C is for Cut throat

Debopam Roy previews the teams from Group C.

Group C, along with Group A and group F, forms a set of unique groups in this year’s World Cup where the four countries in the respective groups represent four different continents. However of all the eight groups, this is the unique group as none of the countries have ever played any of the other countries in the 19 previous World Cups. That is not really surprising given that two of the teams made their World Cup debuts in 1990s and one in 2006. Add to the fact that cumulatively they have only ever gone to the round of 16 three times (only Japan repeating it) and this World Cup then becomes a huge opportunity for these countries to finally fulfil the expectation that many of them have always carried.

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For some, Colombia would forever be associated as a country being called favourites by Pele and then crashing out of USA 94 in ignominy followed by the tragedy of Andres Escobar’s killing. That team was of Faustino Asprilla, Carlos Valderrama, Freddy Rincon, Rene Higuita – the golden generation if there was one. Despite qualifying for all three World Cups in 1990s, they only had the round of 16 clash in 1990 to talk about. That golden generation’s zenith was reached in its final days, when they won the Copa America in 2001.

Since 1998, Colombia had failed to reach the World Cups for three straight times. That wait is over now. And the talk is of a new golden generation. This generation is led by old guard of Mario Yepes but has prolific strikers (Radamel Falcao and Jackson Martinez), creative midfielders (James Rodriguez, Fredy Guarin), wide men capable of burning through the wings (Juan Guilermo Cuadrado, Pablo Armero), solid defenders (Cristian Zapata, Yepes himself and wonderkid Eder Alvarez Balanta who has made his debut aged only 21 and can be an able backup).

Colombia comfortably breezed through the South American campaign on the back of a solid defence that conceded the least while scoring the third highest number of goals and finished only two points off the topper Argentina. Radamel Falcao was ostensibly the focal point of the attack, top scoring with nine goals.  Teofilo Gutierrez backed him up with six goals. They have since then strengthened their claims with friendly victories against Serbia and Belgium before drawing against fellow qualifiers Netherlands.

Jose Pekerman, who had won three Under-20 World Cups with Argentina and managed the senior team to the 2006 World Cup quarter-finals, playing sublime football at times, has revolutionised the Colombian team as well. After a bout of experimentation, he has settled on a 4-2-2-2 formation with two roving attacking midfielders behind the two strikers. That would change to a 4-2-3-1 formation effortlessly against teams where more prudent approach is required. His performances as the helm of the Colombian team have seen him win the South American Coach of the Year consecutive times in 2012 and 2013. His tenure is capped by performances like the thumping 4-0 victory over Uruguay in September 2012 or coming from three goals down to claim a 3-3 draw with Chile in the penultimate round of qualifying campaign.

Since the heydays of 2003, this is the first time that Colombia has been in the top 5 in the FIFA rankings. They have shuttled between fourth and fifth place in the FIFA ranking for past one year while managed to climb onto third place once, and much is expected again of them. But the history has been one of underachievement over the years. The lone time they managed to cross the group stages of World Cup, Roger Milla took Rene Higuita’s adventurous foray up the field to score the memorable goal that dumped Los Cafeteros (the coffee growers) out of Italia ’90. This time too the spending qualifying campaign and superlative continental form which allowed Colombia to be seeded has taken its toll in terms of the injury to Falcao who underwent knee surgery for ligament damage and it would be quite a miracle for him to come back in time for the World Cup in his full splendour. But with a group where they are top seeds and none of the other three teams have a World Cup record that is superior to them, this is the best chance Los Cafeteros have of putting on their best show. Their opponent in the next round will be a team from Group D – one of mighty Italy, Uruguay or England. So Colombia’s chances of bettering their best performance in the tournament remains slim.

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Greece is one of the few European teams that have reached multiple World Cups but never progressed beyond the group stage. This inability shows that they are a team that can possibly punch above their cumulative weight over a long period of time but cannot take the heat of the big stage. Their lone European triumph in 2004 is the shining exception to this history. That win was the pinnacle of the German manager Otto Rehhagel.  Rehhagel was also the manager that presided over the only victory that Greece have managed in World Cup finals – a 2-1 win over Nigeria in 2010.

Greece was in Group G for the qualification campaign – one of the weaker groups in Europe. Only Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovakia could have posed seriousa qualification problems for them. Both Greece and Bosnia-Herzegovina qualified easily but the problem of Greece has always been scoring goals and Bosnia-Herzegovina pipped them on superior goal difference to top the group and clinched the automatic spot in World Cup. Greece scored only 12 goals in 10 matches but their defence was as impregnable as ever conceding only four goals and none of them were from open play. Greece’s inability to score as well as to beat Bosnia-Herzegovina in either of their matches was responsible for them going into a two-legged play-off. Luck played its part that Greece faced Romania in the play-offs. Konstantinos Mitroglou scored three goals in the two legs and Greece drew 1-1 away and thrashed a sorry Romania 3-1 at home to qualify for the finals.

Mitroglou will lead the line in the 4-3-3 that manager Fernando Santos plays. Dimitris Salpingidis and Giorgios Samaras are the possible partners for Mitroglou. Greece has a plethora of defensive midfielders to battle for the centre but there is a lack of creative outlet that would free the defence. The early promise of Sotiris Ninis didn’t come through and so the creative burden would lie with Ioannis Fetfatzidis. Captain Giorgos Karagounis is the most capped Greek player in history and the 37-year-old would like his last major tournament to be a memorable one.

For the first time Greece got an opportunity of being in a group which doesn’t have any of the traditional superpowers of football and hence they would that feel there is a genuine chance of progress. However other teams in the group are probably better balanced. It may come down to the simple task of if they manage to find a regular goal scorer. If they do reach the second round, then the legend of Otto Rehhagel and his 2004 batch will have a companion.

