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In Cleveland, hope dies last

Euro 2012 Preview – Group A

With Euro 2012 starting on Friday in Poland and Ukraine, it’s time to take a look at the 16 teams starting with Group A, which includes the Czech Republic, Greece, Russia and the host team, Poland.
This doesn’t come off as one of the tournament’s glamour groups at first glance, but it does include two teams in the Top 20 FIFA rankings in Russia (No. 11) and Greece (No. 14), as well as familiar faces in Tomas Rosicky (Arsenal) and Petr Cech (Chelsea) and Andrei Arshavin (former Arsenal).
The Teams
Greece won the tournament in 2004 but followed that up by losing all three of its group games in 2008 and only scoring a single goal in the process. The Greeks are not exactly on a roll heading into the 2012 tournament as they came out of one of the weaker qualifying groups and needed two late goals in their final group match against Georgia to earn a tournament slot (although they did not lose a game in the group stage).
Greece was a slow starter in group play, scoring just three goals in the first half, and their 14 total goals were the lowest of any of the group winners.
A semi-finalist in 2008, Russia is one of the oldest teams in the tournament with eight players over the age of 30. Andrei Arshavin, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Konstantin Zyryanov are among a group of 12 players who were part of the Euro 2008 squad. Included in that over-30 group is 36-year-old Roman Sharonov, who hasn’t played for the national team since 2004, admitted that his first reaction to the news was: “is today April Fool’s Day?” according to news agency RIA.
Russia conceded only four goals in 10 games in the group stage, although starting goalie Igor Akinfeev is still recovering from a cruciate knee ligament injury (coach Dick Advocaat says “there is still a little fluid on his knee“) and center-back Sergie Ignashevich broke a toe in April. If those injuries impact their performances, a repeat of 2008 could be a problem.
The Czechs had trouble scoring in the group stage – their 12 goals were the lowest among the finalists – and they needed a win over Montenegro to earn their tournament spot. Their top scorer was left-back Michal Kadlec (four goals) and Milan Baros, the Golden Boot winner in Euro 2004, only scored once in seven group stage games.
Their biggest asset is goalie Petr Cech, fresh off a solid performance in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich. Without a dominant team in Group A, Cech could be the difference maker, especially if the team struggles to score goals.
Of course, this is the same squad that failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup and have failed to get out of the group stage of any tournament since Euro 2004.
Poland earned a spot by virtue of being one of the host countries, which is probably the only way they would have qualified as, at No. 50, they are the lowest-ranked team in the tournament (and have only made the tournament one other time since its inception in 1960).
As co-host, Poland has spent the past two years playing friendlies, rather than harder qualifying matches, but in those matches they did beat Argentina and Ivory Coast, while drawing with Germany, Mexico, Portugal and South Korea. Maybe playing in front of the home fans will give them some kind of boost.
Poland’s biggest problem, however, may be dealing with the BBC documentary, Stadiums of Hate, where reporter Chris Rogers spent a month visiting Polish and Ukrainian stadiums and witnessed racist and violent behavior. 
Did You Know?  
Greece’s Dimitris Salpigidis scored the goal that secured Greek’s spot in the 2010 World Cup and also scored Greece’s first ever World Cup goal.
Game to Watch
Greece vs. Russia on June 16. This final match for the two teams could very well determine which team advances out of group play and which goes home.
Who Will Advance?

We’re sold on Cech in goal for the Czechs, so they will be one of the teams moving out of this group. As for the second one, while Russia may be the most talented squad, age will catch up with them so we’ll go with Greece for the second spot. 

For additional coverage, be sure to check out The Daily Mail, The Guardian, EPL Talk and ESPN.

(Photo by Reuters)

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