Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Euro Round-About - Group A

The European Football Championships start in a few hours, and this group will be kicking things off. No heavyweights in Group A, but all are pretty much even.

Poland - The hosts will be looking at trying to win behind players who assisted in Borussia Dortmund's successful Bundesliga campaign, with Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek. They also have English side Arsenal's starting keeper Wojciech Szczesny. Under the stewardship of Franciszek Smuda, they play a counterattacking style similar to how Dortmund plays, which makes it easier for their stars to work. They aim to replicate a tradition that had been discontinued in the last event, which is for a host side to make it to as far as the semifinals.

Czech Republic - They have acquitted themselves well in this competition, making the finals in 1996 and the semifinals in 2004. With Michal Bilek in charge, look for them to go into a 4-2-3-1, with the creative magic from Tomas Rosicky of Arsenal trying to make things easy for former Liverpool striker (now with Galatasaray) Milan Baros and CSKA Moscow's Tomas Necid to score. At least at the back, they are in good hands with Petr Cech on goal. Helping out the Champions League winner from Chelsea on defense will be Bayer Leverkusen's Michal Kadlec. You may also wonder that they have someone of Ethiopian descent playing for the team in Theodor Gebre Selassie.

Russia - Under Dick Advocaat, the Russians have been making an effort to approach the greatness of their Soviet predecessors. They were almost there with in 2008, making it to the semifinals under changemaker expert Guus Hiddink before being dispatched by eventual champions Spain. Arsenal midfielder Andrei Arshavin, who rediscovered his form while on loan with Zenit St. Petersburg, is the captain. Joining him there are six of his teammates at Zenit, plus Advocaat being their former manager, helps with the familiarity. Also with a large contingent is CSKA Moscow, led by their keeper, Igor Akinfeev. In front of him are two of his teammates in Sergei Ignashevich and Aleksei Berezutskiy. In addition Anzhi Makhachkala's Yuri Zhirkov (best known as having played in Chelsea), also has CSKA roots.  Up front, they could go with either Roman Pavlyuchenko or Pavel Pogrebnyak as the lone striker, with Arshavin and CSKA youngster Alan Dzagoev behind him. Another hidden edge with Russia has to be their three-month break no thanks to the legendary Russian winters, which makes their players a little more fresher than most of their contemporaries.

Greece - The 2004 Euro winners won their title through sheer prevent defense and counterattack, bound to frustrate and irritate opponents, and possibly viewers as well. You might say, watching the Philippines play in the 2010 Suzuki Cup would make you better appreciate how the Greeks "pirated" their way to the trophy back then. Their manager back then, Otto Rehhagel, recently departed, but his successor Fernando Santos adopted his scheme and added some more wrinkles. They will be led a couple of players from that championship team, Giorgos Karagounis and Kostas Katsouranis of Panathinaikos. A couple of youngsters who could become stars in the competition are Schalke's Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Parma's Sotiris Ninis.

Who advances? Russia as group winner, Poland as runner-up

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