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Euro 2012 Blog: Preview - Group A

PR dla Zagranicy
Peter Gentle 04.06.2012 13:24
Host nation Poland are ranked a lowly 65th in the world and all hopes of progressing to the knock out stages rest with their ace, in a decidedly mediocre pack, striker Robert Lewandowski.

Robert Lewandowski signs autographs, Sunday: photo - PAP/Tomasz Gzell

Group A: Poland, Greece, Czech Republic, Russia

Played in: Warsaw, Wroclaw

At 6 pm, local time, on 8 June, Poland is going to be a very tense place to be, as the referee blows the whistle at the kick off of the opening game of Euro 2012, when the 11 Polish chosen ones take on Greece at the newly-built National Stadium in Warsaw.

Poland now have the shiny, new stadiums to co-host the tournament, but what Poles are worried about is: “Do we have the team so as not to make fools of ourselves?”

The omens are not good. Coach Franciszek Smuda has bemoaned the lack of experience running through the squad, with the vast majority never having played in a major international football finals before.

The spine of the team will be made up of the three who play for German Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund: wing-back Lukasz Piszczek, midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski (captain) and prolific striker this season, Robert Lewandowski. Polish fans will be praying that none of them gets injured, because their stand-ins are weak.

Poland's style is to defend and then hope to break on the counter-attack. How this tactic will play out against the ultra-defensive Greeks remains to be seen.

Many journalists are predicting Robert Lewandowski, who scored 20 goals last season in the German top division, could be Euro 2012's top scorer – if Poland can stay in the tournament long enough.

Greece – who will be an inspiration to all the weaker teams in Poland and Ukraine this summer, emerging from nowhere to win Euro 2004 – only scored 14 goals in their qualifying group, less than any other team in the competition. All hopes will be resting on the shoulders of their star-striker Sotiris Ninis, who will moving from Panathinaikos to Parma after Euro 2012. A goal-fest on 8 June in Warsaw seems unlikely, however.

Russian roulette

Gone are the days when the Czech Republic boasted a side that included players of the calibre of a Pavel Nedved or Vladimir Smicer, and when they ranked second, behind Brazil, in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking ahead of the 2006 World Cup. After the side failed to even qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, as ageing players retired, the Czechs ditched their manager and brought in former international Michal Bilek to turn them around.

Now ranked 26th in the world, the workman-like new Czech Republic, featuring Chelsea's Petr Cech in goal, will face group favourites Russia in the night game on 8 June in Wroclaw, after Poland versus Greece.

Russia has been handed a gift to be placed in the weakest, though the most unpredictable, of all the four groups at Euro 2012. They only lost, playing swashbuckling football, to Spain in the semi-finals at Euro 2008 and will expect to top Group A this time.

How they will play when they actually get to Wroclaw's stadium on Friday is anyone's guess, however, as the form of some of their top strikers, such as Andrei Arshavin, the captain, has been poor this last season. And Roman Pavlichenko is reportedly having regular hand-bag sessions with Russia's Dutch manager Dick Advocaat: so all is not settled in the Russian camp.

A key game for Poland will be when they face the Russians on 12 June. A good result for the hosts in that fixture could see them book a place in the quarter finals and take Polish fans into Euro dreamland.

Prediction: Russia to top group, Poland second (we can but dream).

Fact: Poland's goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny (Arsenal) used to be a ballroom dancer before he was a professional footballer. And if Lewandowski does get injured maybe Szczesny could step up to the plate? He's looking good in training.

Blog by Peter Gentle

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