We continue our build-up to the Euro 2012 with the rising stars of Group A. Kinshuk Biswas profiles them
Goalden Times has started the countdown to Euro 2012 with the previews of groups A and B. In this feature, we bring you some of the players who have the potential to become stars in Poland and Ukraine. We begin with Group A:
Name: Alan Dzagoev
Age: 21 (17.06.1990)
Club: CSKA Moscow 2008-Present
Position: Attacking Midfielder / Right Winger
National Caps (goals): 17 (4)
Current Market Value: € 17,000,000-20,000,000
Alan Dzagoev is originally from North Ossetia. Ossetians are a fierce ethnic group proud of their culture. He was interested in football because of another Ossetian footballer, Valery Gazzaev who later became his coach at CSKA Moscow. Dazgoev has been one of the stars of the current CSKA team that qualified for the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League this season.. Dzagoev plays as an attacking midfielder behind the forwards at his club but is also comfortable playing from the wing… He scored his first goal for his country in the crucial 3-2 win against Republic of Ireland at Dublin. Speedy and with lots of guile, Dzagoev is more like a two-feeted Mesut Ozil and can be compared to a young Andres Iniesta. Being a 21-year-old, he still has some years ahead of him. Already in the sights of Manchester United and Arsenal in the Premier League, Euro 2012 could be his stage to greatness.
Name: Petr Jiráček
Age: 25 (02.03.1986)
Club: VfL Wolfsburg 2012–Present
Position: Midfield / Defensive Midfield
National Caps (goals): 5 (1)
Current Market Value: € 4,000,000-4,500,000
Petr Jiráček has just signed a four-year contract with Wolfsburg. His transfer was after his performances for his former club Viktoria Plzeň with 12 goals and eight assists in all competition. A midfielder with a great work rate and engine, he scored for his national team in the away leg of their Euro 2012 play-off against Montenegro. Jiráček is a natural left footer who can play a decent right footed shot as well. He is not a very flashy player but a hard worker who will run himself to the ground. The Czech Republic team looked very ordinary in the early part of the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.but the inclusion of Jiracek changed all that.. His presence has released the pressure on the national captain Tomas Rosicky. He will be instrumental to the chances of the Czech team. He would do well to take inspiration from the way his last club stopped the might of AC Milan in the Champions League coming back from two goals down to draw 2-2.
Name: Sotiris Ninis
Age: 21 (03.04.1990)
Club: Panathinaikos 2006–Present
Position: Attacking Midfield / Midfield
National Caps (goals): 18 (2)
Current Market Value: € 8,000,000-9,500,000
Known as the ‘Greek Messi’, Sotiris Ninis is one of the best new prospects of Greek football. Born in Albania of Greek parents he declined an offer to play for the Albania under-17 youth teams to play for Greece. He has dazzling skills with great pace, which make him a frightening prospect for opposition defenders. Starting at a young age has meant, Ninis has a host of playing records – youngest Greek to play in European club competition (at 16), youngest Greek to score (on his debut)and the youngest captain at a Greek top division club (at 18). He plays as an attacking mid-fielder behind the strikers but has also played as a striker and on the right wing. He was selected by Otto Reahhagel in 2008 for the national team but was not chosen for Euro 2008 as the manager felt he was too young (shades of 1978: Diego Maradona and Cesar Menotti). He played a substitute in the 2010 World Cup. He scored against Israel in the 2012 Euro qualifying tournament the goal, which assured Greece a place in the finals. The problem is that he has just recovered from a cruciate ligament rupture, which had kept him out of the game for four months. It is to be seen how match-fit he will be; he is competing against another young player, Giannis Fetfatzidis for a place on the team. However, he should be well rested and can make an impact on the tournament. AC Milan, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Arsenal who were all interested in him before his injury may come knocking again if he has a good tournament.
Name: Robert Lewandowski
Age: 21 (21.08.1988)
Club: Borussia Dortmund 2010–Present
Position: Striker / Centre Forward
National Caps (goals): 40 (13)
Current Market Value: € 12,000,000-14,500,000
Robert Lewandowski is a well known face in the Bundesliga. He was one of the pillars behind the success of Borussia Dortmund last season. This season he has scored 19 goals with nine assists in 31 matches in all competition He has a great first touch and always seems assured in his play. Like MiroslavKlose, Lewandowski is a strong aerial threat while also being a strong right footed player. He is the first choice striker in the national team and will expect to shine in front of his home supporters. Chelsea has already shown a keen interest in him and a good showing in the tournament may pave his way to Stamford Bridge. With misfiring Fernando Torres and an ageing Didier Drogba, he may just be the salvation Andre Villas Boas is looking for.
