KHARKIV, Ukraine, June 9 – Perennial contenders Germany on Saturday take on Portugal while the much-fancied Netherlands face Denmark, as the first matches in Euro 2012 are played in competition co-hosts Ukraine.
The quadrennial tournament kicked off in the Polish capital Warsaw on Friday, with Poland and Greece playing out an incident-packed 1-1 draw and Russia thrashing the Czech Republic 4-1 in the western city of Wroclaw.
Even without the start they wanted, Poland’s noisy fans spent a lively night partying on the streets of Warsaw and the country’s media assessed that the much-anticipated opening had gone without a hitch.
“We’ve passed our first test in Euro 2012,” the Rzeczpospolita daily said, amid lingering concerns about whether the two former eastern bloc nations were fully prepared to host European football’s showpiece international competition.
The focus now shifts to neighbouring Ukraine, where governing body UEFA has criticised ratcheted-up accommodation prices and delays in key infrastructure projects.
Some European leaders have also said they will boycott matches to be played in the ex-Soviet state because of Kiev’s alleged mistreatment of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, who is in jail after being found guilty of abuse of power.
The negative headlines for Ukraine continued on Saturday when local media said a 46-year-old Spanish football fan was found dead in the eastern Donetsk region after being reported missing.
Three men have reportedly been detained on suspicion of murder.
On the pitch, Germany play Portugal in the western city of Lviv, seeking to rubber stamp the impression they are the most likely side to dethrone the Spaniards.
The Mannschaft have a good record against the Seleccao, having eliminated them in the Euro 2008 quarter-finals and beating them in the third place play-off at the 2006 World Cup.
Captain Philipp Lahm, though, says those results will count for little, with the difficult Dutch and solid, if uninspiring, Danes to come in the so-called “Group of Death”.
“The tension is building slowly, we have been working for two years for this moment. It’s time to get going,” said Lahm, 28. “We have a great squad, we just need to show what we can do.”
Portugal, who include Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo, come into the match after a string of poor pre-tournament results, including a 3-1 friendly defeat in Lisbon to Turkey and a goalless draw with Macedonia.
Coach Paulo Bento said: “Against a team like Germany you need to be organised. You need to have courage because if you only think about defending, then surely you won’t be able to get a good result.
“You have to try to attack them but in an organised way. Above all we have to be strong, aggressive and cohesive, especially when we lose the ball.”
Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk is approaching the Oranje’s match in Kharkiv with caution, with veteran centreback Joris Mathijsen ruled out with a hamstring injury, and prior experience of Morten Olsen’s Danes.
Van Marwijk, who guided the Dutch to the 2010 World Cup final where they lost to Spain, said he expected the Danes to play in the same style they had done in their opening World Cup game in South Africa where the Dutch won 2-0.
The Dutch come into the match amid claims their players were targeted by racist chants from some fans watching their training this week in Poland and striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar reportedly unhappy over the selection of Robin van Persie.
Veteran Danish manager Olsen — the only man to have been capped by and coached a national side more than 100 times — has played down his side’s chances in the group, casting the Scandinavians as underdogs.