Football takes centre stage as Euro kicks off

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A low-key opening ceremony took place in the St Jakob Park stadium in Basle ahead of the opening game between Switzerland and the Czech Republic on Saturday.

9 June 2008

BASLE - All eyes turned to action on the pitch Saturday as Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland kicked off with two matches.

A low-key opening ceremony took place in the St Jakob Park stadium in Basle ahead of the opening game of the tournament between Switzerland and the Czech Republic.

The presidents of Switzerland, Pascal Cuchepin, and Austria, Heinz Fischer, Prince Albert of Monaco, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso as well as football supremos Michel Platini (UEFA) and Joseph Blatter (FIFA), were among the capacity crowd of 40,000 present for the short 13-minute opening ceremony.

The ceremony, conceptualised by French artistic director Martin Arnaud, used the movements of 600 volunteers, who were carrying multi-coloured cubes above their heads, to create extraordinary, gigantic pictures depicting various images of the two co-hosts, Switzerland and Austria.

However, any Swiss joy at hosting the Euro was shortlived as a 71st-minute goal from substitute Vaclav Sverkos gave the Czechs a 1-0 win.

The Swiss were also dealt another cruel blow as top striker and captain Alexander Frei picked up a knee ligament injury that saw him leave the field in tears.

Swiss officials later said that Frei, who was taken to hospital, had suffered a partial rupture of a ligament and would be out for six to seven weeks, thus ruling him out of the rest of the tournament.

"Three points are a good start for us," said a happy Czech coach Karel Bruckner afterwards.

"I think that we can leave with our heads held high after this performance," Swiss coach Kobi Kuhn said. "We didn't deserve to lose but we can do nothing else now but forget this game. Portugal also lost their first game four years ago and still made it to the final."

Portugal may have lost their opener when hosting the 2004 event but there was no danger of a repeat in Geneva when goals from Pepe and Raul Meireles sealed a deserved 2-0 win over toothless Turkey.

Luiz Felipe Scolari's team were almost entirely dominant in terms of goal chances, and thoroughly deserved their win.

Twice they struck the post, through Cristiano Ronaldo and Nuno Gomes, and had a goal ruled out, before Pepe finally broke the deadlock after 61 minutes. Meireles scored a breakaway second with virtually the last kick of the game.

The only negative aspect to the day for Portugal came with the confirmation that goalkeeper Quim won't play any part in the tournament after fracturing his right wrist in training on Friday.

The 32-old-old Quim, who plays for Benfica and has been capped 26 times by Portugal, was understudy to first-choice goalkeeper Ricardo.

Portugal have asked UEFA for permission to call up Porto goalkeeper Nuno Espirito Santo as a replacement for Quim as the player sustained the injury before his team's first match of the tournament.

Poland's reserve goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak has also been replaced by Wojciech Kowalewski after the ruling body UEFA approved the change.

Another player who will play no part in Euro is Russia striker Pavel Pogrebnyak. The Zenit St Petersburg star has failed to recover from a knee injury and will be replaced by uncapped Krylya Sovetov Samara midfielder Oleg Ivanov.

Pogrebnyak's absence adds to Hiddink's striking woes as his Zenit attacking partner Andrei Arshavin will have to sit out the first two games with Spain and holders Greece over a suspension.

Netherlands coach Marco van Basten will have to do without Arjen Robben in Monday's Group C opener against world champions Italy after the Real Madrid winger picked up a groin strain in training. Robin van Persie is also a doubt due to a lack of match fitness.

The only negative news from Austria and Switzerland on day one of Euro came out of Klagenfurt where German and Polish fans clashed Saturday evening in the Austrian city ahead of the Group B game Sunday between the two countries.

Tussles broke out and beer bottles were thrown in the fan zone in Klagenfurt's city centre with reports saying that seven German fans were arrested after 100 supporters from both sides clashed with each other.

German police, who were also on duty in Austria with powers of arrest, worked with their Austrian colleagues to divide the fans and quickly brought the situation under control.

[dpa / Expatica]

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