Hosts, the Samaras effect, and the Czech Old Guard – Group APosted: June 4, 2012
Well, we’re nearly there. Since qualifying ended in November, the supporters of the 16 nations who qualified for the Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine have been eagerly waiting for the 8th of June to come around. From the great to the miserable, from Spain right down to England – BOIP will preview each team from every group fighting for the European Championship. The first group that will be previewed is Group A. The group that contains co-hosts Poland, as well as Greece, Russia, and Czech Republic.
Odds – 50/1
Normally, a country like Poland would not be considered as a serious prospect at an international tournament. But, over the years, unfancied nations that have been the hosts in major tournaments have a tendency to trouble the big hitters. South Korea in the 2002 World Cup spring to mind, and Poland certainly fall into that category.
Obviously, as hosts, Poland didn’t need to play to qualify for the tournament, so their preparation has been a bit low-key. Over the past two years, they have played in a series of friendlies against nations such as Portugal, Andorra and Malta. Most notably, all of these games have been in Warsaw, which is where they will be playing all of their group games. Is it just a coincidence, or is it terrific planning on their part? We will soon find out.
In years gone by, The Poles have not been known for having players that have stood out from the rest. Perhaps, their most notable player has been Jerzy Dudek. The 2005 Champions League hero captained his country on many occasions and was a key member of their 2002 World Cup squad. These days, though, there are even less notable players.
One stands out, though. Robert Lewandowski from Borussia Dortmund has been tipped as many people’s top scorer for the tournament, and rightly so. He scored 22 goals as he helped his side win their second successive Bundesliga title. He will almost certainly be the difference between his country going out on a whimper, or riding the crest of a wave.
Odds – 100/1
Despite the political problems that engulf this Mediterranean country at present, they are also famous for a miracle that happened 8 years ago. German coach Otto Rehhagel became an iconic figure when he took Greece from extreme underdogs to European Champions in 2004. They were criticised for being boring and defensive and while that is a fact, they also possessed some good players in that squad such as Antonio Nikopolidos and Stelios Giannakopoulos. Players of that quality don’t occupy the squad these days, nor does Rehhagel manage them, but they were in Group A in Portugal 8 years ago. A possible omen?
Surprisingly, Greece were unbeaten in their qualifying group winning 7 of their 10 matches. However, they were in a very weak group containing Croatia, Latvia, Malta, Georgia and Israel. Still, they deserved to qualify but it is still evident that they will have to improve if they are to progress from their group.
For everyone in the UK and Ireland, the player that will stand out for Greece will be Manchester City and current Celtic striker Georgios Samaras. The fact that he is the stand out player, shows how much Greece’s standards have fallen. 4 goals in 26 Scottish Premier League games is a poor return and he will have to improve considerably if Greece are to get out of their group, which is a very big ‘if’…
Odds – 22/1
Since the Berlin Wall fell down and the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia’s fortunes in international football also seem to have fallen. The inaugural winners of the tournament in 1960 (then known as the Soviet Union,) they appeared in 3 more finals after that (1964, 1972 and 1988) but lost all of them. Since then, they have been outsiders for every tournament but they have never repeated their previous feats.
Their current manager is Dutchman and former Rangers boss, Dick Advocaat who took over from another Dutchman Guss Hiddink after they reached the semi final in Euro 2008. For a long time, it looked as though they would struggle to qualify for this year’s tournament. Ireland and Armenia ran them all the way for top spot but they eventually prevailed after an emphatic victory at home to minnows Andorra in Moscow on the last match day.
Even though they struggled through their group, it will be hard to see them not qualifying for the last 8 with the quality they have in their side, and their opponents in Group A.
In the last tournament, it was Andrei Arshavin who set the world alight with him dazzling skills and eye for goal. In 2008 it wasn’t enough for them to go all the way, but his talents did earn him a move to Arsenal later that year. But since then, his fall from grace has been disappointing. He has now ended up back at Zenit on loan but he still captains his country. Can he repeat his heroics of 2008? Doubtful, but there are others who can step up to the plate.
Pavel Pogrebynak is certainly one who can do some damage. A prolific goalscorer with Zenit St Petersburg when he was a younger but a move to Stuttgart meant his career suffered a blip. Last season, though, he ended up in West London with Fulham and 6 league goals in 12 games meant he was beginning to show the form which made him a wanted man in 2008. If he can recreate this form in Poland next week, Russia will go far.
Odds – 66/1
Semi finalists in 2004, The Czechs were many people’s favourites to win the tournament that summer in Portugal. Milan Baros was top scorer, Jan Koller was still around, Pavel Nedved was bamboozling Serie A defences and Petr Cech was still a young goalkeeper at Rennes about to move to Chelsea. Very few players remain from that squad, the most notable being Baros, Cech and Tomas Rosicky.
They qualified for the finals through the play off route. Before a ball was kicked in the group stages, it was clear that it would have to be the play offs where the Czech Republic would make their mark as they where drawn against World and European Champions Spain, who, as expected won all 8 games in qualifying.
For the play offs, Pot 1 was where they were placed and they were drawn out along side surprise package Montenegro. The former members of Yugoslavia proved to be no trouble as a 3-0 aggregate win booked their ticket for the Championships.
Eight years on, Milan Baros is still the main player in the Czech side. Now playing with Galatasary inTurkey, the former Liverpool striker can still score goals which has been proved by his well taken goal at Lansdowne Road in March against Ireland. 41 goals in 88 appearances proves he is at his best when playing for his national side.
Six months ago, many were writing Tomas Rosicky and Petr Cech off as being past their best. Both contributed to their teams’ excellent runs at the end of last season. Rosicky was a key part of Arsenal’s resurgence to finish in the top three, whereas Cech made countless saves and was instrumental in ensuring Chelsea won the FA Cup and their first Champions League. If both continue their great run of form, the Czechs are a good outside bet to reach the latter stages.
Prediction for the Group: