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Road to Euro 2012 - One month to go: How Poland, Greece, Russia & Czech Republic made it to the finals

We look back at the qualification campaigns of all four teams in Group A as the final countdown to this summer's tournament in Poland and Ukraine begins

Hosting four teams with little to choose between them, Group A could prove to be the most competitive and unpredictable of the entire Euro 2012 tournament this summer.

The only group without a side in the top 10 of the Fifa World Rankings, it will no doubt be viewed as the most low key of the four stables, but each team will believe they can progress through to the knockout stages with lowest ranked outsiders, Poland, banking on home advantage to boost their chances.

Greece, tournament winners in 2004, will be difficult to beat after qualifying for this summer's competition as group winners, but favourites for Group A will be Russia, who also impressed on the road to Poland and Ukraine.

The only side in Group A to qualify via the play-offs are Czech Republic, who cannot be underestimated following their impressive 3-0 aggregate win over a dangerous Montenegro side saw them continue a 100 per cent qualification record since becoming an independent state in 1993.

With the tournament proper only a month away, Goal.com has looked back in detail at the qualification stories of each side to see what we can possibly expect in Group A this summer.

POLAND

Poland have only qualified once for the European Championship and that was the last edition in 2008 where they crashed out at the group stage. As the co-host of the 2012 tournament, Poland did not have to negotiate any qualifiers and thus set up a plethora of friendlies against some of the world's top footballing nations.

The Poles showed that they were good enough to rise to the occasion against the cream of the crop, but also displayed a worrying tendency to play down to the level of their weaker opponents.

Franciszek Smuda’s side shocked Argentina 2-1 in Warsaw and played out a 2-2 draw against Germany but also fell to a disappointing 2-0 defeat at the hands of lowly Lithuania.

Poland beat the likes of Belarus, Hungary, Georgia and Bosnia and Herzegovina during their preparations for the tournament and earned credible draws against Mexico, South Korea and Portugal along the way.

The Poles proved that they will not be overwhelmed as co-hosts, losing a close encounter against France while not looking out of place in the 2-0 loss to Italy. Poland have only lost two of their last 10 friendlies, which will give them some confidence heading into June.

Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny has cemented himself as the number one choice between the posts in north London and could play a starring role in the tournament. If the youngster can steal a game or two there is no reason why Poland can’t progress to the quarter-finals.

Borussia Dortmund pair Jakub Blaszczykowski and Robert Lewandowski helped the German outfit secure their second straight Bundesliga title and the two players scored seven goals between them in Poland’s international friendlies.

Russia will be the group favourites but Poland posses the necessary firepower to sneak into the last eight ahead of Greece and Czech Republic.


GREECE

The Euro 2004 winners were keen to erase the memories of a disappointing outing at the 2008 edition of the tournament where they failed to win a game and were unceremoniously dumped out at the group stage.

Greece’s Euro 2012 qualifying campaign got off to an inauspicious start when Nikos Spiropoulos’ goal in the 71st minute salvaged a 1-1 draw at home with Georgia. Fernando Santos’ men then took to the road in what was billed as a marquee match-up between the two favourites to win Group A, but neither Greece nor Croatia were able to find the net in a drab 0-0 draw.

Two points in two games was not exactly the dream start Greece were looking for but their campaign quickly came to life with a 1-0 win over Latvia. Vasilis Torosidis’ second-half strike was the difference and the victory looked to have given the Greeks a shot in the arm as they then secured a 2-1 win against Israel thanks to goals from Dimitris Salpingidis and Giorgos Karagounis.

Greece extended their unbeaten run with two straight victories over Malta. Torosidis scored the only goal of the game deep into injury time in Ta’ Qali to send the Greeks top of their group before they took care of business once again in a comfortable 3-1 win in Piraeus.

Greece reeled off their fifth successive success when Sotiris Ninis’ goal on the hour-mark in Tel Aviv was enough to claim the three points against Israel. Santos’ side had not tasted defeat in seven games but could not shake off Croatia who were hot on their trail. Perhaps the Greeks were caught looking past Latvia to their showdown with Slaven Bilic’s side as they came out flat and needed a late equaliser to salvage a 1-1 draw with the former.

The stage was now set for the first-place showdown in Piraeus, and after a scoreless first half, goals by Georgios Samaras and Theofanis Gekas in an eight-minute span handed the hosts a vital three points in an intense affair that was marred by crowd trouble.

The Greeks were now in the driving seat and they could secure their automatic passage to the tournament in Poland and Ukraine by beating Georgia in their final Euro 2012 qualifier.

Greece were stunned in the early going when Georgia took the lead before the 20-minute mark in Tbilisi. The visitors went into the half-time interval down by a goal but kept their composure and levelled matters through Giorgios Fotakis 10 minutes from time. The Greeks then took the lead with five minutes to go when Angelos Charisteas, one of the heroes from the Euro 2004 triumph, netted the winner.

Greece held on and qualified as group winners thanks to a balanced scoring attack that saw 12 different players find the back of the net during the qualifying campaign.


