UEFA EURO 2012 kicks off in five days' time and, with the day of reckoning fast approaching, our team of roving reporters assigned to each of the competing nations bring you all the latest news and views from their respective basecamps.
Poland (Alex O'Henley, @UEFAcomAlexO)
Several thousand fans turned up at Poland's training session this evening at the home of Polonia Warsaw. It was the co-hosts' first visit to their training base in the capital and coach Franciszek Smuda and his players were welcomed with traditional gifts of bread and salt. The team that played in Saturday's 4-0 win against Andorra went through a light workout while the rest of the squad were put through a more intensive routine.
"I'm pleased with the reception we got from the fans," said goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny. "I expected the supporters to turn out in good numbers but there were more here than I expected. Personally, I feel much better after the training camp in Austria. It's important that I can practice now without the injections I had to take (for a shoulder injury) towards the end of the season with Arsenal.
"I didn't have much to do in the game against Andorra or in the games before that," added Szczęsny. "But you don't need to play against teams like Spain and Brazil to prepare for a tournament like this. Hopefully, I'll have as little to do in the games against Greece, Russia and the Czech Republic. It's the biggest tournament of my life and I'm ready for everything."
Czech Republic (Ondřej Zlámal, @UEFAcomOndrejZ)
"Welcome to UEFA EURO 2012 we all wish you good luck." That was the announcement, in Czech, for the train arriving at platform one of the Main Station in Wroclaw late this afternoon. Poland's Group A opponents from the neighbouring Czech Republic had arrived on a high-speed train decorated in Czech national colours and named after famous Golden Ball winner Josef Masopust.
The journey certainly went down well with the players: "Some of us went to relax and have a nap in the sleeping carriage, some watched films, some played cards," tweeted defender Theodor Gebre Selassie. "It was a pleasant and comfortable journey, and it was also good to see so many fans waiting for us at the station," added defender Roman Hubník.
When the footballers were coming out of the station towards their bus, a group of children from the Slask Wroclaw youth team started to chant "Češi, do toho"– a chant that will be heard often in the Municipal stadium in Wroclaw as thousands of Czech fans travel to support their team. The trains that will be dispatched for the Czech fans will come on the matchdays. They are named after icons Antonín Panenka, Ladislav Vízek, Zdeněk Nehoda, Jan Berger, and Miroslav Kadlec. The current Czech Republic stars kick-off their EURO campaign on Friday against Russia. Perhaps the trains of the future will bear their names.
Russia (Richard Van Poortvliet, @UEFAcomRichVP)
Russia have arrived in Warsaw ahead of UEFA EURO 2012 and they received quite a reception as around 500 fans and well-wishers gathered outside the Bristol Hotel to greet them. Most of the players got straight off the bus and headed into the hotel, though Roman Pavlyuchenko did stop briefly to sign autographs, much to the delight of the waiting public. Some of the players were mingling inside the hotel, and I had a brief chat with Pavel Pogrebnyak who was in good spirits.
The team arrived a little later than expected, as their flight was slightly delayed; however, they are becoming used to such inconveniences. On Friday Russia only arrived in Zurich two hours before kick-off for their friendly with Italy, as once again their flight failed to take off on time. The team are staying in the old historical centre of Warsaw, and they will have time tomorrow morning to take in their surroundings with their first training session in the Polish capital only scheduled for the evening.
Greece (Vassiliki Papantonopoulou, @UEFAcomVassP)
"I wish you a good tournament and, when you step onto the pitch, may your eyes see only sky blue and white. We Greeks need it." The pilot of the aeroplane taking the Greek team to Warsaw chose this moving message to bid them farewell and wish them luck in Euro 2012. The delegation arrived at Warsaw's Frederic Chopin Airport just after 17.30CET before boarding a team bus emblazoned with 'Born Fighters'. After a good rest at the team hotel and their official photo shoot tomorrow morning, Greece will visit their Legionowo basecamp and resume training.
This morning, during their last session in Athens, only right full-back Vassilis Torossidis trained apart, as he is recovering from a kneecap injury sustained during the friendly encounter against Slovenia on 26 May. The medical staff of Greece are confident that he will be ready for action for the Euro 2012 opening match against Poland next Friday.
Earlier today, José Holebas was asked by newspaper Real Sports to determine the 'ceiling' of Greece's ambitions: "In football, as in life, you never say never," he answered. "Everybody saw what happened this season in the UEFA Champions League, when all were predicting a Real Madrid–Barcelona final. With team effort and hard work, we can do well."
