Switzerland and Czech Republic will kick off UEFA EURO 2008
to widespread excitement tomorrow. Over the last few weeks,
FIFA.com has interviewed many of the players and
coaches set to participate in the competition, canvassing their
views on the upcoming continental showdown.
Midfield enforcer Gennaro Gattuso and coach Roberto Donadoni rate as two of the most important figures for reigning FIFA World Cup™ holders Italy. "Of course!" was Gattuso's instant response when asked if the Azzurri were favourites to hoist the trophy, and his coach was no less confident in the build-up to the eagerly-awaited tournament.
Naturally enough, the Netherlands' chief midfield strategist is determined to prevent the Italians recording a world and European double. Rafael van der Vaart from Bundesliga outfit Hamburg feels the Dutch could emerge triumphant this summer: "The European title would be a dream come true," he added.
Czech Republic supremo Karel Bruckner is setting his sights a little lower, in public at least. "Our priority is to survive the group phase," he insisted, although his team still rate as one of the continent's best footballing sides.
That description also applies to the reigning European champions, according to Greece marksman Theofanis Gekas. "We're one of the four best teams in Europe," the 27-year-old declared, naming a place in the quarter-finals as the Greeks' initial target at EURO 2008.
Portugal, the losing finalists in 2004, are again hopeful of going a long way. "I believe we can make the final," confirmed coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, expressing the confidence emanating from a high-quality squad boasting the talent of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Russian twins Vasili and Aleksei Berezutskiy are also aiming for the skies, despite Aleksei tipping France for the trophy and Vasili reckoning all 16 teams start with the same chance of glory. "But we have ambitious goals too. If you don't approach every game intending to win it, you shouldn't be on the field in the first place," said the latter.
Group B features a re-run of the Germany-Poland match from the last FIFA World Cup, when a last-minute Oliver Neuville strike sealed a 1-0 victory for the host nation. "We could take revenge for our defeat at the World Cup," commented Polish international Jacek Krzynowek, noting the special significance of the game to him personally, "because I know the likes of Simon Rolfes, Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose very well indeed."
However, Germany keeper Jens Lehmann is set on preventing a Polish triumph. "We have very clear tactical plans and hope we rate as one of the favourites to win the European championship," said the new Stuttgart signing. National team-mate Bastian Schweinsteiger was a model of confidence and conviction: "If we play to our full potential, we're in with a very good chance indeed. Apart from ourselves, I rate Italy, France and Portugal as the favourites."
FIFA.com also quizzed the head coaches of the two host nations. Austria gaffer Josef Hickersberger spoke of "the event of the century for this country", although the 60-year-old was unwilling to speculate on how his team would fare at the tournament. However, a fortune-teller had brought good tidings: "She read my palm and told me Austria wouldn't end up as European champions, but would still have a successful tournament."
Austria captain Andreas Ivanschitz can hardly wait for his side's opener against Croatia on Sunday. "The fans in Austria are definitely looking forward to it. There are lots of cars already flying red-and-white flags."
The Swiss coach was more forthcoming about his team's targets. "Our goal can't be anything less than making it to the quarter-finals," declared Jakob 'Kobi' Kuhn, echoing Ivanschitz's hopes of an extra boost from the home crowds. "Obviously, the 12th man is a huge part of achieving great things."