Euro 2008 kicks off today with matches from Group A, which contains one of the co hosts, Switzerland, who will take on the Czech Republic in the opening game. The other Group A games sees Portugal and Turkey do battle.
The teams in Group A will be based in Basel, at the St Jakob Park Stadium and in Stade de Geneva Stadium in Geneva, ensuring good support for hosts Switzerland. Although the access ability of Europe and the EU means that each team should have more support than they would expect at any other major competition, such as the World Cup.
Unlike the World Cup, which generally tends to have weak teams as the 4th seeds in any group, the Euro Champs tend to be a lot closer, with groups relatively open.
The favourites for this group must be Portugal and the Czech Republic.
Portugal will be looking to Christiano Ronaldo to continue the form that fired 42 goals for Manchester United last season, winning the Premier League and Champions League double. Ronaldo will look to put constant speculation and head lines about his possible move to Real Madrid to one side and lead his nation one step further then they managed on home soil 4 years ago, losing to Greece in the final. In Ricardo Quaresma, Simao and Nani joining Ronaldo, Portugal will have no shortage of attacking skill and talent on field and with young talent like Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veleso looking to enhance their reputations, and seal big moves to Europe’s elite, Portugal must rank as one of the favourites for the Championships and not just the group.
The Czechs have in Petr Cech one of the best keepers in the world, capable of turning a match with saves that seem destined for goals. In Grygera, Jankulovski and Ujfalusi the Czechs have a solid defence, full of experience, that will look to keep things tight at the back and look to the midfield and frontmen to score the goals that will win games. The midfield will be missing the experience and skill of Nedved and Poborsky, but its in defence that they will build their run. In qualifying they conceded just 5 goals in 12 games in topping a group that had Germany finishing second ahead of Ireland and Slovakia. In Martin Fenin they have a young forward who was wanted by many of Europe’s big guns before joining Eintracht Frankfurt, when Juventus had been favourites to sign the player who came to prominence with a staring role in the Czechs run to the final of the under 20 world cup. Fenin scored a hat trick on his Bundasliga debut.
The Swiss and Turks will provide tests for the two favourites, with the Swiss counting and home support to carry them on, but in the end if the best teams are to make it through, it should be Portugal and the Czech Republic. However, as in the past, both Portugal and the Czechs have been wade down by expectancy and found wanting.