Euro 2012: Day 5 Predictions

Greece Vs. Czech Republic:

In the opening round of fixtures Greece didn’t come firing out of the blocks against co-hosts Poland but they grew into the game and seemed to be inspired by the injustice of Sokratis Papastathpolous’ first half dismissal.

Greece EURO 2012

The Greek fans will have been delighted with the spirit their side showed in coming back against Poland

So, having looked a very ordinary side for the opening half hour or so Greece will have been delighted with their turnaround in fortunes which was in no small part down to the contributions of substitute Dimitris Salpingidis whose equalising goal and tidy and efficient use of the ball in the attacking third has probably earned him the right to start today’s game.

They may have improved as the game went on but Greece didn’t seem to possess a huge amount of quality and much the same can be said of the Czechs who were soundly beaten by four goals to one by Group A favourites Russia.

There were times in their heavy defeat in the opening round of games when they were causing a few problems on the break but ultimately Russia showed far too much cunning and conviction for a limited Czech side to cope with.

If the Czechs can bottle up the period of their game against Russia when they seemed useful on the break and find some greater defensive stability then they have a chance of getting a point and I think they will do so in a 1-1 draw.

Poland Vs. Russia:

Having totally dominated the opening stages of their first match in Group A, Poland will have been very disappointed with the way they seemed to flounder against the ten men of Greece in the second half of their opener. Russia on the other hand underlined their ‘dark horse’ status in the competition with an utterly clinical display which saw them outscore all other teams in the first round of fixtures.

Lewandowski Poland

Poland begun well with Lewandowski proving to be a real threat and they will need to replicate their opening half hour against the Russians

Admittedly, Greece did put up much more of a fight than the Czechs managed but Russia will still be far happier than today’s opponents Poland with their opening results.

The challenge of facing up to the co-hosts will probably prove to be a lot tougher for the Russians than their first game of the tournament and I can see Poland giving them a very good game if they produce the same intensity that they managed at the start of the Greece game for a longer period of time in this outing.

Having said that I still think Russia will win  the game 2-1 which will see them almost certain to top the group and will have co-hosts Poland on the verge of a first round elimination.

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Euro 2012 Countdown: Group A

Greece:

The 2004 champions head into this tournament with just a very small group of survivors from their shock triumph eight years ago. Goalkeeper Kostas Chalkias and midfielders Giorgos Karagounis and Kostas Katsouranis remain from their heroic efforts in Portugal and they will hope to use their experience to guide an otherwise pretty young squad.

Ninis

Ninis could shine amongst Greece’s seemingly lacking squad

With so few remaining members of their triumphant 2004 squad it is going to be hard for Greece to make a real impact this time around but their are some decent talents in their squad. Sotiris Ninis, the highly-rated young Panathanaikos midfielder catches the eye as does 23 year-old centre-back  Sokratis Papastathopolous who has impressed with Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga and was bought by Italian giants A.C Milan just a couple of years ago.

One to watch… Sotiris Ninis: Greece’s versatile young midfielder is establishing himself as very decent play-maker and perhaps the lack of real quality in Group A will provide the platform for him to shine.

Tournament Prospects: The lack of a real depth of quality will probably result in Greece failing to make it out of the group.

Euros Nostalgia: Winners against all the odds in 2004, Angelos Charisteas scoring from a corner to sink the host side Portugal in the final.

Poland:

The co-hosting nation aren’t blessed with a large number of household names but they certainly do possess a threat within their ranks.

In addition to the positive thinking that comes with the territory of hosting the tournament they also have several players who have tasted domestic success in recent times, perhaps most notably their trio of Borussia Dortmund stars Lukas Piszczek, Jakub Blaszczykowski (Kuba, as his shirt would have him known) and Robert Lewandowski who have all featured heavily in their sides back-to-back Bundesliga triumphs and their recent completion of a domestic German double with victory in their premiere cup competition.

Dortmund

Poland’s Dortmund trio have all tasted major success this year

The latter of the aforementioned Dortmund stars, Robert Lewandowski, is perhaps the pick of Poland’s squad and if he re-produces the form that has seen him become one of the Bundesliga’s most feared front-men in the Euros then his stock will rise further and he will become an even more attractive prospect for some of Europe’s top clubs.

One to watch… Robert Lewandowski: He has been prolific in the Bundesliga this season and his country will need his goals if they are to make it through to the knock-out stages.

Tournament Prospects: Home advantage and a genuine goal-getter might well see them through the group stage but they appear unlikely to threaten beyond the quarter-finals.

Euros nostalgia: Not much to speak of unfortunately. They have never gone beyond the group stages so what better time to do so than now when they co-host the tournament.

Czech Republic:

Though the Czech’s have sprung a few surprises in some of the more recent European Championships, most notably in 2004 where they were semi-finalists and in 1996 when they were runners-up to Germany at the old Wembley Stadium, it is hard to see them producing similar success this time around.

Baros Czech Republic

Baros shone at EURO 2004 and will hope to lead the line again this summer

They do still have some talented and high profile names in their squad such as Petr Cech, Tomas Rosicky and Milan Baros who was prolific in their 2004 campaign but gone are the days of Pavel Nedved, Jan Koller, Karol Poborsky and Patrik Berger the players who have served their country so well throughout the past 15 years or so and who have provided the depth of quality needed to succeed at this level.

