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May 27, 2008

Group A Tactics Board

Switzerland | Portugal | Turkey | Czech Republic
Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D

Switzerland

History tells us host nations always have a huge advantage in major tournaments, but the fact they are playing on familiar turf is also a drawback for Switzerland. Although they will benefit from fervent backing in Basel's St Jakob Park, it's not in their nature to be proactive, to seek to dominate territorially from the first whistle. Switzerland's usual priority is stopping the opposition playing and only when this is achieved do they seek to profit from a swift counter or a well-rehearsed set-piece. A finely tuned collective unit normally set up in 4-4-2, they can be very hard to break down, reknowned for their capacity to work hard from front to back. They are equally adept defending deep and closing down space as playing a high pressing game to regain possession. They are particularly skilled at blocking wide areas with full-backs and midfielders doubling up to good effect. In central defence both Philippe Senderos and Mario Eggimann - or the experienced Patrick Muller if he recovers in time from a knee injury - are strong in the air, but lack pace and certainly do not like to be turned around, chasing balls over the top. After months of rotating his three keepers, coach Kobi Kuhn has decided to go with Diego Benaglio rather than Pascal Zuberbuhler or Fabio Coltorti. It is perhaps not the best recipe to improve understanding. They have two formulas in midfield. One is a diamond with young Gokhan Inler as the enforcer in front of the back four, Valon Behrami and Gelson Fernades in centre-right and centre-left positions and class act Tranquillo Barnetta at the apex. The other has Inler minding the back of an attack-conscious trio made up from right to left of Behrami, Fernandes and Barnetta. Everyone has their well-defined roles and there is a good mix of industry, tactical sense and drive. As Kuhn readily admits, he has a shortage of players capable of changing the rhythm of a game. With his extreme pace and mobility, Barnetta is the exception to the rule and he needs to be firing if the Swiss are to prosper. Most of their build-up play is based on neat short passes between pairs of players. The full-backs Philip Degen on the right and Ludovic Magin on the left are excellent going forward. Skipper and number one source of goals is a proven penalty box assassin Alex Frei, but there is still a vacancy alongside him. Johan Vonlanthen, Blaise Nkufo, Marco Streller or boy-wonder Eren Derdiyok are in all with a shout. Should Switzerland come up against top-notch opposition in the knock-out stages, Kuhn might resort to the packed midfield and single front-runner option.
Probable line-up - 4-1-3-2 formation: Benaglio; Degen, Senderos, Eggimann, Magnin; Inlet; Behrami, Barnetta, Fernandes; Frei, Streller

Portugal

Portugal's hard-nosed Brazilian boss Luiz Felipe Scolari may have large quantities of natural attacking talent at his fingertips, but he has always been a coach devoted to a strict tactical framework. Even with a squad boasting attacking-third marvels such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Deco, Nani, Simao and Ricardo Quaresma, he refuses to be budged from the safety-first 4-2-3-1 formation that has taken the side to the runners-up spot at Euro 2004 and fourth-place at the last World Cup. His philosophy is a simple one; rely on a solid, meticulously organised defence, prolonged periods of possession and slick inter-passing and lightning-quick attacking play. The Portuguese motto is 'as long as we have the ball, the opposition can't hurt us' and it has reaped big dividends in recent years. The importance of playmaker Deco cannot be overestimated. He is a master of setting the tempo of a game and conducts the orchestra with simplicity and precision, tending to hit short passes to the wings and moving into space for a return pass, then looking to play in the main striker (either Hugo Almeida or Nuno Gomes) or the wide men (Cristiano Ronaldo usually lines up on the right with Quaresma, Simao or Nani on the left). The brilliant Ronaldo has much freedom to work his magic all along the front-line and constantly switches flanks with his opposite number. If he brings his Premier League form in Euro 2008, there is every chance Scolari will have the player of the tournament in his line-up this summer. The full-backs (Miguel on the right, Marco Caneira or Paulo Ferreira on the left) get forward as much as possible and when they do, the wingers move inside to support the lone front-runner. A major weakness is the apparent desire to walk the ball into the net. Vital to Portuguese hopes are the twin defensive midfielders - pick two from Miguel Veloso, Fernando Meira, Petit and Raul Meireles. They do a fine job protecting the back-four and also have to be available for the first pass out of defence. When the full-backs push on, one of the pair drops back as a third central defender alongside Ricardo Carvalho and Pepe.
Probable line-up - 4-2-3-1 formation: Ricardo; Miguel, Pepe, Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira; Veloso, Fernando Meira; Ronaldo, Deco, Quaresma; Almeida