Sweden (Sujay Dutt, @UEFAcomSujayD)
Today at Råsunda, Johan Elmander took part in the group warm-up with the rest of the squad for the first time since having the plaster removed from his fractured foot. After warm-up, he mostly jogged on his own but also kicked a ball gently. Team captain Zlatan Ibrahimović for one was happy to see Elmander's progress. "Speaking for myself, I work well together with him, on and off the field."
Ibrahimović has won the Dutch, Italian and Spanish leagues. But he explained that he would rate success with Sweden this summer higher. "A medal here would be bigger than every other prize I've won. To win a medal for your country, it doesn't get bigger than that. To come and meet the fans would top everything. Everything."
Ukraine (Boris Popov, @UEFAcomBorisP)
While Ukraine and Poland soak up the atmosphere of the EURO, the Tirolean Alps – location of the Ukraine basecamp – are as calm and quiet as ever, and the players seem to be enjoying the choice of location. Right-back Bohdan Butko said: "There is nothing reminding us about the EURO in the air here [in Walhsee]. Perhaps this is the reason out coaches decided to stay here for pre-tournament camp.
Oleh Blokhin, Ukraine coach today rested all those who played at least 45 minutes against Austria, meaning just 11 players attended today's session. Should Blokhin have any doubts about his personnel, he has the final friendly fixture, against Turkey on Tuesday, to get any extra information regarding the team starting in their EURO opener against Sweden.
While the Ukrainian media consider that first fixture to be the key one, the players themselves are looking at the bigger picture. Midfielder Olexandr Aliyev said: "In Germany [at the 2006 World Cup] we lost the first match, and still managed to qualify to the next round. For me there is no difference in matches against Sweden or against England or France."
England (Andy James, @UEFAcomAndyJ)
Gary Cahill's withdrawal from the England squad is a great shame for Roy Hodgson's side. The Chelsea FC defender enjoyed a fine second half of the campaign which culminated in UEFA Champions League final success in Munich. The 26-year-old was all set to cap his season with a strong showing in Poland and Ukraine, but a double fracture of the jaw put paid to his UEFA EURO 2012 dream.
Liverpool FC youngster Martin Kelly, 22, has been called in as a replacement and, having only made his debut in the recent friendly in Norway, should gain valuable international experience at the tournament. However, with Kelly unlikely to step straight into the central defensive void, the discussion reopens as to England's strongest back four.
Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott each staked strong claims in the Three Lions' pre-tournament friendlies to join John Terry in the middle and, depending on the latter's fitness – which is by no means guaranteed after he suffered a hamstring injury against Belgium – the former Everton FC duo may even get the chance to rekindle their old club partnership against France. Also in contention is Manchester United FC's Phil Jones, a more versatile option who is equally adept at full-back or in defensive midfield.
France (Matthew Spiro, @UEFAcomMattS)
For most French football fans, 11 June – the date of France's first Group D game against England – will have been etched in the mind for several months already. Yet for a select group of 23 children, Sunday 3 June represented an even more special occasion: it was the day they got to live out their dream.
Today, France's training base in Clairefontaine hosted a special event organised by the French Football Federation called 'entraînement de rêve' (dream training session). Children aged between eight to 12 were invited to send in homemade training videos, and the 23 lucky winners were invited to Clairefontaine today.
The kids participated in Laurent Blanc's 16:30CET training session, along with the senior players who are preparing for UEFA EURO 2012. Once the collective drills finished, the boys and girls paired off with a French international and were put through their paces in a one-on-one format. As well as offering children the opportunity to rub shoulders with their heroes, the exercise has also helped the France players stay relaxed as their own big day grows nearer.
Netherlands (Berend Scholten, @UEFAcomBerendS)
The Netherlands players have enjoyed a day off today before they head to Krakow tomorrow afternoon, as last night the Oranje played the last of their three pre-tournament friendlies. After losing 1-2 to Bulgaria and winning 2-0 from Slovakia, Bert van Marwijk's men boosted their confidence by beating Northern Ireland 6-0 in the Amsterdam ArenA, in what the Dutch call their 'uitzwaaiwedstrijd' (send-off match).
The Northern Irish conceded six goals for the first time since 1949, when they lost 9-2 to England, and Robin Van Persie was delighted with the result. "This is a good finish to the weeks of preparation," said the striker, who scored his 28th goal in this, his 65th cap, moving joint eighth on the Oranje all time goal charts. "We ended on a high. That is good for the mood.
