WARSAW, Poland, June 6 – A trumpet fanfare and a sea of national flags greeted Spain’s arrival in Poland on Tuesday, as they aimed to become the first side in the history of the European football championships to win back-to-back titles.
Vicente Del Bosque’s side flew into the Baltic port city of Gdansk in northern Poland and made straight for the small town of Gniewino 70 kilometres (43.5 miles) away, where they will be based for the duration of the tournament.
The red and yellow of the Spanish flag were everywhere in the town, where La Roja — world champions after their win in South Africa two years ago — were heralded on their arrival.
The tournament favourites, made up largely of Real Madrid “Galacticos” and Barcelona stars, take on Italy in Gdansk on Sunday in a Group C that also features the Republic of Ireland and Croatia.
Italy, rocked by fresh match-fixing claims that even included a police search of the team hotel and the arrest of several Serie A players, arrived earlier Tuesday in the southern city of Krakow on a charter flight from Pisa.
Hundreds of children were there to greet the Azzurri, shouting the name of Manchester City’s erratic young star Mario Balotelli, who is tipped to be one of the players of the tournament.
Spain received a boost before boarding the flight to Poland when midfielder Cesc Fabregas was able to train with his team-mates after recovering from a right thigh injury sustained in Barcelona’s 3-0 Spanish cup final victory late last month.
The Spanish football federation, however, said that Real Madrid fullback Alvaro Arbeloa trained apart because of a trapped nerve in his back while Sevilla striker Jesus Navas had to go to hospital for a precautionary x-ray to a bruised right hand.
Croatia and the Republic of Ireland are based near Warsaw and Gdansk and in a sign that anticipation is building for the first major football tournament behind the former Iron Curtain, nearly 13,000 Polish fans turned out to watch the Irish train.
Coach Giovanni Trapattoni described the warm welcome as a “great surprise”, adding: “I heard that maybe 1,000 to 2,000 would come but it was fantastic. I think we have to pay our respects back for this kindness we received today.”
Elsewhere, veteran Lazio striker Miroslav Klose gave a clear statement of Germany’s intent, outlining plans to celebrate his 34th birthday on Saturday by getting the Mannschaft off to a winning start.
“Basically I only want three points, I would love to have a victory and I would love for us to put into practice what we know we can do,” said Klose, who has 116 appearances and 63 goals his country — five short of Gerd Mueller’s record.
Meanwhile, co-hosts Poland’s two French-born stars Ludovic Obraniak and Damien Perquis hit back at claims that they have failed to fit in to the squad and questions about their eligibility.
“I’ve been in the squad for more than two years and today I feel like I’m Polish. I love Poland, I love the Poles, and I love my team-mates too,” Bordeaux midfielder Obraniak said in heavily-accented Polish, drawing applause from reporters.
Greece, though, are confident they can repeat their effort of Euro 2004 in Portugal and beat the hosts in the tournament opener on Friday, defender Giorgos Tzavellas said, adding: “We don’t have anything to fear against Poland.
“The Poles will have the stress of the first match as they will be the home team.
“I believe we can repeat our effort of 2004 when we spoiled the opener for the home team.”
Across the border in Ukraine, where the final takes place on July 1, Andriy Shevchenko played down fears that the team was not ready to take on Group D opponents Sweden, England and France after a friendly loss to Austria.
England were expected to arrive at their Krakow base on Wednesday, while France were due in Donetsk, Ukraine, after their friendly match against Estonia in Le Mans on Tuesday evening.
England have been hit by injuries to Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and Gary Cahill and are also without Manchester United star Wayne Rooney for the first two group matches through suspension.
Rooney’s Old Trafford team-mate Rio Ferdinand moved to play down claims from his agent that coach Roy Hodgson had shown a lack of respect for not picking the defender as Cahill’s replacement.