RUSSIA

The Russians were handed what seemed like a favourable draw on paper, but the Euro 2008 semi-finalists laboured through their qualifying campaign despite eventually progressing to the summer showcase as group winners.

Russia kicked off the qualifiers with a comfortable 2-0 win over Andorra, as Pavel Pogrebnyak’s brace ensured that the Dick Advocaat era began in earnest.

However, the Russians then suffered a surprising home defeat to Slovakia. The visitors took the lead against the run of play thanks to an error by goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and rode their luck all the way to a 1-0 victory in Moscow.

A tricky trip to Dublin was next on the cards for Advocaat’s men and they rose to the challenge with a 3-2 win over the Republic of Ireland. Aleksandr Kerzhakov opened the scoring in the early going and Alan Dzagoev doubled their advantage before the half-hour mark.

Roman Shirokov then stunned the Irish faithful with a goal early in the second half to give the Russians a commanding 3-0 lead. Giovanni Trapattoni’s side fought back with two goals to set up a nervy finish but the visitors hung on and claimed three morale-boosting points.

Russia followed up their win over Ireland with another road triumph against Macedonia. Kerzhakov gave the visitors an early lead in the eighth minute and Akinfeev preserved the victory with a save from the penalty spot.

The Russians seemed like they were now firing on all cylinders but to the frustration of Advocaat, they wasted a plethora of good chances and were forced to settle for a 0-0 draw against Armenia. Russia bounced back from the disappointing stalemate with a 3-1 win over the same team in St. Petersburg. Things did not start well for the home side as they fell behind in the 25th minute. However, Pavlyuchenko took matters into his own hands by netting a hat-trick to send his side to the top of their qualifying group.

The Russians continued their march to Euro 2012 with a slender 1-0 success over Macedonia, with Igor Semshov’s goal four minutes before half-time standing up as the winner.

Next up was a top of the table clash with Ireland at the Luzhniki Stadium but the hosts were guilty of some glaring misses and both teams earned a share of the spoils in an anti-climatic encounter.

Russia then had to travel to Zilina to face the Slovakians, who had handed them their only loss of the qualifying campaign. Advocaat’s men exacted a measure of revenge thanks to Dzagoev’s goal 20 minutes from time and moved to the brink of automatic qualification to the tournament in Poland and Ukraine.

The Russians scored early and often against lowly Andorra as Dzagoev’s fifth minute goal opened the floodgates. The hosts took a commanding 4-0 lead into the half-time interval and secured a 6-0 win to ensure their spot at Euro 2012 as group winners.

Once again, the Russians seem to have been handed a favourable draw and could definitely duplicate their run to the semi-finals in the 2012 edition of the competition.


CZECH REPUBLIC

The Czech Republic stumbled out of the starting blocks with a shock 1-0 setback at home to Lithuania. However, Michal Bilek’s men bounced back with two clean sheets in a row en route to a 1-0 victory against Scotland and a 2-0 triumph over Lichtenstein.

Next up for the Czechs was a daunting trip to Andalucia to face the European and World Cup champions. Jaroslav Plasil gave the visitors a surprise first-half lead before a double from David Villa condemned them to a 2-1 defeat.

Automatic qualification to the tournament in Poland and Ukraine was always going to be difficult with Vicente del Bosque’s side in the mix but two defeats in their first four encounters put the Czechs squarely on the back foot.

Fortunately for the Czech Republic a home date with Lichtenstein was on deck, and the hosts cruised to a comfortable 2-0 win thanks to goals from Milan Baros and Michal Kadlec.

However, their joy was short-lived as a fortuitous 2-2 draw against Scotland, with the point salvaged courtesy of a controversial penalty decision, and another loss to Spain made for a nervy final qualifier against Lithuania.

The Czechs responded with their most dominant performance of the campaign as Kadlec and Jan Rezek scored two goals each in an emphatic 4-1 victory, which earned them a place in the play-offs.

Montenegro were now the only obstacle that stood in the way of the Czech Republic’s quest to qualify for the summer showpiece. The first leg of the play-off took place in Prague and after a scoreless first half, Vaclav Pilar brought the home fans to their feet with a curling effort to give his side the lead. Tomas Sivok then popped up in the late going to hand the hosts a two-goal advantage heading into the return fixture in Podgorica.

Montenegro attacked from the opening whistle and created a few decent opportunities in the first 45 minutes but Petr Cech stood tall and proud between the sticks.

The Chelsea keeper was the star of the show as he shut the door on the increasingly frustrated home side, who were guilty of squandering some golden chances. The heroics of Cech coupled with a late goal from Petr Jiracek booked the Czech Republic’s ticket at Euro 2012 thanks to a 3-0 aggregate win.

Cech deserves many of the plaudits after his performance in Podgorica, as does Kadlec who led the team in scoring with four goals in the qualifying campaign. It wasn’t pretty at times but the Czechs did just enough to ensure their place in the tournament.

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