It's June. Chicago's dismal winter has evaporated into the splendor of sunshine, beaches and avenue canyons that is the Windy City in summer. In spite of the weather and largely thanks to Derrick Rose's treacherous left leg, the Bears training camp still being weeks away, (yet another) first-round exit by the Blackhawks, the Cubs being in last and you not even knowing that the White Sox are in first in the AL Central, you probably are feeling a bit betrayed and dissatisfied with Chicago sports spectating. Walk with us to the dark side, wherein we implore you to shed your civic pride and fall head first in the nationalistic scrum that is watching (and rooting for) the madness that is the EuroCup. Today? We preview Group A: Poland (one half of the "host nation" contingent, Ukraine is the other co-host), Russia, Greece, and Czech Republic.
The decidedly Eastern bloc/human trafficking vibe to this entire grouping, save for Greece's fanbase vacationing in northern Europe and snorting off-market Xanax to forget about the rapidly crumbling market back home, is a bit beguiling and could lead one to the disingenuous conclusion that "ZOMG! Poland vs Russia or Czech Republic vs Russia = TEH BLOODBATH." And while that is a fun narrative, it's really not all that true considering that Russia and/or Poland both want a piece of Germany if either advance past the group round. Poland's best talent is routinely poached by Bundesliga squads (not cool, guys) and Putin's nationalistic fervor will demand nothing short of rubbing Angela Merkel's face in some historic crow/"We quagmired the Third Reich in all sorts of frozen Hell during the Battleof Stalingrad, et cetera." So how will each team fare, who will advance and whom should you, the disaffected Chicagoan root for? Read on if you dare.
What You Need to Know:
- Along with Ukraine, Poland is the host nation for EuroCup 2012. Poland isn't all that strong on paper. They're ranked 65th by FIFA which is far-and-away the lowest ranking of the field of 16. For reference: USA (not competing, obviously) is 30th and Ukraine is next "weakest" on paper, ranked 50th; see! there are benefits to being the host nation, like getting to compete automatically.
- "No, really! We didn't bribe anyone to allow us to have the EuroCup in our nations." Though there's likely some level of malfeasance/bribery-rooted shenanigans somewhere, Poland/Ukraine genuinely seem thrilled to be hosting this tournament. Still, there are far more messed and awful things to worry about. Namely, white supremacists and fear-mongering nationalists are a major concern on both sides of the UKR-POL border.
- Contrary to popular hearsay, Mikhail Prokhorov and Roman Abramovich do not "Indian Wrestle" every weekend to determine which one will govern over their respective professional sports franchises for the next week (Prohkorov's Brooklyn Nets and Abramovich's Chelsea F.C.). However Abramovich did send Prokhorov a genetically modified tiger cub with "Where's Your Title" spelled out in the cub's stripes after Abramovich's Chelsea squad won the Champions League last month.
- Post-unification Russia's greatest football feat came in 2008's EuroCup, wherein they advanced all the way to the semis before being ousted 3-0 by eventual champion Spain. This is Russia's first trip back to the EuroCup since '08 and much like the recently returned to power Vladimir Putin, Russia is looking for a return to the 2008 form that saw them upset a heavily favored Dutch squad. Unlike Putin the team will have to do things the old-fashioned way as there's no real soccer-based analogue to Dmitry Medvedev "stepping down."
What You Need to Know
- Greece's economy is a running punchline that very well may bring down the Euro as the dominant pan-Europe currency. Additionally? Greece's national team is very, very, very good. You would like a metaphor to maybe hammer this home? Greece = continually defaulting on everything and anything. Moody's loves downgrading Greece's credit and capping their credit ceiling. Greece's soccer team? AA credit rating. Good and very close to great.
- Greece won the EuroCup in 2004. The team knows this and knows that their fans back home could really use some inspiring, Cinderella story to buoy the national consciousness. Aging, but still very nasty/capable striker, Theofanis Gekas needs to show up as he's capable of if the Greeks would like to make any real noise. Advancing past the group stage for them won't be much of an accomplishment.
What You Need to Know
- Their defense is pretty terrible. But the Czech's do have an electric player named Theodor Gebre Selassi who, aside from being the first black player to represent the Czech Republic, is one of the more unheralded players in the tourney and is their backfield's only hope. He, at times, is a one-man wrecking crew and is wholly worthy of your attention.
- Midfielder, Tomas Rosicky is the pivot man. To wit (and to borrow a phrase from Kelly Dwyer), he's "the straw that stirs the drink" for the Czech offense and if he is neutralized so too shall the offense be stalled.