8 Jun 2012

Euro 2012 kick off – your handy guide

As the European Championships begin in Poland and Ukraine, how will Roy Hodgson’s England fare? Channel 4 News takes a look at the opening fixtures.

Euro 2012 kicks off with home nation Poland taking on Greece at the National Stadium Warsaw.

With the support of home fans behind them and a strong record against the Greeks (they have beaten them ten times in their last 15 meetings) this is a fixture that the co-hosts look unlikely to struggle with.

Greece aren’t necessarily pushovers though. They were the surprise package in the Euro 2004, winning the tournament through defensive play and by grinding out a series of 1-0 results in the knock-out stages.

The other Group A fixture sees Russia play the Czech Republic. These two teams have only met once in a major tournament – at Euro ’96, where they produced an exciting 3-3 draw. Neutral fans will hope for more of the same.

More: latest video updates from Sports Reporter Keme Nzerem

Group of death

Group B has been labelled the tournament’s “Group of Death”, with the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal and Denmark all vying for a place in the knock-out rounds.

The Danes face a tough task in the Group’s opening fixture, as they face World Cup 2010 runners-up, the Netherlands.

Much will be expected from the PFA Player of the Year Robin Van Persie this summer.

This year’s Dutch squad is formidable, featuring the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Arsenal’s Robin Van Persie, who scored 37 goals in all competitions for the Gunners last season. Much will be expected from the PFA Player of the Year this summer.

Euro 2012: Robin Van Persie. (Getty)

(Euro 2012: The Netherlands’ Robin Van Persie will be one to watch in Poland and Ukraine.)

Germany play Portugal in the other Group B match at the Arena Lviv. Recent clashes between the sides suggest a German victory is more likely, with them having come out on top in their last two tournament meetings.

Bayern Munich and Germany striker Mario Gomez, who scored 40 goals for club and country last season, will be one to watch – although even his record is overshadowed by the staggering achievements of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, who netted an incredible 63 goals in all competitions in 2011-2012.

Reigning champions

Elsewhere, World Cup 2010 champions Spain take on 2006 winners Italy in Group C. The Spaniards are amongst the favourites to win the tournament and retain their European crown, with arguably the strongest squad in the competition.

Subduing the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas and a rejuvenated Torres will prove difficult for an ageing Italian side, who are pinning much of their attacking hopes on the shoulders of young Mario Balotelli.

Euro 2012: Mario Balotelli. (Getty)

(Euro 2012: There are high expectations for Italy’s young star Mario Balotelli.)

Whilst there are few question marks surrounding his talents, many will wonder whether or not the 21-year-old is mature enough yet to shoulder such a burden.

Group C’s other match involves Ireland versus Croatia in Poznan. Ireland face the daunting task of making it through a tough group and will hope for a draw at the very least.

England’s group

Monday’s fixtures involve Ukraine facing Sweden in Group D in Kiev. The co-hosts will hope their home support can fire them to a victory against the Swedes, who are coming into this tournament having won their last three matches.

Group D’s other match will see France play England in Donetsk, marking Roy Hodgson’s first competitive game in charge.

Whilst England’s low expectations going into the Euros could work in the team’s favour, there is still a worrying injury crisis throughout the squad.

Euro 2012: Steven Gerrard. (Getty)

(Euro 2012: England’s captain Steven Gerrard is joined by several of his Liverpool clubmates.)

The loss of Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and Gary Cahill has left England weak across both defence and midfield – and Rooney’s two-game ban does not help matters.

Hodgson will hope the controversy surrounding his decision to call up the inexperienced Martin Kelly to bolster his defence over England stalwart Rio Ferdinand does not derail his plans.

France may not be the force they once were, but they are certainly not a team short of quality with the attacking talents of Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri, Hatem Ben Aefa and Karim Benzema at their disposal.

England will have a challenge on their hands as they try to overcome Les Bleus in what should be an exciting fixture to close the first four days of group matches.