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 Arsenals Tomas Rosicky and Chelseas 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 for sure.
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 years 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.
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