Another four years have nearly passed and in 11 days it'll be time to put Spain's crown back up for battle in Poland and the Ukraine. Today, we kick off preview week with Group A, traditionally home to a host nation.
Poland is indeed here, as are plenty of past glories - but it does not look a group that may host a 2012 European champion.
Euro-History: While the co-hosts do have some bit of color to their World Cup scrapbook, this will be just the second European Championship for Poland. They went three-and-out in 2008.
Fully applied to play the hero: If the White Eagles are to soar past the first round, they will need a majestic showing from Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny. Poland are quite solid out wide, not so much in the spine, so their goalie should be kept busy.
The blind spot: The center backs stable is inexperienced and ranked near the bottom out of 16 tourney teams. It didn't help that they'll only tune up with games against the scary attacks of Latvia, Slovakia and Andorra. Get out your grahams and chocolate, summer fans, because I smell marshmellow.
Outlook: We all know host sides traditionall fare well in the group stage. While this group is probably navigable for Poland, I wouldn't go betting on their place in the knockouts. The wider they can keep games, the better they'll do.
Euro-History: While Czechoslovakia won it all in '76, the Republic has come no closer than a runners up finish in 1996. They've qualified five straight times now, but failed to make the knockouts last time around.
Fully applied to play the hero: CSKA Moscow striker Tomas Necid has all the tools to be a star, but suffered a troubling form sump this season. Now 22, he once led the Under-17 and U-19 Euros in scoring. It would be a great time for the target prodigy to turn master.
The blind spots: The Czechs don't really have significant area weaknesses, just particular athletic disadvantages all over the field. Be it size, speed or what have you, a clever manager could match-up this team out of a game.
Outlook: The opener against Russia could tell the Czech story. Do the veterans get roused to take them to a knockout stage they surely wouldn't survive long? Or does a bad loss take the air out of the team's motivation, as happened to a better team in a much tougher Euro200 group?
Euro-History: The 2004 champs finished dead last in their Austria/Switzerland defense four years ago. This will be Greece's fifth Euro-adventure and third in a row.
Fully applied to play the hero: Jot down the name Sotiris Ninis. The 22-year-old Panathinaikos winger can be electrifying and will operate on fresher legs than most after returning from injury in March. He's just the type of wild card that might not lead his team to the title, but can certainly spoil your quest right quick.
The blind spot: The goaltending stable is not inspiring. Greece's starter is (by tournament time) 38-year-old PAOK keeper Kostas Chalkias. Despite his age, for the moment his claims to fame are probably impressive results at Tottenham (win) and Udinese (shutout draw) in this past season's Europa League.
Outlook: This is not 2004. Not only will Greece not win the prize again, but they should play a more presentable brand of soccer - which is a kind way of saying there could be goals galore.
Euro-History: The former Soviet Union won in 1960 and made three other finals. Russia has yet to get to the championship match in four tries to date, but knocked out the Dutch to reach the final four in 2008.
Fully applied to play the hero: Believe it or not, netminder Igor Akinfeev is still only 26. Amazingly, he's won no more than a few Russian Cups since a bronze medal at Euro2008. The CSKA Moscow star should have plenty of experience directly in front of him in Poland and the Ukraine.
The blind spots: Beyond the aforementioned four obvious back liners (Anyukov, Berezutskiy, Ignashevich, Zhirkov), the four other defenders have a combined 10 caps of experience. And with Diniyar Bilyaletdinov not called in, who will step up and do the splendid link work he's done for the last five years?
Outlook: The Russians should probably be considered slight group favorites, but they don't particularly look ripe for another deep run in the tourney.
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