EURO 2012 – Group Preview
The draw for the Euro championships for the Henri Delaunay trophy was held at the Ukraine Palace of Arts, in Kiev on 2nd December 2011. The draw was important as there were two host nations of Poland and Ukraine who were seeded with the top two teams in the continent based on FIFA rankings. This meant that a lot of powerful teams like Germany, Italy, France, Portugal and England would not be seeded. There were four pots used in to draw. The first pot had the seeded teams and the other pots had teams based on their FIFA ranking and recent performances.
The rankings were based on:
40% of the average ranking points per game earned in the UEFA Euro 2012 qualifying stage.
40% of the average ranking points per game earned in the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying stage and final tournament.
20% of the average ranking points per game earned in the UEFA Euro 2008 qualifying stage and final tournament.
Incidentally both the hosts were the lowest ranked teams amongst the 16 qualifiers. A similar situation had occurred during Euro 2008 as well when the hosts were Austria and Switzerland. It was decided that Poland and Ukraine would be placed as team A1 and D1 in groups A and D respectively.
The draw featured four former Euro Champions drawing from the different pots – Horst Hrubesch of Germany, Marco Van Basten of Netherlands, Peter Schmeichel of Denmark and Zinadine Zidane.
Following the draw, we find some very interesting groups a lot of matches in group stages which could have been the final of the tournament. We, at Goalden Times, in the build-up to the tournament shall preview each group in detail in the following months. The preview begins with Group A.
This group has been termed by the media as the easiest group. It has none of the so-called superpowers of European football. This does not imply that qualifying to the quarter finals will be easy. In fact, with the absence of a single big team all four teams will harbour ambitions of progression from this group. Even in this not-so-strong group, we have three former European champions in Greece who won in 2004; Russia who were champions in the inaugural tournament in 1960 as Soviet Union and Czech Republic champions of 1976 as Czechoslovakia. Greece and Russia have been drawn in the same group for the third Euro in succession. In fact they played out a 1-1 draw in a friendly match last month.
Resume: Champions 1960. Runners Up – 1964, 1972 and 1988. Semi Finals – 1968 and 2008.
Road to the finals: Qualifying Group B Winner. P-10 W-7 D-2 L-1 GF-17 GA-4 GD-+13
The highest ranked team in the group, Russia will be pleased with the draw. Coached by the Dutchman Dick Advocaat, Russians will be a difficult opponent. They had a good qualifying campaign topping their group ahead of Republic of Ireland. They had a shock loss to Slovakia early in qualifying at home and struggled to score goals early in the campaign. The away match against Republic of Ireland at Dublin was the turning point as the Russians won 3-2 in a very difficult match. After that, the campaign was smooth and they qualified with an emphatic 6-0 victory against Andorra at home. Russians are playing all matches in Poland; they would have preferred to have played in Ukraine with a large Russian population for support. The first match against Czech Republic will be crucial. The Czechs will have more support as Wroclaw is nearer to their country. The last time the two sides met in a similar stage was in Euro 1996 in a memorable match where the Czechs came back from 1-3 down to force a dramatic tie 3-3 with a late goal from Vladimir Smicer, to oust Italy from the tournament.
The Russian team under Advocaat plays mainly with two formations 4-3-3 against weaker opposition or at home and 4-4-1-1 when playing stronger teams or away from home. The team has also used the 4-1-4-1 formation at times. They have a solid look to their side in all departments. Vyacheslav Malafeev, the first choice goalkeeper has been in good form playing in the Champions League for his club, Zenit. There is adequate backup in Igor Akinfeev of CSKA Moscow. In centre of defence they have the experienced CSKA Moscow pairing of Sergei Ignashevich and Vasili Berezutskiy. Aleksandr Anyukov of Zenit is the first choice left-back. Yuri Zhirkov, the former Chelsea man now at Anzhi has been used as right-back and also a right sided midfielder by Advocaat. When playing 4-4-3, Zhirkov plays in defence. Against stronger teams, Aleksei Berezutskiy, the twin brother of the defender Vasili comes in the right-back position for his defensive capabilities. Zhirkov plays as a right winger in such matches. In the centre of midfield they have the Zenit duo of Konstantin Zyryanov and Roman Shirokov who have shown good form in the Champions league. Igor Denisov is generally the defensive midfielder playing in front of the back four as he does at his club Zenit. Experienced Igor Semsov of Dynamo Moscow is used on the left wing for his pace. Andrei Arshavin was the star of the Russian team in the last Euro. This time, the player to watch out is Alan Dzagoev of CSKA Moscow. Just 21 years of age, he is an exciting attacking midfielder who is comfortable playing on the left wing as well as behind the front striker. He has the potential to be a star in this tournament. In the forward line there is Arshavin who has question marks over his fitness and lack of first team football at Arsenal. The main striker position is a toss-up between Aleksandr Kerzhakov of Zenit and Roman Pavlyuchenko of Spurs. The former may get the nod for regular first team football for his club. As a back-up they have Pavel Pogrebnyak of Stuttgart.