One to watch… Milan Baros: Their trusty front-man has long since been at the peak of his powers but he has an international strike rate of a goal every two games and has always been a strong finisher. His performances in 2004 have seen him labelled a ‘man for the big stage’ in international football but that was fully eight years ago and it is unclear whether he can hit such heights again.

Tournament Prospects: In many ways they are lucky to have even qualified given the nature of their triumph over Scotland in their qualification group and I expect their lack of real quality to be exposed and that they will fall at the first hurdle.

Euros nostalgia: The Czech Republic’s run to the final at Euro 1996 captured the imagination of European football fans but sadly they lost out to Germany in the final where Oliver Bierhoff starred.

Russia:

Semi-finalists last time out, Russia, will head into this tournament knowing that they are strong favourites to progress from their group. They may not be one of European football’s real super-powers but they do possess a decent balance of youth, talent and experience in their squad and this should serve them well.

Dzagoev Russia

Dzagoev looks a very decent prospect and he could be the heir to Asharvin’s throne as Russia’s chief playmaker

Their squad for the tournament includes many names which will be familiar with English football fans such as Andriy Asharvin, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Pavel Pogrebnyak and their squad is anchored upon their strong and robust defensive unit which will be marshalled by their keeper Igor Akinfeev who is up there with the very finest keepers in Europe.

One to watch… Alan Dzagoev: Russia’s smart young attacking midfielder has craft and vision that defy his tender age of just 21 and he has been a big hit for his club CSKA Moskow in the Russian league. He has a strike rate of a goal every four games in the Russian top flight and just 18 caps into his international career he has racked up a similar rate.

Tournament Prospects: So long as the weight of expectation doesn’t weigh too heavy upon their shoulders given their performances in 2008 and their relatively very decent group draw for the competition, Russia should breeze through the group and will give any side a good game in the knock-out stages.

Euros nostalgia: Russia were fantastic en-route to reaching the semi-finals in 2008 and Andriy Asharvin was the spark at the heart of their fantastic run.

A brief summary of Group A:

On paper this is the weakest of the four groups in the competition but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a bad one to watch.

Neutral fans may find it hard to get excited by the prospect of seeing a match-up such as Greece Vs. Poland given the lack of household names on show but I actually think this could be a very entertaining group to watch as three out of the four teams appear to be pretty well matched.

Russia should really win the majority of their three group games and should top the group as they possess the strongest squad but don’t rule out Poland who I think could go through the the quarters by finishing second in the group. I expect the Czech Republic to push for progression from the group but ultimately fail and end in third place and I think Greece will finish bottom of the pile.

The Summer Sales: Benfica, Dortmund and Bilbao amongst those likely to pay for their success

As the summer draws closer and the vast majority of Europe’s domestic leagues are winding up for the summer break and the transfer window that comes with it, rumours are rife about who could go where and why they might seek pastures new.

It is the time of year when all sides who have either performed beyond their means or who have been outgrown by their leading lights fear the most as they head into the year’s most lengthy and protracted period of transfer-related vulnerability.

We have already seen clear examples of what this summer’s transfer window may have to offer as the Bundesliga’s relegation threatened Cologne have lost their talismanic local hero Lukas Podolski to Arsenal for what appears a bit of a bargain. Arsenal have also moved to try and avoid last season’s mad rush for recruits on deadline day by attempting to secure a deal for Yann M’Vila who is also fast becoming too big a fish in the small pond that is Rennes.

Podolski

Podolski has a fantastic international record

In addition to  players like Podolski and M’Vila shining at their clubs and attracting attention from ‘Big-Time’ clubs from around Europe, there are also whole clubs around Europe who may pay the price for their success and they could be set to lose multiple players over the forthcoming summer.

Benfica, having forced their way ahead of Porto in Portugal’s domestic pecking order for much of the Portugese league season and having entertained en-route to a place in the last eight of the Champions League are now surely set for a summer of fending off interest in their most-prized assets.

Gaitan impressed against United and will have attracted interest from SAF

Arguably the hottest property at the club is their versatile attacking midfielder Nicolas Gaitan who has attracted many potential suitors with his strong performances both in Portugal and in the Champions League. It is the creative talents of the 24 year-old Argentine which have earned himself a now regular slot in amongst Argentina’s rather special attacking contingent in the national squad and that have drawn interest from huge club’s like Manchester United who have been linked more closely with securing his services than any other side.

Another huge talent plying his trade at Benfica is Swiss international Axel Witsel who has this season emerged as one of Europe’s most talented and

Witsel has shone this season and a big club will surely come calling

combative central midfielders. His consistently strong and disruptive performances amongst Benfica’s talented midfield impressed has I’m sure impressed many scouts at the top European clubs, and perhaps never more so than in Benfica’s Champions League group games which resulted in them outdoing both Manchester United and FC Basle.

