Poland and Greece to kick off Euro 2012

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Poland were on Thursday preparing to kick off Euro 2012 on home soil, with opponents Greece seeking a morale-boosting win to lift a beleaguered nation hit by political turmoil and crippling financial woes.

Both teams were due at the National Stadium in Warsaw for training, a day ahead of the curtain-raiser for the 16-team showpiece, as excitement builds across the country — and in neighbouring co-hosts Ukraine — for the start of the tournament.

The kick-off is not just being keenly anticipated for the football, where world champions Spain are looking to the retain the crown they won four years ago and beaten 2008 finalists Germany seek revenge.

The tournament is also the first behind the former Iron Curtain and a gamble by European football’s governing body UEFA to develop the game beyond its traditional heartlands.

Franciszek Smuda’s Poles are seeking to emulate the golden generation of the 1970s and 1980s while Greece want to prove that their 2004 victory was no fluke — and give their cash-strapped compatriots something to smile about.

Captain Giorgios Karagounis, of Panathinaikos, said: “We want to give joy to the Greeks. We will do our best, without stress and pressure, and hopefully bring back beautiful memories.”

The Poland-Greece match opener is followed by Russia vs Czech Republic in Wroclaw, where Dick Advocaat’s side come into the tournament on a high after beating Italy 3-0 last week, prompting predictions that they may be a team to watch.

The experienced Dutchman may play down any talk of Russia as outside bets but captain Andrey Arshavin believes they are ready to take on and beat the best.

“The result of the friendly match with Italy boosted our fans’ hopes ahead of the championship’s start and all of our players also. However, for a long time we have believed our team is capable of playing at this level,” he said.

The Czechs’ Champions League-winning goalkeeper Petr Cech told fans in an online chat on Wednesday that Group A was wide open, with any one of them able to progress to the quarter-finals.

“Our chances are the same as those of the other three teams in Group A,” he said, predicting that Spain, Germany and the Netherlands would win the title although he suggested: “We may spring a surprise.”

Czech coach Michal Balek, however, has injury concerns over captain Tomas Rosicky, who resumed training on Monday after a calf injury, as well as Galatasaray forward Milan Baros, who limped out of Tuesday’s session with a thigh problem.

In Group B, Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk said the Oranje’s opener on Saturday against Denmark was “the most important game in the last six months” but fears have mounted about another potentially self-destructive row in the camp.

That followed comments by Bundesliga top scorer Klaas-Jan Huntelaar that he was unhappy about not being picked as lone striker ahead of Arsenal’s Robin van Persie, who was the leading goalscorer in the English Premier League.

But Inter Milan playmaker Wesley Sneijder said: “We are fine. There are no fights. We’ve been together in this team for a long time, so there are no problems.”

Germany forward Lukas Podolski has meanwhile backed his team to subdue Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo, predicting a 2-0 win for the Mannschaft when the sides meet in Lviv, Ukraine, on Saturday.

“We have to be aggressive, entangle him in some tough tackles and take away his love of football,” Podolski said of the Real Madrid player. “But one thing is clear, we have enough players of our own with great potential.”

Injury-hit England’s preparations for their first Group D match against France in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Monday, were hit further when striker Jermain Defoe flew home from their Krakow training camp after the death of his father.

The Football Association said he would rejoin the squad at a later date.

France coach Laurent Blanc, however, said a weakened England were still a threat, particularly given the tradition behind the tie.

“Yes of course they are not at full strength but what concerns me is that England will play in a certain style, based on their qualities, and their philosophy of how to play.

“They will give everything because when there are French against English, it raises the game above the normal international match. We are going to have to be extremely strong physically. That is going to be a difficult match.”

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