UEFA EURO 2012 kicks off on Friday and, as anticipation rises, our team of reporters assigned to each of the competing nations bring you the latest news from the camps.
France (Matthew Spiro, @UEFAcomMattS)
Samir Nasri, Hatem Ben Arfa, Olivier Giroud, Adil Rami and Karim Benzema were among those enjoying a spot of French Open tennis this weekend. Awarded time off by Laurent Blanc, several players were spotted in the stands at Roland Garros in Paris. Others had more pressing matters to attend to; Patrice Evra, for example, rushed to the capital "for family reasons", with radio station RMC reporting that the left-back was at his wife’s side when she went in to labour.
Blanc has urged journalists leave the players in peace and quiet. "I don't want to know what they're up to and I hope you don’t either," he said. "Leave them alone." The France coach is hopeful some will take in Saturday's friendly involving their first Group D opponents, England, and Belgium. "If they’re in front of a TV they could watch that," Blanc hinted. "Above all, I want them to make the most of the break because they’re going to have to work hard when they return." Les Bleus are due back at Clairefontaine on Sunday morning.
Spain (Graham Hunter, @UEFAcomGrahamH)
This is an interesting weekend for Spain coach Vicente del Bosque. China, tomorrow's opponents, operate a style of football that Spain's players don't really know, and Del Bosque's men will have to figure out how to play them. Perhaps surprises await – and that's always good to keep top footballers minds' sharp.
China also represents a major opportunity for Spanish football. The Liga's top clubs have often staged training camps or played exhibition matches there and, in return for investment, the Super Cup season opener is now scheduled to be held in Beijing's Olympic Stadium for the next few years.
Moreover, the China coach at the moment is José Antonio Camacho, who played alongside Del Bosque for years in the Real Madrid CF team. Together they won five Spanish crowns and three Copa del Rey titles, with Camacho the more successful player and Del Bosque now a more successful coach.
Camacho can sympathise when Del Bosque looks ahead to UEFA EURO 2012 and talks about "pressure", "excessive optimism" and the tournament not looking like a "bed of roses". Camacho was Spain coach for four years and, working as a television commentator, famously yelled "Iniesta de mi vida" ("Iniesta of my life") in sheer euphoria when the midfielder scored Spain's winning goal in the FIFA World Cup final two years ago.
Ukraine (Boris Popov, @UEFAcomBorisP)
Despite the negative result of yesterday's match against Austria, Ukraine's players and coaching staff showed no sign of being downbeat afterwards. For coach Oleh Blokhin, in fact, the defensive mistakes made in the second half could all be put down due to his side's tough training regime. Acknowledging that Austria played much better football than previous opponents Estonia (beaten 4-0 by Ukraine), Blokhin, who used to play in Austria himself as a player, emphasised that his team will find form before their UEFA EURO 2012 opener against Sweden on 11 June.
"I'm not paying much attention to the result," he said. "Even if we'd scored an equaliser, it wouldn't have affected my assessment. I can't blame my players for any lack of motivation. Everyone fought until the end and no one was sparing their legs. We just lost concentration due to fatigue, which is understandable given our training workload. I have no doubt that the team will play better."
With only Tuesday's friendly against Turkey to go before the EURO gets under way, the local media believe Ukraine's starting lineup is almost set in stone. Only three players in the squad have not been given time of the pitch in 2012: FC Shakhtar Donetsk defenders Olexandr Kucher and Vyacheslav Shevchuk, and FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk defensive midfielder Ruslan Rotan. Whereas Kucher and Shevchuk are unlikely to start in the first match, Rotan used to be a key figure until the trip to Austria. Since the slight injury he picked up a few days ago looks to have healed, Rotan may well start against Turkey in place of Serhiy Nazarenko as Blokhin looks to test a more defensive style of play.
Russia (Richard van Poortvliet, @UEFAcomRichVP)
Russia are heading back home to Moscow for a day following their impressive 3-0 victory against Italy yesterday, which has lifted the morale of both the team and the country. After consecutive draws against Uruguay and Lithuania in which Dick Advocaat's side failed to impress for long periods, it was the perfect confidence boost ahead of their opening UEFA EURO 2012 encounter with the Czech Republic on 8 June. However, the team almost didn't make it to Zurich. Their flight was delayed and they only arrived in the city a couple of hours before kick-off, but that seemed to have little effect on the team, who went on to put in an excellent performance.
Goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev – who pulled off a stunning save to deny Mario Balotelli after just six minutes – described the win as the perfect lift going into the tournament. "We are strong and we are hungry, but in reality the only result that matters is what happens at the EURO," he said. "Dick Advocaat knows what he's doing and knows how to get the best out of his team and the team believes in success." Russia will spend Saturday in Moscow before flying to Warsaw on Sunday as they continue their preparations for the tournament.
Sweden (Sujay Dutt, @UEFAcomSujayD)
Erik Hamrén and his charges regrouped in Stockholm today to fine-tune their preparations before travelling to Ukraine. The team took time off after the 3-2 win over Iceland on Wednesday but are returning to training ahead of their last friendly against Serbia in Stockholm on Tuesday.
On his day off, captain Zlatan Ibrahimović announced the publishing of a special edition of his bestselling autobiography, with all proceeds going to children's rights organisation BRIS (Barnens rätt i samhället). Today, the players posed for the official tournament photos and videos. Hamrén addresses the media at a press conference at Råsunda before training at 17.00CET.
Republic of Ireland (Garry Doyle, @UEFAcomGarryD)
Anyone who suggests us Irish are a nation obsessed with self-deprecation may soon find themselves re-evaluating their assessment. No sooner had Shay Given declared his intention to win UEFA EURO 2012 than Richard Dunne followed suit. "We must believe we can go all the way,” said Dunne today. “We know we are as organised and as strong as anyone, so it's just about hopefully having that little bit of luck that can help us progress."
The supposed luck of the Irish is a concept few of us have experienced over the years and certainly in the last fortnight there has been enough to suggest that the phrase is redundant, given the way the injury list has piled up. All of a sudden, though, the healing process has begun. Shay Given missed training this morning due to blisters on his feet, but, like Aston Villa FC colleague Dunne, will play in Ireland’s final warm-up game against Hungary on Monday.
Unbeaten in 13 games, Ireland leave Tuscany for Budapest today before arriving in Gdansk in the early hours of Tuesday morning. In more ways than one, they are travelling quite nicely at the moment.
Germany (Steffen Potter, @UEFAcomSteffenP)
My colleague Justin Schroll (@UEFAcomJustinS) and I made our first trip to Germany's team hotel in Gdansk today. It is a picturesque place, located in the woods outside the city with a lovely little creek running through it. Easy to find peace and calm here.
Although the team don’t touch down until Monday afternoon, preparations for their arrival are already in full swing. TV stations have set up an open-air studio which will be used for interviews, members of the German Football Association (DFB) have started carrying items into the hotel and a huge truck from Hanover has arrived carrying several nine-seater minivans for staff to travel in. Some people might call it German efficiency.
There will be an open training session shortly after Germany's arrival in the old Lechia Gdansk stadium, with around 11,000 free tickets available to the public. Most of them have been distributed by the city to schools and orphanages, with a further 2,500 snapped up within a few hours yesterday.
Spain (Graham Hunter, @UEFAcomGrahamH)
They are the reigning European champions, no country has ever won three consecutive major international titles, and they have lost their most experienced defender plus La Roja's all-time leading scorer to injury – Spain could probably have done without any added pressure.
However, when he arranged a publicity act to send Vicente del Bosque and his squad off from Madrid, the Spanish prime minister inadvertently managed to add just a touch more responsibility to what lies ahead for Iker Casillas and Co.
Visiting Spain's training base, Mariano Rajoy said: "These are very difficult times so just think about how happy you could make many Spanish people by winning the European Championship. As well as their troubles, our people have heart and soul and they are behind you." Rajoy, as well as Principe Felipe de Borbón and his wife Letizia Ortiz, have confirmed they will be in Gdansk for Spain's Group C opener against Italy on Sunday 10 June.
For the moment, Spain have arrived in Seville where, tomorrow, they will play their last preparatory friendly against China. Thus far, Del Bosque's men have two wins and six goals in their favour (against Serbia and South Korea), so it's difficult to see China putting a block on that momentum. The game will stir emotions for China's Spanish coach José Antonio Camacho, who handed current No1 Casillas his first cap exactly 12 years ago. "What stood out then, as now, was his brilliance in one-on-one situations," said Camacho.
