Euro roundup: Contenders ready for battle

German Football
By German Football June 7, 2008 04:39

Euro roundup: Contenders ready for battle

Europe’s top international football competition kicks off Saturday, with Switzerland and Austria set to host a friendly, wide open competition.

Switzerland take on the Czech Republic in the opening game as the 16 Euro 2008 finalists come out to fight for the title of best on their continent.

The usual suspects such as world champions Italy, 2006 World Cup finalists France, three-time champions Germany and perennial contenders Spain and The Netherlands go into the championships as favourites – but in truth they appear to be wide open.

Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon believes the world champions are justified favourites at Euro 2008, though losing inspirational captain Fabio Cannavaro earlier in the week could prove to be a decisive blow in stopping them from emulating France in adding the European crown to the world one that the French managed in 1998 and 2000.

Italy are in Group C, the ‘group of death’, with the team they beat in the final in Berlin in 2006, France, the Netherlands and Romania.

“It’s hard, but that’s also because we’re in the group. We’re calm, and we respect our rivals – the Dutch and the French of course but also Romania who have strong players like (Adrian) Mutu,” said Buffon, who plays with Mutu at Juventus.

“In some respects the Euro is harder than the World Cup.”

Spain look to have their strongest squad for many a year but unimpressive performances against Peru and the United States may be the precursor for another letdown as they seek to add to their sole senior title, the European championships back in 1964.

However, their idiosyncratic coach Luis Aragones may be their biggest drawback and his ditching of star striker Raul was made to look even weirder when the Real Madrid icon was named Spanish player of the year by his peers.

French coach Raymond Domenech was rather more upbeat than usual after the French rounded off their three warm-up matches against South American opposition having won two and drawn one.

“I am optimistic that we can do something special at Euro,” said Domenech, who defied the critics to guide France to the 2006 World Cup final.

“It is going to be hard for me to choose my starting line-up for the opening match against Romania on Monday… but then I don’t mind sleepless nights on that sort of matter, it is only when I can’t sleep because of the injuries that I really get upset.”

However, there is one major injury headache for Domenech, in the shape of his formidable captain Patrick Vieira, who suffered a thigh injury last week and while he trained with the team on Thursday a final decision as to whether the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 winner stays will be taken on Sunday, the day before the Romanian clash.

Germany coach Joachim Loew is convinced that the Germans can at least break their winless streak in terms of matches at the finals which dates back to when they won their last title in 1996 – starting with beating old rivals Poland on Sunday.

“We have made progress since 2004 in all aspects of our game in terms of tactics, fitness and organisation,” said Loew reflecting on the difference between Germany’s class of Euro 2004 and 2008.

“If we go flat out on Sunday and are physical we will win the game.”

But while Germany are favourites to win what Loew described as “the toughest tournament on earth”, the German coach insists sides such as France and Italy, as well as Portugal, Spain or even Russia are also threats.

“There is no such thing as a clear-cut favourite, because there are so many unusual factors which you just can’t plan for,” said Loew.

“There are the usual suspects who can win, but also a few dark horses to watch including sides like Russia,” coached by master handler Guus Hiddink.

The Dutch as usual go into the championships loaded with offensive talent – sadly the same cannot be said of their defence and even more importantly a lack of top-class defensive midfielders.

The Czechs have their first challenge against co-hosts Switzerland on Saturday and could well show that the Swiss and their fellow hosts Austria are the weakest countries ever to host the championships – but that does not make it any easier to pick who the overall winner will be.

German Football
By German Football June 7, 2008 04:39
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