"In phases it was really nice, with good combinations and good goals," he added. "But the only thing that really counts is the first match on EURO against Denmark, when we must really show we are ready for it. We should not be getting too serious about [the Northern Ireland] match."
Portugal (Andy Brassell, @UEFAcomAndyB)
The Portuguese press are feeling a little nervy after last night's surprise defeat by Turkey in Lisbon, in the final preparation game for UEFA EURO 2012. O Jogo's headline is 'It's going to take some work,' and the newspaper's front page also notes the wins registered by Group B rivals Denmark and Netherlands, plus the return of the influential Bastian Schweinsteiger from injury for Germany for Saturday's opener in Lviv.
There is no panic in the camp itself, however. Paulo Bento put the result in perspective in his post-match interview with Portugal's national broadcaster RTP. "We were the better team, except in terms of finishing. The game never went as we deserved," said the coach. Raul Meireles agreed. "In football, the better team doesn't always win," said the Chelsea FC midfielder. Bento affirmed that the squad remains "confident in the value of what we're working towards" and pledged that Portugal will play with "no fear" against Joachim Löw's side.
Czech Republic (Ondřej Zlámal, @UEFAcomOndrejZ)
The squad are travelling on a high-speed train journey from Prague to their base camp in Wroclaw. The special five-carriage train was prepared by Czech Railways with its locomotive decorated in national colours. It is not a common travelling experience for most footballers. "I don't even remember the last time I caught a train," defender Theodor Gebre Selassie told UEFA.com. "It could be when I was small and went to visit my grandfather. It's certainly more convenient than going by bus. I hope a lot of our fans will follow the same tracks to come and support us in a few days."
Czech Railways will also dispatch specialised trains for supporters who come to cheer on their team in Group A with each named after a famous former player.
Poland (Alex O'Henley, @UEFAcomAlexO)
Dariusz Dudka, a second half substitute in Poland's 4-0 win over Andorra, told the Polish Press Agency about the great spirit in the current squad compared to previous teams. "This team is different from the ones in previous tournaments," said Dudka. "Now the team is younger and has a bigger future. Most of the players start every game for their own clubs and are very hungry for success.
"The atmosphere is much better than before," Dudka added. "I don't remember a situation where 15 players would gather in one room to chat and have a laugh together. In the past there were small groups within the team, but now we are a united group. We showed this against Andorra.
"It was also a huge plus not to concede a goal for the fifth consecutive game," the AJ Auxerre midfielder concluded. "I can remember the days when people complained a lot about our defence, but now we've developed a good understanding."
Italy (Richard Aikman, @UEFAcomRichardA)
Italy's players have been given a day off today to relax aching limbs and reflect on a disappointing result on Friday. The 3-0 defeat by Russia will have wounded pride as it is the first time in 26 years that the Azzurri have lost three matches in a row. But as Prandelli said on Friday, it is better to slip up before rather than after the tournament has begun, and the Gazzetta dello Sport was adopting a more positive outlook this morning.
"Prandelli's Italy haven't won or even scored since 11 November, but neither have they lost a single competitive match [in his tenure], and in seven days in Gdansk, they begin EURO 2012 against Spain. They don't come more competitive than that. After the slap in the face from the Russians, it's time to consider the glass half-full."
Prandelli has also said that he will give the defence serious reconsideration and with Giorgio Chiellini due to return, the Italian press are suggesting the Azzurri will introduce the 'blocco Juve' or 'Juve block'. In other words, five at the back, with Chiellini accompanying Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci in an all-Bianconeri three-man central defence. If Prandelli goes with the uncapped Juventus winger Emmanuele Giaccherini as an attacking left wing-back that would mean that, along with goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and midfielders Claudio Marchisio and Andrea Pirlo, there would be a total of seven Juve players in Prandelli's lineup.
Spain (Graham Hunter, @UEFAcomGrahamH)
While Spain were winning the last two major tournaments, one notable policy was the relaxed nature of the training camp. Set against a backdrop of training with utmost intensity and winning crucial matches both Luis Aragonés and then Vicente del Bosque were quite liberal in their approach to players' free time. Families and girlfriends were allowed the occasional day with Spain's footballers in Neustift, Austria and Aragonés also allowed his lads a night out at a local disco.
