Euro 2008 Countdown – Group A: Swiss to get rolled on home turf

Don’t expect the goals to fly in when the Group A fixtures get underway at the European Championships this summer. Czech Republic had an outstanding record in qualifying, conceding only five goals in 12 matches, while Portugal and Turkey allowed only 10 and 11 respectively – less than one per match – which suggests Switzerland could find it tough to progress on home turf.

Co-hosts Switzerland will need to rely on home advantage and the fact they play their three Group A games against Portugal, Czech Republic and Turkey at St Jakob-Park in Basel as they bid to secure a path into the quarter-finals of a European Championships for the first time in their history.

Coach Kobi Kuhn’s spine of the team is made up of veteran goalkeeper Pascal Zuberbuhler, while Premier League fans will know all about Arsenal central defender Philippe Senderos and Manchester City midfielder Gelson Fernandes, who has recently broken into the squad. Blackburn Rovers’ former Swiss captain Johan Vogel will also hope to be in Kuhn’s defensive midfield plans this summer. The Swiss’ star man and skipper Alexander Frei, currently plying his trade at German side Borussia Dortmund, will lead his home nation, while BSC Young Boys’ attacking midfielder Hakan Yakan will also look to be in on the goals.

The Czech Republic will be the Swiss’ first opponents and Karel Bruckner’s men will no doubt be well backed in the Euro 2008 betting stakes due to their impressive record in the tournament.

Runners up to Germany in Euro 96 and semi-finalists in Portugal four years ago the Czech side usually bode well in these championships, although their World Cup statistics have been disappointing. The current squad boasts a number of players who feature in the Premiership such as Chelsea keeper Petr Cech, Arsenal midfielder and Czech captain Tomas Rosicky, Reading defender Marek Matejovsky and Portsmouth hitman Milan Baros. Other notable names are defenders Marek Jankulovski and Tomas Ujfalusi of Italian sides AC Milan and Fiorentina respectively, while Newcastle stopper David Rozenhal, currently on loan at Juventus, should also feature.

Much will rest on the imposing figure of 6′ 8″ Jan Koller in attack as the 34-year-old FC Nuremberg frontman is his country’s leading scorer with 51 goals from 86 caps. His absence due to a thigh injury picked up in the first group game against the United States was attributed to the Czech Republic’s first round exit at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Euro 2004 hosts and finalists Portugal will be a big favourite with football betting fans this summer as they boast arguably the world’s greatest footballer in the form of Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo. Brazilian coach Luis Felipe Scolari will look to break the nation’s duck after they reached the quarter-finals at Euro 96, semi-finals in Euro 2000 and lost out to Greece in the final four years ago.

Along with skipper Ronaldo, the Portuguese boast a wealth of talented players including fellow Manchester United starlet Nani, Chelsea’s defensive duo Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira, Everton’s Nuno Valente and FC Porto’s highly sought after full-back Jose Bosingwa. Atletico Madrid’s Simao, Inter Milan’s Maniche and Barcelona star Deco are amongst their talented midfielders, while there are goals in Benfica’s Nuno Gomes and the upcoming Ricardo Quaresma of Porto.

It is only the third time Turkey have qualified for the European Championship finals, although they did reach the quarter-finals in Belgium and Holland last time out eight years ago. Coach Fatih Terim’s youthful and improving squad is largely made up of players plying their trade in Turkey so they will have an element of surprise about them.

The two players Premier League fans will be aware of are talented midfielder Emre Belozoglu of Newcastle and attacking midfielder/striker Tuncay Sanli, who also plays in the North-East of England for Middlesbrough after joining them on a free transfer from Fenerbache last summer. Galatasaray striker Hakan Sukur is the Turk’s star player and captain as he currently has 51 goals from 112 caps to his name. Other players of note are Bayern Munich midfielder Hamit Altintop and striker Nihat Kahveci, who plys his trade in Spain’s Primera Liga for Villarreal.

Personally I cannot see past Scolari’s Portugal for group winners as they have the flair and strength within their ranks. Only the Czech Republic could be capable of gaining a point off the Portuguese, while their crunch game will be the final group tussle with the Turks to see who will progress to the last-eight as runners up.

Turkey cannot be ruled out of the equation as the Czech Republic will be over-reliant on the ageing and injury-prone striker Koller. If Bruckner’s side is depleted in any way that could pave the way clear for the Turks to jump into the quarter-finals ahead of them, while the Swiss will be lucky to secure a point from their three games.

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