We are just two weeks away from one of the most exciting events in sports: Euro 2012! Four years ago. Spain defeated Germany in the finals to claim the title! Will they defend it this year? We will be previewing all 16 teams over the next two weeks. We will be starting with what is undoubtly the weakest group in the tournament. Will one of these teams be a Cinderella this year? Let’s take a closer look!
Reason to Root: The Russians are coming, and boy are they bringing the heavy artillery with them! Potentially genuine contenders, there’ll be one helluva party in South Brooklyn if they can lift the Cup this summer.
Likely to Reach: Semi Finals
The Russian squad is so laden with quality that the thought of a finish outside the top four should be inconceivable. Unfortunately, though, this squad has demonstrated over the years that they struggle sometimes when their backs are up against the wall. If manager Dick Advocaat can find some way of getting his players to believe that they really can become European Champions then there’s no knowing how far they might go. Go hard or go home just about sums it up for the Russians.
Superstar: Roman Pavlyuchenko (Lokomotiv Moscow)
If one player characterizes the Russian team, it’s “Pav”. Tottenham fans know only too well from his stint at White Hart Lane that when all is well in his world he is capable of setting a game on fire. But they are also painfully aware of how often he chooses to pass his afternoons by wandering around the field with sagging shoulders and a lowered head as if carefully searching for a hole that might swallow him up.
Rising Star: Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow)
After making his full international debut at the age of 18, Dzagoev has spent the last three years showing the world exactly why he is one of the game’s hottest prospects. Never write the Russians off for as long as this 21-year-old is involved in the game. His footballing brain is first-rate, and you should count on him to consistently hit the likes of Pavlyuchenko, Pavel Pogrebnyak, and Andrei Arshavin with defence-splitting passes from an advanced midfield position.
Tick, Tick, Boom: Aleksandr Anyukov (Zenit St Petersburg)
Don’t count against this no-nonsense stopper demonstrating just how patriotic he is by collecting a red card or two.
Reason to Root: With the recent collapse of their economy, the Greeks have got very little to smile about right now. A good performance in Euro 2012 would help to lift the “birthplace of the modern world” out of its depression.
Likely to Reach: Quarter Finals
The Greeks topped their qualifying group and remained undefeated throughout, so it’s somewhat surprising that most commentators have written off their chances before a ball has even been kicked in anger. Granted, they never faced the toughest of opponents, although credit must be given for the way that they dealt with an impressive Croatian outfit. Recent results have been poor (particularly a 3-1 loss at home to Romania) but it would be a mistake to under-estimate the role that experience plays in big-time tournaments, and that is something which the Greeks have in abundance.
Superstar: Giorgos Karagounis (Panathinaikos)
At 35, Karagounis will be keen to crown a distinguished career that has seen him collect 116 international caps and a Euro 2004 Champions Medal. Although he’s rarely a threat in front of goal, the veteran will look to lead by example and pull the strings in the Greek midfield. A visionary passer of the ball, Karagounis very rarely wastes possession, and if the Greeks are to prosper they will need to capitalise on his ability to unlock a defence.
Rising Star: Kyriakos Papodopolous (Schalke 04)
Although it’s still unclear as to exactly what role Papadopolous will play during Euro 2012, let there be no doubt about the talent that this kid has. His preferred role is at the back where he is happy to serve as the defensive lynchpin, although he may be asked to move into midfield so as to make up for the ageing legs of some of his team-mates. In recent years he has been on the radar of Manchester United, Chelsea, and Arsenal. Watch him!
Tick, Tick, Boom: Vassilis Torossidis (Olympiakos)
If you see big Vass bearing down on you, it might be an idea to have your insurance policy to hand. Lets just say that his ‘committed’ style of play will have many referees brushing up on how to spell his surname before the tournament begins.
Reason to Root: As co-hosts of the tournament, the performance of the Poles will be a key factor in determining whether the competition goes off with a bang or a fizz.
Likely to Reach: Group Stage
If Poland are to make it out of Group A, then they must overcome two severe shortcomings, namely: 1) an abject lack of talent, and 2) a recent run of form that would be bad enough to warrant the retirement of any self-respecting racehorse.
Superstar: Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund)
It’s probably a bit of a reach to describe Lewandowski as a superstar when it’s true that a couple of years ago Blackburn Rovers identified him as being a suitable fit at Ewood Park. That said, he does at least know where the net is, and so he is undoubtedly the player who is most likely to bother anybody who chooses to keep track of how few goals Poland will score this summer.
Rising Star: Wojciech Szczesny (Arsenal)
You may think that I’m exaggerating the plight of the Poles, but the fact that their best up-and-coming prospect is Szczesny – who was until recently considered by Arsene Wenger as being a worse goalkeeper than Lukas Fabianksi (!) – should be enough to convince anybody that the game is up.
Tick, Tick, Boom: Arkadiusz Glowacki (Wisla Krakow)
Glowacki is a throw-back to the days when defenders from the old Eastern Bloc were as likely to time a tackle properly as they were to walk onto the pitch wearing a Stars’N’Stripes bandana.
Reason to Root: If you like the idea of a former contender trying to defy the odds for one last shot at the title (think Rocky III), then the Czechs should be just the right fit.
Likely to Reach: Group Stage
An aging squad coupled with a largely unproven manager makes it difficult to see how the 1996 finalists might make it as far as the Quarter Finals this time around. Although they are still capable of producing, Tomas Rosicky and Milan Baros have both seen better days while Chelsea keeper Petr Cech’s stock has also fallen from the heights of a few years ago. Coach Michael Bilek, meanwhile, is resurrecting his career with the national side after being sacked by Sparta Prague in 2009, and many believe that he is short of the pedigree required to succeed at the highest level.
Superstar: Tomas Rosicky (Arsenal)
The legs may be on their way out, but the brain remains as sharp as ever. If he is allowed to dictate the pace of a game Rosicky will undoubtedly create plenty of opportunities for the Czechs, although it is questionable as to how many might be converted.
Rising Star: Adam Hlousek (Slavia Prague)
Hlousek can be deployed anywhere on the left flank although he says that he prefers to play in an advanced role. His potent combination of blistering pace and above-average technical ability will always create problems, and the 21-year-old could well be on his way to bigger and better things by the end of the tournament.
Tick, Tick, Boom: Jan Rezek
Although Rezek is not a particularly unstable character, he does have a liking for the occasional dive inside the opponents’ penalty area (as Scotland fans will know only too well). More of an annoyance than anything else, Rezek’s liking for gamesmanship could create one or two flashpoints.
Who do you have moving on in Group A? Let us know in the comments!