Confronted by a Swedish journalist with a picture of Sergio Ramos at the aforementioned nightclub at the press conference before the two nations' Group D game Aragonés even joked: "Your photographer hasn't done very well there ˗ I was up dancing and you didn't get a picture of me!" In Potchefstroom, South Africa, Andrés Iniesta would often wander down to the local shopping mall to look for CDs and DVDs and Del Bosque allowed his troops two pre-programmed nights out on the town, in Cape Town and Durban, after defeating Portugal and Germany in the first knockout game and the semi-final.
However, in Gniewino, in fact for as long as the defending champions' tournament lasts this year, Del Bosque has decided that Twitter is banned. Team unity and avoiding unnecessary controversy is presumably the reason. Whatever the case Fernando Llorente summed it up this weekend with the Tweet: "Here's a picture of Sevilla, with which I say farewell for the tournament because we're not allowed Twitter in the training camp". Stay tuned to UEFA.com tweets instead!
England (Andy James, @UEFAcomAndyJ)
A deft first-half finish from Danny Welbeck secured England a 1-0 victory in their final pre-UEFA EURO 2012 friendly against Belgium. Despite the win, there were mixed reactions in the media. On the positive side, the Three Lions kept another clean sheet and looked solid throughout, recording a second consecutive success under new coach Roy Hodgson. The concern, however, is that England's goal came from their only shot on target. Chances were a rarity and the Belgian visitors enjoyed the run of the Wembley turf for long periods.
Hodgson nonetheless insisted the performance bodes well for his side’s Group D opener against France. "Of course I’m very pleased," said the 64-year-old. "It's been a hard week and we used a lot of players. There was a lot of disruption in the second half – some forced upon us and some we wanted to do, but it's still a very good end to the week." One such forced alteration was that of defender Gary Cahill, who had to withdraw after just 19 minutes following a collision with his own goalkeeper, Joe Hart, while fellow Chelsea FC centre-back John Terry required a scan on a tight hamstring.
Meanwhile, Manchester City FC captain Vincent Kompany, who missed the game injured, felt England have plenty of reason to be optimistic, tweeting to his club-mate Joleon Lescott: "You guys look really well organised which is a key to success. Another good performance from you, well done!"
Republic of Ireland (Garry Doyle, @UEFAcomGarryD)
The most interesting dynamic within the Republic of Ireland dressing room surrounds the relationship between Kevin Doyle and Shane Long. They may be rivals for a starting position alongside Robbie Keane in the Irish strike force, but they are also best friends and room-mates. To date, Doyle – three years older than Long – has been the senior partner in the coalition, not just with Ireland but also Cork City FC and Reading FC, where they previously played together.
Now, though, the gap has closed. Eight days ago, Long stepped off the bench to replace Doyle in Ireland's friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina, before scoring the only goal of the game. Last season, his return of eight Premier League goals was four more than Doyle managed. A turning of the tide?
No, says Long. "Robbie and Kevin are first choice and there is a very valid reason for that. So whenever me, Simon Cox and Johnny Walters get on the pitch we've got to prove what we're worth and try and take our chances when they come our way. Our job is to put a problem in the manager's mind. In football, things can change quickly – and what I have got to do is make sure that if I'm not first or second on the pitch that I am the next man in. You've got to earn your place on the team."
When Long did earn his place ahead of Doyle, in a UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier against Slovakia last October, Doyle's response was typically generous. "He came right up to me, shook my hand and wished me well," said Long. "We're close friends. We enjoy playing up front together. We enjoy each other's company. Our wives are good friends, too. Football won't affect things because if Kevin is picked, I want him to do well and for the team to win, and if I'm selected, I'm sure his thoughts are similar."
And they are. Doyle said: "Shane is his own man, a fantastic player and someone who hopefully will have a great tournament."
Croatia (Elvir Islamović, @UEFAcomElvirI)
"It wasn't good," said Slaven Bilić of his soide's last EURO 2012 warm-up match against Norway in Oslo (1-1), "but, there are reasons for that. The training has been hard and legs are heavy now. It's not the time to ring any alarm bells yet, there is still enough time before EURO," added Bilić, who rested key players Luka Modrić and Vedran Ćorluka. Ivica Olić sustained a muscle strain but he should recover in time.
The Croatian media were largely disappointed with Croatia's performance and 24sata published the headline: 'A match to forget: draw in Oslo, headache for Bilić'. Vecernji list took a similar line: 'Headache in Oslo' and Jutarnji list ran with: 'Faceless Croatia, Eduardo and Pletikosa saved the team'. The press are hoping for improvement in the opening EURO 2012 match against Republic of Ireland on 10 June.
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