Favourites on top in Group A
The two sides expected to advance from Group A of UEFA EURO 2008 both started in style on Saturday, with Czech Republic defeating Switzerland 1-0 in the tournament curtain-raiser before Portugal eased to a 2-0 win over Turkey.
The joint tournament hosts could not have made a more deflating start in front of their own fans, slipping to a 1-0 reverse against an opportunistic Czech side. Coming against the run of play, the game's only goal arrived when Vaclav Sverkos, a second-half substitute for Jan Koller, coolly converted Tomas Galasek's pass after the Swiss defence had failed to clear its lines. The men in red created the better chances but lacked a cool head in front of goal. To make matters worse, chief goal threat Alexander Frei limped off with an injury.
Portugal 2-0 Turkey
Goals: Pepe 61, Raul Meireles 90
Portugal took their time to get going against a fearless Turkey side. When they did, goalkeeper Volkan Demirel proved equal to the task, tipping Cristiano Ronaldo's curling 37th-minute free kick onto the post. The EURO 2004 runners-up came out firing on all cylinders in the second half and went ahead when Pepe rounded off a fine individual move. The Portuguese then retreated and almost let the points slip before Raul Meireles put the finishing touch to a Ronaldo breakaway to put them top of the section.
Pick of the day
Portugal-Turkey: With an hour gone and his side starting to call the shots, Portugal's Brazilian-born centre-half Pepe surged towards the Turkish rearguard, played a cute one-two with Nuno Gomes and lifted the ball over Demirel with all the aplomb of a seasoned finisher.
Quote of the day
"We've lost a match but not the EURO. I reminded the players of what happened to Portugal four years ago when they lost their first game and still reached the final. Anything is possible." Switzerland coach Kobi Kuhn.
The numbers game
4 - In coming off second best against the Czechs, Switzerland became the fourth EURO hosts to lose in the opening match of the tournament. France were the first side to suffer that fate when they lost to Yugoslavia 5-4 in 1960, followed by 1972 hosts Belgium, 2-1 losers to West Germany, and Portugal, who went down 2-1 to Greece in 2004. Encouragingly for the Czechs, their three predecessors all reached the final, with West Germany going on to lift the trophy.
Josef Hickersberger's side are sure to endure a testing afternoon against an ambitious Croatian outfit that combines youthful talent in the shape of Vedran Corluka and Luka Modric with plenty of big match experience through the likes of the Kovac brothers. The eastern Europeans thwarted England's qualification hopes and have the ability to topple a few more giants over the next three weeks.
The clear favourites in the group are Germany, although they can expect no gifts from a solid-looking Polish side who took their place in the finals after topping a challenging qualification group that included Portugal. The Poles have a dreadful record against their neighbours, however, losing 11 and drawing four of their 15 meetings over the years.
A victory for Michael Ballack and company tomorrow could prove ominous. Every time the Germans have won their opening game in the EURO they have gone on to reach the final.