Euro 2012 Preview – Group A
With the 2012 UEFA European Championships due to begin this coming Friday, Stoppage Time takes a look at all four groups going into the tournament. First up is Group A which includes tournament co-hosts Poland as well as the Czech Republic, Russia and Euro 2004 winners Greece.
CZECH REPUBLIC: Best Performance = Winners 1976 (as Czechoslovakia); Runner Up 1996 (as Czech Republic)
The Czechs have a distinguished record in the European Championships. In 1976, as part of Czechoslovakia, they won the trophy following a penalty shoot-out victory over West Germany. In the post-independence period, the Czechs reached the final of Euro ’96 but were thwarted by Oliver Bierhoff’s Golden Goal winner in extra-time. They are far from fancied to get anywhere near the final this time around but have a reasonable chance of reaching the quarter-finals. The Czech Republic qualified for this tournament finishing in second place in Group I behind runaway leaders Spain and then negotiating their way through a play-off against Montenegro. If the Czechs are to progress far in the tournament much will rest on the shoulders of Euro 2004 top scorer Milan Baroš in what is expected to be his last international tournament. At the back UEFA Champions League winner Petr Čech will be instrumental in keeping what could be a potentially brittle defensive line in check.
COACH: Michal Bílek
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 26
GREECE: Best Performance = Winners 2004
The Greeks stunned Europe when winning this competition in 2004, defeating hosts Portugal 1-0 in the final in Lisbon. They had seldom qualified for the tournament before their unexpected victory and failed to get beyond the group stage in 2008. Nevertheless the Greeks will fancy their chances of progressing this time in what is arguably the weakest group of the competition. Greece came top of Euro 2012 qualifying Group F with an unbeaten record and clinched the group with a two point margin ahead of Croatia. If Greece are to reach the group stages then the experience of Euro 2004 winner and captain Giorgos Karagounis will prove to be crucial whilst striker Theofanis Gekas will hope to keep up his impressive goal scoring record for his country.
COACH: Fernando Santos
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 14
POLAND: Best Performance = Group Stage 2008
It is something of a mystery that a country which has finished in third place on two occasions in the FIFA World Cup has only ever been able to qualify for the European Championship just once. The Poles made their debut in this competition four years ago and finished bottom of a group containing Germany, Croatia and co-hosts Austria. This year’s tournament co-hosts expect to do better this time around with the trio of players from Borussia Dortmund – Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Błaszczykowski and Łukasz Piszczek – hoping to transfer their fantastic form at club level into success at international level.
COACH: Franciszek Smuda
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 65
RUSSIA: Best Performance = Winners 1960 (as Soviet Union); Semi-Finals 2008 (as Russia)
As a member of the former Soviet Union, the Russians were part of the country to be crowned inaugural European champions when they defeated Yugoslavia 2-1 in the 1960 final played in Paris. Three further finals were played in 1964, 1972 and 1988 as part of the Soviet Union but they all ended in defeat. Since independence the Russian national team has qualified for all but one of the European Championships since 1992 but only got beyond the group stage on one occasion in 2008. The Russians lost out to eventual winners Spain and any repetition of four years would represent a good tournament this time. Russia qualified for the tournament after finishing top of qualifying Group B two points ahead of the Republic of Ireland. Forward Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who has won back-to-back domestic league titles with Zenit Saint Petersburg, looks set to be Russia’s most influential player.
COACH: Dick Advocaat
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 11
GROUP A FIXTURES
08/06/12 Poland v Greece
08/06/12 Russia v Czech Republic
12/06/12 Greece v Czech Republic
12/06/12 Poland v Russia
16/06/12 Poland v Czech Republic
16/06/12 Greece v Russia