WARSAW — Two traditional dark horses of the international game will do battle tonight as the opening game between hosts Poland and Greece is followed by Russia’s clash with the Czech Republic.
The two sides are expected to fight for the top two spots in Group A and both have the quality to progress further in the competition. The pair have met only once previously, back in Euro ‘96 where the game ended 3-3.
The Russians warmed up for the tournament by beating Italy 3-0 in a friendly while the Czech’s suffered a 2-1 reverse at the hands of Hungary. The teams will be desperate to get points on the table from the first game, hence we can expect an evenly contested battle at the Municipal Stadium in Wroclaw.
The 2008 semi-finalists haven’t progressed a great deal since that tournament and it could be argued that they have regressed as they failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. But Dick Advocaat has managed to restore a semblance of balance to the squad and by employing a 4-3-3 formation he has made the side more dynamic. As Italy found out last weekend, the Russians are capable of toppling the best.
The star of that friendly was Zenit St Petersburg midfielder Roman Shirokov who is being tipped to have a huge impact this year. The 30-year-old is the general in the centre of midfield and as his brace against Italy showcased. He isn’t shy in the goal-scoring department either. The rest of the midfield is equally strong with Igor Denisov the shield in front of the defence while Konstantin Zyryanov and Denis Glushakov fight for the other spot.
lMichal Bilek’s Czech team might have dropped to 26th in the rankings, which is a significant drop for a side that made it to the 2004 semi-finals. But the Czechs have failed to navigate past the group stage in any major tournament since that last-four showing and in fact, did not qualify for the 2010 World Cup. Their passage through the qualifiers was equally laboured as they only secured a playoff spot, albeit behind Spain. Bilek turned things around during the qualifying stages thanks to his faith in the young players, who rose to the occasion after the squad found themselves in a precarious situation.