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The Fight for European Soccer Supremacy Set to Begin

The fight for the Henri Delaunay trophy begins on the field Saturday, June 7 when Euro co-hosts Switzerland kick off Euro 2008 against the Czech Republic at the St Jakob-Park stadium in Basle.

The Henri Delaunay trophy

The Henri Delaunay trophy, currently held by Greece, is once again up for grabs

But some individual battles have already been fought and lost without a ball being kicked as teams try to gain a mental edge on opponents and the specter of a tournament-ruining injury plays heavily on the minds of Europe's top footballers ahead of the main event.

Misfortune has certainly struck world champions Italy, who have to do without captain Fabio Cannavaro after the defender suffered ankle ligament damage in training while Dutch winger Ryan Babel succumbed to a similar injury.

Cannavaro has decided to stay on in Austria and Switzerland to support his teammates during the June 7-29 tournament, starting for Italy with a mouthwatering Group C encounter against the Netherlands on Monday in Berne.

World Cup finalists France, who are also in Group C, face Romania on the same day in Zurich with coach Raymond Domenech hoping midfielders Patrick Vieira and Franck Ribery recover in time from thigh and ankle injuries respectively.

Ribery picked up his knock in Tuesday's 1-0 friendly win over Colombia, a match that Vieira played no part in after the Inter Milan midfielder limped out of a training session last week.

Mathieu Flamini is waiting in the wings if Vieira loses his race for fitness, with Domenech painfully aware that with tough group games against the Netherlands on June 13 and Italy on June 17, his side needs to hit the ground running or face early elimination.

Germany look for smooth passage out of Group B

Giant poster portraying German players, from left, Michael Ballack, Lukas Podolski, Tobias Schweinsteiger Kevin Kuranyi and coach Joachim Loew are seen at the training site of the German national soccer team in Tennero near Ascona, Switzerland, Tuesday, June 3, 2008, Germany is in group B at the Euro 2008 European Soccer Championships in Austria and Switzerland.

Germany are preparing for thier campaign under wraps

Compared to the travails facing Italy and France, tournament favorites Germany should be in relaxed mood ahead of Sunday's Group B encounter against Poland in Klagenfurt, especially as the group is completed by a poor Austrian side and an injury-weakened Croatia.

However, despite also having a full-strength 23-man squad to pick from coach Joachim Loew says there is huge pressure on his side to deliver at Euro and build on the performances at the 2006 World Cup, when Germany as hosts made it to the semi-finals before going out to the Azzurri.

"Of course, I'm aware of my responsibilities," said Loew. "But you can only judge the team at the end of the tournament."

Nothing has been left to chance with German training sessions taking place behind closed doors to make sure Poland coach Leo Beenhakker doesn't find out how the Germans intend to line up on Sunday. Loew is determined to continue with the exclusion policy for the duration of the competition.

While the Germans bank on secrecy, 2004 finalists Portugal are doing the opposite. Luiz Felipe Scolari's side went through their paces Tuesday in Neuchatel in front of more than 12,000 fans, with virtually the entire squad, including Cristiano Ronaldo, playing a full practice match.

Scolari mixed the two sides up in the second half as he continued his preparations for Saturday's Group A opener against Turkey.

Swiss open tournament against Czechs

Switzerland's Alexander Frei

Alexander Frei and Co. have a tough opening game

Earlier in the day, the Czech Republic face Switzerland. Veteran coach Karel Bruckner is another who believes privacy is necessary, banning the media from his side's training sessions and holding his press conference at the team hotel in Seefeld, Austria, instead.

The 68-year-old said he already knew which was his preferred starting line-up and has no injury worries ahead of the Swiss encounter.

Tournament dark horses Spain have to wait until next Tuesday before taking on Russia in the opening game in Group D in Innsbruck.

Coach Luis Aragones has slight injury concerns over David Villa and Sergio Garcia so omitted the pair from Wednesday night's final warm-up game against the United States.

Thanks to a late goal from Barcelona midfield Xavi Hernandez Spain earned a 1-0 victory and Spain now go to the tournament as Europe's form team, having won 16 and drawn two out of their last 18 games.

"We are most concerned about Villa," said team doctor Jorge Candel in Santander. "He took very hard knocks in training and see how things develop in the coming days."

Spainish hopes resting on young shoulders

The Spain team

Spain are hoping to put 44 years of hurt behind them

Villa is still expected to be fit to face Guus Hiddink's Russia while Barcelona midfielder has joined up with the rest of the squad after undergoing treatment for food poisoning in a Madrid clinic.

If Spain are to go all the way in Austria and Switzerland, Aragones has to figure out a way to integrate star Fernando Torres into the team so that the striker reproduces the form that saw him break the 30-goal barrier in his first season for Liverpool.

At least Aragones can relax safe in the knowledge that the 24- year-old is willing to adapt his game for the cause.

"I am the one that needs to accustom myself to the way the team plays and not the other way round," said Torres. "If this team is united and works as a unit, we can achieve great things."

Champions pursue further glory

A supporter of the Greek soccer team

Greek fans had a lot to shout about four years ago

Defending champions Greece complete Group D and open their title defense against Sweden on Tuesday in Salzburg.

Otto Rehhagel's side shocked the soccer world by winning Euro 2004 and should the German find a way to steer his team into the knockout phase once again, the Greeks are capable of making it all the way to the final on June 29 in Vienna.

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