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This is the third straight World Cup for the Ivory Coast and their third ever World Cup. That probably proves that this is legitimately a golden generation of footballers who have achieved far more than any other set of footballers to play for the tiny African nation. They also are the top ranked African nation in FIFA ranking and hence have the burden of expectation to carry.

Ivory Coast was in Group C of African qualifying competition with Morocco, Tanzania and Gambia.  Ivory Coast came into this qualifying campaign on the back of a heartrending 8-7 loss against Zambia in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations. Manager Francois Zahoui was sacked following this. A new and untested manager in the shape of Sabri Lamouchi was appointed. Lamouchi, born in France of Tunisian descent had played 12 times for France and had finished with his playing career only three years back in 2009. His ascent to the hot seat was out of the blue as he had no previous coaching experience at any level. In fact he had finished his coaching degrees only weeks before his assignment was to start. However he managed to bring fresh ideas which allowed Ivory Coast to breeze through the group undefeated and thus qualified for the second round of African qualifiers. At this stage they met Senegal, who had topped group J. Over a two-legged play-off, The Elephants beat Senegal 4-2 in aggregate where an away 1-1 draw consolidated the 3-1 win at home. The away trip was a nervy affair though. Senegal needed one more goal to go through on the basis of away goal until Salomon Kalou scored in the injury time.

The team still has 8-9 players who played in 2006 and 2010. This group, who have reached two finals of African Cup of Nations, only to lose in penalties over both time and to reach 2 World Cups and not go on to the second round, needs one last defining performance to truly call itself the golden generation. The likes of Didier Drogba, Toure brothers, goalkeeper Boubacar Barry are considered legends. The new generation of players like the Toulouse wing back – Serge Aurier, Saint-Etienne winger Max Gradel, Swansea City’s Wilfried Bony, Monaco’s Lacina Traore or CSKA Moscow’s Seydou Doumbia are very much part of the fabric that would take Ivory Coast forward in future. It is the success of these players’ integration into the current mix with the old hands that would define how far the run of The Elephants would be.

Among all the teams of Group C, it is Ivory Coast who should be happy with the teams they have been put with. Twice the Elephants had qualified for the World Cup and twice they were put in the Group of Death. In 2006, they had Serbia and Montenegro, The Netherlands and Argentina in their group and in 2010 that became Brazil, Portugal and North Korea. Finally they have a group where they would feel that they can be equals with any of the other teams but they would need a large dose of luck to get into the next round.

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If there is one team from Asia that has progressed in terms of quality of football, it is Japan. Five straight World Cup qualifications show that they have mastered the art of showing up at the main event of world football. By reaching the round of 16 in 2010 World Cup, they have also shown that their team had learned the secret of qualifying from a group even when the tournament is not played at home.

Japan was placed in Group C in the third round of AFC qualification with Uzbekistan, North Korea and Tajikistan. Japan did just about enough to qualify through behind Uzbekistan as they lost against North Korea and Uzbekistan. Apart from their matches against Tajikistan, Japan couldn’t manage to score more than a single goal in any of their other matches. In the fourth round, Japan was paired with Australia, Jordan, Oman and Iraq. Apart from a loss to Jordan and two draws against Australia, Japan managed to win rest of their matches thus comfortably sealing the first spot. In the process, they became the first nation to qualify for the tournament after hosts Brazil as early as June 2013.

The team is full of foreign-based stars who are reaching their prime. The likes of goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege) defenders Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke 04), and Maya Yoshida (Southampton) midfielders Makoto Hasebe (Nurnberg) provide the solidity. The stars though are the attacking midfielders – Shinji Okazaki (Mainz), Shinji Kagawa (Man United), Keisuke Honda (AC Milan). Okazaki has 38 international goals (joint third in all time list for Japan), Honda has 20 (10th in all-time list) and Kagawa, the youngest of the lot, has 17 goals already. They are the three creative players who would shape much of Japan’s fortune. What they lack though is a true out and out striker. Two new strikers were introduced to fill this position – Yuya Osako and Yoichiro Kakitani. Osako has three goals in 6 appearances for Japan. The 23-year-old got a contract from TSV 1860 Munchen in January 2014 and in his 14 appearances, knocked up 6 goals for the German side. Kakitani who was the most valuable player in the AFC U-17 championship in 2006, is still playing in the J League but in his 9 appearances for the national team, has managed to find the net 4 times. If these two can keep true to their promise, then Japan would probably as exciting an attacking team as any in the tournament.

Manager Zaccheroni has faced some criticism over to his reluctance to introduce new blood into the team. Off late, he has introduced fresh faces in the team as they won the inaugural EAFF East Asian Cup. They also beat Belgium and drew with Holland in friendlies last November thus bolstering the confidence. Zaccheroni prefers to play the 4-2-3-1 where the trio of Honda, Okazaki and Kagawa roam behind the lone striker and wing-backs like Nagatomo and Uchida float past to provide wing options. With the quality in this team, the expectation back home is at least of a quarter-final but Japan would have to be wary of the defensive grit of Greece and the attacking flair of the Colombians, whom they have never beaten in their previous two encounters, to really hope for a smooth progress. Overall this is a talented team that can go far if their attacking talent can sprout fully.

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)


“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.

A Sneak Peek: Stars of UEFA Euro 2012 Group A

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.

Czech Republic

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

 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.

The Final Groups After the Draw

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.

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

           Czech Republic

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

Final Verdict

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.

Sure-shot: Russia


Dark Horse: Czech Republic and Greece

Upset: Poland

[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


Kinshuk Biswas is an architect by education, a consultant by profession, a quizzer, writer and an absolute football fanatic by choice. Follow him at http://confessionsofastonedmind.blogspot.com