Yessss! The European Championship is knocking on our doors! Lets kick things off with a little preview of Group A. Gotta, admit, not the most attractive of groups, with co-hosts Poland, Czech Republic, Russia and 2004 winners Greece, all fighting it out to progress.
Poland’s only previous appearance at a European Championship was in 2008 where they didn’t progress past the group stages. Coach Franciszek Smuda will be hoping for a better show this time. As co-hosts, Poland will be capitalizing on the home soil advantage. One of their disadvantages would be the lack of depth in the squad, especially up front. Robert Lewandowski of Borussia Dortmund fame, would be the one to watch in terms of attacking power.
One to Watch:
Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny has been in top form for his country, keeping clean sheets in their last four games. My feeling is that he would make all the difference, especially considering that the Polish don’t have many options up front.
Goalkeepers – Grzegorz Sandomierski (Jagiellonia Bialystok), Wojciech Szczesny (Arsenal), Przemyslaw Tyton (PSV Eindhoven).
Defenders – Sebastian Boenisch (Werder Breman), Marcin Kaminski (Lech Poznan), Damien Perquis (Sochaux), Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund), Marcin Wasilewski (Anderlecht), Jakub Wawrzyniak (Legia Warsaw), Grzegorz Wojtkowiak (Lech Poznan).
Midfielders – Jakub Blaszczykowski (Borussia Dortmund), Dariusz Dudka (Auxerre), Kamil Grosicki (Sivasspor), Adam Matuszczyk (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Adrian Mierzejewski (Trabzonspor), Rafal Murawski (Lech Poznan), Ludovic Obraniak (Bordeaux), Eugen Polanski (FSV Mainz), Maciej Rybus (Terek Grozny), Rafal Wolski (Legia Warsaw).
Strikers– Pawel Brozek (Celtic), Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund), Artur Sobiech (Hannover 96).
Greece famously won the 2004 European Championship against Portugal, in Portugal. Coach Fernando Santos has a good mix of experience and fresh blood at his diaposal. But being a team built around the defensive line, the Greeks may find goal scoring to be a problem. Even though this side doesnt boast star power, the likes of Giorgos Samaras and Theofanis Gekas can get the job done upfront. Lets just hope its not another episode of “parking the bus” which is exactly how they won the Championship last time.
One to Watch
Captain Giorgos Karagounis will be vital for the Greeks. He will undoubtedly use his experience to provide opportunities for the strikers, as well as provide some inspiration for the younger guys.
Goalkeepers – Costas Chalkias (PAOK), Michalis Sifakis (Aris), Alexandros Tzorvas (Palermo).
Defenders – Vassilis Torosidis (Olympiakos), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Werder Bremen), Avraam Papadopoulos (Olympiakos), Jose Holebas (Olympiakos), Stelios Malezas (PAOK), Giorgos Tzavelas (Monaco), Yiannis Maniatis (Olympiakos), Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Schalke).
Midfielders – Giorgos Karagounis (Panathinaikos), Costas Katsouranis (Panathinaikos), Giorgos Fotakis (PAOK), Costas Fortounis (Kaiserslautern), Yiannis Fetfatzidis (Olympiakos), Sotiris Ninis (Panathinaikos), Grigoris Makos (AEK Athens).
Forwards – Georgios Samaras (Celtic), Dimitris Salpigidis (PAOK), Costas Mitroglou (Atromitos), Nikos Lymberopoulos (AEK Athens), Fanis Gekas (Samsunspor).
I’ve always rated this national team as one of the best teams to never have won a European Championship. The closest they have come to glory was in 1996 when they were runners up to Germany. Despite never having won it, this country has never failed to qualify for a European Championship. With ample talent on board, the Czechs with fancy their chances of a Quarterfinal spot.
One to Watch
Despite having exciting players like Milan Baros and Tomas Rosicky in their ranks, I’m still going to go for Chelsea stopper Petr Cech. He’a saved his club on numerous occasions, lets hope he can reproduce the same kind of form for country.
Goalkeepers -Petr Cech (Chelsea), Jaroslav Drobny (Hamburg), Jan Lastuvka (FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk).
Defenders – Theodor Gebre Selassie (FC Slovan Liberec), Roman Hubnik (Hertha Berlin), Michal Kadlec (Bayer Leverkusen), David Limbersky (FC Viktoria Plzen), Tomas Sivok (Besiktas), Marek Suchy (Spartak Moskow).
Midfielders – Vladimir Darida (FC Viktoria Plzen), Tomas Hubschman (Shakhtar Donetsk), Petr Jiracek (VfL Wolfsburg), Daniel Kolar (FC Viktoria Plzen), Milan Petrzela (FC Viktoria Plzen), Vaclav Pilar (VfL Wolfsburg), Jaroslav Plasil (Bordeaux), Frantisek Rajtoral (FC Viktoria Plzen), Tomas Rosicky (Arsenal).
Forwards- Milan Baros (Galatasaray), David Lafata (FK Jablonec), Tomas Necid (CSKA Moskow), Tomas Pekhart (FC Nurnberg), Jan Rezek (Anorthosis Famagusta).
The Russians lit up the 2008 installment of the European Championship, but then crashed when they failed to qualify for the World Cup 2010. They’ll be looking to reignite that run of form from 4 years ago. Theres talent, yes, but they also have age.. Whether the experience proves to be fundemental or detremental? We’ll see.
One to Watch
Is there any question about Andrei Arshavin? If he can find hia best form, he will be devastating for the Russians
Goalkeepers – Igor Akinfeyev (CSKA Moscow), Vyacheslav Malafeyev (Zenit St Petersburg), Anton Shunin (Dynamo Moscow).
Defenders – Alexander Anyukov (Zenit St Petersburg), Alexei Berezutsky (CSKA Moscow), Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Roman Sharonov (Rubin Kazan), Vladimir Granat (Dynamo Moscow), Kirill Nababkin (CSKA Moscow).
Midfielders- Igor Denisov (Zenit St Petersburg), Roman Shirokov (Zenit St Petersburg), Konstantin Zyryanov (Zenit St Petersburg), Yuri Zhirkov (Anzhi Makhachkala), Alan Dzagoyev (CSKA Moscow), Igor Semshov (Dynamo Moscow), Denis Glushakov (Lokomotiv Moscow), Marat Izmailov (Sporting), Dmitry Kombarov (Spartak Moscow).
Forwards – Andrei Arshavin (Arsenal), Alexander Kerzhakov (Zenit St Petersburg), Roman Pavlyuchenko (Lokomotiv Moscow), Alexander Kokorin (Dynamo Moscow), Pavel Pogrebnyak (Fulham).
My prediction: Russia and Czech Republic to progress