Group A favourites Russia face the unpredictable Czech Republic when the 2012 European Championships kick off on Friday.
Russia: Much has been written about how the core of Spain's hugely successful national team (Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 winners) is drawn from Barcelona (Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta and David Villa, among others). To further cement that continuity, national team coach Vicente del Bosque deployed a similar style of football for the national team that the Barcelona players were comfortable with. Russia coach Dick Advocaat has done much the same thing with his team, drawing from leading domestic clubs Zenit St Petersburg and CSKA Moscow. Both sets of players have played with each other for years and both clubs are doing well domestically. In addition, he has also moved to a 4-3-3 system which is similar, although not identical, to the one used by Spain and Russia. All this means the Russians could be a dark horse for the summer's tournament.
Czech Republic: Michal Bilek has not been the most popular coach the Czechs have ever had but he gets results; which is probably why he is still around. Their 4-2-3-1 formation may have become a little predictable but the famous never-say-die spirit and disciplined approach, coupled with some good players means the Czechs could rival the Russians for top spot in the group.
This is the opening game of the campaign for both sides and one that neither will want to lose. While both will be expected to see off Poland and Greece to book spots in the quarter-finals, they will be aware that either Germany or Holland, potentially, await them in the next round and will want every bit of confidence and form they can put together, before the knock-out stages start.
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Team News: Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev is battling to be fit for this clash. The CSKA Moscow shot-stopper did not attend training on Tuesday due to a knee problem which troubled him throughout the league season. Midfielder Marat Izmailov and wing-back Alexander Anyukov have both regained fitness and could feature, although Izmailov could lose his place to the highly rated Alan Dzagoev.
Meanwhile, the Czechs are sweating on the fitness of striker Milan Baros. The Galatasaray player did not train on Wednesday but still should be able to start this tie. Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky is back to full fitness and will lead his side against the Russians.
- Russia are unbeaten in their last 14 games and capped it with a 3-0 win over Italy in their last game
- Advocaat's squad has the oldest forward line in the tournament - with an average age of 30
- Russia conceded just four goals in the qualifiers and topped their group
- Five members of the Czech squad are set to feature in their third consecutive European Championship
- Czech hitman Milan Baros was the top scorer at Euro 2004 with five goals
Probable starting line-up:
Russia: Akinfeev; Anyukov, Ignashevich, Berezutskiy, Zhirkov; Denisov, Shirokov, Zyryanov; Dzagoev, Arshavin, Kerzhakov
Czech Republic: Cech; Selassie, Sivok, Kadlec, Rajtoral; Plasil, Jiracek; Rezek, Pilar, Rosicky; Baros