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Swiss v Turkey, Portugal and Czech Republic

(Keystone)

Switzerland will face Turkey, Portugal and the Czech Republic in the group stage of next year's European football championships.

Sunday's draw in Lucerne for the Euro 2008 finals, which take place in Switzerland and Austria from June 7-29, threw together some other mouth-watering ties.

Austria, the other co-host and making its debut, is in Group B with three-time champion Germany, Poland and Croatia - a group which could pose security problems for organisers.

World champions Italy will face both the Netherlands and France in Group C. Romania are the fourth team in what will inevitably be labelled the tournament's group of death.

The final group will feature reigning European champions Greece with Russia, Spain and Sweden.

Switzerland will face the Czech Republic in the opening game of the tournament in Basel on June 7.

The draw was held at the Culture and Convention Center with Spanish tenor Jose Carreras making a guest appearance at the hour-long ceremony.

In with a chance

Swiss coach Köbi Kuhn said Switzerland's group was "extremely attractive with high-calibre opponents" and stuck his neck out claiming the Swiss had a "real chance of qualifying" for the quarter-finals.

He assured that the match against Turkey would be played in the spirit of fair play.

The last games between the two sides - the 2006 World Cup play-offs in November 2005 - were marred by violence and other incidents. As a result, football's governing body, Fifa, handed Turkey a six-match penalty and fine, as well as bans for a number of Turkish and Swiss players.

Turkey's coach, Fatih Terim, said the group was "very competitive" and each team was capable of "pulling something out of the bag".

Portugal's manager, Luiz Felipe Scolari agreed the group was "balanced" with none of the teams able to claim to be the favourite.

"We have to respect each opponent... We have many supporters here in Switzerland and can count on them during the games to recreate the amazing atmosphere that surrounded the team during Euro 2004," said Scolari.

To qualify for the quarter-finals, the Swiss will have to work hard to rediscover the kind of form they demonstrated during the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Playing without a number of key players through injury, including Alexander Frei, Patrick Müller, Marco Streller and Philippe Senderos, the Swiss preparations for the finals have been disappointing.

Apart from the games against Argentina and the Netherlands, most friendlies this year have been lacklustre performances. Out of ten friendly matches in 2007, they have lost five, won four and drawn one.

Group of Death

The relative optimism of Group A contrasted with that of the coaches of teams in the "Group of Death" - Group C.

"I think there are coaches who are happier today than the four here," said France coach Raymond Domenech. "I would have preferred to avoid all of the other three teams in the group, but that's what we got and we have to live with it."

Italy beat France on penalty kicks in last year's World Cup final in Berlin. In Euro 2008 qualifying, the French beat Italy 3-1 at Stade de France and drew 0-0 in Milan. They will meet again in Zurich in their final Group C match on June 17.

Netherlands' coach Marco van Basten said it would be "difficult" for his team to qualify from a group containing the two world cup finalists, while Italy coach Roberto Donadoni said he had a "gut feeling" that the draw would turn out as it did.

Croatia manager Slavan Bilic, fresh from dashing England's hopes of featuring in next summer's event, was visibly pleased with his side's draw. Although Poland won their qualifying group with relative ease, Croatia and Germany will be favourites to progress from Group B, which also includes a weak Austria team.

It is a group, however, that threatens to provide a security headache for the tournament's organisers, given Germany and Poland's strong rivalry, Austria's geographical position and Croatia's poor track record of racist chanting and misbehaviour by its fans.

Defending European champion Greece will start its defence against Sweden in Salzburg on June 10 before playing Russia and Spain in the same Austrian city.

"It is certainly not an easy group," coach Otto Rehhagel said. "There's always lots of talk before games. I am a man of action. The most important thing is to have all players in good condition. As defending champions, we have an obligation to do well in the tournament."

Huge interest

Despite the tough competition, the Swiss national team are likely to benefit from having the local supporters behind them. According to a recent survey, nine out of ten Swiss people consider the tournament the most important event of 2008.

The competition is also certain to attract a huge audience. The finals will be broadcast in 170 countries and the 31 matches being played next June are expected to be watched by some eight billion TV viewers.

Up to 5.4 million football fans are expected to follow the tournament in Switzerland, including 1.4 from abroad.

European football's governing body, Uefa, says it has received some eight million requests for the 1.05 million tickets that have gone on sale.

Uefa president Michel Platini calls Euro 2008 the toughest competition in world football and the third most popular sport event after the football World Cup and the Olympic Games.

According to a study published on Sunday by the credit card MasterCard, the tournament will generate more than 1.4 billion euros (SFr2.3 billion) for the European economy.

swissinfo with agencies

Euro 2008

Co-hosts Switzerland and Austria qualified automatically for the tournament, which takes place from June 7-29, 2008.

The 31 games will be played in four cities in Switzerland (Basel, Bern, Geneva and Zurich) and four cities in Austria (Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Salzburg and Vienna). The final will be held in Vienna on June 29.

Switzerland will play its three qualifying matches in Basel.

Eight title winners took part in Sunday's draw, with Denmark the only previous champions not to have qualified. England are the other notable absentees.

Poland and Austria are the only two countries taking part in the tournament for the first time.

end of infobox
(swissinfo.ch)


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