Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Mon 9 June 2008

Euro 2008: Guide to Group D

Group D
The Group of Life, if you will. Some say this is the easiest group to qualify from out of all those featuring in Euro 2008, but if you ask any of the team coaches involved, they'll all tell you there are no easy groups in this competition. We'll leave it up to you to decide...

Greece

Qualifying
Very comfortable thanks. Highlights include a 4-0 trouncing of Bosnia plus a 1-0 away win at political rivals Turkey which may have made up for the 4-0 mullering they received at the Turks hands earlier in the campaign but probably didn't. Still, they scored more points during qualifying than anyone else and they are the Champions, so ner.

Current form
Not that of a team you'd call 'Reigning European Champions'. A recent 0-0 draw with Armenia preceded by a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Hungary will give the coach something to be decidedly concerned about. Then again, they did beat Portugal and Finland earlier in the year, so let's not label them as abject failures just yet.

Reasons to be cheerful
It's basically the same team that won four years ago. The Greeks are comfortable with each other and with the wily Otto Rehagel working his magic they may be dark horses for the group - maybe even the tournament.

Reasons to be grumpy
It's basically the same team that won four years ago. Antonis Nicopolidis (left) gets greyer by the day and not in the George Clooney way. Hero of Lisbon Angelos Charisteas plays for a team that were relegated last season and midfielder Giorgos Karagounis reckons their main weakness is that they don't create enough goalscoring chances. Veteran manager Otto Rehagel may have run out of ideas.

Recent friendlies
May 19: Greece 2 Cyprus 0
May 24: Hungary 3 Greece 2
June 1: Armenia 0 Greece 0

SPAOTP's Top Tip For Greatness
Fanis Gekas is a goal machine in the Bundesliga (he was top scorer last season with 20 to his name) and will be mad keen to hurl himself in the general direction of the ball every time it gets near the six yard box. He may even get a haircut.

Russia

Qualifying
Guus Hiddink's men sneaked into the second qualifying spot of Group E by grabbing the single point they needed to force out England and Israel. Drawing 0-0 in both matches against group winners Croatia, Russia's main problem was scoring goals. They netted fewer than the other teams in the top four - just 18 - so it was just as well their defence only conceded seven at the same time.

Current Form
In a word, very good. Though they slipped up away to Romania at the end of March, losing 3-0 in Bucharest, they've since put together a run of three successive wins against Kazakhstan, Serbia and Lithuania. OK, not the most prolific of opponents, but it's better than nothing.

A man of some experience (Part 2)
Just like our old friend Leo Beenhakker of Poland, Russia's Guus Hiddink (right) is a man who's travelled the world seeking new challenges in football management wherever he can find one. So what's the full itinerary for this vastly experienced coach? Let's see...

1982-1984 De Graafschap; 1984-1990 PSV Eindhoven (originally as assistant coach); 1990-1991 Fenerbahçe; 1991-1994 Valencia; 1994-1998 Netherlands; 1998-1999 Real Madrid; 1999-2000 Real Betis; 2000-2002 South Korea; 2002-2006 PSV Eindhoven; 2005-2006 Australia; 2006- Russia.

Recent friendlies
May 23: Russia 6 Kazakhstan 0
May 28: Russia 2 Serbia 1
June 4: Lithuania 1 Russia 4

High expectation
As many people will no longer be aware, Russia have failed to progress beyond the group stage of any major competition since the break up of the former Soviet Union. So what makes them think it can be done this time? Well for a start there's coach Guus Hiddink, a man who's already helped Australia and South Korea get to the knockout stages of the World Cup in 2002 and 2006 respectively.

Then there's the confidence-building win over England during the qualifiers, the fact that the players know each other so well from playing at the many clubs based in Moscow, plus the ability to use pace to great effect to get one over their opponents during a match. Plenty to be going on with there, then...

SPAOTP's Top Tip For Greatness
Dmitri Sychev. The Lokomotiv Moscow striker is known at home as the 'Russian Michael Owen' and not, presumably, because he's injured for 11 months of the year.

His nickname actually derives from the fact that he's quick, has a clinical finish and is very agile, and these qualities have seen him maintain a commendable strike rate wherever he plays. With the national side, he's scored 15 times in 44 appearances and with his current club he's netted 39 in 101 appearances. Just the sort of talent Russia need if they're to secure that elusive second round berth.

Spain

Qualifying
In qualifying, Spain were excellent. Eventually. After an initial 4-0 drubbing of Liechtenstein at home, Spain travelled to Belfast and lost 3-2 to Lawrie Sanchez's men and followed that with a 2-0 away defeat to Sweden.

