Wednesday, 6 February 2008

[Euro 2008] Friendly tests for finalists

The UEFA Euro 2008 finals kick off in four months and one day – and 15 of the 16 contenders step up their preparations in a series of friendlies.

While we know Italy will test themselves out against fellow finalists Portugal in the Swiss capital of Zurich tonight, but what about the rest?

Vienna's Ernst-Happel Stadion will stage the final on 29 June but 13 days before that co-hosts Austria take on Germany in their last Group B game and the neighbours will be sizing each other up at the same venue tonight.

Austria won just one of their 12 fixtures in 2007 while Germany have not lost away from home in nearly two years and welcome back Michael Ballack after ten months out of international football through injury.

The other Euro hosts play their last match outside Switzerland before opening the finals against the Czech Republic in Basel, as Jakob Kuhn's squad visit London for Fabio Capello's first game in charge of England.

Austria and Germany are not the only neighbours facing off as Spain and France, who are in Italy's group, meet in Malaga. Bojan Krkic, at 17, is set to become Spain's youngest senior international despite illness while France coach Raymond Domenech is hoping for a better display than his A-team showed in drawing 0-0 with Congo in Marbella last night.

Three other contenders are involved in a friendly tournament in Cyprus, and having fielded experimental teams in their first matches will have stronger sides tonight.

The Czech Republic lost 1-0 to Greece last night and face Poland today. Current European champions Greece face Finland, who lost 1-0 to Poland on Saturday.

Elsewhere, two other games match pairs of finalists as Turkey play Sweden and Croatia face the Netherlands - the Azzurri's first opponents in the summer in Group C.

Russia, in the midst of a winter break, sit this round of friendlies out having had a training camp in Turkey, and next go to Romania – who visit Israel tonight – on 26 March. Italy will play the Romanians in the second group match at the finals.

Source: UEFA

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