With only the Republic of Ireland and Sweden mathematically eliminated as we enter the final round of group stage fixtures, Groups A and B remain entirely open to a whole host of dramatic last-minute modifications, despite the likes of Greece failing to impress in either of their opening two ties.
Tonight’s Group A climax calls for a slight alteration of scheduling on UEFA’s part, with both games pencilled in to begin at the later time of 19:45 BST, instilling a greater sense of intertwined tension and meaning to a round of fixtures reliant on one another’s outcome, something UEFA would have been pining for in the event of such an open group.
The permutations of tonight’s matches are relatively bereft of the oft-maligned menagerie of different possibilities and stipulations found at this stage, and are as follows;
Russia will progress with a draw, and could even afford a defeat, by fewer than six goals, if the other game finishes level. A win will guarantee Dick Advocaat’s men top spot, and a meeting with the runners-up of Group B.
The steadily improving Czech Republic will go through with a win. They could even afford to draw unless Greece beat Russia by at least five goals, a highly unlikely outcome given the Greeks’ reliance on fortuitous breaks in their previous outings.
Co-hosts Poland and bottom-placed Greece face the same mission statement, that is that anything other than a win will curtail their respective tournaments at this early stage, something the Poles are set on avoiding.
Midfielder Eugen Polanski epitomised the resolute mood seemingly flowing through the camp, claiming “We know that it’s an important, historic match,” Polanski said. “With a win we can give the fans and the country a lot.” Manager Franciszek Smuda has done his bit, too, echoing his anchorman’s sentiments, billing the game as “probably the most important” in his life. Quite a feat for a man whose management career has spanned the best part of three decades.
As a neutral, it is only natural to extend a notion of support to the accommodating host nations of events of this ilk, and as such, one would suspect Poland’s progression to the knock-out stages would be welcomed by many. Couple the Poles with the refreshingly bold and exciting Russians, complete with joint top-scorer Alan Dzagoev and the reformed Andrey Arshavin, and Group A’s preferred victors seem inherently prejudged, on a personal level at least.
With kick-off time looming, and Wroclaw and Warsaw prepared to play host to tonight’s drama, it’s almost time to learn of two Euro 2012’s latter stage participants, and to determine the disappointing fate of the other two nations vying for position.