The last time Eastern Europe staged a European Championship saw a team from there crowned champions. Czechoslovakia won the competition in Yugoslavia in 1976. Before that, the only other East European side to win was the USSR who won the inaugural competition in 1960. Neither Czechoslovakia nor the USSR exist today; but it is of great significance that the reincarnations of these past winners clash on the opening day of the first finals to be held in Eastern Europe for nearly four decades. Russia dominated the former USSR; while the Czechs have traditionally been stronger than the Slovak Republic who formed Czechoslovakia with them. They have been placed in Group A with another Eastern European side hosts Poland who take on Greece in the tournament opener. Russia, ranked 11 in the world, are favourites to top the group and go into todays game following an impressive 3-0 friendly win over Italy last week. Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, right-back Aleksandr Anyukov and striker Roman Pavlyuchenko were all injury scares, but came out of their final training session unscathed. Meanwhile the Czechs, who are ranked 27 by FIFA, are boosted by the return from injury of their second leading scorer of all time Milan Baros. The 30 year old is set to retire after the competition, but Czech fans will be hoping he bows out on a high, and recaptures the form that saw him become the top scorer of Euro 2004. An interesting sub plot may unravel tonight between Arsenal teammates playing on either side. A drop in form saw Russian Captain, Andrei Arshavin, shipped out on loan to Zenit St. Petersburg in February with Czech play-maker, Tomas Rosicky, taking his place in the clubs starting line-up. Arshavin might have a point to prove and Russias coach, Dick Advocaat, is confident his man will deliver. He told reporters He did not play at Arsenal, so I was very happy he went back to Zenit and started getting his form back. Arshavin is a player of moments he can score out of nothing, and you dont have too many of that kind of player in the world. Arshavin was instrumental in Russia reaching the Euro 2008 semi-final with some breath-taking attacking displays. They were managed by Guus Hiddink at the time, but Advocaat promises that Russia will continue to attack this time round. Nonetheless the Czech coach believes his side will not be overawed, and told journalists his team will show their ambition. Football fans will be hoping the players can back up their words, and set the tone for an exciting East European adventure.
Sohail has been working in international television news for much of the last decade. While politics is his bread and butter, sport remains his passion. Residing in the Middle East, he ventures abroad regularly to watch his best sports live. In recent years he's attended the World Cup in South Africa, Wrestlemania 28 in his favourite city Miami, and he’s heading to London for the Olympics!