A match pitting co-hosts Poland against Greece in the National Stadium in Warsaw on Friday will kick off the Euro 2012 football championship, the biggest sporting event to be held in eastern Europe since the fall of communism.
The Euro 2012 is being hosted in Poland and Ukraine from June 8 to July 1, and local organisers are hoping the recent concern about racism in the stands will not mar the three-week event.
Group A includes Poland, Greece, Russia and the Czech Republic, while co-hosts Ukraine will face Sweden, France and England in Group D. The highly rated Germans will take on the Netherlands, Denmark and Portugal in Group B, the so-called “Group of Death”. As for title holders Spain, they will be playing Italy, Ireland and Croatia in Group C.
The top two teams from each group will then advance to the quarter finals in a knock-out stage.
The schedule has set up at least three clashes between historic foes: France vs England on June 11, Poland vs Russia on June 12 and Netherlands vs Germany on June 13.
The cup final will be played on Sunday, July 1, at 60,000-capacity Olimpiyskiy National Sports Complex in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.
France ‘secret’ favourites?
While the hometown squads are not expected to do very well, pundits have downplayed the threat from title holders Spain, who will be deprived of key defender Carlos Puyol and top striker David Villa.
For France the Euro 2012 will be the opportunity to redeem themselves in the eyes of their fans, who were bitterly disappointed by their team’s embarrassing performance at the World Cup in South Africa two years ago.
And according to at least two European dailies this week, the French squad have good reason to enter the tournament with confidence. German tabloid der Bild said France were the cup’s “secret favourite” on Friday, while the newspaper wrote off Germany, as well as England and Italy.
Likewise, seven of 17 experts consulted by the British daily the Guardian, said they expected to see France reach the final. Nevertheless, only one of them said France had what it took to take home the trophy.
Six of the experts questioned by the Guardian said French striker Karim Benzema would rise up as the Euro 2012’s top goal scorer.
The plaudits coming from Germany and England – two of France’s staunchest rivals – could be good news for "Les Bleus", or set up yet another heartbreak for French fans.