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Euro 2012 Group A preview: Czech Republic v Russia

SoccerNews in European Championships 7 Jun 2012

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The Czech Republic heads into battle with old enemy Russia in Friday’s Euro 2012 opener, with striker Milan Baros battling to be fit.

The Galatasaray front man strained a muscle in training on Tuesday running a scare through the camp despite later scans revealing no major damage for the 30-year-old.

Baros, the top scorer at Euro 2004, has bagged 41 goals at international level and is one of coach Michal Bilek’s leading men along with Premier League stars Petr Cech and captain Tomas Rosicky, who has recovered from a calf injury.

Czech Republic team manager Vladimir Smicer will have fond memories of the two countries’ last meeting at Euro 1996, when his late goal salvaged a 3-3 draw to put the Czechs through and eliminate Russia.

The Czechs were eventual runners-up at that tournament and again will be confident of going far this time around with Group A providing the easiest platform of the four groups to do so.

Russia may well prove the stiffest of opponents in a weaker group also including Euro 2004 winners Greece and hosts Poland.

All four are dangers to one another in an even group but Dick Advocaat’s Russia, on the back of a 14-game unbeaten streak, are sure to pose problems for a young Czech side.

A 3-0 defeat of Italy in Zurich last Friday completed Russia’s excellent preparations for the tournament and reminded opponents of their impending threat.

Key to the side’s cohesion is the fact that as many as seven players including goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev, defender Alexandr Anyukov, midfielders Roman Shirokov, Igor Denisov and Konstantin Zyryanov and forwards in captain Andrei Arshavin and Aleksandr Kerzhakov played in Zenit St Petersburg’s title winning side in this season’s Russian Premier League.

Arsenal’s Arshavin did so on-loan after his form tapered under Arsene Wenger but he has 71 caps to his name and will expect another big tournament as one of the mainstays in the Russian side.

Malafeev could get the nod in goal on Friday with first choice keeper Igor Akinfeev battling to overcome a knee injury.

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