Step On To Greatness: Euro Final Preview

Match Facts

Final: Italy vs Spain

Sunday, 01 July 2012

2045 (local time); 1445(EST); 0015(IST)

Stadion NSK Olimpiyskiy, Kiev

There are quite a few self-help books which preach how one can achieve success in life or attain greatness. Most of them have a particular tenet in them – Belief in your own ability. Euro 2012 has thrown two teams in the final, who have had to pass through the extreme test of not just overpowering the opposition, but also those that concern your inner demons. Sometimes those demons are situational – like what Spain are enduring. Once hailed as the ultimate footballing spectacle – the tiki taka brand of passing is now derided by most of the footballing fraternity as a defensive and boring tactics. It doesn’t inspire the joie-de-vivre of 2008 or 2010. The fact that Spain has not conceded a goal in a knockout round of games, stretching back to 2008 Euros is what is often forgotten, highlighting the million passes that they have played in those games. But really, is it so dramatic a shift on Spain’s part? They have probably the best set of passers in any European midfield banded together, who can protect the ball as well as do damage to the opposition. It’s a different thing, and protecting the ball has been more important to Spain in 2012 Euros than doing damage to the opposition. A stat which illustrates that is that in Euro 2008, Spain completed 33 passes per shot; in 2010 World Cup, it went up to 44 and in Euro 2012 they have completed 58 passes for each shot. That Spain have not started Pedro and Jesus Navas, shows they have abandoned their wing play. And then couple that with the situation of not starting a forward and you get a team that is clinging to its strength to the extreme that they are only concerned about the result and not about the manner in which it is obtained. There are many amongst us, who swear by the quality of the game and not the result. If we call them Purists, then Spain definitely needs an exorcism or two. It’s been a strange journey, where a style of play, so much applauded and appreciated for its invigorating nature, has become an object of negativity – tiki taka being represented as tikitakanechio because it has embraced a functionality to itself that was once purely creative.

Italy score through Di Natale in the group opener…
…but Fabregas equalises via a Silva assist

It’s been exactly an opposite ride for Italy under Cesare Prandelli. A man who was entrusted with the job of pulling the Azzurri out from the ashes of Marcello Lippi’s egoistic bonfire of 2010 world cup campaign, Prandelli has already done the unthinkable. His Italy has carved an identity which is unique in the Azzurri history. Here comes a team that has become likable, exciting, attacking, and creative and the neutral’s favourite. This is a far cry from all the great Italy teams of yore (and there are quite many of them). Gone are the adjectives – boring, defensive, cynical and most importantly the C word (you can now find it attached to Spain). The great Italian teams were defined by one word – functional. They just knew how to win, even if it came via less than spectacular means. Prandelli, has changed that. His Italy side are arguably the most attacking unit in the Euros, having created more chances and more shots on target than any other team.  The defense is still strong (though Spain has conceded 2 less goals), the midfield is creative and the attack line actually playes 2 strikers, without lumping-it-forward-to-the-big-man style that most teams playing 2 forwards (like England) did. Prandelli has a vision and this Italy has shown it is capable of winning, while still sticking to that vision. The nature of difficulties that this team has faced are not minor: top striker breaking his leg and not coming to the euro; top striker with a heart disease that almost finished his career; top defender ruled out at last moment due to a attention-seeking dawn raid by the police; country prime minister calling for the team to withdraw from Euro 2012 only days before it was to start and many more. Let’s just say, that no Italian fan would have been disappointed if Italy had exited at its first hurdle. The team was not thought to be ready. The players were not thought to be fit. The group was thought to be really tricky. And yet three weeks down the line, there is only one team that has never fallen behind in any match and that team is not the reigning world and European champions. It has been a story of far greater magnitude than the tournament itself. Win or lose the final, Prandelli and Italy has already assured they are winners in their own rights. Whether this relaxes them to a victory or makes them complacent and leads to a defeat is the point to see.

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The battle that would define the Europe Crown

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Both teams are on the cusp of greatness. One team can cement its name as the finest of all time by winning three major championships that no European team has ever done. It may only be a statistical greatness but one that history would always cite. The other team can redefine the entire nature of how the whole world sees them – by doing what no other Italian team has done – win while entertaining. It is a battle for immortality. And the team that trusts its strength more will prevail in the end.

Form Guide

Spain and Italy are rightly the only teams which are undefeated in the tournament (though England too, technically, can claim a pie off that moniker). Both teams have been extremely successful in their defense – conceding 1 and 3 goals respectively. Attack wise too, Spain have scored more goals Italy, have played more passes than Italy. Deservedly, they will start as favourites for the match. What the Italians can look back though is that, the only time Spain looked shaky and actually fell behind, was when they played the Italians in the group opener. Italy largely bossed Spain in that match and can claim the moral victory. A similar performance is not beyond them, especially with many of the misfiring elements – Cassano and Balotelli getting into form. The central defense is stronger by the return of Andrea Barzagli, whose absence, had in effect forced Prandelli to start Daniele de Rossi as a central defender in that match. De Rossi, Marchisio and Montolivo have been outstanding in the semi final victory and can match anything the much vaunted Spanish midfield can throw.

Does the Postman Ring Twice?

Teams & Formations

Both teams have tried novel tactical arrangements – Spain’s 4-6-0, which incidentally was popularised by Luciano Spalletti at Roma and hence quite well known among the Italian players and Prandelli and Italy’s 3-5-2 which is unique as not a single top level international team plays with 3 central defenders. It was a reactionary measure to Italy’s 3-0 thrashing by Russia in a pre-tournament friendly. Prandelli though started with 3-5-2 and then shifted to his better known 4-1-2-1-2 as the matches went on. But that first match between Italy & Spain hangs heavy on both managers. Spain were far more dangerous once Navas and Torres had come on in the second half. Should del Bosque start with them in the final? If anything, a 4-1-2-1-2 isolates the Italian sidebacks even more and Navas (and Pedro?) can haunt them even more. But it makes Spain weak in the centre of the field and Italy can hurt them there. Moreover which of the 6 midfielders (from the 4-6-0) does Del Bosque drop, if he is to play Navas (and/or Pedro) and Torres. Can Spain afford to put their faith in Torres? Can Prandelli double guess Del Bosque and start 3-5-2 anticipating another striker-less formation? Or should he trust his own team’s strength and play the 4-1-2-1-2. There are many questions and all of it makes it all the more fascinating tactical duel between two managers who have been known to be affable and polite gentlemen.

Will he start tonight?

