By Jim Wirth in Poland
Hosts Malopolska will have to be on their guard as the first round of UEFA Regions' Cup games kick-off on Sunday afternoon.
The Polish side will start the competition with a Group A fixture against highly-rated Central Slovakia in Brzesko, knowing that a victory would give them a massive boost in their campaign to win Europe's top prize for amateur teams on home soil. Michal Królikowski's men proved in qualifying that they have the firepower to beat anyone.
Winners of the opening qualifying group mini-tournament way back in August 2004, Malopolska racked up the biggest win of the tournament on the opening day as they beat Azerbaijan's Beylagan 13-1, and they confirmed their strength with a 3-0 win against Germany's Südwestdeutscher FV after a 2-2 draw against Eastern Serbia.
However their neighbours from over the Tatra mountains in Slovakia have been in equally devastating form, qualifying for the finals the hard way via the preliminary round. After winning all three games on home soil to get out of their preliminary round group, they won all three again in Group 8 in Hungary to get to the finals.
Coach Ján Petrák has certainly been given good reasons to believe in his side's capabilities. "The UEFA delegates praised our performances and I hope they were not just being polite," he told uefa.com. "They said we are joint favourites to win in Poland, but we are remaining modest."
While Malopolska and Central Slovakia may be highly rated, the other two side's in Group A - who come face-to-face in Zabierzow on Sunday - will be in no mood to roll over. South-West Region-Sofia did well to win their qualifying tournament on home soil, as did Czech side JMKFS Brno.
Brno have the added incentive of playing their neighbours from Slovakia and Poland in their remaining two Group A games and will be doubly determined to get their finals campaign off to a flying start, despite having lost their coach and many of their best players to professional clubs in the months since their qualifying programme began.
Group B will also kick-off on Sunday at 17:00 CET in Proszowice and Wolbrom, with sides from Ukraine, the Republic of Ireland, Spain and Romania hoping to win the group to have the chance of taking on the winners of Group A in the showpiece final, also in Proszowice, on Saturday 9 July.
Like Central Slovakia, Romanian side Dacia also took the long route to the finals, after reaching the qualifying round by virtue of being the best runners-up from the two preliminary round tournaments. Indeed, they finished behind Central Slovakia in the eastern qualifying group after losing 1-0 against the Slovaks in their final game.
However, they proved they were worthy finalists when they won the Group 2 mini-tournament in Croatia with three straight wins, including an 11-1 mauling of Liechtenstein. Their opening-day opponents Republic of Ireland, however, will doubtless prove to be much more resilient opponents.
The other Group B game at Wolbrom sees Spanish representatives Vasca take on Ukraine's Kahovka-Kzeso. Kahovka-Kzeso won the Group 5 mini-tournament on home soil in some style, while Vasca pulled off an equally impressive result in winning the Group 1 mini-tournament north of the Pyrenees in France.
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