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Two stalwarts on opposing side

Last of the look at the teams in Euro 2012 that will and could have an impact on the tournament. Yesterday I discussed the teams that are not favoured but could potentially have a big say in the tournament and we continue with the last 2 today. Italy and Russia are the two dark horses left. So that’s half of the teams in the tournament covered. I’m not very good at this am I?

Italy

World Cup winners in 2006 but only got as far as the quarter finals at Euro 2008 and suffered even further at when defending their title at South Africa by failing to even get out of the group stage. Cesare Prandelli has the unenviable task of bringing Italy back to the top, though expectations are not high for this tournament.

Some believe it’s written in the stars for them to do well as there were precedence leading up to this tournament. The last time they won anything major in 2006, their national league were besieged with allegations (which was later proven) of corruption. This time around, the same allegations have surfaced (though with different people and teams) once more. Could it be a sign? Perhaps not.

Prandelli goes into his major tournament on the back of Juventus’ return to the top of Serie A. He plucks into that winning team by selecting 7 of them, the highest supplied by a single team to the squad. Judging by the problem faced by Italy during the last friendly in which they were sent packing by Russia, Prandelli might be inclined to enforced a full Juventus starting back line of 3 central defenders. A defence that conceded only 20 goals in the entire season 2011/12. I’ve always stressed that defending is about a working partnership and understanding. Not many teams have a working unit that is fully from a single country.

In midfield there’s the combative defensive lynchpin in Daniele de Rossi from Roma who will have a pair of Juventus players beside him. The hard working Claudio Marchisio and the evergreen Andrea Pirlo. The latter had a renaissance season with a new club and became the backbone at which Juventus mounted a title challenge that ended up with them being undefeated in the league. While Marchisio has over the course of the last season developed into a very good attacking midfielder who times his run into the box very well and provides that goal option from midfield.

Up front, it’s not clear cut. Does Prandelli go with Mario Balotelli or Antonio Di Natale? Deployed as the sole out and out striker, Balotelli seemed a better fit to that system instead of the Udinese captain. Understandably, the concern will be whether Balotelli himself can keep a cool head in terms of the match itself and also the possible racism chants coming from the stands. The other spot should go to Antonio Nocerino who had a very productive season for AC Milan.

However, the biggest cheer from the travelling Italian supporters will be reserved for Antonio Cassano. The one time boy wonder suffered a stroke earlier midway through the season but staged a quite remarkable comeback to force his way back into the squad. He’s the one with that little bit of extra in terms of creativeness that could turn a game on it’s head.

I don’t think Italy will have a problem getting out from their group despite the outcome of the latest friendly match. They could also sneak into the semi finals if their opponent in the quarter finals is not France. At least, that’s what I think. Prandelli will be hoping for a good outing to take the mind off all the ugly accusations back home.

Russia

Russia were the people’s favourite in the last edition of the European Championship and rightly so. Guus Hiddink and his men were parading a style of football that was very pleasing on the eye and played with the vibrancy that is hard to disagree with. The wily Dutchman is no longer at the helm but his fellow countryman has taken over. Dick Advocaat is the coach who will take charge of Russia in this competition.

Most of the stars from 4 years ago are still there but just like every living organism on Earth, they have aged. The likes of Arshavin, Zirkov, Anyukov and Pavlychenko are still there but despite age catching up with them, they have one advantage. What they will be this coming tournament, is fresh. Fresh because of the restructuring in the Russian league which sees them aligning themselves to the rest of the European leagues in terms of playing months. Thus, they have only played 14 league games in 2012 at the maximum. Only Izmailov of Sporting Lisbon can considered to have had a long season. His club’s participation in the Europa League and in reaching the semi finals of the competition will have ensure more miles are clocked in Izmailov’s system.

When you add that the budding talent of Alan Dzagoev of CSKA Moscow fame and the group that they are in, Russia still has a chance of repeating their success at Switzerland/Austria. The playmaker Dzagoev is one that Advocaat will hope to use this tournament to springboard his name into European recognition at the least. Becoming the link man from midfield to attack, he has an eye for a pass and will look to link up with Kerzhakov of Zenit St Petersburg up front. The Zenit striker is the one most in from and should start ahead of Pavlychenko and Pogrebnyak.

Yet, the main man is still Arshavin. The captain and the star that shone the brightest 4 years ago. His move to my beloved Arsenal didn’t quite pan out the way we would have hoped. It started very well with him dragging Arsenal to another Champions League qualification but that form has long deserted him. Now frowned upon as someone who is still equally gifted but lacks the drive or the energy to showcase the talent that he has. If Arshavin should find his form again, Russia will be a delight to watch.

The group that Russia are in is widely considered the weakest set of 4 at Euro 2012. The very reason why Russia are expected to come through it unscathed. The highest ranked team in Group A, they will start off against Czech Republic, a team that is a shadow of that great side that went all the way to the final of Euro 96 in England. A win in that game and they could afford to take a draw in their second game against one of the host nations, Poland. Which will set them up nicely for a last group game win against Greece who could already be eliminated by then and have very little to play for.

The experience gained from 4 years ago will benefit Advocaat’s team. There will be a lot of familiarity in the squad what with most of the players coming from either CSKA Moscow or Zenit. If the Dutch coach could harness those partnership and understanding, as well as getting his creative star duo to perform, even Germany who could potentially be their opponent in the quarters, might not relish the match-up.

Prediction : Quarter finals

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