on the russian team.
My expectation, even though this will go against what most people will say, is that Russia will not get out of the group, finishing third.
Greece were in impressive form in qualification, winning seven times and finishing without defeats. Following previous years, the manager Fernando Santos adopted a more conservative approach, keeping things tight at the back and exploring fast attacks based on holding play from the striker and betting strongly on set-pieces to get the goal necessary to win the match. Whereas this strategy should not be enough to repeat the surprise of 2004, Greece come to the Euro as a very complicated opponent which are capable of causing problems to any opponent and possibly cause some surprises along the way.
The expectation will be if they can get the goals to win the matches, but it is quite possible they could qualify from the group with three draws. After this, even though they may well be able to beat any team, thewinner of group B is likely the kick them out of competition.
Poland are on paper the weakest side in the group and it is quite possible they will live up to the low expectations set for them. Poland base their game around four players: the Arsenal goalkeeper Szczesny and the trio from Borussia Dortmund Piszczek, the captain Kuba and the striker Lewandowsky. With Piszczek and Kuba, Poland present one of the best right wings of the tournament, but given the overall quality of the side, it is quite possible this will leave the game predictable and easy to defend against. In Lewandowsky Poland will also present one of the outstanding strikers of the tournament, a player capable of scoring goals, hold up the ball, get teammates into play and create spaces with his movement. His form will be fundamental for a good display by the hosts and he may well be the surprise of the tournament, but is likely to see his good work wasted by the lower quality of the team.
Unfortunately, the high quality of the players mentioned above should not be enough to see them out of the group. One win or two draws should be the most they can expect. It is however very possible that they will score on most games and it would not be too surprising to see Lewandowsky take the award for the best scorer.
Czech Republic arrive to Poland with the nostalgia of previous years but that should not cloud the fact that this is a very solid and balanced side which should surprise their opponents in the group. The final matches of the season saw Petr Cech rise to his former heights as one of the outstanding keepers of his generation anfd this should bring the necessary confidence for the defence, especially the full-backs for roaming forward. The midfield have a good balance of defensive guile and creativity and the forwards, though not brilliant, are capable of scoring and should be able to get one or two goals for each match of the group phase.
If no injuries affect the key players, the czechs should be able to take the group as leaders and then they do have the quality to beat any of the teams from group A. Still, qualifying to the quarter-finals should be the maximum achievable goal, but a semi-final spot is not beyond them.