Turkey

Although Turkey coach Fatih Terim has been a 4-4-2 man for almost his entire career, he could be tempted to take advantage of the significant midfield options open to him and employ a fluid 4-5-1 line-up this summer. This system is not nearly as negative a system as it might appear at first glance. While theoretically the nippy, opportunistic Nihat Kahveci is the lone front-runner, he will not be in any danger of isolation. On his shoulder will be a pair of adroit little playmakers (Yildiray Basturk and Emre Belozoglu) and on the flanks the Turks will not be in any way pedestrian, likely to use the dynamic Bayern Munich star Hamit Altintop on the right and either Arda Turan or Middlesbrough's Tuncay Sanli on the left. Arda is a brilliant dribbler, a more orthodox wing wizard, while Tuncay is more bullish in his approach and more drawn into the opposition box. There is plenty of depth in this department too, notably strikers Halil Altintop and Semih Senturk and attacking midfielders Tumer Metin and Gokdeniz Karadeniz. It's not really Fatih's style to preach an overtly counter-attacking modus operandi. He loves to see his side impose themselves on game with high energy and aggression. His decision to omit long-serving striker Hakan Sukur from his squad is a sign of constructive intent as with Sukur leading the line, the Turks tended to overdo the long, aimless ball in his direction. A very important figure is naturalised Braziilian defensive midfielder Mehmet Aurelio, who does sterling work as a ball-winner and whose good distribution is the springboard for many an attack. If fear does catch up with Fatih - and it does not often happen - he could use this season's Turkish League revelation, Mehmet Topal, in a two-man iron curtain beside Aurelio, ditching one of the playmakers. It is something of a mixed bag for Turkey at the back. The technique and attacking style of full-backs Gokhan Gonul (right) and Hakan Balta (left); the combative but lumbering centre-back pairing of Gokhan Zan and Servet Cetin and keeper Volkan Demirel, who can go from glorious to gaffe in a heartbeat. Solid they may not be, but dangerous they most certainly are.
Probable line-up - 4-1-4-1 formation: Volkan; Gokhan Gonul, Gokhan, Zan Servet, Hakan Balta; Aurelio; Hamit Altintop, Basturk, Emre, Arda; Nihat

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic team presided over by veteran coach Karel Bruckner, who is set to step down after these finals, can effortlessly switch from a 4-4-2 - his preferred shape - to a 4-5-1 to a 3-5-2 during a game. They are made up of players with a high tactical quotient and have no problem varying their approach, just as happy playing on the break as taking the initiative. In midfield the Czech boast an enviable amalgam of skill, vision and industry. They can pass and move with the best, but there can be no doubt they will badly miss injured playmaker and skipper Tomas Rosicky. The Arsenal man is a virtuoso creator and has ample experience of major international tournaments. His potential replacements, Jaroslav Plasil, Marek Matejovsky or David Jaroim are all worthy but of not of the same stellar quality. Bruckner's engine room diamond should have Libor Sionko and Jan Polak on the right and left respectively and the unsung Tomas Galasek as the guy to tidy up in front of the back-line and keep the ball circulating freely. Up front, Bruckner has problems with both his first-choice attackers. Man-mountain striker Jan Koller, who has served the Czechs so well over the years is on the final strait and the speedy Milan Baros is still to convince at new club Portsmouth, though in his defence, he does usually deliver for the national team and is a potent counter-attacking weapon. The cautious Bruckner often shies away from throwing untested players into the mix, but circumstances could see him giving a chance in attack to the likes of Martin Fenin or Vaclav Sverkos. The Czech rearguard has a familiar feel to it, world-class keeper, right-back Zdenek Grygera, left-back Marek Jankulovski and David Rozehnal and Tomas Ujfalusi having played together for many seasons. A headache for Bruckner is the current poor form of Rozehnal at Lazio and the retiring coach may decide the time is right to bring in Radoslav Kovac as a replacement.
Probable line-up - 4-1-3-2 formation: Cech; Grygera, Kovac, Ujfalusi, Jankulovski; Galasek; Sionko, Matejovsky, Polak; Koller, Baros

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