Italy (4-1-2-1-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Ignazio Abate, Leonardo Bonucci, , Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini; Andrea Pirlo;  Claudio Marchisio, Daniele De Rossi; Riccardo Montolivo; Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano

Manager: Cesare Prandelli

Spain (4-6-0): Iker Casillas; Alvaro Arbeloa, Gerard Piqué, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba; Xavi Hernandez, Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso, David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Andrés Iniesta

Manager: Vincent Del Bosque

Referee: Pedro Proenca (Portugal)

Quotes

“It’s the greatest joy that we could have given to our people. It’s a joy that they also transmit to us because some pictures and images don’t leave you unmoved, of course, and they make you feel very proud inside.”

Gianluigi Buffon, Italy Goalkeeper and Captain.

“There are a lot of parallels between Italy and Spain: we were in the same group, in either the quarter-finals or semi-finals we went through on penalties, and Pirlo and [Sergio] Ramos scored Panenka-style penalties. You have to like both teams. We both deserve to be finalists.”

Vincent Del Bosque, Spanish Manager

Clash of Titans- Azzuri vs Die Mannschaft

Match Facts

Semi Final 2: Germany vs Italy

Thursday, 28 June 2012

21:45 (local time); 14:45(EST); 00:15(IST)

National Stadium, Warsaw

In the second semi finals of Euro 2012 two of the traditional superpowers of the game will clash in a mouth-watering encounter. The two teams last played in Euro 1988 group stages when the match finished in a 1-1 draw.

Germany will go into the match confident being the only team to have won all their matches in the tournament. Although Germany is up against history never having beaten Italy in seven previous competitive matches, Spain overcame a similar record against France in the quarter-finals and they will be looking to do the same. This German team has a mixture of experience and youth and have options in all positions and will give their best.

Italy has looked solid in this tournament. They were very good against Spain in arguably the best match in the tour5nament so far with respect to quality of the football played. The Italians have been surprisingly attacking instead of their defensive style. The only time they went into their defensive shell was during the second half against Croatia. They were very impressive against England in the quarter-finals creating a lot of chances but not converting. The Azzuri will be up for this encounter as they inevitably are in crunch matches in the knock-out phases of major tournaments.

The smile of the wizard

Form Guide

Germany was impressive in their match against Greece playing attacking football trying to score at every opportunity. They conceded two goals, the second through a very debatable penalty. They controlled 70% of possession and showed their full attacking prowess after the Greek equaliser. The three new starters Klose, Schurrle and Reus impressed with their play. Gomez, Podolski and Muller will be fresh and rested and hungry to play in this game.

Italy looked very good against England in all areas of the game except finishing their chances. The Azzuri had a massive 35 shots on goal in 120 minutes and could not score. They outplayed their opponents with a fantastic performance by Andrea Pirlo who has been arguably the player of the tournament till now. The defence is typically solid and the fullbacks both joined up with the offensive line quite well. Italians had two days of rest less than the Germans which maybe a factor late in the game with a good change of the game going beyond 90 minutes.

Germany: WWWWW

Italy: LDDWW(p)

Teams & Formations

Germany will go with their usual 4-2-3-1 formation which their manager Joachim Loew likes. The team has no suspensions to worry about. There have been questions on the condition of the ankle ligaments of Bastien Schweinsteiger but he should start. The German wide mid-fielders will look to press the Italian full-backs when they have possession preventing them from joining up in attack which will make the Italian mid-field very narrow. Podolski should come back in place of Schurrle who was a bit too predictable against Greece cutting inside from the left and shooting. Reus will probably retain his place ahead of Muller as he brought a lot of energy to the German mid-field. Sammy Khedira has been making very good runs from the deep in this tournament very similar to what Schweinsteiger usually does. The latter’s ankle ligaments maybe are the reason for his not producing such runs. Mesut Ozil was very impressive against Greece with his movement and passing and he created two goals in the process. The big choice Loew has to make is Gomez or Klose who to start? He may opt for Gomez as he will be rested and raring to go.

Germany(4-2-3-1): Manuel Neuer; Jerome Boateng; Mats Hummels; Philipp Lahm; Sammy Khedira; Bastien Schweinsteiger; Marco Reus ; Mesul Ozil; Lukas Podolski; Mario Gomez

Manager: Joachim Loew

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The Italian Mastermind

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Italy (4-1-3-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Ignazio Abate; Andrea Barzagli; Leonardo Bonucci; Federico Balzaretti; Andrea Pirlo; Claudio Marchisio; Thiago Motta; Daniele De Rossi; Mario Balotelli; Antonio Cassano

Manager: Cesare Prandelli

Referee: Stephane Lannoy (France)

Italy has played good football in this tournament. They are surprisingly the team with most attempts on goal with 87. The manager Cesare Prandelli started the first two matches of the tournament with a 3-5-2 formation. After two identical 1-1 score-lines he went back to his favoured 4-1-3-2 formation. Andrea Pirlo is the lynchpin of this team and he has been sensational. Maggio is suspended for this game but it does not affect the starting eleven too much. Thiago Motta who was injured for the last match may play in place of Montolivo to contain the attacking threat of the German mid-field. Daniele de Rossi has been affected by sciatica but should start. The Italian forwards have not scored enough and that is the reason they have won only one match in regular time in the tournament. Balotelli is an enigma who gets into great position and then gets cold feet. Cassano has been very impressive working hard and creating a lot of chances. The Italians will have to score goals otherwise their dream for a second Euro title will be over.

Quotes

“We did well against Greece but Italy are a different proposition,” –Joachim Loew German Manager

“We are quite a bit short because we only have very few days of recovery time. We need to put out a side that’s athletically fit, because we will have to fight against Germany. If we play well, though, we have a chance. There is no such thing as an invincible side. Spain and Germany are truly very good, but we just need to stick to our task, and we must be meticulously prepared.” –Cesare Prandelli Italian Manager

England try to do an Italian job with ‘Catenaccio’

Match Facts

Quarter Final: Italy vs Ireland

Friday, 24 June 2012

2045 (local time); 1445(EST); 0015(IST)

Stadion NSK Olimpiyskiy, Kiev

The final quarter final of the Euro is on us and it is probably the only quarterfinal with no clear favourite. In a way both the teams are on their own way trying to come out of a rut.  On one side, Italy, under Cesare Prandelli, is trying to rebuild from the shambles of 2010 world cup and Prandelli is building in essence for the 2014 world cup and 2012 Euros is probably a milestone in how much progress he has made with this team.  Holding Spain to a 1-1 draw was probably as good as any team has played against Spain in any of the matches Spain has played in major tournaments since 2008. England on the other hand have been forced to rebuild with a new manager and new personnel due to events that were least expected 6 months back.

