Former winners to do battle in Group A.
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Although far from the favourites, both these teams will fancy their chances of progressing from arguably the weakest group in the competition and both have European Championship pedigree – albeit under their former guises.
In 1960, the Soviet Union claimed the trophy, while the Czechs won in 1976 and famously lost out to Oliver Bierhoff’s golden goal in 1996 at Wembley.
This may not be the most exciting game on paper but the last time these two met at the Euros, again in 1996, it was an absolute stonker. The Czechs surrendered a 2-0 lead and needed a late Vladimir Smicer goal to rescue a point in a 3-3 draw at Anfield.
Prediction: Russia to edge it 1-0.
Team news: Dick Advocaat’s team have no injury concerns.
Familiar faces: Premier League fans will recognise maverick Arsenal forward Andrei Arshavin, who looks set to leave the club this summer after being on loan at Zenit St Petersburg since January. Roman Pavlyuchenko and Yuri Khirkov, formerly of Spurs and Chelsea respectively, will also feature, as will Fulham loanee Pavel Pogrebnyak.
One to watch: Igor Akinfeev. The number one is still plying his trade at CSKA Moscow but the talented ‘keeper has been continuously linked to the Premier League in recent seasons. He’s certainly a safe pair of hands and a strong tournament could see him finally arrive in England this summer.
Quote: “We should remain realists – it was just a warm-up game.” – Russia coach Dick Advocaat refuses to get his hopes up, after his side’s impressive 3-0 friendly win over Italy.
Stat attack: Russia have qualified for the group stages of a European Championship finals on five previous occasions. A country from Russia’s group has gone on to win the tournament on four of those instances, while Germany in 1992 were runners-up on the other occasion.
What to expect: If the Russians in the Premier League are anything to go by, expect chronic inconsistency.
Team news: Star men Tomas Rosicky and Milan Baros are expected to be fit after minor injury scares.
Familiar faces: Chelsea’s Champions League hero Petr Cech will be between the sticks, while Tomas Rosicky of Arsenal is expected to be key in midfield. Milan Baros had spells at Liverpool and Aston Villa, while Tottenham anoraks may remember David Limbersky and Tomas Pekhart, both of whom were on the North London club’s books as youngsters.
One to watch: Theodor Gebre Selassie. A late bloomer but at 25 the right-back of Ethiopian heritage has emerged as one of the most exciting players in the Czech league in recent seasons. He’s the first black player ever to represent the Czech Republic.
Stat attack: Excluding the play-offs the Czech Republic scored only 12 goals during qualifying (including three penalties) – the fewest of all the qualifying nations – albeit from a group of only five nations.
What to expect: They’ve been pretty dismal in qualifying but the Czechs always perform at the Euros, don’t they?
FANCY A FLUTTER?
Best bet: Andrei Arshavin to score 2 or more: 14/1
Outside bet: 3-3 draw: 110/1