Euro 2012: Previewing Group A
Although viewed by many as the weakest of the groups, Euro 2012's Group A consists of squads that will fiercely compete to gain entrance into the knock-out stage and, as a result, will produce some of the most compelling matches of the tournament.
This preview will provide an in-depth look at each squad, citing their overall strategy, some of their key players and match-ups worth watching.
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Team Nickname: The White Eagles
Odds of Winning the Tournament: 58-1
World FIFA Ranking: 65
As one of Euro 2012's host teams, Poland received an automatic berth into the tournament.
Although Poland hasn't played in a competitive tournament match since 2009, they have looked somewhat impressive in the past year having beaten Argentina in a friendly (2-1)—Match Highlights—and drawn international powerhouses Germany, Portugal and Mexico.
This squad has the potential to surprise many and make it out of the group into the knockout stages.
Overall Strategy: Poland plays in a 4-3-3 formation.
The three midfielders play closely together and move laterally across the field as a synchronized unit. In the event that the Poles trail in a match, the midfielders are likely to provide more support offensively, and vice versa if they are ahead.
The formation encourages expansive play as it allows the three forwards to attack from different parts of the pitch.
1) Robert Lewandowski (Forward)
The forward from German club Borussia Dortmund had an impressive season scoring 30 goals in 46 appearances.
2) Jakub Blaszczykowski (Forward)
The winger and teammate of Lewandowski from Borussia Dortmund is a skillful winger who attacks the wing with great pace and dribbling skills and is able to deliver a solid ball in the box.
The Blaszczykowski-Lewandowski connection could provide the Poles with plenty of goals.
3) Lukasz Piszczek (Defender)
The talented defender also from Borussia Dortmund was widely considered to be one of Europe's best last season.
One of the more athletic defenders I've seen, Piszaczek has great vision, the ability to dribble around defenders impressively and provides an aerial threat when moving forward.
Rumor has it that he will likely be signed by Real Madrid this offseason—his play in this tournament could has a substantial impact on whether or not he is.
4) Wojciech Szczesny (Goalkeeper)
Poland is fortunate to have one of the English Premier League's best young goalkeepers in Szczesny.
vs. Greece: June 8th, 2012—9:00 am (PST); 12:00 pm (EST)
vs. Russia: June 12, 2012—9 am (PST); 12 pm (EST)
vs. Czech Republic: June 16th 2012—11:45 am (PST); 2:45 pm (EST)
Team Nickname: Sbornaya
Odds of winning tournament: 20-1
FIFA World Ranking: 11
With a impressive back four, the Russians are accustomed to giving up few goals. The real question mark will surround the Russian's offense. They feature captain Andrey Arshavin who, when in form, can be one of the world's most creative forwards and young attacking midfielder Alan Dzagoev who is an up-and-coming star. If their defense holds strong and they are able to score a few in critical times, I see no reason why the Russian's won't make it out of Group A.
Overall Strategy: Russia plays either a 4-3-3 or a 4-3-2-1. For information about the 4-3-3: See last slide. The 4-3-2-1 "Christmas Tree" is an ideal fit for the Russians as it allows them to utilize all of their attacking players at forward. In all likelihood, they'll place one of their two premier league forwards at striker (Roman Pavlyuchenko or Pavel Pogrebnyak) with Arshavin and Dzagoev behind him. They'll look to take advantage of their fitness by playing an up-tempo style and letting their best players Arshavin and Dzagoev create. Their offense will also include a viable aerial threat given their skill and size.
