It’s Euro time! You didn’t think we here at TSG were going to let this competition slide thru the cracks did you? Some of us here at TSG, need as many excuses as possible to post pictures of handsome Franck Ribery.
Our tickets to Poland and Ukraine fell through due to “footballing reasons”, so instead we decided to gather a panel of 3 brilliant pundits and unearth the corpse of one of our original contributors (odd writing in the third person) to give y’all the TSG BUMPER EURO PREVIEW. So without further ado, we give you Group A – written by the brilliant John Nyen.
Subplots and Predictions
Group A. Undoubtably Group A will be the best group in the Euro’s by any persons form of measurement, and far FAR better than that pithy Group B or the troglodytes in group C. As a matter of fact, those that CHOOSE to preview Group A are known to be highly intelligent people and gentle lovers. That is more than you can say about the guys doing group D, who are known to cheat at Monopoly and pay for non-certified plaster bee-hives. Let’s be honest at this point, how much do you really know about Greece, Poland, Russia and the Czech Republic? In the case of these four teams, you probably know the players more than the actual national team. The Greeks are the perfect example of this as 16 of their 23 players from the Greek Superleague, which… you know… gets a lot of play on Fox Soccer and ESPN these days. The outright talent and available players certainly seem to favor Poland, Russia and the Czech’s but you can’t count out the Greeks. As the 2004 Euro’s show, you can get on the right kind of defensive streak and just crush other teams with their absorb and spring out attack.
One look at the Czech roster will make you say, “Why is one of the greatest runners of all time playing right back for the Czechs?” That is until you realize that Gebre-Selassie is only slightly different from Gebrselassie and then we just move on to the Tomas Rosicky show. With Rosicky as the creative fulcrum in the middle of the field for the Czech men, you begin to realize that while this Czech team has pieces… they don’t really have the full show. They are a bit of an enigma in terms of style of play, typically using a 4-2-3-1 but often utilizing long balls and hold up play from Baros to try to allow Rezek, Gebre-Selassie the ability to push up the field and Rosicky to run onto the ball. Jiracek will probably play just in front of the back four trying to shuttle passes to the wings and into the feet of Limbersky and Gebre-Selassie. Inevitably one could be concerned about the amount of creativity and punch that the Czech’s have in goal. They are the lowest scoring team in qualifying of the four teams in Group A, and will need more than just industry to make up for the lack of goal scoring. They also have a not so great tendency to ship a few goals or two, although their group into the Euro’s was one of the toughest to move through with Spain, Scotland and Lithuania/Liechtenstein all vying for two spots.
Tell me if you have heard this one before?
The Greeks play “11 behind the ball, bunker in tactics and then try to nip a goal”.
Well, would it surprise you to find out that in qualifying, the Greeks scored more goals than the Czech Republic and one less goal than France, Ireland, Estonia, and Denmark. They are certainly an organization, hustle and shape team; but count Greece out at your peril. They have a chance to make waves in the group if they can actually gel cohesively. The biggest problem that Greece are going to have is connecting their sometimes 7 in the back (when the 3 midfielders from their 4-3-3 get pushed back) with the forwards/midfielders up top. Certainly there are going to be a few chances for Theofanis Gekas, but the boys in white and blue will need to take their chances when given. The one thing that helps Greece in this particular group is the fact that only Russia really plays full possession, one-touch soccer. That isn’t to say that Greece isn’t going to make Poland look like Spain, but in reality…. Group A is the best possible position for Greece to try to scrap their way into the knock out round.
Can Russia keep it going? Seriously, It’s time to pay attention. Russia hasn’t lost in over 10 games coming into the Euros. In the last 10 they have won 6 and drawn 4. The Russians play a modified and narrow 4-3-3 often utilizing Arshavin more towards the middle of the field than on the left. They seemingly will overload the right side, with Zhirkov providing quite a bit of the width on the left as he overlaps up the field and covers the vacated left midfield spot when Arshavin wanders. With Arshavin, Pavlyuchenko, and Shirokov on the team, Russia tends to rely on play and scoring from midfield rather than up top. Certainly Pogrebnyak showed at Fulham that he can put the ball in the back of the net, even with limited service. However, my guess for a leading scorer from Russia is going to be someone from midfield who can take the lay offs and bomb forward into the dangerous offensive areas. Dick Advocatt has implemented a more Barcelona type feel to the Russians as he attempts to play the same style of soccer in the national team that Zenit St Petersburg play. With many of the outfield players having Zenit and CSKA connections, the idea is to have a familiarity with each other that will help breed the kind of slick one touch passing that Russia would like to play. They also have the high potential to pass the ball too much and dominate a game without winning.
