Euro 2012: Group A Preview

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 5:25 PM ET

POLAND

It has been a number of years since Poland has managed to make a significant impact on a major tournament, but the stars are aligned for the White Eagles to shake things up at Euro 2012.

No matter how much appears Poland to be a minnow among big fish never write off the home side.

Home teams have a sizable advantage in these types of events. Not only are referees often intimidated by the circumstances but teams are energized by the enormity of the tournament being in their own backyard.

Poland has a little more going for it than simply being at home. It is the first time in many years that Poland is going into a tournament with all its key players in good form and in the prime of their soccer lives.

Poland has plenty of young legs to do a lot of running in a compact tournament like Euro. The Poles' average age is 25 with no players over 31.

Three Polish players have made a significant impact in the German Bundesliga. Jakub Blaszczykowski, Robert Lewandowski and Lukasz Piszczek will carry a heavy load for a Polish team that lost only three of 13 internationals going into the tournament.

Poland has put in strong pre-tournament performances against Germany and Argentina.

Coach Franciszek Smuda, who took over from Leo Beenhakker in 2009, has changed the Polish style to reflect a more energetic team.

That's all good news. But this squad still does not have the overall quality of top teams in the tournament.

The Poles managed to draw a favourable group with the Czech Republic, Greece and Russia. It will be enough to get them through to the second round.

The run will end there but will provide the Poles with fun for the first 10 days at least.

Euro record

2008-Group stage, 1960-Last 16

RUSSIA

The unpredictable Russians, will they fall flat or perform as they did in Euro 2006?

Respected coach Dick Advocaat will do what he can to get Russia to the second round of the tournament. He's fortunate to have drawn the weakest group of the four.

Russia has done little during the past few years to advance its program. Its best showing was at the 2008 Euro in Austria and Switzerland, when Russia surprised many with a dynamic attacking brand of soccer that led the team to the semifinals. It was the coming-out party for Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko and led to nice contracts in the English Premier League for the pair.

But four years later neither is at the top of his game. Both have struggled and have even spent some time on the bench for their club sides.

Arshavin could use Euro 2012 to restart his career. It's a tricky business for Russia, though. If Arshavin doesn't play well it could be a long tournament for Advocaat.

The good news is both Arshavin and Pavlyuchenko seem to play better for their country than they do for their club sides. Russia better hope that continues to be the case.

Only five members of Advocaat's 26-man preliminary squad are under 25, with eight players over 30 including Rubin Kazan's 35-year-old defender Roman Sharonov. Sharonov hasn't played for Russia since 2004.

Euro Record

2008-Semifinals, 2004-Group stage, 1996-Group stage

CZECH REPUBLIC

The Czech Republic has long been a soccer powerhouse, producing some of the best players in Europe.

But the days of Jan Koller, Karel Poborsky and Pavel Nedved are long gone. It will take a supreme effort by this veteran group to make it into the second round of Euro, despite being in the weakest group of the four.

This Czech side will take pressure from an opponent, relying on goalkeeper Petr Cech, and look to take advantage of whatever break it is given.

The Czechs don't have many young players -- only two are under the age of 25.

Cech needs to have an outstanding tournament and has real incentive to play well. While it is his fourth international tournament, the Czechs didn't make it to the 2010 World Cup. In his past international tournament appearance in Switzerland and Austria at Euro 2008, Cech made a costly error against Turkey. The Czechs were up 2-0 with 15 minutes left and on their way to the quarterfinals. Turkey came back to win 3-2, scoring three goals in the last 14 minutes. It is considered one of the most exciting finishes ever in a Euro tournament game. On the tying goal, Cech dropped an easy cross at the feet of a Turk player.

The Czech Republic will be sound defensively having conceded just eight goals in 10 games, with half of those coming in defeats against Spain. The problems will be at the other end where the Czechs will struggle for creativity.

Euro Record (Czech Republic)

2008-Group stage, 2004-Semifinals, 2000-Group stage, 1996-Final

Euro Record (Czechoslovakia)

1992-Preliminary round, 1988--Preliminary round, 1984--Preliminary round, 1980-Third place, 1976-Winner, 1972--Preliminary round, 1968--Preliminary round, 1964--Preliminary round, 1960-Third place

GREECE

There's no getting away from it.

If Greece has any chance at repeating it's miracle win in Euro 2004, it will have to do it the same way it did back then ... with an impenetrable defence.

It's the way they play.

But Portuguese coach Fernando Santos wouldn't be true to his own soccer background if he didn't have a fondness for an attacking style. In naming his squad he included several young, talented players and they weren't all defenders.

The infusion of youth included Bundesliga players Costas Fortounis, 19, and Kyriakos Papadopoulos, 20, as well as Yiannis Fetfatzidis, 21, and winger Sotiris Ninis, 22.

Ninis may be one of the most intriguing players in this tournament. He's a midfield player, but expect him to do more attacking in an effort to help Greek strikers.

Ninis was turning heads with his play when he suffered a knee injury in September. He's expected to be at 100% for the tournament.

The Greeks hope Ninis will be able to work with veteran striker Theo Gekas. The Greeks need goals because it will difficult to repeat their adventure in 2004 when they gave up only seven goals in six games.

The backline remains the strength of the team. Avraam Papadopoulos and Vasilis Torosidis are Santos' first choices in the middle.

Santos also has Jose Holebas, a defender born in Germany of a Uruguayan mother and Greek father. The 27-year-old got his Greek passport only in November. He has played twice for the national team.

The Greeks are coming into the tournament in good form.

They were unbeaten in Santos' first 17 games in charge, with the run eventually ending in a 3-1 defeat Nov. 15 to Romania. Greece won its Euro qualifying group.

There is a troublesome statistic, though. Greece hasn't had much success against Russia, the Czech Republic and Poland.

Euro Record

2008-Group stage, 2004-Winner, 1980-Group stage, 1960-Last 16


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