Poland (Alex O'Henley, @UEFAcomAlexO)
There was heavy rain in the capital on Friday, but several hundred youngsters still turned out to watch the squad train on Children's Day. Both coach Francisek Smuda and captain Jakub Błaszczykowski have been impressed by the way the Polish public and media have rallied behind the team.
"The atmosphere is good and of course it's a great help to us,” said Smuda. "It wasn't always like that, but I'm trying to build a team that tries to play good football. I'm pleased we have the second youngest team behind Germany, but it can also be a trap, so we must continue our recent development." Błaszczykowski added: "With the fans behind us, we can do well in this tournament – they can be our 12th man."
Czech Republic (Ondřej Zlámal, @UEFAcomOndrejZ)
The Czech team were left ruing substitute Ádám Gyurcsó's late winner for Hungary in their final warm-up match before heading to their EURO base in Wroclaw. Nonetheless, coach Michal Bílek stressed the defeat would not affect the positive atmosphere among his players, saying: "We conceded a needless opener. Very cheap. The player nearest to the ball should have got there, but nobody did. We gifted the goal to our opponents."
Bílek's side enjoyed possession in excess of 70% but, lacking the intelligent passing of injured playmaker Tomáš Rosický (calf), they were unable to muster any clear-cut chances in the second half. "Of course our game increases in quality when he's in the side," said Bílek. "Tomáš will resume full training with us on Monday. He's in good condition and I'm counting on him for the game against Russia." The Czechs have a day off today and will convene tomorrow for their journey to Wroclaw on a high-speed train from Prague.
Netherlands (Berend Scholten, @UEFAcomBerendS)
The Netherlands are playing the last of their three pre-tournament friendly matches tonight – their traditional 'wave goodbye match' (uitzwaaiwedstrijd, a new word specially added to the Dutch language) – at the Amsterdam ArenA against Northern Ireland.
Coach Bert van Marwijk is expected to select the lineup he intends to field in his side’s Group B opener against Denmark on 9 June and is confident his charges are finding form in spite of some disappointing performances of late.
"We are happy with how they trained and also with the quality level of training," said the 60-year-old. "They play in so many different competitions and everywhere the training is very different. The systems and positions they are used to at their clubs are also different, so it always takes some time before we can do it our way again. The last three matches were not great, but it's progressing slowly. I think it will be the same against Northern Ireland."
Defender Joris Mathijsen is still out with a hamstring injury, but Van Marwijk said he is hopeful the defender will be ready to face Denmark.
Possible team for tonight’s friendly against Northern Ireland: Stekelenburg; Van der Wiel, Heitinga, Vlaar, Schaars; Van Bommel, De Jong; Robben, Sneijder, Afellay; Van Persie.
Croatia (Elvir Islamović, @UEFAcomElvirI)
Croatia play their final pre-tournament warm-up match against Norway in Oslo tonight. The latest worry for coach Slaven Bilić is key player Luka Modrić, who missed training yesterday after Bilić and medical staff decided not to take any risks given his current level of fitness.
Medical staff said yesterday evening that it's nothing serious and there are no signs of any illness, but Modrić stayed in the hotel as a precaution while the rest of the team went on a traditional pre-match walk today. The squad ventured into Oslo city centre, where they were greeted by fans and ended up giving autographs and posing for photos.
England (Andy James, @UEFAcomAndyJ)
England can look forward to playing in front of a sell-out crowd in this evening's final warm-up match against Belgium at Wembley. Having got off to a winning start to his tenure in Norway, manager Roy Hodgson is relishing the prospect of his first home game under the famous arch and hopes the Three Lions can do queen and country proud.
"With around 90,000 people at Wembley and the Queen's Diamond Jubliee, it'll be a very big occasion for me personally," said the 64-year-old. "I want the players to go out and show how enthusiastic they are about the tournament and how determined they are to work their socks off."
Greece (Vassiliki Papantonopoulou, @UEFAcomVassP)
The players are enjoying the second of their two days off, eager to relax both physically and mentally before their tournament begins. At 09.00CET on Sunday, they will go to their Agios Kosmas headquarters to train before leaving for the airport and their 14.15CET flight to Warsaw.
