If you’re looking for a couple of dark horses in Euro 2012, look no further than Group A, where Russia and co-hosts Poland are hanging out.
These two should slug it out between themselves to see who wins the Group and their meeting on June 12 may well decide the outcome.
It’s hard to determine who will be the favourites in this group and European Championship history tells you that you cannot rule out the other two nations – Czech Republic and Greece.
Poland, managed by Franciszek Smuda, have a functional team built around a midfield that is designed to stop the opposition from playing. But their lone ranger up front is one of Europe’s hottest properties, Borrussia Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski, who netted 30 goals in 2011-12 for the German champions and was named Bundesliga player of the year. He has the potential to be the man of the tournament.
But Russia’s Andrey Arshavin may have something to say about that. Arshavin is back in Russia with Zenit enjoying an interlude in his relationship with Arsenal. The money-rich Russian game is on the up and Dick Advoccat’s team also has CSKA Moscow’s Alan Dzagoev to score goals – he netted 25 of them in 2011-12. But despite having some good striking talent, Advocaat’s squad looks a little light on defensive cover.
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Russia played some excellent football in the last championships, reaching the last four. But not uncommon for Eastern European nations, the team failed to follow that up in the World Cup and was eliminated by Slovenia in a play-off. There is talent in the squad so Advocaat’s swansong may be a happy one.
Czech Republic failed to qualify for World Cup 2010 and went out in the group stage in Euro 2008. But in 2004, they reached the semi-finals and of course, the final in 1996. They lack firepower – their top scorer in qualifying was a defender, Michal Kadlec with four goals. They do have one of the world’s most prominent goalkeepers in Peter Cech, but there is a distinct lack of excitement about their presence in this year’s competition. They qualified through a play-off and their form since has not been convincing, as a 2-1 win against Isreal on May 26 suggests.
Of all the teams competing in Euro 2012, Greece go to Eastern Europe with the dark clouds of economic disaster hanging over them. They are underdogs in more ways than one! But Greece stunned the football world in 2004 when they won the European Championship and they upset a host nation – Portugal – in doing that. They don’t score goals, as 14 in qualifying indicates, and their team, managed by the Portuguese Fernando Santos, is workmanlike. They would appear to have little chance…. but they said that in 2004.
So it’s Poland and Russia to qualify, with the Czech’s making life uncomfortable and Greece hoping to lift a downtrodden nation back home: 1- Russia, 2- Poland, 3- Czech Republic, 4- Greece. Man to watch: Lewandowski (Poland).