The moment is approaching and we lovers of football are excited as we always are on the eve of a big event. And it is certainly a big event starting on Friday in Poland and the Ukraine: the latest edition of the European National Championship, Euro 2012.
Before the ball starts rolling, on www.rafabenitez.com we run through the different teams taking part in the event where the Spanish team led by Vicente del Bosque are defending champions, and not just this one, but two, as they were champions of the previous tournament, Euro 2008 in Germany and World Champions in South Africa in 2010. In addition, if the Spanish side win this one, it would be the third time on the run and they would write another page in the history of world football. No-one has ever achieved this feat. Several squads can be put up as candidates to derail Spain and that’s what we will look at here.
Without more ado, let’s look at Group A in this tournament, the first ones to get us underway shortly with two very interesting matches. The opening one, between the host nation Poland and Greece in Warsaw and the second one in Wroclaw between Russia and the Czech Republic. We will look at the Czechs first.
The Czech national team is turning up to the Euros with maybe not too much expectation. Just 12 goals in qualifying and 3 more against Montenegro in the play-offs, is a stat that some think is poor. We should remember that so many times statistics are proved to be deceptive. When all said and done, the Czech Republic have got to the finals and their coach, Michal Bilek, has been given a contract until the next World Cup.
As they go in to the tournament, it looks as if their main problema is the unfortunate (I don’t know of a fortunate one) injury to Rosicky. The Arsenal player has a calf problem and was doubtful to start the competition, although it looks as though he may have recovered enough to be available for their opening match.
Looking at the way the Czechs play, their usual shape can be described as1-4-5-1, with Pekhart as the striker or as a fluid 1-4-2-3-1 also with him up front. From outside it seems that the main thing for them will be their ability to develop their central play through men like Plasil, Jiracek and the aforementioned Rosicky. On the wing they normally go with Pilar and Rezek. On the sidelines, waiting for his chance, will be our old friend Milan Baros, who in short tournaments always does a job for his coach. They say that you never lose it and Milan has the ability to surprise even the most prepared at any moment.
The presence of Petr Cech between the posts stands out in defence. The Chelsea goalie will give them security and also confidence. They can use his personal success with the London side against Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League Final just a few weeks ago.
As a final point for this squad, we should note that if the opponent is supposedly better than them, their strength will have to be in their scrupulous organisation and dangerous counter attacks.
As one of the hosts, Poland will start the Euros against Greece in the opening game.
The Poles don’t have too much expectation to get to the final and maybe their fans will be happy just to get out of the group, but you never can tell and we are used to being surprised. Poland has a good team spirit and the self-belief that the Borussia Dortmund players will have after their league and cup double in Germany. That experience and success will without doubt be a benefit to them psychologically.
Their coach is Franciszek Smuda and he usually plays a versatile 1-4-2-3-1 system. They have a reasonable defensive organisation and are good at set plays. In addition they are hard-working and have an excellent attitude. And even more so playing at home.
Key players in the squad will be Lewandowski, a striker with good mobility, good in the air and good finishing, who at 23 will be one of the tournament’s attractions, Blaszczykowski and Piszczek who on the right will supply the balls as they do for Dortmund and their combination play will be a strength they can use in attack, and Szczesny, the young Arsenal goalkeeper who has been doing well and will be in goal now that the more experienced Fabianski has not recovered from injury.
Probably their defence and midfield won’t be the most solid or noticed players in the system so the players selected in these positions will have to work hard to allow Lewandowski to wait for his chance in attack.
Here we have a team who are hard to beat. Their coach, Fernando Santos, knows Greek football well and gets the most out of his players. His usual system is 1-4-3-3 but with a defensive mentality. They only scored 14 goals but we can also see they only conceded 5 and it looks as though it served them well no matter who they were playing.
If we had to summarise their characteristics and potential we would have to say categorically that they are a team who are especially aggressive without breaking the rules and use counter attack well.
The most notable players are: Sotiris Ninis, who will leave Parma for Panathinaikos after the Euros and who is a player who can unbalance the opposition. He recovered from a knee ligament injury and started playing again in March so he should be fresh for this competition. The other player who stands out is Samaras, always a threat and has great experience playing in other countries. Up front they have Theofanis Gekas as a target. If Karagounis is okay, his support play will always be dangerous and countered.
As for the defence, they rely on a solid defensive line where I like Papadopoulos, a holding midfielder who doesn’t usually lose position.
As for Russia, they have the experienced Advocaat as coach who will be going to PSV after the tournament.
They dominated their qualifying group with only one defeat and had a much stronger defence than in the past.
Their usual system is 1-4-2-3-1 (sometimes 1-4-5-1) with Kerzhakov up front and Arshavin and Dzagoev with free roles in the opposition half. This can be a dangerous team with their pace and ability in attack in the final third and the support from the players in the second line. Their full backs are attacking, especially Zhirkov on the left who gets forward and has quality. Another of their attacking options can be Pavlyuchenko who has returned to Russia, to Locomotive Moscow, even though some say he is not at his best. We could say the same for Pavel Pogrebnyak, loaned to Fulham by Stuttgart where he did reasonably well. In both cases they can be a good alternative but neither is sure of his place.
Finally, the ball is about to start rolling and we have in front of us the whole competition to start drawing conclusions. If you like, we will keep looking at what’s going on in Poland and the Ukraine and commenting on it. Let us know.