The Russians play very well as a counter-attack unit with the pace of their players. The problem is when they have to chase the game, they seem to lack a bit of the finesse and cutting edge. They are an enigmatic team who have qualified very well in recent international tournaments to flounder in the finals. Euro 2008 was an exception where they showed their real potential. Dick Advocaat has to prove that 2008 was not an exception but an accurate reflection of their capabilities.
Head To Head
Resume: Champions 1976. Runners Up – 1996. Semi Finals – 1960, 1980 and 2004.
Road to the finals: Qualifying Group I Runner Up. P-8 W-4 D-1 L-3 GF-12 GA-8 GD-+4
Playoff vs Macedonia 3-0 aggregate (2-0,1-0)
Czech Republic had a stuttering campaign to the Euro 2012 finals. They lost their first match to Lithuania and two other matches to Spain; managed a last minute penalty equaliser against Scotland to stay in the hunt for qualification; went into the last match against Lithuania hoping that Spain would beat Scotland to allow them to sneak into a play-off spot. In the play-off, they were much better winning 2-0 at home and 1-0 away against Montenegro. Czech Republic has always performed well in the Euro, winning as Czechoslovakia in 1976 and losing to an Olivier Bierhoff golden goal in 1996. They were arguably the best team in 2004 tournament before losing to a defensive and tactically astute Greek side in the semi finals. Managed by Michal Bilek, they will aspire to play well in their group matches.
Bilek favours a 4-2-3-1 formation. In Petr Cech they have one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Although after his injury and subsequent donning of protective headgear, he has been less confident than before. The defence is led by the Bayer Leverkusen centre back, Michal Kadlec. Tomas Sivok of Besiktas is his partner in centre of defence. The left-back, Theodor Gebre Selassie of Slovan Liberec, the first player of African origin to play for Czech Republic, was very impressive during the playoffs. Daniel Pudil of Genk will be the first choice right-back having made it to the team with some good performances in Champions League. The defence has a tendency of lacking pace in the centre which was exposed by Spain in both the qualifying matches. The midfield has a lot of experience with Tomas Rosicky having a re-emergence of form for Arsenal and the national team. Jaroslav Plasil of Bordeaux will anchor the midfield with Jan Polak of Wolfsburg. Vaclav Pilar of Viktoria Plzen will be the left sided midfielder who will push forward. The right side of midfield has seen Jan Rezek of the Cypriot club, Famagusta. This team generally plays with a lone striker with Tomas Pekhart of Nuremberg being the first choice. Pekhart is a huge talent and has all the makings of a star but has not lived up to his potential for the national team. There is the former Liverpool and Euro 2004 hero, Milan Baros now plying his trade at Galatasaray of Turkey, who is the back-up.
Playing all their matches in Wroclaw will help them as the town is close to their country and they will be backed by partisan support with the exception of the match against the hosts, Poland. The Czech Republic team seems competent and good in their defence and midfield areas. The problem is that with the system they play, they need sharp finishing skills of a player like Jan Koller who they miss after his retirement. They create chances but struggle to score goals. It will be difficult for them to get beyond the group stages. However, they have a lot of big tournament pedigree and always lift their game for this tournament. They can always be the big surprise of the tournament.
Head To Head
Resume: Champions 2004.
Road to the finals: Qualifying Group F Winner. P-10 W-7 D-3 L-0 GF-14 GA-5 GD-+9
Greece was always considered one of the weaker footballing nations in Europe. All that changed in 2004 when under the astute German manager Otto Rehhagel, they pulled off the greatest upset win ever in a national tournament. After this grand success, the Greek national team failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2006. They qualified for Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010. The team failed to perform in the finals of both tournaments, not progressing beyond the group stages. This Euro qualifying campaign was very impressive with Greece being unbeaten and defeating Croatia, a higher ranked team to win the group. The manager of the Greek team, Fernando Santos is a Portuguese national who has a lot of experience managing Greek club sides. Greeks who are known for their very defensive style of play have been refreshingly attack minded under Santos. Generally the Greeks play with the 4-3-3 system. This attacking system is built on the belief that their defence is very strong.
