Euro 2012 – Much expected of Szczesny and Cech in Group A


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The demands of international goalkeeping differ to the club game, but essentially having the best possible man for the job is the aim of the game. Here’s a look at the goalkeeping options open to the teams in Group A.

Czech Republic

This version of the Czech Republic isn’t littered with world-class names the way previous teams were, but in goals they have a true superstar. Petr Cech has had his critics over the last couple of seasons but this year he came roaring back to top form. His stunning save in the FA Cup final helped his team to the first trophy of the year and a string of high quality performances in the Champions League were the difference between eventual glory and an early exit.

He’ll be crucial if the Czechs are to give their customary good showing. There are very few players on the planet who could adequately replace Cech and there will be concern if either of the back-ups, Jaroslav Drobny of Hamburg or Jan Lastuvka of Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk see much playing time.

Greece
For a team so infamously committed to the defensive side of the game, Greece lack a goalkeeper of worldwide renown. Between the three they take to Euro 2012, they have little more than 50 caps worth of experience. 30 of those belong to Kostas Chalkias and he’s the likely first choice for Fernando Santos. The 38-year-old is relatively advanced in age, but it’s only in recent years that he has claimed the national team berth. His at times erratic decision-making may have something to do with that. At 6′ 6″ he’s very agile, but is prone to a moment of madness and giving away a gilt-edged chance.

He is playing regularly for PAOK and that makes him the preference over Alexandros Tzorvas. He’s spent the majority of his first season with Palermo on the bench. A shaky start saw him lose his status as first choice and ultimately his chance at getting the nod for the international side.

Michalis Sifakis is the youngest of the three heading to Euro 2012. It’s a cliché to say he’s a shot-stopper, but certainly his speed and athleticism are sometimes compromised by some rushes of blood to the head. He is capable of making some breath-taking saves however, so if he was needed, he’s more than able to cope.

Poland

The hosts’ goalkeeping division took a hit with the news Lukasz Fabianski will miss the tournament with injury. It’s an inconvenience, but Wojciech Szczesny is the man who they’ll rely upon. The scenario he faces for the national side has parallels with the situation he experiences at Arsenal. Robert Lewandowski is expected to be the goalscoring threat, but if Szczesny doesn’t perform to his world-class best, the striker’s efforts may not matter. The Poles lack quality in-depth and any progress into the latter stages of the tournament will surely require heroics from Szczesny. As he showed for the Gunners countless times this season, he’s more than capable of saving the day.

Behind him in the pecking order is the equally youthful Grzegorz Sandomierski. The 22-year-old is a highly rated understudy who was signed by Genk as the long-term replacement for Thibaut Courtois. He was soon loaned back to Jagiellonia Bialystok to build upon his experience. The oldest goalkeeper of the trio is the still spritely Prezemyslaw Tyton. At 25, he’s highly rated at his club PSV Eindhoven and may still challenge Szczesny for the starting role in the years to come.

Russia
Igor Akinfeev was flavour of the goalkeeping month after his showing at Euro 2008. The CSKA clubman was rumoured to be a target for some of Europe’s top clubs, most concretely perhaps, Manchester United who were aware of time ticking down on Edwin van der Sar’s playing days. He never really kicked on from that tournament and that tells us he possibly hasn’t developed at the speed anticipated by some. At 26 years of age, he still has plenty of time to make the next step.

His progress has been hampered more recently by injury trouble. He missed a large part of last season due to injury. Even a few days before this tournament begins, reports have emerged about fluid on his knee and the concern about his fitness is merited.

Vyacheslav Malafeev enjoyed a run as starter towards the end of the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign as a result of Akineev’s injury troubles. He’s also seen plenty of action in the pre-tournament friendlies. Dick Advocaat is clearly aware of the need to keep the Zenit St. Petersburg stalwart sharp and if he is called upon, he should provide good cover for Akinfeev.

