Polish Perspective: Ryan Hubbard
With the eyes of the world focusing on Warsaw for the opening game of Euro 2012, co-hosts Poland will be eager to get off to the best possible start by dispatching the 2004 champions.
Initial concerns over the Białe-Orły defence have so far been nudged aside, as they go into the competition having not conceded a single goal so far during this calendar year – a record better than any other side in Europe. While keeper Wojciech Szczęsny has played a big part in the shut-outs, the centre-back duo of Marcin Wasilewski and Damien Perquis are starting to click after a shaky start together. Although some of their previous opponents may not match what they will face in the coming weeks, they have managed to keep the door shut on their last five outings - including a goalless draw against a Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal - without playing ultra-defensively.
Gaffer Smuda's first choice defensive-midfield pairing of Eugen Polański and Rafał Murawski compliment each other perfectly, with Polański sitting almost directly in front of the back-four, allowing Lech Poznań's Murawski more freedom to push on and create attacking opportunities.
Poland's three warm-up outings for the competition have seen narrow 1-0 victories over Latvia and Slovakia, before Saturday's 4-0 beating of lowly Andorra; with a large portion of Franciszek Smuda's first choice eleven playing for less than 90 minutes in total.
The near-telepathic link-up along the right hand side has proved fruitful for the Poles pre-tournament, with the Borussia Dortmund trio of Łukasz Piszczek, Jakub Błaszczykowski and Robert Lewandowski having key roles in a couple of goals – including Lewy's fantastic strike against the Andorrans. But it isn't just the right hand side that poses a danger for the opposition defences; young left-sided midfielder Maciej Rybus and central attacking-midfielder Ludovic Obraniak linked up well for the latter's opener on Saturday.
Although they haven't quite stepped up into final gear yet, the Warsaw crowd should provide the Poles with what they need to do so. Whilst they won't be allowed as much space to play as in the warm-ups, confidence is high in the Poland camp, and that could be enough to see them through.
Score Prediction: Poland 2-0 Greece
Poland to win the opener can be backed at 1.95; over 1.5 goals is at 1.57; Błaszczykowski to score and Poland to win is at a tempting 7.00.
Greek Perspective: Nassos Stylianou
Asked whether facing the host nation in the opening game represents a good omen for Greece - just like in Portugal in 2004 – Greece forward Dimitris Salpingidis came out with the obvious clichés.
“What happened then happened, it does not mean much. We will take it one game at a time. The conditions are completely different now.”
He is correct in stressing the very different situations – contrast the positivity that brought about the “summer of Greece” in 2004 with the current abysmal outlook on the state of the Greek game (not helped by abject performances in major tournaments since).
However, when it comes to how Greece will approach today’s opening game against Poland, not a lot has changed. Fernando Santos has introduced elements of attacking flair to the Ethniki, tweaking the system slightly to a rather narrow 4-3-3 - but essentially the approach will be similar to that of the solid but unspectacular side eight years ago.
Greece have shown they are hard to beat under Santos – only one defeat in 21. With Poland not among the most attacking teams of the tournament either, plus the nerves of an opening game in front of an expectant home crowd, a low scoring affair would be the obvious conclusion.
Team news, and it will be two out of Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Avraam and Kyriakos Papadopoulos (no relation there) who will form the central defensive pairing. Whatever the case, it will be not only the duo with the longest ever combined name length (I would have to assume so), but it retains the strength and physicality that will ensure that Robert Lewandowski has his work cut out finding the net.
Elsewhere, most likely Santos will opt for a solid midfield three made up of experienced duo Kostas Katsouranis, Giorgos Karangounis (both of whom were involved in 2004), complemented by Giannis Maniatis. All three are players with energy and work rate instead of the ability to unlock opposition defences as their defining characteristic.
Therefore if chief creative influence Sotorius Ninis is given a starting berth, it will be on the right of a front three. He’ll be tasked with providing the spark to unlock a solid Polish backline.
Score Prediction: Poland 1-1 Greece
The draw is at 3.25; under 2.5 goals is at 1.42; Karagounis to score at least 2 goals is at 25.00.