Weird feeling not to have any Villarreal players at Euro 2012, which starts today in Poland - sites in Gdansk, Krakow, Warsaw, and Wroclaw. Tomorrow marks Ukraine's turn to host - sites in Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kiev, and Lviv. Bruno Soriano was in the picture, but Vicente del Bosque ultimately stuck with the nucleus that won World Cup 2010 in South Africa.
Villarreal minds are preoccupied with the tragedy of Manolo Preciado's passing at age 54. He would have been inaugurated today as Villarreal manager; at least he was in charge for a day. Rest in peace, and our deepest condolences to his already grief-consumed family.
The show must go on, despite reports of monkey chants and UEFA's likely(?) rejection of black armbands on the shoulders of La Furia Roja. I understand the potential domino effect, but this situation is unique. Anyhow, on to the opening round of games in Group A.
Poland vs. Greece, 12 noon ET
Hosts always make it out of the group stage, right? And Poland does have some decent players from back-to-back Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund. Let's see how much home-field advantage helps in a poor group.
No neutral wants to watch Greece, but here they are again. Stingy defensively, and with a big tournament pedigree thanks to their victory at Euro 2004. In 2004, the Greeks beat hosts Portugal in the final after lucking past the Czechs in the semifinals. And no, I'm not bitter.
Russia vs. Czech Republic, 2:45 pm ET
Thanks to the draw, Russia went from fringe knockout material to firm favorites to win their group. But no one will take Andrei Arshavin + 10 lightly this time around. They have the talent for a deep run, but can they get their act together? This might be the time.
Like most of this group, the Czechs are just happy to be at Euro 2012. They defeated Montenegro in the play-off after finishing a mile behind Spain in their qualifying group. Milan Baros, Petr Cech, and Tomas Rosicky are EPL holdovers from the generation that put (independent) Czech football on the map. Most of the squad is green, so this is a developmental year in anticipation of Brazil 2014. However, as past champions Denmark and Greece have shown, European championships are about surviving and advancing, not style points.
All 31 matches will air on the ESPN family of networks (U.S.) at these same times - noon and 2:45 pm ET. Early lunch and a well-timed coffee break, for many of you. Hope you'll join us for Euro 2012, also known as the World Cup minus Argentina and Brazil.