The final countdown- groups at a glance 1

On Friday the 8th of June the eagerly anticipated European championships will begin. This 4 yearly event which first kicked off back in 1960 has proven to be a massive success with many fans considering it to be the better of the 2 “big” football tournaments. With no disrespect to any national football federation, you really have to be a fairly decent team to qualify from a European group and in all honesty there hasn’t been a world cup to write home about for quite some time. And this is what the fuss is all about.What a beautiful trophy it is standing proud on it’s solid marble plinth (not displayed here) and must weigh a ton. The current champions are Spain and who will forget their swashbuckling style that helped them to the 1st leg of the double.  It will be contested between 16 nations with 4 groups of 4 playing off against each other for the right to make it to the quarter finals. Qualifying proper would have began 2 years previous to the tournament finals themselves and this years hosts are Poland/Ukraine. This  seems to be a  trend that looks like continuing and makes sense for smaller nations that would love to host something major but lack the facilities alone and by sharing with a neighbour greatly enhances their chances of putting on a show of their own. Below is this year’s official logo.

 In the days leading up to the big kick-off, I will do an analysis on each group, the teams involved, facts and information and finally I will give my humble opinion on who I think will  reach the next stage and who will be going home early. Today I will start on group A. This is the group that contains co-hosts Poland, Russia, Greece and the Czech. Republic.

 The team I will start off with is Poland. Along with the Ukraine they will be the host nation for this years competition. They are managed by Franciszek Smuda and are ranked 65th in the world. No doubt the reason for this is down to the lack of competitive football for the last 2 years. Their squad is made up of a lot of foreign based players with a large percentage plying their trade in Poland. Players to watch out for are Robert Lewandowski top scorer with German champions Dortmund and Woijech Sczcesny, Arsenal’s goalkeeper who is constantly improving and has the makings of a top ‘keeper in the coming future. The rest of the squad are not too well known but home advantage will stand them well. There was a lot of worries concerning the completion of the stadia but all came good in the end. The national stadium’s first game was a 0-0 draw against Portugal putting everyone’s mind at ease. There is a well known hooligan element in Poland and no doubt a lot of policing and security will be put in place to make sure the tournament goes off without any trouble. Fancy a bet on Poland to win you could get them at best price of 33/1. Best of luck!

The next team under the spotlight in the group is Russia. A powerful team that play direct and attractive football. Managed by Dick Advocaat who actually stands down after the tournament. They are ranked 11th in the world and will prove a tough nut to crack for anybody. They looked like going all the way at the last European championship but were unlucky to lose out to eventual winners Spain. They have a great pedigree in this competition both as the Soviet Union until 1988 and under the name Russia since then winning the inaugural tournament in 1960. They reached the final again 1964 but lost out to Italy in the final. In 1972 they were again losing finalists this time the Germans being their nemesis. There was to be more heartbreak again in 1988 losing out to the brilliant Dutch team. Players to watch out for include their outstanding ‘keeper Igor Akinfeev, Alexei Berezutsky a no nonsense commanding defender and the highly rated Alan Dzagoyev all who play for CSKA Moscow. Also they still retain the two players that made them such  an attractive proposition in 2008, Dmitry Pavlyuchenko (Lokomotiv Moscow) and Andrei Arshavin on loan from Arsenal at Zenith St. Petersburg. Definitely the favourites to win group A. They are priced at 25/1 to win outright and are great value at that. They kick-off the tournament against hosts Poland on the 8th of June. Good outsiders

The next team up are Greece. Ranked 14th in the World and managed by Fernando Santos, who will ever forget them shocking Europe and the World when winning the 2004 championships as 100/1 complete outsiders. This sure lends hope to all the other minnows who believe in reality that they are there just to make the numbers up. Their key players are Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Schalke), Giorgos Karagounis of Panathinaikos and Giorgos Samaras the stylish Glasgow Celtic striker. The vast majority of the Greek squad are playing for domestic teams and are not too well known. With no disrespect to Greece in anyway at all, the commentators covering any of their games are going to have to be up to date with their pronunciations due to the multi syllables in their names. Will it be another case of the bookmakers being brought to the cleaners again with the 80/1 price put on them? I would guess not as I imagine not too many think lightening strikes twice. Best of luck to them, I think they will need it.

The last team to represent group A are the Czech. Republic. They are ranked 26 in the world and are managed by Michal Bilek. They are a team in decline and their ranking shows. It wasn’t too long ago that they were most peoples fancy for EURO 2004. They played a very stylish and attractive brand of football with the gracious Pavel Nedved pulling the strings in the middle and making the team purr like a fine tuned sports car. They will also be missing the great Marek Jankulovski who at 34 has been forced to retire from the game due to ongoing injuries. The fact that Arsenal’s Tomas Rosicky was completely out of form for a long long time only added to their demise. Thankfully, though he is getting back to his former self and along with him the another player to watch out for is Milan Baros of Galatasary a player who is always a threat in front of goal. No doubt they can feel safe in the knowledge that the great Petr Cech, one of the world’s best ‘keepers for a long time now, will be the last line of defence. Most of the squad play for teams in different countries, another factor in the demise of Czech. football. They won the tournament in 1976 at a time when Eastern European teams were a force to be reckoned with. They were runners-up in 1996 in England losing out to the first trial of the “golden goal” a method were the first team to score in extra time wins the match. Another team with a fine pedigree, they are priced amazingly at 66/1. I would imagine there could be a lot of takers of them at this price especially the each way market.

That concludes my analysis of group A. I hope for anyone that gets the chance to read my post that they can gain a little insight into the first batch of teams competing in this years championship and for what it’s worth here is my predictions for this group

Group winners: Russia

Group runners-up: Czech Republic

3rd place: Poland

wooden spoon: Greece

Best of luck for whatever team you follow and I will be doing a post on group B within a day or so. Do you agree? do you disagree? please feel free to let me know. Thank you.

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