Pirlo and Cassano – holds Italy’s hope

Roy Hodgson has taken a team that is unspectacular and workmanlike. Roy has shaped his team’s mentality, from the maxim that he must have learnt while managing in Italy – You don’t lose if you don’t concede. England has all been about not conceding, sitting deep and defending with 8 men at times. Their defensive cohesiveness was praiseworthy but they conceded twice from set pieces to Sweden and that remains a big weakness. For their goals too England has depended on set pieces so this will be one of the key match-up points for the tie.  The Italians though have, arguably, more quality in the midfield and has also been more hardworking – England covered 152km in their group matches (3rd best in the group), Italy did 208 km in their group matches (2nd best in the group).

The English are hoping on Rooney & Gerrard to deliver

But Italy has shown their Achilles heel in each of the 3 matches – getting tired and worn out after 60 minutes and while this may or may not be linked to the fitness of Andrea Pirlo, Italy’s metronome, it is something that the English would like to utilise. But England themselves have been poor in large tracts of their matches and possibly wouldn’t even have qualified if not for a glaring refereeing error. In the end, England would probably be playing the more waiting game, trying to wear Italy out while Italy will try to finish the matches in scheduled time. But given how no match has finished goalless in this glorious tournament and no tiebreaker has happened; expect a tiebreaker after a goalless 120 minutes.

Form Guide

Roy’s strategy could well be keep it tight at the back, playing on the counter and then unleash Theo Walcott’s pace at the tiring Italian backline. Italy would instead hope to score at least twice in those first 60 minutes. They have managed to score once in each of their matches in those 60 minutes. The trick will be holding on. Italy didn’t hold on to their leads beyond 60th minute in 2 of their matches.

Teams & Formations

Pirlo and Gerrard are probably playing their last major tournament and both have been magnificent for their teams, scoring goals and assisting them. Both these iconic players have one mercurial forward – Rooney and Cassano, who can score goals out of nowhere. The big talking point though is how Mario Balotelli will do. We all know the talent he possesses. We are also know how big a problem he can be. The Mario that turns up tomorrow will determine which team progresses on to face Germany.

The other point is if Italy will go with a 3 man defence or with a conventional 4 men one. This is key as Chiellini is going to miss this match with injury. Similarly England face the dilemma of if to play Welbeck with Rooney or pump for Carroll in attack. Carroll gives a different dimension to the English, especially in the light of Chiellini’s absence. But Welbeck has been probably the best England attacker in the tournament and would sneak ahead of Carroll.

Italy (3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Leonardo Bonucci, Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Barzagli; Christian Maggio, Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo, Thiago Motta, Federico Balzaretti; Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano

Manager: Cesare Prandelli

England (4-4-2): Joe Hart, Glen Johnson, John Terry, Joleon Lescott, Ashley Cole; James Milner, Steven Gerrard, Scott Parker, Ashley Young; Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck

Manager: Roy Hodgson

Quotes

“It will certainly be close because the sides have very similar qualities, and also because Italy have a habit, which is both a pro and a con, that whoever we play – whether our opponents are strong or weak – it’s always an even contest. If we play against the best, we match them, but if we play against weak sides we never manage to win with ease. We always have to struggle a bit, so I think the difference between the two sides will be very, very, very, subtle indeed.”

Gianluigi Buffon,  Italy Goalkeeper and Captain.

“The closer you get, obviously you start realising that maybe there’s a chance we can go and do something really special. In saying that, football has a tendency to sting you when you start getting carried away, so we need to realise our main focus and that’s Sunday.”

Scott Parker, England midfielder and 2011 Player of the Year

French Quality Too Much for the Hosts

Ukraine 0-2 France

(Jeremy Menez 53, Yohan Cabaye 56)

France weathered a violent storm to defeat Ukraine at the Donbass Arena. Torrential downpour altered the game for almost an hour but play resumed as the fans were treated to a spectacle.

Menez celebrates his goal

Surprisingly, Oleg Blokhin made no changes to his starting line-up. Nazarenko dropped deep to pair with Tymoshchuk in front of the defence. Voronin who was stationed behind Shevchenko had Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko on either side of him operating on the flanks. Laurent Blanc switched from the 4-3-3 formation he employed in his team’s opener against England to a more effective 4-2-3-1. In the defence, Clichy was brought in to replace Evra on the left and in attack, Nasri replaced Malouda.  Nasri though was moved from his flank role against England to the middle where he orchestrated play behind Benzema.

The game began amidst the rains and the first moment of drama took place during the national anthems via a sudden clap of thunder. After five minutes, Dutch referee took the bold step to halt play when the rains had aggravated to pelting on the playing surface. The close proximity between the lightning and the thunder was enough to instigate a precautionary measure by Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers. The worst of the storm passed and in no time the waterlogged pitch was effectively drained.

Heavy rain at the Donbass Arena


Play restarted and Ukraine did just enough to assimilate France’s attacking pressure. The guileful French attackers roamed the pitch switching positions at different times. Benzema cut inside and had a pop from distance to test Pyatov who comfortably palmed the ball away. Both teams continually found a lot of space on the counter. On 15 minutes, Benzema did well to get in between the two centre-backs and knocked the ball back with a header but no team mate made a run towards the ball. A minute later, Menez got on the end of a delightful pass from Samir Nasri and wasted no time in slotting the ball at the back of the net. The linesman’s flag came to Ukraine’s rescue as the goal was ruled offside. A motivated Ukraine kept France at bay with a series of strong challenges. The Ukraine defence being mean to Benzema in particular. On 26 minutes, Ribery robbed Nazarenko of the ball but his pull-back to Menez was laid to waste by the Paris Saint-Germain attacker. Tymoshchuk’s misguided pass in the 28th minute found Ribery who burst down the left. His intercepted cross for Benzema fell straight to Menez but the goalkeeper made a brave block to keep the score level. Talisman Shevchenko had his chance in the 33rd minute. His shot from an angle did little to disturb Hugo Lloris. Minutes later, an intervention by Phillipe Mexes spared Benzema’s blushes. Mexes’ header forced an excellent save from Pyatov before the break.