So far, so bad, but the Spanish team took a good long look at itself and went about the remainder of their campaign with an altogether more co-ordinated approach, winning eight of their last nine games. They finished top of Group F and have gone on to win their four friendlies in the ensuing period. Beat that…

Current form
As just mentioned, Spain are riding a tidal wave of success at the moment. Once the Euro 2008 qualifiers were out of the way, they beat France, Italy and the United States 1-0 and beat Peru 2-1 - all at home. In fact the last defeat the Spanish have experienced was on November 15th 2006 when Romania beat them 1-0 in Cadiz.

Maybe this really is Spain's year to win the Euros, after all?

Recent friendlies
March 26: Spain 1 Italy 0
May 31: Spain 2 Peru 1
June 4: Spain 1 USA 0

Players you might have heard of
Let's put it this way: if you support Liverpool, you'll know the Spanish squad. From Pepe Reina in goal to Alvaro Albeloa in defence, through to Xabi Alonso in midfield, all the way up to Fernando Torres in attack, there's much to be familiar with.

But hey - if you're British and don't support Liverpool, don't worry - you're catered for too! There's also Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas in midfield…

A bit of a character
Coach Luis Aragones is what they used to call 'a bit of a card'. Wherever he goes, controversy follows. First and foremost is his reluctance to pick Raul for the Spain squad at Euro 2008, a decision which has confused and frustrated Fernando Hierro, Bernd Schuster, most of Raul's team mates at Real Madrid, the Spanish press and virtually everyone that knows him.

Resolute in his beliefs, Aragones lashed out at a radio presenter over the issue calling him a "coward and a liar". He's also had a run-in with the Spanish FA over his decision to pick Liverpool's Alvaro Arbeloa even though he was injured, inviting them to "sack me now."

And don't get us started on his motivational techniques. We'll be here all night…

SPAOTP's Top Tip For Greatness
It has to be Fernando Torres. His reputation as a clinical goalscorer has continued at Liverpool where he's already bagged 33 goals in 41 appearances on top of the 91 he scored at Atletico Madrid and the 15 he's scored for the national side.

He's now a national hero and could cement his place in history if he continues that sort of form in taking Spain to the Euro 2008 title this summer.

Sweden

Qualifying
As mentioned earlier, Sweden were in Group F along with Spain and matched them almost game for game and goal for goal. They even managed to beat the Spaniards in the second game of their campaign, although the return visit to Madrid ended in a 3-0 defeat to the home side.

Sweden finished second in the group, just two points behind Spain, and did a good job of suppressing most of their opponents with the possible exception of Northern Ireland who beat them 2-1 in Belfast and drew 1-1 in Solna. Top scorer for the Swedes was Marcus Allback with 6 goals in total.

Current form
Indifferent, to say the least. Since the start of the year, Sweden have lost to the United States, Brazil and Ukraine but beaten Slovenia and Costa Rica. There was also a 0-0 draw with Turkey to consider, but the main concern for Sweden will be their rapidly deteriorating ability to score. In those six games played in 2008, they've found the net just twice. Hardly European Champion material…

Players you might have heard of
A nice selection to put in front of all you Premier League fans. In goal, there's Man City's Andreas Isaksson, in defence we give you Aston Villa's bearded wonder Olof Mellberg and in midfield there's the double threat of Birmingham's Sebastian Larsson and West Ham's Freddie Ljungberg. Last but not least, there's the player that lit up many a Celtic supporter's day - the one, the only Henrik 'I'm Not 37 yet, you know' Larsson'.

Recent friendlies
March 26: Sweden 0 Brazil 1
May 26: Sweden 1 Slovenia 0
June 1: Sweden 0 Ukraine 1

An eventful year
Sweden's path to Euro 2008 has not been what you'd call boring in any way, shape or form. Aside from the undoubted joy at beating Spain in one of their early qualifiers, there was the slight distraction of Christian Wilhelmsson, Olof Mellberg and Zlatan Ibrahimovic being sent home after a prolonged night out on the town. Ibrahimovic subsequently refused to play for the national team in their next three games out of protest for what he deemed an unjust punishment.

There was also the curious saga of Sweden's game against Denmark last June when a Danish supporter ran onto the pitch and punched the referee. UEFA stepped in and awarded the Swedes a 3-0 victory, even though the match had ended 3-3. Just as well for Sweden as they were 3-0 up at one point, prior to a Danish fight back later in the game.

SPAOTP's Top Tip For Greatness
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the man on whose shoulders every Swedes hopes of winning rest. A star of Serie A for four seasons now, Ibrahimovic has been the driving force in helping Internazionale win the league for the last two seasons although he was out injured for the last couple of months of their 2007/08 campaign. Luckily he returned for the last game to score twice and clinch the championship for them. Now THAT's how to make an impact…

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