Hockey championship begins in Switzerland

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Defending champion Russia competes in Berne and Zurich against Switzerland, Canada, Finland, and other top teams.

ZURICH - Defending champions Russia face challenges as the top 16 national teams compete in Switzerland from Friday for the annual world ice hockey championship.

Russia, who won their second crown in 2008 after defeating host nation Canada 5-4, aim to confirm their status as the sport's world superpower.

But several challengers will also compete for the title.

2008's runners-up Canada, bronze medallists Finland, who earned their only world title in 1995, Czech Republic and Sweden are all competing.

The world's top teams are divided into four preliminary-round groups.

Canada top Group A, based in Zurich, will compete against 2002 champions Slovakia, Belarus and Hungary.

2009 Euro Hockey Tour winners Russia head Group B, based in Berne, which also includes hosts Switzerland, Germany and France.

Sweden, who finished fourth in 2008, will play against the United States, Latvia and Austria, who returned to ice hockey's elite after 2008's win in the lower division, for the top place in Group C, also in Berne.

Finland will face Czech Republic in Group D, also to be played in Zurich, with Norway and Denmark.

The top three sides in each pool continue to the final round, where the teams from groups A and D play against each other, as do B and C, to decide the eight quarter-finalists.

The title winner will be decided in the final match in Berne on 10 May.

AFP / Alexander Fedorets / Expatica

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