Poland, Greece set to kick off Euro 2012
The European Championships start today in a match between the Polish and Greek sides.
While the opening game is unlikely to set the hearts of ‘tika-taka’ fans alight, it represents the moment all football fans have waited for – the start of Euro 2012.
Pressure is on co-hosts Poland to perform at the tournament, with Polish fans desperate for an improvement on the team’s showing in 2008 in which the side finished bottom of their group.
Poland will inevitably rely heavily on their Borussia Dortmund trio of striker Robert Lewandowski, captain Jakub Blaszczykowski and defender Lukasz Piszczek, yet they come into the tournament as the lowest ranked side according to FIFA rankings.
Much has changed since Poland manager Franciszek Smuda first laid eyes on Lewandowski in 2008, when the then Lech Poznan coach famously traveled to scout the 20-year-old striker was playing for his local side.
After 15 minutes in which Lewandowski failed to impress, Smuda turned to the man who had recommended him and said: “You owe me petrol money. If I wanted to see trees I would have gone to the forest instead.”
It is now on Lewandowski which Polish hopes hang.
The year 2012 has been a good year for Poland with a 0-0 draw with Portugal in February followed by with wins over Latvia, Slovakia and Andorra. Polish fans are hopeful of qualifying for the quarterfinals of the tournament, and today’s match provides an opportunity to judge whether Poland will flourish or buckle under the pressure of home support.
Despite having a number of talented players, Poland’s centerbacks are recognized as their weak spots. Damien Perquis of Sochaux has only recently recovered from a broken arm, and doubts remain over his fitness. Despite his experience, Anderlecht Marcin Wasilewski’s pace means the Polish defense has the potential to be exposed.
In compensation for these weaknesses Poland play with two defensive midfielders in front of the back four, with Smuda usually deploying two from Rafal Murawski of Lech Poznan, Eugen Polanski of Mainz or Dariusz Dudka of Auxerre.
It is around this frame that Poland operate a counter-attacking system, focused on containing opposing sides before hitting them swiftly on the break.
Smuda’s formation allows the speedy fullback Piszczek license to maraud forward where he is able to bring in his Dortmund teammates Blaszczykowski and Lewandowski, and it is this right flank that Greece will have to defend to the hilt.
Against more attacking opposition this philosophy has proven successful, with past Polish success at the 1974 and 1982 World Cups famed for being built around these principles.
In the opening game the two sides might just cancel one another out.
Greece themselves are built around a defensive mentality, but no longer rely solely on the long-ball style reminiscent of Wimbledon which surprisingly won the Greeks Euro 2004.
Instead, Fernando Santos prefers his side to build their attacks from defense with an emphasis on keeping possession, with the team lining up in a 4-3-3 formation. Greece continue to be a difficult side to break down, but questions persist about their ability to score goals.
They remain unbeaten in 2012, having drawn against Belgium and Slovenia with a solitary win in their final warm-up game away in Armenia 1-0.
Euro 2012 represents Greece’s third consecutive appearance at the European Championships, and Greek optimism is high considering the side fly out to the finals having topped their qualifying group while managing to remain unbeaten.
Greece’s defensive pairing of Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Avraam Papadopoulos come into the tournament in fine form, and are as tall as their names are long.
Left back José Holebas has been a successful addition to the Greek side, while right back Vasilis Torosidis is perhaps Greece’s most technically proficient player.
In midfield, Euro 2004 winner Giorgos Karagounis is hopeful of participating at his third straight European Championship, with Kostas Katsouranis adding steel.
Greece will look to former Portsmouth and Bayer Leverkusen striker Theofanis Gekas for goals, with the forward fully aware of the importance Euro 2012 carries for his nation. “I believe that sport is the only thing left for Greece at this moment,” he said.
Outspoken Gekas, who has gained a reputation for courting controversy, was Europe’s top scorer during the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign, and will relish the opportunity to test himself against Poland’s shaky defense.
All eyes will be on Sotiris Ninis, with the play-maker who contributed so much to Greece’s qualifying campaign having overcome a significant injury to make Santos’ squad. Ninis is to join Parma after the tournament, and hopes are high that the player will continue to perform at Euro 2012. If Poland manage to nullify the threat posed by Ninis, the hosts’ dreams of progressing to the quarterfinals might last a little longer.