Ranking: 65; Qualifying record: N/A (Qualified as host); Best finish: Group stage, 2008; Coach: Franciszek Smuda; Nickname: Bialo-czerwoni
Poland have long been a bit of an afterthought in continental (and world) competitions, but with a young and talented squad featuring the likes of Dortmund pair Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczkowski (Just call him Kuba, trust me), along with their home advantage, it wouldn’t be a shock if they advanced to the knockout stages for the first time.
Player to watch: Robert Lewandowski. One of the most sought-after forwards in the game, Lewandowski had a breakout season in Germany, scoring 30 goals for Champions Borussia Dortmund.
Ranking: 14; Qualifying record: 7-3-0; Best finish: Champions, 2004; Coach: Fernando Santos; Nickname: Galanoleftki
The Greeks are a very experienced side (seven players over 30) who have been saddled with the label of the boringest team in Europe ever since they won the Euros in 2004 on the strength of four 1-0 victories. Otto Rehhagel, who coached the team to all its success of the 2000s, is gone, so it remains to be seen how they do under Fernando Santos. Without any players who would be described as a match-winner, they’ll have to grind out results to advance, though it’s not impossible.
Player to watch: Theofanis Gekas. The 31-year-old striker isn’t the flashiest or most athletic in the world, but he scores goals wherever he goes – right now he plays for Samsunspor, in Turkey.
Ranking: 11; Qualifying record: 7-2-1; Best finish: Winner, 1960; Coach: Dick Advocaat; Nickname: None. (May I suggest “Commie Reds”?)
Russia have been underachievers on the world stage in recent years, but a strike force of Arshavin, Kerzhakov, Pavlyuchenko and Pogrebnyak (Try saying those all four together really fast) should be enough to see them into the second round.
Player to watch: Andrei Arshavin. The pint-sized Arsenal forward was shipped off to Zenit after failing to impress again at the Emirates, but he tends to raise his game when playing for the national side, or at least that’s what my friend Oleg is hoping.
Ranking: 26; Qualifying record: 4-1-3 (Beat Montenegro in playoff); Best finish: Runners-up, 1996; Coach: Michal Bilak; Nickname: Narodni Tym
It’s amazing to think as recently as 2006, the Czechs were considered one of the best teams in Europe. They’re a long way from that now. And though they’re ranked higher than Poland, it remains to be seen whether they can finish ahead of them in this group, since Poland is hosting the tournament. Any hope of advancing beyond the group stage is largely dependent on some luck and the experience of players like Petr Cech, Tomas Rosicky and Milan Baros.
Player to watch: Petr Cech. The Chelsea goalie is considered one of the best in the business, and he has ridiculous headgear to prove it.
Poland vs. Greece
Russia vs. Czech Republic
Greece vs. Czech Republic
Poland vs. Russia
Greece vs. Russia
Czech Republic vs. Poland
Jeremiah says: As an interesting bit of trivia, this group, largely considered one of the weakest in the tournament (if not THE weakest), features two former winners and a runner-up. Can any of these teams win the whole thing? Probably not, though crazier things have happened before. (Denmark, 1992; Greece, 2004; Andorra, 2164)
4. Czech Republic