Oleg Blokhin made half-time changes to his team, Marko Devic replacing Andriy Voronin. France started the second half strongly and a couple of last-ditch interceptions prevented them from going in front.  Shevchenko’s powerful shot missed the target by inches as the Ukranians delivered a threat from a counter-attack. France took the lead through Menez on the 53rd minute. Benzema’s pass to him was expertly controlled before firing a low shot into the bottom right corner of the post. End-to-end stuff ensued as a result. The Ukrainians came out to find an equaliser but they were punished as Les Blues got a second goal from Yohan Cabaye. Benzema again was the provider, He dazzled away from his marker to thread a ball into the path of Cabaye whose shot whistled past the helpless Pyatov.  The goal demotivated the Ukrainians and France became in total control. Cabaye hit the post amongst a flurry of chances for France but the scoreline stayed 2-0. The full-time whistle was accompanied by a chorus of boos from supporters of the home side.

POST MATCH THOUGHTS

The result leaves Ukraine with three points, one short of England and France who top the group meaning they can still qualify mathematically. It’s an extremely unlikely scenario though for the reason that they face a more superior England side in the final group game. Oleg Blokhin’s side need to play through Shevchenko more often if they are to have any chance of qualifying.  They also need to work on their finishing seeing that they wasted a lot of chances in this one. They only had a shot on target out of nine tries. France on the other hand will be brimming with confidence after a dominant display.  Laurent Blanc’s change from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 proved effective so he is expected to stick with that in subsequent matches. Alou Diarra once again bossed the midfield was and was a rock in front of the defence. He started in France’s first game due to injury to Yann M’Vila but now he is close to indispensable. Expect Laurent Blanc to preserve faith in him.  France face Sweden in their last group game, a win which is very feasible as the Swedes are the whipping boys of the group with no points to their name.

Ukraine (4-2-3-1): Pyatov; Selin, Khacheridi, Mikhalik, Gusev; Nazarenko, Tymoshchuk; Konoplyanka, Voronin(Devic 46), Yarmolenko (Aliyev 68); Shevchenko.

France (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Clichy, Mexes, Rami, Debuchy; Cabaye (M’Vila 68), Diarra; Ribery, Nasri, Menez (Martin 73); Benzema (Giroud 76).

QUOTES

“I warned the lads that the match against Sweden meant little. Some of the players were thinking they were already in the quarter-finals.” – Ukraine Manager, Oleg Blokhin on Ukraine’s loss.

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“Ménez has a quality that none of Ribéry, Nasri, Hatem Ben Arfa or Mathieu Valbuena truly possess. He has the speed and the power to run in behind and hurt defences. That’s a rare quality.”- France Manager, Laurent Blanc showering praises on Menez.

The Blues fail to conquer their blues

Italy 1 – 1 Croatia

39″ Andrea Pirlo (1-0), Mario Mandzukic 72″ (1-1)

Traditional giants Italy was left in danger of catching an early flight home as Croatia (who has never lost to Italy after gaining independence from Yugoslavia) held on for a gritty 1-1 draw in a Group-C encounter at Poznan. In the process, Croatian scorer of the day Mario Mandzukic equaled the national record for highest number of goals, hitherto held by Davor Suker. But before that, Italy looked all set for a comfortable victory after having being given the lead via a moment of brilliance by Andrea Pirlo

The match didn’t begin at the blistering pace as expected from the pre-match hype. After all, in only their last match, both the teams had played a super-attacking brand of soccer. And contrary to what many experts said, Mario Balotelli did find a place in the starting line up ahead of De Natale. Balotelli started off with a 3rd minute shot at the goal. On the other hand, Croatia hoping for a quick start saw Mandzukic concedes a free kick for a foul on Chiellini

Croatia’s most capped player and captain Srna made a few set piece attacks, one of which ended with a good Buffon save, and the subsequent counter-attack by Italy saw Cassano race into the Croatia box and nearly score, but for a timely tackle by Gordon Schildenfeld. Balotelli’s effort paid off when he earned a free kick in the 39th minute, and then there was that moment of magic as Pirlo’s free kick swerved over the defense into the goal. Italy 1-0 Croatia, and that’s how the first half ended

Pirlo: The Magic Moment

The second half began with a flurry of passes, attacks and shots on goal. Within the first 10 minutes, Thiego Motta received the first yellow card and was promptly substituted. De Natale, as expected, replaced Balotelli, and immediately the results showed, but for Croatia as Mandžukic equalized!! Strangely, after that, neither side seemed to push on for a result nor the game never rose to great heights after that, barring a thunderous volley by Kranjcar who replaced Super Mario deep into injury time which was well saved by Buffon

Mandzukic after the equaliser

The result leaves the group interestingly poised, with Spain carving out a victory vs Ireland, any of the three – Croatia, Italy and Spain can make the cut. But Italy will have to hope for a result in the Croatia vs Spain game and win vs. Ireland to progress. Or else, win really big vs the Irish and proceed on goal difference

Tactical Highlights

Cesare Prandelli stuck with the 3-5-2 and for the first 45 minutes it worked without too many hitches. Balotelli and Cassini ran hard and split the defense well -Balotteli earned the free kick that saw Italy take the lead. On the other hand, Bilic’s men lined up almost as a 4-1-3-2. It was expected Croatia would use the flanks to attack, and though in the first half they didn’t do so freely, in the second half with Modric, Mandzukic and Nikica Jelavic pressed higher up the pitch. Srna gave Giaccherini a tough time on the right and it was Ivan Strinic’s cross from the left that led to the goal. Thus Croatia had the better of the exchanges in the second half


Line-Ups

Italy: Buffon, Chiellini, De Rossi, Bonucci, Giaccherini, Marchisio, Pirlo, Thiago Motta, Maggio, Cassano, Balotelli. Substitutes: De Sanctis, Sirigu, Ogbonna, Balzaretti, Abate, Di Natale, Barzagli, Borini, Montolivo, Giovinco, Diamanti, Nocerino.

Croatia: Pletikosa, Srna, Corluka, Schildenfeld, Strinic, Rakitic, Vukojevic, Modric, Perisic, Mandzukic, Jelavic. Substitutes: Kelava, Subasic, Simunic, Buljat, Pranjic, Badelj, Versaljko, Dujmovic, Kalinic, Kranjcar, Vida, Eduardo.

