Spain to kick off their Euro 2012 quest for glory

10 June 2012 02:47

Spain on Sunday begin their quest to become the first team to win back-to-back European titles, as they take on crisis-hit Italy in their Euro 2012 opener.

Vicente del Bosque's side won the crown four years ago in Austria and Switzerland, going on to win the World Cup two years later and putting an end to their reputation as perennial under-achievers in international football.

La Roja are without defensive talisman Carles Puyol and David Villa, who both failed to recover from injury to make the trip to Poland and Ukraine, while Italy are seeking respite from fresh match-fixing revelations.

Cesare Prandelli's Azzurri had the worst possible build-up, when police raided their pre-tournament training camp near Florence as part of a nationwide probe into illegal betting.

The team later had to cancel a warm-up match against Luxembourg in Parma after an earthquake rocked northern Italy. They were then thumped 4-0 by Russia in a friendly in Zurich.

Spain -- as a nation -- has problems of its own, as Madrid has had to go cap in hand to eurozone countries for a potential 100-billion-euro ($125-billion) bail-out of its banks.

But under-pressure Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he would still attend the match, "because the Spanish team are world champions and I think it is good that the head of government be at this inaugural game".

Spain's Group C match with Italy kicks off at 1600 GMT in the Baltic port city of Gdansk, northern Poland. The Republic of Ireland then take on Croatia at 1845 GMT in the western city of Poznan.

The game is being seen as a clash of the generations between Ireland's Giovanni Trapattoni, who at 73 is one of the most respected coaches in the game, and Croatia's 43-year-old Slaven Bilic, who is seen as one for the future.

Trapattoni said the match -- Ireland's first in the European championship finals for 24 years -- was a chance to repay the faith that Ireland's football federation and fans had placed in him.

Bilic said the Irish will be a challenge: "We will have to play a great match but if we are at the top of our game I'm sure we'll win."

Meanwhile, Russian football chiefs vowed to do all they could to prevent a repeat of the violence that broke out at the national side's Euro 2012 opener against the Czech Republic.

"We will work with our supporters so it doesn't happen again," the head of the Russian football federation, Sergey Fursenko, told reporters in Warsaw, as he led a delegation to honour the memory of Poland's late president Lech Kaczynski.

Kaczynski died with scores of senior Polish figures in an April 2010 air crash in Smolensk, western Russia.

European football's governing body UEFA announced late on Saturday that they had opened disciplinary proceedings against Russia for "the improper conduct of its supporters" at the match in Wroclaw, western Poland, on Friday, which Russia won 4-1.

Russia are facing a potential fine after four volunteer stewards were attacked, fireworks were set off and thrown and "Russian Empire" flags that have been adopted by some right-wing extremist groups were displayed at the ground.

It is also probing claims that Czech player Theo Gebre Selassie, who is black, was racially abused during the match, following a complaint from a monitoring group.

Russia take on co-hosts Poland in a potentially highly-charged match that has raised fears of clashes between rival supporters.

Germany's media meanwhile celebrated the country's 1-0 victory over Portugal hailing goal-scorer Mario Gomez for getting the team off to winning ways in Lviv, Ukraine, on Saturday.

Kicker magazine also put other teams on notice that every time Germany has won its first match in a major competition, it has gone on to play in the final.

Source: AFP