Now certainly one could look at the Polish just like the Russians in terms of coming into Euros on a roll, however I think that the lack of meaningful international competition for the Polish could hurt rather than help. 4 wins in the last 5 games have come from Andorra, Slovakia, Latvia and Bosnia as Poland look to fine tune their attack for the Euros. The key for Poland is the Dortmund connection. Lewandowski, Blaszczykowski, and Piszczek came from the German champions and all had a fine year. The Polish have a seriously decent chance to run a bit like the United States, in which they will load up offensively from the right, attempt to have an interchange from Blaszczykowski and Piszczek while attempting to get Obraniak and Lewandowski into the game in dangerous positions. Meanwhile Rybus and Boensish will probably attempt to play a bit wide and be outlets for Perquis and Wasilewski in the back. Much like most everyone in group A, the Poles will be focusing on defensive shape, work rate and the ability to shuttle the counter attack out through the flanks. Expect to see a potential 4-5-1 or a Slightly less narrow 4-2-3-1 offensively with a main triangle of passing through the right side of the field.
Preditions on who is advancing: I go with Russia to win the group. However, the scrap for second (in my mind) will come between the Greeks and the Poles. Both have the ability to prey on the weekness of the other. With the Greeks they have the defensive shape to frustrate Poland into mistakes and then hit them with long balls up to Gekas. Meanwhile the Poles have the ability to get around the Greeks on the flanks and Lewandowski is on another level than the Greek defenders. I’ll take Poland to nip the second spot with the home field advantage.
FWIW: The only team in this group, in my honest opinion, to have a chance at winning the Euro’s in general is Russia. Their problem might come from the age of the squad and the number of games necessary just to get to the knock out round. That isn’t to say that the Greeks don’t have a chance or that Poland doesn’t. However, smart money would back the Russians first.
Subplot part Deux
For me, the biggest group subplot is whether the home support for Poland can energize them enough for wins. Poland open up the tournament against Greece IN Warsaw. The atmosphere is going to be charged, interesting and potentially volatile. Off the field it should be noted that some groups in the Polish Ultra scene have denounced the Euro’s and showed up with banners (and flares) that have some quite naughty words about the coming circus. It remains to be seen if these fans will find a way to disrupt the festivities or if the tournament will carry on without protests or incidents.
Players To Watch
For the Czechs it is Tomáš Rosický, Petr Chech, Milan Baros, Vladimir Darida. Vladimir Darida probably won’t play much but the 21 year old has just secured his move to Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga and is worth watching provided he makes it on the field. Meanwhile, Rosicky is the lifeblood of the Czechs and is indispensable for them.
For the Greeks it is Theofanis Gekas, Georgios Samaras, Kostas Fortounis. You should know Gekas and Samaras. Gekas recently returned from International retirement and seems to have his verve back and is scoring goals. Samaras will be an important man to attempt to connect between the defensive rigidity of Greece and the empty bucket midfield that does seem to happen. Meanwhile, Kostas Fortounis might not get much playing time but the 19 year old Greek is now playing for Kaiserslautern and could provide an unknown spark off the bench. I wouldn’t hold your breath to see him on the field, but he is a bit of excitement in what will be a overwhelmingly defensive lineup.
Onward to the Russians now with the veritable “who’s who” of players that you know… Andrei Arshavin, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Pavel Pogrebnyak, Yuri Zhirkov, are all making the trip and none will be more maddening than Arshavin. The enigma… the man… the myth… the insanity that is Arshavin. Really if you haven’t read his “Arshavin answers email questions” columns you are missing out. For Example:
Andrey, are you frightened of bears?
On the contrary, I like bears.
Really some simply stunning stuff there, and there is more on his website. Such as the one where he advises a 25 year old woman on how to not become a spinster.
Now to Poland where Wojciech Szczesny, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Robert Lewandowski and Łukasz Piszczek are the ones to watch. In reality, these four form the necessary spine to the Polish team where an overloading right side will generate much of the scoring chances.
Most Interesting Match Up
The biggest game for the #2 spot will be the initial game between Poland and Greece, as Greece NEED a result in order to have a chance to qualify. Two games to watch are Poland v Russia and Greece v Czech Republic on the 12th of June. Now of course every game matters, but Poland v Russia will go a long way towards determining who finishes top of Group A, and Greece v Czech Republic will determine if Greece has a chance at all of getting out of the group. The most important games for Poland and Greece are getting a full three points from the Czech Republic.
The interesting subplot for me in Group A will be the ability and tactical nous of all four teams and whether we see a defensive suffer-fest; or some truly entertaining and interesting soccer. Group A isn’t a particularly sexy group and certainly it probably isn’t going to have a goal bonanza. That being said, group A will be for the tactician in all of us, and for those who love defensive and counter attacking soccer. Why you can practically hear Bob Bradley and Bruce Arena getting aroused by the idea of a narrow 7-3 formation by the Greeks coming up against the defensive 4-2-3-1 of the Czech’s. Decisions about fitness, substitutions and even something as simple as an injury has the potential to dramatically alter the shape of Group A.