Referee: H. Webb (England).  Assitant Referees: M. Mullarkey (England), P. Kirkup (UK). Fourth Official: P. Kralovec (Czech Republic)

Quotes

“Of course you are a bit bitter because when a side plays football, creates a lot of goalscoring chances, they need to put a game to bed, to kill off the game”. – Prandelli denied being angry with the result

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“All I will say is that I’m very optimistic for the next match. I’m really satisfied we’ve four points from the two games. It could be even better but four points is optimal, realistic and now we have a real chance to go through” – Bilic declined to look ahead to the next game with Spain

Hopes revived late

Portugal 3           Denmark 2

(Pepe 24’, Postiga 36’, Varela 87’)   (Bendtner 41’, 80’)

As it happened

Silvestre Varela’s 87th minute goal secured three crucial points for Portugal in their second group league game against Denmark. Portugal, who had lost their opening game against Germany, needed to win this in order to proceed to the next round. On the other hand, Denmark will be in real trouble after this loss. They were high on confidence after defeating the Dutch in their opening game, but a loss here leaves them to test their luck against Germany in the last game of the group stage.

Things were not particularly in favor of Denmark, who lost Niki Zimling within the first 16 minutes of the game due to a calf injury. Pepe opened the score for Portugal when he converted from a corner in the 24th minute. It was surprising why the Real Madrid defender was kept totally unmarked at the near post by the Danish defense. Portugal doubled their lead 12 minutes later when Nani’s square pass reached Postiga, who impeccably placed the ball in the net. The Real Zaragoza forward, who failed to make an impact in the first game against Germany, made sure his presence is felt in the field. Michael Krohn-Dehli, the goal scorer in Denmark’s solitary goal win over the Dutch, assisted Niklas Bendtner to score the first goal for the Danes within 5 minutes. The game went to half time with a score of 2-1.

Within 5 minutes of the second half, Nani’s pass reached Ronaldo, who could have easily scored, but preferred not to. The Portuguese captain, considered one of the best footballers in the world, was pathetic to say the least today. At about 78 minutes, Ronaldo received a ball from Nani when the only object separating him from the goal was the Danish keeper Anderson. Quite surprisingly, Ronaldo hit outside and probably registered his name for the miss of the tournament. Minutes later, this act was punished as Niklas Bendtner scored again to equalize for Denmark. This was Bendtner’s sixth goal from his five internationals against Portugal. If Portugal would have drawn the game from there, Ronaldo had no one else to blame. However, an excellent shot from substitute Silvestre Varela in the 87th minute helped Portugal win this crucial game.

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Varela: The Savior

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Afterthought

Portugal will have to devise their strategy wisely in order to progress through the group stage. Their last match is with the Dutch, who having lost both games, are virtually at the edge of being eliminated from the group. The Dutch will definitely try to win their game, while a draw probably would be good enough for Portugal (expecting Denmark’s loss against Germany). Pepe was in great form today and he should be equally instrumental in the game against Netherlands. If Nani and Postiga also play with the same flamboyance, Portugal doesn’t need to worry. Today was perhaps a bad day for Cristiano Ronaldo, who can surely get back his lost confidence in the next game.

Things do not look great for Denmark. Their next game is against Germany, who are, perhaps, the best team in this group, having won both their games. Denmark has to depend on the Dutch in order to defeat the Portuguese and then can try to draw their game with Germany. It will be impractical to expect Denmark defeating the Germans, but certainly a draw can earn them a vital point towards progression to the quarterfinals. However, if Portugal wins against the Dutch, Denmark doesn’t seem to have any chance. The Danes need to strengthen their defense, which looked miserable today except Daniel Agger. Thomas Sorensen, the regular goalkeeper for Denmark, is expected to be back for the last game.

Teams

Denmark: Stephan Andersen Simon Poulsen, Daniel Agger, Simon Kjaer, Lars Jacobsen, Niki Zimling (Jakob Poulsen 16’), William Kvist, Michael Krohn-Delhi (Lasse Schone 90’), Christian Eriksen, Dennis Rommedahl (Toblas Mikkelsen 60’), Nicklas Bendtner

Manager: Martin Olson

Portugal: Rui Patricio; Fabio Coentrao, Bruno Alves, Pepe, Joao Pereira; Miguel Veloso, Joao Moutinho, Raul Meireles (Varela 84’), Cristiano Ronaldo, Helder Postiga (Oliveira 64’), Nani (Rolando 89’)

Manager: Paulo Bento

 

Referee: Craig Thomson (Scotland)

Quotes

“The equaliser was unjust but we didn’t bow our heads; we showed character and got the winner we deserved” – Paulo Bento, Portugal coach

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“We struggled to find our rhythm but we really improved in the second half and in the last ten minutes we came into our own.” – Morten Olsen, Denmark coach

Oranje look for redemption against their old rivals Die Mannschaft

Match Facts

Group B: Netherlands vs.Germany

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

21:45 (local time); 14:45(EST); 00:15(IST)

Metalist Stadium, Kharkiv

After the final draw of the tournament was done this was one of the most eagerly awaited matches. It was supposed to be the match between two favourites to decide who would top the group. The match was worthy of a final. The long history between the two teams was at the forefront of the media.  After the first round of matches it is a much different proposition.

The Dutch have lost their opening match against Denmark and have to get a positive result in this match. They have their back to the wall and a defeat may see them eliminated if Denmark beat Portugal in the other game. Netherlands need to be the masters of their destiny and they have the personnel to do so.

Germany overcame Portugal by a single goal in their opening match. However, their performance was far from their billing of favourites. The Germans were lucky to come away with full points against Portugal. They can be the first side to cement their place in the quarter finals with a win. German national teams always seem to rise to the occasion in big tournaments and their winning mentality is a strength.

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                                                      Robben versus Lahm: Key match-up of club teammates

Form Guide

Netherlands dominated for long periods against Denmark and had a staggering 28 attempts on goal the highest by any team in the first round of matches. The problem was that their strikers were wasteful and did not really test the opposition goalkeeper. The team just needs to sort out their finishing and they can do that being the highest scoring team from the qualifiers.

Germany has been a breath of fresh air in that last two major tournaments abandoning their traditionally dour style of play for an attacking style. The first match was a return to their old style of play with dour defending a lot of possession against Portugal. There was none of the crisp passing, movement and pace that have become synonymous with this team. Although Portugal sat back not allowing them to play their game, Netherlands with their style of play just might give them the opportunity.

Netherlands: WLWWL

Germany: WLLWW

Teams & Formations

The Netherlands had a problem with their strikers in the opening match. The manager Bert Van Marwjik is supposed to be facing a revolt led by the players left on the bench for the opener namely Rafael Van der Vaart and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Robin Van Persie who started the Denmark game failed to reproduce the form that made him top scorer in the English Premier League. Huntelaar may very well start this match as the first choice forward. It is unlikely that the manager will play both strikers although the current situation of the team seems to indicate so. The good thing is that Joris Mathijsen the first choice centre back is fit. Netherlands will start with a 4-2-3-1 formation. It is to be seen if Van Marwjik plays Van der Vaart or De Jong as the second midfielder with Van Bommel. For them Sneijder and Robben will be the key to unlock the opposition defence.