1) F. Andrey Arshavin: As a LW for Arsenal, Arshavin was impressive. He combines world-class creativity with precise dribbling control, good shooting capability, supreme killer instinct and pace. He will need be top-form if Russia wants to generate much offensively. Andrey Arshavin Highlight Reel
2) F/M. Alan Dzagoav: The 21-year-old attacking midfielder from French club Lyon is the future of Russia's National Team. The workhorse Dzagoav provides Russia's offense with flair, determination, aggression, anticipation, creativity, agility, pace, and fitness. Alan Dzagoav Highlight Reel
3) F. Roman Pavlyuchenko: The 30-year-old Lokomotiv Moskava Striker may be past his prime, but he still provides Russia with a viable striker. A fearless player with killer instict, good heading/shooting capabilities, Pavlyuchenko will be a player to watch. Roman Pavyuchenko Highlight Reel
vs. Czech Republic-- June 8th, 2012 -- 11:45 am (PST); 2:45 pm (EST)
vs. Poland -- June 12th, 2012 -- 11:45 am (PST); 2:45 pm (EST)
vs. Greece-- June 16th, 2012-- 11:45 am (PST); 2:45 pm (EST)
Team Nickname: Nároďák
Odds of winning tournament: 67-1
FIFA World Ranking: 26
Czech Republic's national team is going through somewhat of a rebuilding phase. Without the presence of former Czech star Petr Nedved, the Czech's will need to rely on their veteran leadership and some of their young talent to have any chance of making it out of the group stage.
Overall Strategy: Czech Republic plays a 4-2-3-1 formation (4 defenders, 2 defensive-midfielders, 3 offensive midfielders, and 1 lone striker). While the formation may seem defensive, it allows a squad some flexibility as wide players and fullbacks are able to join the attack.
2) M Tomas Rosicky-- The Arsenal midfielder had his first solid season with Arsenal after being hampered by injuries in years past. A key player for CR, expect Rosicky to manage the offense. Rosicky Highlight Reel
3) LB Michal Kadlec-- The Bayern Leverkusen left back and free kick specialist will be important for CR as he'll figure to be solid as a defender and will also look to provide some offense. Kadlec fights over a Messi jersey
4) F. Tomas Necid-- The highly-touted striker showed flashes with CSKA Moscow but suffered a debilitating knee injury and has not scored in about a year. He'll be a talented player to keep an eye on.
vs. Russia-- June 8th, 2012 -- 11:45 am (PST); 2:45 am (EST)
vs. Greece-- June 12th, 2012-- 9:00 am (PST); 12:00 pm (EST)
vs. Poland-- Junes 16th, 2012 -- 11:45 am (PST); 2:45 (EST)
Odds of winning tournament: 66-1
FIFA World Ranking: 14
Because Group A is composed of universally-even teams, matches will be close and may be decided by one-goal wins. In these types of matches, having a game-changing striker can make all the difference. If there's one thing the Greek team doesn't have, it's a game-changing striker. That fact could potentially determine whether or not Greece makes it out of the group. The team will have to rely on veteran experience-- they have plenty considering midfielders Giorgos Karagounis and Kostas Katsouranis played in Euro 2004-- and young talent.
Overall Strategy: Greece uses a 4-3-3 formation. Known for compact defense in front of the net, Greece is a possessive team who like to hold the ball and build up rather than counterattack. Their whole strategy relies on not conceding goals, so if they concede two-or-more goals, things could get ugly.
1) Kyriakos Papadopoulos-- Known as the "Greek Rock", this 20-year-old F.C Schalke defender has plenty of talent. Having been scouted by some of Europe's top clubs, Papadoulos has an auspicious future and is known for playing mistake-free and having great positioning and tackling capabilities.
2) Sotris Ninis-- The 22-year-old attacking-midfielder for Greek club Panathinaikos is a prodigious talent who has been plagued by injury through much of his career. Known for his precise dribbling control, passing ability, and vision, Ninis will be a player to watch in Euro 2012.
vs. Poland-- June 8th, 2012-- 9:00 am (PST); 12:00 pm (EST)
vs. Czech Republic-- June 12th, 2012-- 9:00 am (PST); 12:00 pm (EST)
vs. Russia-- June 16th, 2012-- 11:45 am (PST); 2:45 pm (EST)
Final Standings Prediction
4) Czech Republic