Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Wed 4 June 2008

Guide to Euro 2008: Group A

Surely now even the most disinterested of you must be warming a little bit towards the upcoming European Championships which begin on Saturday… aren't you? Yes, the start of the competition is no longer looming on the horizon - it's at the end of your street waiting for a bus and it'll be here before you know it, so let's get cracking with our guide to the four First Round groups.

As you'll know by now, we don't like to waffle on about stuff when there's no need to, and our First Round Group Guide is no exception. We think you want to be told the salient facts that are of most importance without all the unnecessary lecturing, so that's how we're going to go about our business.

To that end, we give you the essential 'need to know' on Euro 2008 Group A.

Group A

Czech Republic

Qualifying
The Czech Republic finished top of Group D with only one defeat in twelve which was against group runners-up Germany. Their top goalscorer was Jan Koller with 6 goals.

Star Talent
Much to choose from. There's Jan Koller (left), nearing the end of his career but still banging the goals in, Chelsea's star goalkeeper Petr Cech and Portsmouth's Milan Baros. And that's without mentioning the likes of David Rozehnal and Marek Jankulowski.

Players you won't be seeing
Arsenal's Tomas Rosicky's injured, so he'll be absent from the midfield. In case you've not noticed, Pavel Nedved, Vladimir Smicer and Karel Poborsky no longer play for the national team, so expect to see a team full of young and upcoming stars during Euro 2008.

Don't mention…
The scandal back in March 2007 which almost forced coach Karel Bruchner to resign. A tabloid journalist managed to sneak into the birthday party of Tomas Ujfalusi at the team hotel and discovered the birthday boy, Tomas Rosicky and three other players in a room with six alleged prostitutes. Bruchner took a deep breath, fined the squad and decided to lumber on as best he could.

Recent friendlies
March 26: Denmark 1 Czech Republic 1
May 27: Czech Republic 2 Lithuania 0
May 30: Czech Republic 3 Scotland 1

SPAOTP's Top Tip For Greatness
Petr Cech. If the Czechs end up in a penalty shoot-out, he could be the man to perform some heroics.

Portugal

Qualifying
Portugal ended Group A as runners-up only a point away from winners Poland, but only three ahead of chasing Serbia and Finland. For the slightly erratic nature of their form, they did at least have eight goals from Cristiano Ronaldo to fall back on.

Current Form
At best, erratic - at worst, poor. Defeats against Italy and Greece since the start of the year and a narrow victory over Georgia puts Portugal in one of their biggest slumps since the 2002 World Cup. Even in qualifying, they couldn't beat Poland, Serbia or Finland at home or away. They'll need to buck their ideas up in no uncertain terms.

Players you won't be seeing
Forget Figo, Costinha and Pauleta - they're all history now. As for Jorge Andrade, he's desperately trying to save his career due to a knee injury that's kept him out of a second successive major tournament.

Recent friendlies
February 2: Italy 3 Portugal 1
March 26: Portugal 1 Greece 2
May 31: Portugal 2 Georgia 1

Watch out for…
Jose Bosingwa, Chelsea's new right back, signed recently for £16 million (if the tabloids are anything to be believed) plus, of course Mr. C. Ronaldo of Manchester.

SPAOTP's Top Tip For Greatness
Ricardo Quaresma (left). A creative, skilful winger who has a touch of the loose cannon about him (hence his omission from Portugal's 2006 World Cup squad), he should now be given free reign to show the full range of his talent.

Turkey

Qualifying
Turkey, it has to be said, only just scraped into second place in qualifying Group C. They finished seven whole points behind group winners Greece and were only a point ahead of Norway in the end. Hakan Sukur pitched in with five goals as Turkey's top scorer during the qualifiers.

Recent friendlies
May 20: Turkey 1 Slovakia 0
May 25: Turkey 2 Uruguay 3
May 29: Finland 0 Turkey 2

Players you might have heard of
If you're not too well read on the Turkish squad, you should at least have heard of two of its number plying their trade in the Premier League. There's Newcastle United's midfielder Emre Belozoglu, a veteran of more than 50 caps, not to mention Middlesbrough's Tuncay Sanli, a striker who also has plenty of appearances to his name.

Kit check
It's nice to see Turkey return to that tried and trusted design of red shirts with a white band across the middle. It's stylish, it's different and more than anything else, it brings back memories of the two occasions when England beat Turkey 8-0 during the 1980's.

Nicknames
The Turks love 'em. Coach Faith Terim is known as 'The Emperor', Villareal's fans call Nihat Kahveci 'El Turco' and when Emre Belözoğlu was at Inter Milan he was known as 'The Maradona of the Bosphorus'. Such fun…

SPAOTP's Top Tip For Greatness
Nihat Kahveci, Villareal's 28 year-old striker. He's fast, technically gifted and easily capable of sharing the limelight with his strike partner, Tuncay.

Switzerland

Qualifying
As co-hosts, Switzerland didn't have to concern themselves with the qualifying procedure. They therefore had to contend with alternative opposition for their preparations, including Austria who, strangely, were also available.

Players you might have heard of
Apart from the aforementioned Arsenal pair, there's also Gelson Fernandes (right). He's the Manchester City midfielder who this season played 26 times in the Premier League and even managed to score in City's 3-1 defeat at home to Arsenal. He also picked up six yellow cards during the season, so discipline may be an issue in a competition where suspension needs to be avoided at all costs.

Recent friendlies
November 20: Switzerland 0 Nigeria 1
February 6: England 2 Switzerland 1
March 26: Switzerland 0 Germany 4

Good points, bad points
Thanks to Arsenal's contribution to the squad, Switzerland can be grateful for having a strong defence. Philippe Senderos and Johan Djourou provide the backbone of the back four along with Borussia Dortmund's Philipp Degen and Ludovic Magnin.

Sadly for the Swiss, consistency is a big problem. Over the last year or so, they've lost to Germany but drew against Argentina, they've beaten the Netherlands and lost to the United States. You never quite know which Swiss team will turn up…

Playing style
Don't expect Switzerland to attack at will. Due to their reliable defence, they're likely to sit back and absorb the pressure before counter-attacking… the only thing is, they have no strikers who have a useful turn of pace to rely on. Have they thought this through?

SPAOTP's Top Tip For Greatness
Bayer Leverkusen's Tranquillo Barnetta. Possibly Switzerland's most important player, he's quick, a great team player and a lynchpin for everything the team creates. And he can score goals too.

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