Netherlands(4-2-3-1): Maarten Stekelenburg; Gregory Van der Wiel; John Heitinga; Joris Mathijsen,; Jetro Willems; Nigel de Jong; Mark Van Bommel; Arjen Robben; Wesley Sneijder;  Ibrahim Afellay; Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

Manager: Bert Van Marwjik

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Who will control the midfield ?

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Germany did not play the way their manager Joachim Loew would have wanted them to. They dominated possession but there was a definite lack of creativity in the attacking zone. In this match they will start with their usual 4-2-3-1 formation.  The Germans will play for the win which will ensure qualification. However, they have a history of losing their second group stage matches which has happened in the last two major tournaments. They will also look to a better performance from Lukas Podolski who was not his usual self missing changes, giving away the ball cheaply and Andre Schurrle may start in his place. The defensive line-up with Boateng at right-back will always remain a concern. The clash between Philipp Lahm and his club team mate Arjen Robben on the right-wing will be fascinating. Mesul Ozil and Mario Gomez will be their key players along with Lahm in defence. Germany starts as a slight favourite but only just.

Germany(4-2-3-1): Manuel Neuer; Jerome Boateng; Mats Hummels; Philipp Lahm; Sammy Khedira; Bastien Schweinsteiger; Thomas Muller; Mesul Ozil; Lukas Podolski; Mario Gomez

Manager:  Joachim Loew

Quotes

“How do we beat them? Well I won’t tell you that because I’ll tell my own team that. The Germans are very strong but we can also beat them. How we do that and where we do that, I won’t tell you now.” – Bert Van Marwjik Netherlands Manager.

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“They’re the most interesting and best matches of the last 20-30 years. It will be very intense, there’s a huge rivalry and technically it will be a very good, but what happened in the past is history now.” – Joachim Loew  Germany Manager.

Shevchenko the legend lights up Kyiv

Ukraine 2 Sweden 1

Zlatan Ibrahamovic (0-1); Andriy Shevchenko (1-1); Andriy Shevchenko (2-1)

The last match in the first round of matches was a simmering affair. It started cagily but developed into a pulsating contest. Ukrainian manager Oleg Blokhin pulled off a tactical masterstroke with his starting line-up by playing the veteran Andriy Shevchenko in place of the in-form Marko Devic who was billed to start by all experts. It was an inspired selection which decided the course of the match. As expected Ukraine started with a 4-1-3-2 formation with Shevchenko and Voronin in attack. Sweden started with the 4-2-3-1 formation with Ibrahimovic playing in the hole behind the lone striker Rosenberg. The Swedes who were unbeaten in their last five matches came up against a team which was inspired by the support of the partisan 65,000 supporters who had gathered at the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv. The match was decided in a pivotal ten minutes early in the second half.

Shevchenko scores the equaliser

The start of the game was cautious from both sides who knew that a win would put them on top of the group. Sweden started brighter with an Ibrahimovic cross being palmed by the opposition goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov in the opening five minutes. The match was quite combative with 16 fouls in the opening 15 minutes.  Ukraine then took control of possession with Husev the left back linking up into the mid-field with Tymoshchuk and finding a lot of joy in the wings especially on the left through Yevhen Konoplyanka. The battle between the two veterans Olaf Mellberg and Andriy Shevchenko was captivating contest. The first clear chance fell to Shevchenko in the 23rd minute through a counterattack from the right where he exchanged passes with Yarmalenko and was in a one-on-one situation against Andreas Isaksson the Swedish goalkeeper. Shevchenko pulled his shot wide of the far post. In the opposite end Rosenberg made Pyatov scramble with a shot from outside the area in the 31st. Ukraine enjoyed long spells of sustained possession but could not find that opening with the Scandinavian defence holding strong. In the 35th minute Andriy Vorinin took a fierce pile driver from 25 yards which was parried by Isaksson. The hosts came close again on the 37th minute with Shevchenko hit a shot from the left of the box which was blocked and the rebound feel to his head which is crossed into the path of Yarmalenko whose shot was on target but valiantly blocked by a diving Andreas Granqvist. The best chance of the half fell to Ibrahimovic in the 39th minute. A cross from Lustic from the left found Ibrahimovic unmarked with ample time and he placed his header against the outside of the far post with the Ukrainian keeper completely beaten.

Ukraine continued having more possession in the starting of the second half. However Sweden looked more threatening in attack and Rosenberg shot in the 49th minute was on target and was blocked superbly by Yehven Selin the Ukrainian right back. The Swedes went ahead in the 52nd minute a long cross from the left was put back in the penalty area by Kim Kallstrom to an unmarked Ibrahimovic to stab in from close to silence the majority of the stadium. The lead lasted for only 3 minutes as Husev burst down the right and passed to Yarmalenko who crossed with his left foot and that man Shevchenko jumped ahead of his marker Mellberg to head in the equaliser. The stadium had erupted and the Ukrainians buoyed by the support went forward menacingly and Gusev shot over from outside the box in the 59th minute. The Ukrainians got a corner in the 62nd minute and Konoplyanka took it from the left. Shevchenko managed to get rid of his marker Ibrahimovic and flicked the ball with his head at the near post. The ball went in past a very small gap between the post and Lustig the Swedish defender who was guarding it. The legend had turned the match on its head in a matter of 10 minutes. The Swedes re-organised by bringing on the veteran Anders Svensson in place of Toivonen. Svensson shored up the mid-field allowing Rasmus Elm to go forward to support the attackers. Sweden brought on Christian Wilhelmsson the more attack minded winger in place of Seb Larrson in the 68th minute. Wilhelmsson nearly found Elm with a long pass from the left.  Joham Elmander just back from his broken meta-tarsal was sent in by the Swedes in the 71st minute looking for an equaliser. Shevchenko and Voronin were both withdrawn as Blokhin tried to bring in fresher legs to his teams cause. Sweden nearly found the equaliser in the 90th minute when Elamander exchanged passes with Ibrahamovic a lofted return pass sent him clear but he blasted the ball over with the goal at his mercy. A fully match fit Elmander may have scored from a similar chance. In the last minute of added time Olaf Mellberg found himself in the opposition penalty box but his volley with outstretched foot sailed over the goal.