Anton Shunin represents the younger generation and he may yet play a more important role than is ideal for a player with two international caps. The Dynamo Moscow stopper’s reflexes and agility will hold up to the international game, but his decision-making and inexperience will be a concern if he needs to step in over the next few weeks.

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World Goalkeeper Rankings

Current Position (Former)
1. (1) Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain)
2. (4) Petr Cech (Chelsea and Czech Rep.)
3. (2) Gigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy)
4. (3) Edwin Van Der Sar (Man Utd)
5. (5) Pepe Reina (Liverpool and Spain)
6. (6) Shay Given (Man City and Ireland)
7. (9) Victor Valdes (Barcelona and Spain)
8. (8) Hugo Lloris (Lyon and France)
9. (10) Joe Hart (Man City and England)
10. (7) Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow and Russia)

Another month, another month of by and large confirming what we already knew. If that’s not a saying, then the Ministry Of Glove are doing our doing our best to bring it into more common usage. In our monthly look at the top goalkeepers in the world, we find that very little has changed.

Iker Casillas still tops the ranking and his appearance on the shortlist of nominees for the Ballon d’Or didn’t do his status much harm. Under Jose Mourinho, Real Madrid have wasted little time in developing that main characteristic of all the Special One’s teams – an excellent defence. Casillas has benefited from the improvement in the rearguard, but equally he’s still making those vital contributions to save his team-mates when they do suffer from the occasional lapse. He’s conceded just four times in eight La Liga games this term and in such an attack-minded league, that’s no mean feat. A couple of months into the season, he’s also notched up a sizeable collection of clean sheets. A continuation of that form could give Real the edge they need to overhaul Barcelona at the top of the standings.

Petr Cech is another to benefit from improved defending in front of him, but again, he’s not exactly sitting back and having a nap during games. He’s making crucial saves at crucial times and seems to have recaptured that sense of invincibility he exuded in the early stages of his time with Chelsea. He’s been beaten just twice in nine league games this season and should the Blues keep Blackburn at bay at the weekend, their goalie will have gone through the month of October without conceding. It’s an impressive record and anyone with an appreciation of the art of the custodian can’t help but enjoy the Czech’s renaissance.

Joe Hart continues to impress and moves upward, albeit with a caveat. His shot-stopping is top drawer, exemplified by an excellent penalty save from Cesc Fabregas in the recent game with Arsenal, but there have to be some doubts about his performance in one-on-one situations. Hart tends to hit the ground a fraction too early, again a habit visible on a couple of occasions in that same Arsenal game. Staying more upright for slightly longer would give him a better chance of coming out on top in these situations. He’s getting the benefit of the doubt in this case because it no matter how upright he was against the Gunners, it may have made little difference to the eventual outcome. It’s an issue with his technique that we’ll keep an eye on.

Igor Akinfeev moves in the opposite direction. Limited coverage of the Russian Premier League makes it tricky to fully track his progress and when we did get a proper look at him when Russia took on Ireland in a Euro 2012 qualifiers, he failed to impress. The visitors looked fantastic as they carved up the Irish, but he came away from the game with little credit. His handling was suspect, his tendency to punch rather than catch almost landed his team in trouble and his flustered performance did little to help his defenders when they needed him most. It may seem harsh to criticize so heavily after just one game, but there was something about the performance that suggested this was more akin to the norm rather than a rare blip. The fact that Sir Alex Ferguson has seemingly long since dropped his interest in favour of David de Gea tells us all we need to know.

Aside from those movers, there’s very little activity. There’s still no sign of Gigi Buffon making a return from the injury he picked up at the World Cup so it’s harsh to penalise him to any real extent. Hugo Lloris is suffering a torrid time with a struggling Lyon, but by and large he avoids much of the blame for the problems. Edwin van der Sar dropped a costly clanger towards the start of the month, but as we’ve outlined before, that looks to be a rare lapse and not a sign of his imminent demise.