Poland put together a strong run from 2002 through 2008, qualifying for three out of four major tournaments and missing out on just Euro 2004. They failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, and if one feels like being obnoxiously technical, they still haven't qualified for a major final since 2008, but they return to the world stage as hosts of Euro 2012.
Hosts get the benefit going into Pot 1 for the draw, and Poland got the additional benefit of drawing arguably the weakest team in each of the three other pots. Group A is about as weak as a group can possibly be at a major final. It's actually quite remarkable.
However, this is the European Championships, and every team that's here except for Poland and Ukraine had to get through qualifying. That means that no one is actually bad, and Poland will have a very hard time getting out of their group and into the knockout stages of the tournament, even though they're playing three home games in one of the easiest groups a major final has seen in a long time. Their first opponent is Greece, who has managed to qualify for three consecutive major finals.
Most of the team that got Greece to Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup still remains in place, led by captain Giorgos Karagounis. He's the perfect midfielder for a Greece team that plays a conservative and hard-nosed style, but needs a bit of creativity from someone. He strikes the perfect balance between defensive aptitude and technical skill, and even though he's 35 years old, he might be the best player between the two midfields.
Poland's captain is "Kuba," Jakub Blaszczykowski, but while his skill on the wing will be key for his country, the real pressure is on his club teammate. Robert Lewandowski is the best striker that Poland have had since the 1980s, and he's coming off of an absolutely brilliant season for Borussia Dortmund. He has the talent to create goal-scoring opportunities by himself, but since Greece likes to sit back quite a bit, his teammates should have the ball enough to attempt to create some for him.
Will the Greeks show any tactical ambition?
Greece has a couple of exciting youngsters in Sotiris Ninis and Giannis Fetfatzidis, but for the most part, every negative stereotype about Greek football is true. They play a very rigid and defensive game, and they're good enough at taking their limited chances that they get away with it. However, on Friday they'll be going up against a Poland team that isn't exactly loaded with talent. Yes, the Borussia Dortmund contingent is excellent and Ludovic Obraniak is no slouch, but this is not a great team.
Because of the crowd and Lewandowski, Greece will probably sit in their usual shell, but they should probably take a risk or three with their tactics. They're a better team than Poland.
Speaking of Ludovic Obraniak and Giannis Fetfatzidis ...
If you're watching the game tomorrow and you want to impress your friends with your high-level knowledge of global football, drop these two names. Obraniak was brilliant in the second half of this season for Bordeaux after he made a move from Lille, and because Greece's defense is going to be focusing so heavily on Lewandowski, he should find some shooting opportunities.
Going the other way, Fetfatzidis is Greece's not-so-secret weapon off the bench. He's a spectacular dribbler with very good pace, and he'll cause problems for Poland's left back -- either Sebastian Boenisch or Jakub Wawrzyniak -- if he comes off the bench. Expect to see him if it's a 0-0 draw with Greece looking comfortable, or if Greece are trailing.
Projected Poland Lineup (4-2-3-1): Wojciech Szczesny; Sebastian Boenisch, Damien Perquis, Marcin Wasilewski, Lukasz Piszczek; Rafal Murawski, Eugen Polanski; Adrian Mierzejewski, Ludovic Obraniak, Jakub Blaszczykowski; Robert Lewandowski
Projected Greece Lineup (4-3-3): Kostas Chalkias; Jose Holebas, Avraam Papadopoulos, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Vasilis Torosidis; Grigoris Makos, Kostas Katsouranis, Giorgos Karagounis; Georgios Samaras, Theofanis Gekas, Sotiris Ninis
Monty the Psychic Metal Disk says: My programmer says that Poland will be "riding high on emotion," but I do not know what emotion is, because I am a metal disk. I do, however, know about the statistical footballing production of one Robert Lewandowski. Poland 1-0 Greece.
Game Date/Time: Friday, 12 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. local
Venue: National Stadium, Warsaw, Poland
TV: ESPN (U.S. - English), ESPN Deportes (U.S. - Spanish), BBC One (U.K.), TSN (Canada)