After Thought

It was expected that the in-form Swedish team would easily get past the hosts who had lost their last two matches and were low on confidence. However, Ukraine was the better side and dominated the game for long periods of time with sustained possession and more attempts on goal. Oleg Blokhin has proved to be a master tactician by starting his veteran striker allowing him to gain confidence from the partisan support. They will go into their match against France with a lot of belief and the knowledge that a win will ensure qualification to the quarter-finals. Sweden will have to re-think their strategy and shore up the mid-field which was outplayed by the Ukrainians. It will be better if they started with Svesson instead of Toivonen allowing Elm to play in the advanced role. The fitness of Elmander will also be crucial to their fortunes. They need to get a result against England who managed to draw against a better French side. The Swedes do not want to go into the last match against France looking for a victory which looks unlikely looking at the first round of matches.

Teams

Ukraine  : Andriy Pyatov, Oleg Husyev,  Yevhen Khacheridi, Taras Mykhalik, Yevhen Selin, Anatoliy Timoschchuk, Serhiy Nazarenko, Yevhen Konoplyanka (Marko Devic,90+3), Andriy Yarmolenko, Andriy Shevchenko (Artem Milevskyi,81), Andriy Voronin (Ruslan Rotan,85)

Sweden :Andreas Isaksson, Mikael Lustig, Olaf  Mellberg, Andreas Granqvist,  Martin Olsson, Rasmus Elm, Kim Kallstrom, Sebastian Larsson (Christian Wilhelmsson,68), Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ola Toivonen (Anders Svensson,62), Markus Rosenberg (Johan Elmander,71)

Referee: Cüneyt Çakır (Turkey)

Venue: Olympic Stadium

Quotes

“All the players, the staff and the stadium were with us. That’s why we won today – we were one family.” Anatoliy Tymoshchuk- on the team spirit of Ukraine.

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“It’s tough, it’s tough. We shouldn’t have lost. We had good chances to score goals. We were winning 1-0, then they scored to make it 1-1 and another to make it 2-1 from a corner and that just can’t happen. But we have two games left to do better.” Zlatan Ibrahamovic – on his teams loss.

Hometown boys look for a bright start against Scandinavian Giants

Match Facts

Group D: Ukraine vs. Sweden

Monday, 11 June 2012

21:45 (local time); 14:45(EST); 00:15(IST)

Olympic Stadium, Kyiv

The Key man Anatoliy Tymoshchuk

                 

The second host team Ukraine take the field against Sweden in the last of the first round matches in the group phase. The Olympic Stadium in Kyiv has undergone a major reconstruction and rebuilding including a new pitch which was unveiled in October 2011.

The hosts have not won this tournament since 1984 and Ukraine will try to reverse this trend. They are the lowest ranked team in the group. The next two matches are against arguably the better two teams France and England make this match the key to the fortunes of Ukraine.

Sweden is always a major fixture in all major tournament finals without being counted amongst the favourites. The team is made up of a solid group of players with some very famous stars and some workhorses who plied their trade in the different leagues of Europe. Looking into England’s problems they should be favourites to progress from this group after France. However this match against the hosts will be crucial to their chances.

Form Guide

Ukraine is the only debutant team in this edition of the tournament. Although, the 1988 Soviet team had a very strong Ukrainian contingent this is their first official Euro. Being hosts Ukraine did not have to qualify for the tournament and they lost their last two friendlies against Austria and Turkey both of whom have not qualified for this tournament. The manager Oleg Blokhin recently revealed that the poor form was due a chronic bout of food-poisoning which affected the whole team.

Sweden made has been a regular in this tournament since 1992 when lost in the semi-finals. In the last edition they were eliminated in the group stage by the champions Spain and Russia. Sweden qualified automatically as the best second place qualifier behind Netherlands. They scored the third most number of goals amongst the 16 qualifiers with 31 behind Netherlands and Germany. The Swedes have been impressive in the warm-up friendly matches and are still unbeaten in 2012.

Ukraine: WWWLL

Sweden: WWWWW

Teams & Formations

Ukraine team is centred around their captain Anatoliy Tymoshchuk of Bayern Munich. He is the vital cog which makes the Ukrainian team function. Other key members in attack and defence will be Andriy Voronin of Dynamo Moscow and Oleg Husyev of Dynamo Kyiv. Oleg Blokhin will probably start with two forwards in a 4-1-3-2 formation looking for a win. Andriy Shevchenko the legendary striker should be seen as a second half substitute.

Ukraine (4-1-3-2) : Andriy Pyatov; Oleg Husyev;  Yevhen Khacheridi; Taras Mykhalik; Yevhen Selin; Anatoliy Timoschchuk; Serhiy Nazarenko; Yevhen Konoplyanka; Andriy Yarmolenko; Marko Devic; Andriy Voronin

Manager: Aleg Blokhin

Sweden will look to their star Zlatan Ibrahamovic for inspirational play in the opposition penalty box. Ibrahimovic will play in the hole below the main striker giving him the flexibility of creating chances and scoring himself.  Johan Elmander the first choice striker who has just returned to training after a foot fracture will probably not be in the starting line-up. Erik Hamrén will start with a 4-2-3-1 formation which will look to take control of the midfield.

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Zlatan Ibrahamovic - leadng from the front

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Sweden (4-2-3-1) Andreas Isaksson; Mikael Lustig; Olaf  Mellberg; Andreas Granqvist;  Martin Olsson; Rasmus Elm; Kim Kallstrom; Sebastian Larsson; Zlatan Ibrahimovic; Ola Toivonen; Markus Rosenberg

Manager: Erik Hamrén

Quotes

“Sweden as a team work very well, they’ve been together for a long time and they’re a machine that runs very smoothly”

Oleg Blokhin- Ukraine Manager

“I don’t have any problems sleeping but I dream a lot, and when I do, I dream about winning”

Erik Hamrén-Sweden Manager

Battle for the East European Glory

Match Facts

Group A: Russia vs. Czech Republic

Friday, 08 June 2012

2045 (local time); 1445(EST); 0015(IST)

Municipal Stadium Wroclaw, Poland

Shutting Down his Critics

On the Focus

Russia begins their Euro 2012 campaign in red hot form after having crashed the Azzuris 3-0 in their final friendly game. They have a settled squad and many of their star players have come up with some classy performances for their country in the past. Russia will also benefit from the fact that almost half of their first XI will most likely be from Zenit St. Petersburg. Russia is quite fortunate to feature in the easiest group in the tournament, that too as the favourites. They would like to start the campaign on a winning note.

