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Let the show begin

sports Updated: Jun 07, 2008 10:48 IST
Highlight Story

The tournament every football fan has been waiting for is about to begin. Euro 2008 kicks off in Basel with the home team Switzerland playing the Czech Republic and Portugal taking on Turkey in Geneva. It's a European Championship that features World Cup champions Italy, finalists France, and semifinalists Portugal and Germany, along with Spain, Holland, Croatia, and defending champions Greece.

Two teams advance from each group. In group A, I put my money on Portugal and Czech Republic. A team such as Portugal, finalists at the last European championship, brings an incredible array of talent to this tournament.

Cristiano Ronaldo, fresh from his Champions League victory with Manchester United, is hungry to bring Portugal their first major title in years. He will be joined by experienced players like Deco, Ricardo Carvalho and young superstar Quaresma. I consider them one of the favourites to win the title.

Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech leads the Czech Republic that have seasoned stars such as Jankulovski, Rosicky, Ujfalusi, Rozehnal and strikers Baros and Jan Koller.

In group B, Germany emerge as the clear favourites along with Croatia, who eliminated England by beating them 3-2 at Wembley. Germany are led by Chelsea captain, Michael Ballack, who has recovered from his long injury, and is in splendid form. Strikers Podolski and Klose add to the class. Germany are bookmaker's favourites to win the Euro 2008 and are coached by the relatively unknown Joachim Low, who was an assistant to Klinsman.

Croatia bring the 23-year-old superstar Luka Modric, a genius with great understanding of the game. He was recently sold to Arsenal. Niko Kranjcar leads the midfield at Portsmouth and they have experienced strikers in Balaban and Petric of Borussia Dortmund. Any team that can beat England 3-2 at Wembley is capable of going through to the quarterfinals.

Group C is known as the Group of Death. It features world champions Italy, finalists France, superpower Holland and Romania. This is the toughest group to make a call on but I must go with Italy and France. Italy have suffered a huge loss through the injury to captain Cannavaro.

However experienced players and World Cup stars such as goalie Buffon, Andrea Pirlo, and Bayern striker Luca Toni should insure their safe passage to the second round. France offer arguably the best young talent with Karim Benzema of Lyon and Nasri of Marseille playing alongside stars such as Franck Ribery, Thierry Henry, Lillian Thuram and Nicolas Anelka, and will go far in this tournament.

Holland have phenomenal players such as Van der Sar, Sneijder, Seedorf, Van Nistelrooy, Van Persie and Arjen Robben. However, their defence is suspect and will be open to the Italian and French counter-attacks. Romania have Fiorentina striker Adrian Mutu and Inter defender Christian Chivu, but it is unfortunate to find itself in a tough group.

Group D features defending champions Greece, perennial underachievers Spain, Russia and Sweden. Spain are the clear favourites in this group with Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabregas, Carlos Puyol, Xavi and Xabi Alonso. One can only hope that Spain will choose this tournament to reveal their full potential. Greece are a solid, well coached unit, and I think they will show that their win in 2004 was not a fluke.

Sweden feature a world talent in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and captain Fredrik Ljungberg. I saw them train in Lugano and they looked ready. Russia sneaked into this Euro at the cost of England, and present a competent if not exciting team.

So lets get ready for a super Euro 2008. In the first game, I see Switzerland tying the Czech Republic and Portugal beating Turkey. The bookmakers have made Germany the favourites, followed by Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Croatia and Holland, but let's not forget the Greek odyssey in 2004.