It's safe to say that the European Football Championship is probably the second biggest international football (soccer) championship, coming strong on the heels of the World Cup in importance and certainly its equal in terms of the quality of play. Sixteen teams will be vying for the continental championship this year (it expands to 24 teams in 2016) and the braagging rights that go with it, along with a spot in the Confederations Cup next year in Brazil.
For the next four days I'm going to examine each team in each group and make some predictions informed guesses as to who will go through to the quaterfinals. The teams in Group A are the Czech Republic, Greece, Poland and Russia.
The Czech Republic: I have to confess that the only players who I see play regularly are Arsenal's midfielder Tomas Rosicky and Chelsea's goalkeeper, Petr Cech. Rosicky is an extraordinarily skilled and creative player, whose recent play for Arsenal has shown signs of resurgence. Provided he stays healthy, he will direct the offense. Here's where the problem lies: the rest of their attackers are either very young or on their thirties. I had no idea Milan Baros was still playing. In addition, their qualification group was rather weak. They finished runners-up to Spain in a group that included Scotland, Liechtenstein and Lithuania and qualified in a playoff against Montenegro. While Cech is arguably one of the best goalkeepers in the world and the rest of their defense looks reliable, I believe that their offense looks a little uninspired.
In many respects a new coach notwithstanding, Greece's style is precious little changed from the team that won the Euro 2004 Championship: solid defending, but precious little creativity with only 14 goals scored in qualifying and only more than two scored once, when they beat Malta 3-1.
Poland did not have to qualify as they are cohosts with Ukraine, but they have only lost two of their last ten friendlies: against France and Italy. The players I have seen play regularly are Wojciech Szczney, Arsenal's goalkeeper who has managed to secure firm control of that position for club and country as well as Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Błaszczykowski who play for Borussia Dortmund, where Lewandowski scored 22 goals and Błaszczykowski was a solid player on the wing, scoring 6 goals.
Russia was one of the major surprises at Euro 2008, beating a heavily favored Netherlands with two goals in extra time in the quarterfinals. They are still coached by a Dutch coach, the experienced Dick Advocaat, still have a very solid defense and some decent attacking potential, depending how well Andrey Arshavin and Pavel Pavyluchenko (a Mutt and Jeff striking combination if there ever was one), especially how well Arshavin stacks up physically against Greeke and Polish defenders. They should do well in a somewhat weak group.
I believe Poland and Russia will go through to the quarterfinals. Either one could win the group.