In goal, they have Kostas Chalkias of PAOK, the last club managed by Santos who has immense faith in him. The centre of defence is marshalled by Avram Papadopoulos of Olympiakos and Sokratis Papastathopoulos of Werder Bremen. Both have been in good form in both their respective clubs. In the left-back position there are two players who are vying for a position in the starting line-up – Vasilis Torosidis of Olympiakos and Loukas Vyntra of Panathanaikos. In the right-back position again there are two possible candidates in Nikos Spiropoulos of Olympiakos and Giannis Zaradoukas of Panathanaikos. The three man midfield has a lot of experience in the Panathanaikos duo of Giorgos Karagounis on the left and Kostas Katsouranis on the right. The centre of midfield will be marshalled by Alexandros Tziolis of Racing Santander. The forward line has Theofanis Gekas of Eintracht Frankfurt through the centre, Dimitris Salpigidis of PAOK on the right and Giorgos Samaras of Celtic on the right. Angelos Charisteas, the star of Euro 2004 presently playing at Panetelikos is used as an effective substitute in the frontline.
The main advantage of Greece is that a lot of their players play together for the same teams in defence and midfield ensuring good understanding and organisation. In current form they should be one of the teams to qualify for the quarter-finals. The Greeks however do not have a good record in the finals of international tournaments. If they can overcome this jinx, they can very well mount a serious challenge akin to Euro 2004. The first match against the hosts, however, will be crucial and a draw or win will set them on their way.
Head To Head
Resume: Group Stage 2008
Road to the finals: Automatic qualifier as co-host.
Poland has never been successful in the Euro championships. Even in their hey-days of the 70s and 80s when they finished third twice in the World Cup and won an Olympic gold, they failed to qualify for the Euro tournaments. They managed to qualify for the first time in 2008. They did not progress beyond the group stages following defeats to Germany and Croatia. Being the co-hosts, they qualified automatically for the finals. Poland will start the tournament as the lowest ranked team in the competition. They have not had a competitive match since October 2009. This can be an advantage as the team will be fresher, or a disadvantage as the team will not be really match fit, as friendly matches are not the same thing as competitive. Franciszek Smuda, the head coach has the difficult job of meeting the expectations of the home fans.
Poland in the majority of their friendly matches has used the 4-2-3-1 formation. They have Wojciech Szczęsny of Arsenal as first choice keeper. Interestingly, Łukasz Fabiański, the number two goalkeeper of Arsenal is also the second choice in the national team. The defence has a solid look in Marcin Wasilewski of Anderlecht and Kamil Glik of Torino. Dariusz Dudka of Auxerre should start as rightback and Łukasz Piszczek of Borussia Dortmund as left-back. Rafał Murawski of Lech Poznan and Eugen Polański of Mainz will anchor the midfield. Ludovic Obraniak of Lille will add the creative spark in the centre of midfield. Jakub Błaszczykowski of Dortmund will play on the right wing. Sławomir Peszko of FC Koln will be on the left side of midfield. In the forward line, Robert Lewandowski of Dortmund is the first choice striker. Paweł Brożek of Trabzonspor will be used as a substitute.
The Polish team should give a good account of themselves at home. They will have huge support to back their team which should help their morale. The problem is that they don’t have the quality throughout the team to mount a sustained challenge for the other teams. If they ride on the wave of home support and manage to qualify for the quarter finals, they will be deemed as a huge success.
Head To Head
The final verdict has four categories of teams:
1) Sure-shot – means that the team is the favourite to progress from the group.
2) Likely – the team is not the total favourite but is the second favourite to qualify.
3) Dark Horse – a team which can reach the quarter finals but has to overcome similar teams or favourites to do so.
4) Upset – means that the team reaching the quarterfinals will be a major surprise. In groups there maybe more than a single team in each category or there may not be a single team in particular category also.
Dark Horse: Czech Republic and Greece
[i]The co-efficient is a value arrived at by FIFA, by dividing a particular number of points awarded for a tournament (that includes qualifying for participating, winning, drawings and scoring goals) by the number of matches played