Euro 2012 Group A Preview

POLAND
As co-hosts of Euro 2012, along with Ukraine, Poland was not forced to go through the qualification stage to earn a place into the tournament.  Which – considering how their attempt to qualify for the 2010 World Cup went – has to be a blessing for a Polish side still looking to recapture their international form.
They finished third in both the 1978 and 1982 World Cups, scoring wins over Brazil (’78) and France (’82) to secure that position.  More recently they failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup and went out in the first round in Germany in 2006 and the Japan and South Korea joint-competition of 2002. The nation’s European Championship history has been brief, with 2008 marking the team’s only appearance. There they failed to win a game as they were eliminated in the group stage of the competition.
Polish manager Franciszek Smuda will be the man in charge hoping to lead his nation to glory on their own soil.
Poland and Ukraine have another international soccer date with destiny as both teams have been drawn into UEFA group H for qualification into the 2014 World Cup.
Jason deVos Says: As co-hosts, Poland will be hoping that home field advantage can pay dividends for them as they search for their first ever victory in a European championship match. In their only other tournament appearance in 2008, the Poles came away with a draw and two losses, resulting in a 14th place finish. They will certainly be hoping to provide better value for their home fans in this year’s event.
Player to Watch: Poland’s biggest strength is in its goalkeeper.  Wojciech Szczesny has charged to the forefront while playing for Arsenal giving himself the best chance, exposure on one of the biggest clubs in the world and earning himself a place as the starter for Poland.
Euro 2012 Squad:
Goalkeepers: Grzegorz Sandomierski (Jagiellonia Bialystok), Wojciech Szczesny (Arsenal), Przemyslaw Tyton (PSV Eindhoven).
Defenders: Sebastian Boenisch (Werder Breman), Marcin Kaminski (Lech Poznan), Damien Perquis (Sochaux), Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund), Marcin Wasilewski (Anderlecht), Jakub Wawrzyniak (Legia Warsaw), Grzegorz Wojtkowiak (Lech Poznan).
Midfielders: Jakub Blaszczykowski (Borussia Dortmund), Dariusz Dudka (Auxerre), Kamil Grosicki (Sivasspor), Adam Matuszczyk (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Adrian Mierzejewski (Trabzonspor), Rafal Murawski (Lech Poznan), Ludovic Obraniak (Bordeaux), Eugen Polanski (FSV Mainz), Maciej Rybus (Terek Grozny), Rafal Wolski (Legia Warsaw).
Forwards: Pawel Brozek (Celtic), Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund), Artur Sobiech (Hannover 96).
Road to Euro 2012: Automatic qualification as Co-Hosts of Euro 2012.
Tournament History: 2008 – Group Stage, 2004 – Did Not Qualify, 2000 – Did Not Qualify
Best Finish: Group Stage (2008)
RUSSIA
From tournament to tournament it’s hard to know what to expect from a Russian side that sandwiched a third place finish in Euro 2008 with failing to qualify for the World Cup in both 2006 and 2010. Their last attempt at soccer’s biggest stage, the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, also saw them exit with just one victory.
However, Euro 2008 saw them only beaten twice by the same team; once in the group stage and in the semi-final, by Spain who would go on to earn the Championship.
Here’s a look at what lies ahead for Russia in the tournament.
Jason deVos Says: The experienced Dutchman, Dick Advocaat – who is set to take over at Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven at the tournament’s conclusion – leads Russia into Euro 2012.Advocaat guided the Russians to the top of Group B in qualifying, suffering just one defeat along the way, and will be hoping to continue that form into the tournament proper. The Russians will prove difficult to score against, with a well-drilled defensive line.
Player to Watch: Attacking midfielder Alan Dzagoyev – the 21-year old could be in line for a move to a much bigger stage if he performs up to expectations at Euro 2012.
Euro 2012 Squad:
Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Vyacheslav Malafeev (Zenit St. Petersburg), Anton Shunin (Dinamo Moscow).
Defenders: Alexander Anyukov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Alexei Berezutski (CSKA Moscow), Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Granat (Dinamo Moscow), Yuri Zhirkov (Anzhi), Roman Sharonov (Rubin Kazan), Kirill Nababkin (CSKA Moscow).
Midfielders: Igor Denisov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Roman Shirokov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Konstantin Zyryanov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Denis Glushakov (Lokomotiv Moscow), Igor Semshov (Dinamo Moscow), Dmitry Kombarov (Spartak Moscow).
Forwards: Andrei Arshavin (Arsenal), Alexander Kerzhakov (Zenit St.Petersburg), Roman Pavlyuchenko (Tottenham), Pavel Pogrebnyak (Stuttgart), Alan Dzagoyev (CSKA Moscow), Marat Izmailov, (Sporting), Alexander Kokorin (Dinamo Moscow).
Road to Euro:
Group: B – Andorra, Armenia, Ireland, Macedonia, Slovakia
Record: 7-1-2
Key Match: Emphatic would be the best word to describe Russia’s 6-0 home victory over Andorra that ensured qualification into Euro 2012. Though Alan Dzagoev’s fifth minute goal would be enough to carry the day, Russia would collect five more goals to signal intent to not only arrive but thrive in Poland and Ukraine. They went into the contest knowing a point would have been enough but collected all three in the Oct. 11 clash.
Tournament History: 2008 – Semi-Final, 2004 –Group Stage, 2000 – Did Not Qualify
Best Finish: Champions (1960 as U.S.S.R.)
GREECE
In the biggest international tournament in football, Greece was not able to qualify for the 2006 World Cup and recorded just one victory in the 2010 competition.
Entering Euro 2008 as defending champions proved to be a huge burden for Greece as they were quickly dispatched, scoring just once and becoming the first title holders to fail to record a point in the following tournament.
Known for playing a defensive game, Greece gave up only five goals over their 10 qualifying contests and were undefeated on their way into the main portion of the tournament.
Jason deVos Says: Greece won the European Championship in 2004 – but don’t expect a repeat from them in this year’s event. Manager Fernando Santos, who took over from the impressive German, Otto Rehhagel, leads the Greeks into the finals after taking over in 2010.
They topped Group F in qualifying – just ahead of Croatia – due in large part to their ability to defend. Unfortunately for the Greeks, the lack of a genuine goal scoring threat could be their undoing.
Player to Watch: Georgios Samaras is probably Greece’s biggest offensive threat heading into Euro 2012.  He currently plays for Celtic and has also been a member of Manchester City during his career.  He has earned 50 international caps playing for his country. Samaras struggled through qualifying, scoring only once, but will be counted on to take advantage of the limited opportunity their defensive style creates.
Euro 2012 Squad:
Goalkeepers: Costas Chalkias (PAOK), Michalis Sifakis (Aris), Alexandros Tzorvas (Palermo).

