Czechs and Russia have points to prove
The Czech Republic will draw on memories of impressive runs at past tournaments while Russia are looking to show their semi-final appearance in 2008 was no fluke when they clash in their Euro 2012 Group A opener in Wroclaw tomorrow.sports Updated: Jun 08, 2012 15:35 IST
The Czech Republic will draw on memories of impressive runs at past tournaments while Russia are looking to show their semi-final appearance in 2008 was no fluke when they clash in their Euro 2012 Group A opener in Wroclaw on Friday.
The Czechs, who lost to Germany in the Euro 1996 final and reached the semi-finals in 2004, are determined to re-establish themselves as a force in European football after slipping to 26 in the FIFA world rankings.
With a mix of experienced players led by Arsenal's Tomas Rosicky and Chelsea's Petr Cech, along with a raft of newcomers, the Czechs are optimistic of at least progressing from what should be a tightly-contested group also featuring co-hosts Poland and Greece.
"All the teams will think they have a chance to qualify for the quarter-finals," Czech national team manager Vladimir Smicer said. "The really important match for us will be the first game against Russia. They are the favourites in our group."
The Russians are unbeaten in 14 matches and thrashed Italy 3-0 in a Euro warm-up last Friday.
Despite a sluggish start to the qualifiers which included a laboured 2-0 win over tiny Andorra and a 1-0 home defeat to Slovakia, Russia comfortably sealed their place at this year's finals by finishing top of qualifying Group B.
Russia rarely produced the attacking flair that made them look so attractive in Austria and Switzerland in 2008 but they were defensively sound, conceding only four goals in their 10 matches.
That will prove a challenge for the Czechs who have found it tough to score goals lately and have worries over the fitness of striker Milan Baros.
While Baros, who sat out training on Wednesday, has only scored three times for the Czech team in the past two years, coach Michal Bilek has few experienced attacking options at his disposal beyond the Golden Boot winner at the 1994 Euro tournament.
"I hope he is in good form and can perform because he is our most experienced striker," the former Liverpool player Smicer said. "If he is playing well then everything is much easier for us."
For Russia, goalkeeper Igor Akinfeyev, defender Alexander Anyukov and midfielder Marat Izmailov have shaken off slight niggles and have trained over the last couple of days.
Russia and the Czech Republic last met in 1996, when they drew 3-3 at the Euro 1996 tournament.