The general manager of all Greek national teams and UEFA EURO 2004 winner Takis Fyssas spoke about the prospects of Fernando Santos' side in Poland and Ukraine: "OK, we were fortunate in the [group stage] draw, but let's not get carried away. This is a European Championship and all teams have great quality. For example, Poland have players who have been very successful in the German league. The Czech Republic might not be as impressive as in 2004, but they are also very successful. As for the Russians, they are a traditional force in European football.
"We are not Brazil or Argentina, so I can't say that we'll qualify for sure. However, we aren't a poor team either. I believe we can get past the group stage. As long as we take it one game at a time, we will be fine."
Italy (Richard Aikman, @UEFAcomRichardA)
Italy's final friendly hardly provided the confidence booster they were looking for as they slumped to their third reverse in as many matches and their heaviest in almost three years. However, coach Cesare Prandelli was sanguine in defeat, saying: "We committed too many mistakes but hopefully we made them all tonight. They were in better physical shape than us but we have five to six days to work on that and we will recover in time.
"The problems didn't stem from just one department. They started in attack; if you don't track back the midfield is exposed, then there is no balance and the defence suffers. But, paradoxically, it is better to suffer a heavy loss in order to bring your feet back down to earth. We'll start again from scratch, change the defence, consider deploying three at the back and see how that goes."
The Gazzetta dello Sport ran with the headline 'Wake Up Italy', while 'Italy alarm, Russia humiliate us' read today's Corriere dello Sport. The team returned to Coverciano this morning for a light work-out, while those who didn’t see any action in Zurich engaged in a small-sided practice match.
Gianluigi Buffon, meanwhile, allayed fears over the injury that forced him off at half-time, saying: "I hurt myself falling on my shoulder, but it's nothing serious. I came off as a precaution." The Azzurri have now broken up for the weekend to spend some time with their families.
Portugal (Andy Brassell, @UEFAcomAndyB)
As Portugal prepare for Monday's departure to their training camp in Poland, the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) has announced the squad's programme leading up to the journey. It promises to be a busy day, with a 09.30CET training session at the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica followed by a press conference, a charity lunch and then a trip to the Presidential Palace in Belem, where the players will be received by Aníbal Cavaco Silva before their early evening flight to Poland.
Meanwhile, there is the small matter of Portugal's final pre-UEFA EURO 2012 friendly tonight against Turkey. SC Braga pair Custódio and Miguel Lopes are expected to be given an opportunity to stake their claims by Paulo Bento and they may be joined in the starting XI by Beşiktaş JK forward Hugo Almeida.
Turkey coach Abdullah Avcı is optimistic about Portugal's EURO chances. "Portugal have made their presence felt in all European Championships since 1996," he said. And could they go all the way? "They're a very talented team, so why not?"
France (Matt Spiro, @UEFAcomMattS)
Laurent Blanc has given his players the opportunity to leave the camp today before reporting back to Clairefontaine on Sunday morning. Those who did not start against Serbia had a chance to stretch their legs on the Stade Auguste Delaune pitch yesterday morning, taking on a Stade de Reims Champagne Under-19 side in a 50-minute match. Olivier Giroud reiterated his superb form, scoring four goals in a 6-2 triumph. Jérémy Menez and Mathieu Valbuena were also on target.
While Les Bleus enjoy some down time with friends and family, Blanc's assistant Jean-Louis Gasset has been sent to London to run the rule over Group D opponents England, who play Belgium in a friendly at Wembley. France's final preparation game is against Estonia on Tuesday.
Denmark (Thomas Mark, @UEFAcomThomasM)
Coach Morten Olsen reckons it will be harder to make it into Denmark's starting lineup at UEFA EURO 2012 than it was in South Africa at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
"The internal competition has increased since back then," said the 62-year-old. "This has a lot to do with the players' situations at their clubs, injuries and how much they play. We have players who are physically ready. Now it's all about the performance and building up the team. This will be our mission over the forthcoming week."
Nicklas Bendtner is certainly fit and raring to go. "I'm just so excited right now and on every level I'm where I want to be before the EURO kicks off," he said. "This will be reflected in my performances." The striker has scored six goals in his seven most recent internationals.
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