Preview: Group A

 

Two teams that go quietly about their business meet in Group A of next month's European Championships, with both boasting players of considerable talent and experienced men at the helm.

Portugal, ranked 9th in the world, still don't attract the plaudits that football pundits lavish on the more prominent nations in European football, but the Iberian side has sparkled at their last two major finals and will be confident of improving on their last appearance in this competition.

An Angelos Charisteas header at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon four years ago spoiled the party for the partisan crowd, as the hosts were denied the opportunity to become only the fourth nation to lift the trophy on home soil. They recovered from that disappointment to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2006, losing a tight encounter to France, and are a team that none of the other major nations will want to meet.

The Portuguese did record some unexpected results in qualifying – a 1-1 draw in Armenia embarrassed Luis Felipe Scolari's side – and needed a draw with Finland in their final game to secure second place in Group A behind Poland. Despite their patchy form, one constant remained throughout: Cristiano Ronaldo's prolificacy.

The Manchester United winger has smoothed the transition between losing stalwarts like Luis Figo and Pauleta through retirement, and is vital to a team full of youthful enterprise. Ronaldo may have scored eight goals in qualifying, but he has been ably assisted by the trickery of Ricardo Quaresma and Nani on the other flank. Important cogs in a midfield that includes Maniche, Deco and Joao Moutinho, make 'Seleccao das Quinas' capable of upsetting some of the big guns in Austria and Switzerland.

Another side with visions of upsetting the favourites are Czech Republic. Karel Buckner's experienced outfit have long been tagged 'dark horses' for major championships, but their 6th-placed world ranking suggests they should command the same respect as France, Italy and Germany.

Beaten finalists in 1996, the Czechs hold the unfortunate record of being the first team to lose a major tournament by the 'Golden Goal' rule. Oliver Bierhoff supplied the finish that condemned the Eastern Europeans to the unfortunate statistic. They were then defeated by current European champions Greece in the semi-finals in Portugal four years ago, thanks to a 'Silver Goal' this time, but bounced back to qualify for the last World Cup and next month's tournament.

'The Locomotive' finished top of Group D ahead of the Germans, recording an impressive 3-0 victory in Munich last October that highlights their ability to mix it with the best on the European stage. A golden generation of players has emerged once again – Petr Cech in goal and Martin Fenin up front indicate as much – and they'll want to emulate past successes Davor Suker and Karel Poborsky when the opening match against Switzerland kicks-off in Basel on June 7.

The co-hosts have warmed up for the championship with friendlies against some of the world's top teams, but the 4-0 loss to Germany in March symbolises their fragility at this level. Switzerland coach Jakob Kuhn has admitted that the quarter-finals are the best his side can hope for, but it's difficult to see them getting out of their group.

Whilst their defence is strengthened by the presence of Arsenal duo Philippe Senderos and Johan Djourou, the Swiss rely too much on Alexander Frei to find the back of the net and Kuhn's decision to drop captain Johann Vogel may come back to haunt him.

Turkey make up the group but have done little to inspire recently after making hard work of qualification. Fatih Terim's men finished second to Greece in Group C and their unsettled team will have their work cut out if they are to qualify here.

 

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