Benfica’s impressive displays this year may have gone some way towards re-building their reputation and improving their financial outlook but if they don’t manage to hold onto the likes of Gaitan and Witsel then it could well have cost them dear when it comes to the strength of their playing personnel.

Another club who could come under the radar of many of Europe’s top clubs are Borussia Dortmund who have for the second season running overcome Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga title race.

Shinji Kagawa

Kagawa and Gotze both look set to fly the nest at Dortmund

Already it is being said that Shinji Kagawa might have agreed a deal with Manchester United which would be a major loss for the German club and others may well follow him out of the door as Dortmund have failed to cash in on their domestic success with a strong return to European football.

Centre-backs Neven Subotic and Mats Hummels have both impressed greatly over the past couple of seasons and have also become key players in their respective national set-ups and it would be absolutely no surprise if Europe’s major forces tried to recruit either one of them.

The jewel in Dortmund’s crown though is Mario Gotze the diminutive, young attacking midfielder and he again is being linked with a move away having featured regularly in transfer talk throughout much of the past two years. If he were to part company with Dortmund it would perhaps be the greatest loss of them all as he is very much the golden boy at the German Champions and he is the very embodiment of all that has been positive about their re-emergence as a major force in German football.

Another side likely to be the subject of a lot of transfer attention are Athletic Bilbao who have won many admirers during their European adventures this season. Though their Europa League campaign ultimately ended in major disappointment when they lost 3-0 to fellow Spanish side Athletico Madrid, many of their young and talented squad have caught the eye of on-looking scouts and as they are a side struggling to break into La Liga’s upper echelons and into real contention to secure Champions League football they will surely lose a hold of some of their stars this summer.

Iker Muniain Javi Martinez

Bilbao have entertained in the Europa League

The two most sought after members of their squad would appear to be versatile holding-midfielder and captain Javi Martinez and their star striker Fernando Llorente both of whom were a part of Spain’s world cup winning squad in 2010.

Martinez, who has for a long time been linked with Real Madrid and Barcelona, has starred for Bilbao and has demonstrated great maturity in captaining a side who have impressed under his leadership in spite of his relatively tender age. Not often is one so young placed in such a position of responsibility at a football club but Martinez has led by example providing much of the thrust which has made his Bilbao side such a dynamic force this season. He may be reluctant to leave such a prominent and valued role at his boyhood club but he will also be aware that he must be playing Champions League football if he is to fulfil his ambitions of becoming a regular in Spain’s line-up.

The same can also be said of Llorente who’s sublime volley against Manchester United in the Europa League will live long in the memory. If his talents aren’t also taken onto the next level, which is surely regular Champions League football, then perhaps he will miss out on the opportunity to stay ahead of the likes of Fernando Torres in Spain’s pecking order.

It would be a surprise if Bilbao managed to hold on to both Martinez and Llorente in the wake of their hiccup in the final of the Europa League and their consequent failure to secure Champions League football for next season but perhaps they can be hopeful of holding onto another of their prodigious talents Iker Muniain who is maybe a step behind the likes of Martinez in terms of his development.

The diminutive forward has provided great support for Llorente over the course of this season and though Bilbao have the means to hold onto him for now it might well be beyond their power if he decides that he is already primed for a first crack at Champions League football. There will certainly be no shortage of sides willing to look into the possibility of tempting him away from the San Mames if he does want out so expect rumour a plenty about where his future might lie this summer.

A big factor in Bilbao’s attempts to hold onto their emerging stars could be whether they manage to hold onto their Coach Marcelo Bielsa who has a fine record since taking charge and could perhaps be on the hit list for many of Europe’s top clubs. The club’s directors will though be breathing a huge sigh of relief that Barcelona have turned to Tito Vilanova as Pep Guardiola’s successor as Bielsa was the name on everbody’s lips as soon as the job became seemingly up for grabs.

If Bilbao’s agonising shortcoming in trying to secure Champions League football hasn’t already proved enough for their skipper and other key players, then surely the loss of Bielsa would put the final nail in the coffin in terms of sealing their respective decisions to part company with the Basque club.

It is indeed sad for football that many emerging sides tend to lose the best of their playing crop every time they show any major signs of development and bridging the gap that lies between them and the more dominant clubs in Europe but that is the nature of the modern game. Money talks and so does the opportunity to play at a higher level on a more regular basis, so expect the likes of Benfica, Dortmund and Bilbao to pay for their success and have to fight valiantly in order to hold onto their most prized assets.

Other names to watch out for in this summer’s transfer market:

Radamel Falcao (Athletico Madrid), Hulk (Porto), Papiss Demba Cisse (Newcastle), Cheick Tiote (Newcastle), Eden Hazard (Lille), Loic Remy (Marseille), Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid), Dani Alves (Barcelona), Robin Van Persie (Arsenal), Ricky Van Wolfswinkel (Sporting Lisbon), Ola John (FC Twente), Luuk De Jong (FC Twente), Cristian Eriksen (Ajax) Gregory Van Der Wiel (Ajax), Leighton Baines (Everton), Stephane Sessegnon (Sunderland), Didier Drogba (Chelsea), Edinson Cavani (Napoli), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Ezequiel Lavezzi (Napoli)