The 2012 European Championships finally kick off on Friday, with co-hosts Poland taking on 2004 champions Greece, at the Warsaw National Stadium on 8 June. The opening game will finally bring an end to the waiting for both sides, each of whom will want a positive result in this fixture to set up qualification for the next round.
The Build Up:
The Polish are the lowest ranking side in the 16-team competition and will have a tough task to qualify from a group that features the Czech, the 2004 champions Greece and Russia. However, they will be buoyed by home support and, hopefully, spurred on by memories of poor performances at the 2008 edition.
Although Franciszek Smuda's side has only a few big names - skipper Jakub Błaszczykowski and Łukasz Piszczek are among them, Borussia Dortmund youngster Robert Lewandowski has been tipped for big things and Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny will also be looked upon as a key player. The co-hosts will know they cannot match the larger teams in the competition for sheer flair and creativity and will look to play organised and disciplined football and take chances on the counter. Lewandowski, who has netted 14 goals in 42 games for Poland, feels his team can certainly reach the quarter-finals if they work hard.
"I'm ready for the pressure. We have to win our games and if my goals help all the better," the Mirror quoted Lewandowski as saying.
Poland's opponents on the day, Greece, are largely a similar side, as those who remember their dour performances during Portugal 2004 will attest. However, the fact the Grecians have had to qualify for the tournament, battling Israel and Croatia among other teams, should mean they are in slightly better form. The team will look to the skill and experience of dead ball specialist Giorgios Karagounis (Panathinaikos), who scored an impressive long range goal in the opening game of the 2004 tournament and his club mate, defender Kostas Katsouranis, in this year's competition. Incidentally, the Grecians are one of the few teams to have qualified for the 2012 tournament without losing a single game. They will rely, like the Polish, on strong and organised football and exploit dead ball situations.
Greece captain Giorgos Karagounis feels the first match is very important for his side.
"If you cannot win then you must not lose because it is the first match. We know what we are capable of as a side and we will try and produce it on the pitch. Since there are so few games you cannot afford to make any mistakes," he said, according to Sky Sports.
The bad news for the home side is that central defender Damien Perquis (Sochaux) is still recovering from a fractured elbow and is a major doubt for the opening game. The good news, however, is there are no other injury concerns.
Greece, likewise, have only to worry about midfielder Vassilis Torosidis (Olympiacos) who is still recovering from a knee injury. The good news is that winger Sotiris Ninis (Parma) is expected to be fit despite picking up a shoulder problem.
- This is the first time either Poland or Ukraine are hosting a major football competition
- This is Poland's second appearance in the European Championships; their first was 2008. Their debut was disastrous though - they finished bottom of their group with only one point to their name
- Greece topped their qualifying group and are unbeaten in five games
- However, the Grecians have not beaten Poland, in Poland, in eight games
- Greece still have three members from their 2004 Euro squad - Giorgos Karagounis, Kostas Katsourani and Kostas Chalkias
Poland: Szczesny; Piszczek, Wasilewski, Perquis, Boenisch; Murawski, Polanski; Blaszczykowski, Obraniak, Rybus; Lewandowski.
Greece: Chalkias; Torosidis, P'thopoulos, P'dopoulos, Holebas; Karagounis, Katsouranis, Maniatis; Salpingidis, Gekas, Samaras.
Poland 1 Greece 0
Poland, we feel, are slight favourites here, if only because they are playing at home. Neither side is renowned for attacking football, which mean it might come down to better discipline and greater hunger on the day. However, Poland have won their last three friendlies - against Latvia, Slovakia and Andorra - and could ride that wave to three points.
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