I grew up hating soccer. It was a stupid sport that I didn’t like and didn’t want to understand. Then I became addicted to FIFA on Xbox, attended a match in England, and scavenged YouTube for player videos. Four years ago, after finishing college and enjoying unemployment, I watched every match of the Euro 2008 tournament. That did it, sucked in for good now.
I immersed myself in the game and gained great respect for the players, particularly through YouTube. I learned new names and who watch during games. Hence the purpose of this (and subsequent) posts. Players to keep your eye on and YouTube links to view them in greater detail. I will post brief summaries of the four groups daily, prior to the tournament’s kickoff on Friday (Group B here).
Group A: Czech Republic (World Rank: 26), Greece (14), Poland (65), and Russia (11)
Czech Republic (26)
Traditionally one of Europe’s strongest squads, but often struggle to advance in the big tournaments. They feature some household names and are probably in the weakest group of the tournament.
Tomas Rosicky (Arsenal): Was in great form for Arsenal in the final months of EPL and was instrumental in securing the Gunners a Champions League spot for next year.
Tomas Necid (CSKA Moscow): Big (6’3″) and a hot name in Europe, but might struggle to crack the starting lineup.
In route to the Euro 2004 title, Greece’s defensive and boorish tactics led to a surprise finish over far more talented teams. Brought in a new manager, Fernando Santos, who should bring some Portuguese flair (but hopefully no flopping) to the Greeks.
Sotiris Ninis (Panathinaikos): Perhaps the team’s most talented individual, is out after serious knee injury 10 months ago.
Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Schalke): 20 year old holding midfielder, sought after by Europe’s elite clubs.
The lowest ranked (65) country in the tournament, who are included as one of the host countries along with Ukraine. The Poles do offer some elite young players, followed by a significant drop off in talent. They did beat Argentina 2-1 in June (without Messi, Tevez, Higuain) and drew Germany 2-2 in September, but gave up an extra-time equalizer.
Robert Lewandowski, Jakub “Kuba” Blaszczykowski, Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund): These three club teammates led Dortmund to back-to-back Bundesliga championships and will influence how far Poland advances. Robert Lewandowski scored 22 league goals and won Bundesliga Player of the Year. Blaszcykowski will make up for missing Euro 2008 and hold down the middle of the park. Piszczek is an attacking right back and linked with a move to Real Madrid this summer.
Euro 2008 surprise semi-finalist (losing to eventual champions, Spain) led by Guus Hiddink, who has since left the position. Now managed by Dick Advocaat (cue cliche “funny foreign name” joke), the Russians hope to meet the lofty expectations set from four years ago.
Andrei Arshavin (Zenit St. Petersburg), Roman Pavlyuchenko (Lokomotiv Moscow), Yuri Zhirkov (Anzhi Makhachkala): Three talented, experienced players; each has something to prove. Following Russia’s Euro 2008 performance, three North London clubs (Arsenal, Spurs, Chelsea) brought these players in. This past season, all three players were sent back to Russian clubs. I’m sure they’d like to show there is still something left in the tank.
Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow): Attacking midfielder, recent Best Young Player in Russian Premier League. Fun one to watch.
Match Dates: Friday 6/8, Tuesday 6/12, Saturday 6/16
@buddhafari prediction: Poland advances to the knockout round with the home crowds and Lewandowski. The Czechs ride the best keeper in the world (at the moment) and move on in this less than enthralling group.