Defenders: Vassilis Torosidis (Olympiakos), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Werder Bremen), Avraam Papadopoulos (Olympiakos). Jose Holebas (Olympiakos), Stelios Malezas (PAOK), Giorgos Tzavelas (Monaco), Yiannis Maniatis (Olympiakos), Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Schalke).
Midfielders: Giorgos Karagounis (Panathinaikos), Costas Katsouranis (Panathinaikos), Giorgos Fotakis (PAOK), Costas Fortounis (Kaiserslautern), Yiannis Fetfatzidis (Olympiakos), Sotiris Ninis (Panathinaikos), Grigoris Makos (AEK Athens).
Forwards: Georgios Samaras (Celtic), Dimitris Salpigidis (PAOK), Costas Mitroglou (Atromitos), Nikos Lymberopoulos (AEK Athens), Fanis Gekas (Samsunspor).
Road to Euro 2012:
Group: F – Croatia, Georgia, Israel, Latvia, Malta
Record: 7-0-3
Key Match: On Oct. 7 Greece took control of group F with a 2-0 victory at home over Croatia.  After a scoreless first half, goals from Giorgos Samaras and Fanis Gekas gave them a huge win.  The two goals that came within ten minutes of each other leapfrogged the Greeks into first place in Group F, a position they would cement to clinch their place in the main tournament.
Tournament History: 2008 – Group Stage, 2004 – Champions, 2000 – Did Not Qualify
Best Finish: Champions (2004)
CZECH REPUBLIC
The Czech Republic was one of the lucky teams on the day of the draw. It managed to avoid the Group of Death and wound up in a group that could really see any of its teams advancing as top seeds.
Luck has been fleeting for the Czechs, who got none in the group stage after being lumped in with the defending champs from Spain. However, they would benefit from drawing a less-than-intimidating Montenegro in the qualifying play-off.
Will luck be on their side once the tournament kicks off?
Jason deVos says: Not that long ago, the Czechs were viewed as an upcoming force in European football. The likes of Nedved, Poborsky and Jan Koller were a handful for even the stingiest defenses.
A semi-final loss to Greece in 2004 was the height of their achievement, as they failed to reach the knockout stage in 2008. With Peter Cech in goal, the Czechs will look to keep things tight at the back, but with little impetus going forward, it could be an early exit for the Czechs at the end of the group stage.
Player to Watch: The Czech offense depends largely on the genius ball-movement of team captain Tomas Rosicky. His distribution skills open up a lot of quality looks for the Czechs attacking forwards, as evidenced by his pair of assists in the team’s 2-0 qualifying play-off win in the opening play-off leg against Montenegro.
Euro 2012 Squad:
Goalkeepers: Petr Cech (Chelsea), Jaroslav Drobny (Hamburg), Jan Lastuvka (Dnipropetrovsk).
Defenders: Theodor Gebre Selassie (Liberec), Roman Hubnik (Hertha Berlin), Michal Kadlec (Bayer Leverkusen), David Limbersky (Viktoria Plzen), Tomas Sivok (Besiktas), Marek Suchy (Spartak Moscow).

Midfielders: Tomas Hubschman (Shakhtar Donetsk), Petr Jiracek (Wolfsburg), Daniel Kolar (Viktoria Plzen), Milan Petrzela (Viktoria Plzen), Vaclav Pilar (Viktoria Plzen), Jaroslav Plasil (Bordeaux), Tomas Rosicky (Arsenal), Vladimir Darida (Viktoria Plzen), Frantisek Rajtoral (Viktoria Plzen).

Forwards: Milan Baros (Galatasaray), David Lafata (Jablonec), Tomas Necid (CSKA Moscow), Tomas Pekhart (Nuremberg), Jan Rezek (Anorthosis Famagusta).
Road to Euro 2012:
Group: I – Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Scotland, Spain
Record: 4-3-1 (won aggregate play-off 3-0)
Key Match: The key group match turned out to be their game at Hampden Park in Glasgow. Scotland, for whom this had become a must win game, jumped out to a lead just before the halftime whistle. After Plasil equalized for the visitors, Scotland once again jumped ahead and looked to secure themselves maximum points. However, Jan Rezek was fouled in the area as extra time approached and Michal Kadlec converted the penalty to earn a point and keep the Czechs five points clear of Scotland in Group I competition.
Tournament History: 2008 – Qualified, 2004 – Semi Final, 2000 – Qualified
Best Finish: Champions (1976 – as Czechoslovakia), Runners-Up (1996

 

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