Standing in front of Russia are the gritty Czechs. These two teams have had great history in football – as USSR and Czechoslovakia respectively – but their recent past is not so glorious one. Czech Republic dominated the youth stage in the late ‘90s and early 2000’s but none of them are around now. They have a relatively unknown team which features a bunch of young lads from Viktoria Plzen. This unknown factor could well work in their advantage Czechs are facing the strongest team in the group up front and hence a draw will suit them quite well.

The two teams have met only once in the group stages of Euro 96 in England where the spectators were thrilled to witness an entertaining 3-3 draw. With relatively better defensive organizations on display, that score line will be pretty hard to match.

Form Guide

Russia did exceedingly well last time round in Euro 2008 to reach the Semis for the first time since the former USSR era. They have been impressive in their qualifying too where they lost only once in 20 matches and conceded only four goals during the campaign. The Russians have done well in the friendly matches and they would like to keep up their good showing in the main tournament also.

Russia Form Guide: WDDWD

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Petr Cech: Testing Time Again

Czech Republic had a very good team (former Czechoslovakia) in the late ‘70s but that too was not enough to win the trophy. This time they had to wait till play-off matches to get through and naturally expectations are not that high. Their friendly results have also been dismal where they have failed to impress their supporters.

Czech Republic Form Guide: LWDWW

Teams & Formations

Dick Advocat would hope for the same this time from the likes of Andrei Arshavin, Roman Pavlyuchenko who did not have a great season at club level. To support them Russia has a very strong unit comprising of shot stopper Igor Akinfeyev and midfielder Roman Shirokov – both one of the bests in Europe at this moment.

Russia (4-3-3): Igor Akinfeev; Yuri Zhirkov, Aleksei Berezutskiy, Sergei Ignashevich, Aleksandr Anyukov; Igor Denisov, Konstantin Zyryanov, Roman Shirokov; Andrei Arshavin, Aleksandr Kerzahkov, Alan Dzagoev.

Manager: Dick Advocaat

Czech Republic will rely heavily on Petr Cech, fresh from his Champions Cup final heroics. Tomas Rosicky’s timely return from calf strain would be major boost for the team which lacks in quality big time.

Czech Republic (4-2-3-1): Petr Cech; David Limbersky, Michel Kadlec, Tomas Sivok, Theodor Gebre Selassie; Tomas Hubschman, Jaroslav Plasil; Jan Rezek, Tomas Rosicky, Vaclav Pilar; Milan Baros.

Manager: Michal Bilek

Match Referee: Howard Webb (Englad)

Assistant Referee: Michael Mullarkey (Englad) and Peter Kirkup (Englad)

Quotes

“We have a good team, we have the quality, and it is very important that the players start believing in that.” Russia Manager Dick Advocaat

“Maybe we have our toughest opponent in the first match, the favourite in our group, Russia, who won their last friendly against Italy 3-0. That creates huge respect, but I believe in my team, and believe we will succeed in this match.” Czech Republic Manager Michal Bilek

Final Prediction

The Russians look too strong for the Czechs and a comfortable 2-0 win seems likely.

Chance to Pole up A Greek Tragedy

Match Facts

Group A: Poland vs. Greece

Friday, 08 June 2012

1800 (local time); 1200(EST); 2130(IST)

National Stadium, Warsaw

How K Papadopoulos counters Lewandowski's threat will determine the outcome

The Euro 2012 finally gets underway at the swanky new National Stadium which is the largest footballing arena in Poland. Built for the Euros, the National Stadium has a unique retractable PVC roof which unfolds from a nest on a needle suspended above the centre of the pitch. But while all talk should be focussed on the match at hand, controversies over anticipated racial abuse and law and order situation. However with the football finally starting, one can hope that the controversies will take a back seat.

The hosts have not won the tournament in almost three decades and for Poland to attempt anything contrary to this trend, have to drum up a win in the opener tomorrow. Arguably in the weakest group, Poland can ill afford to slip up against the 2004 champions, when they have a resurgent Russia and a rebuilding Czech Republic.

The Greeks, never anyone’s favourite team, are probably a very grey horse for the tournament. They never inspire confidence, yet they went through the qualifying tournament unbeaten and only conceded 5 goals in the process. As has been their wont, they have built their team on a solid defence. On form, they shouldn’t have any problem in progressing from the group but countering a passionate host in the first tie should be crucial to any such ambition.

Form Guide

Poland has not had a good time at all in the European championships. In fact they have only ever qualified for one European championship – the last one and didn’t get out of the group stages. As hosts, they didn’t need to qualify and hence only played friendlies and their form wasn’t impressive enough, though they did beat lowly Andorra 4-0 last week.

The Greeks only ever qualified for 3 European championships, but can proudly proclaim to have won the trophy in 2004. Their qualification record was perfect but they have not really been dominant in the friendlies.

Poland: DWWW

Greece: LDDW

Teams & Formations

The hosts bank on Robert Lewandowski, who was the third highest scorer in the just concluded Bundesliga without scoring via any penalty kicks. Lukasz Piszczek is probably one of the top right backs in Europe and has been courted by clubs like Milan and Real Madrid. Coach Franciszek Smuda lines up his team in 4-2-3-1 formation and creativity of Ludovic Obraniak and his linkup play with Lewandowski should be crucial for the Polish chances.

Poland (4-2-3-1): Wojciech Szczesny; Lukasz Piszczek, Marcin Wasilewski, Damien Perquis, Sebastian Boenisch; Rafal Murawski, Eugen Polanski; Jakub Blaszczykowski, Ludovic Obraniak, Maciej Rybus; Robert Lewandowski

Manager: Franciszek Smuda

Portuguese born Fernando Santos was elected by the Greek Football League as the best coach of the decade. He favours a 4-3-3 formation which tucks into a 4-5-1 without the ball. Celtic hitman Giorgios Samaras has the same role as Angelos Charisteas from the 2004 squad. Schalke man Kyriakos Papadopoulos and former Milan flop, Sokratis Papasthapoulos form the central defensive pairing and how they cope with Lewandowski will probably decide the match.

Greece(4-3-3): Konstantinos Chalkias; Vasilios Torosidis, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, José Holebas; Georgios Karagounis, Konstantinos Katsouranis, Ioannis Maniatis; Dimitrios Salpingidis; Theofanis Gekas, Georgios Samaras

Manager: Fernand Santos

Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (Spain)

Quotes

“The first step is always the most important step, and the first step is the Greece match.”

Poland captain Jacob ‘Kuba’ Blaszczykowski

“We don’t have anything to fear against Poland. I believe we can repeat our effort of 2004 when we spoiled the opener for the home team.”

Giorgos Tzavellas, Greek defender.