Euro 2008 semi-finalists Russia are doing just as well under coach Dick Advocaat as they were his Dutch compatriot Gus Hiddink. They come into the tournament on the back of a 14-match unbeaten run, having topped their qualifying group and recently beaten Italy 3-0 in a friendly (notable for a brace from Roman Shirokov).
Michal Bilek’s Czech Republic, meanwhile, had to win a play-off against the mighty Montenegro to scrape through as the lowest-scoring of all the qualifying teams. Yet they have a decent Euro pedigree, and quality players in Arsenal’s resurgent midfielder Tomas Rosicky and Chelsea’s goalkeeper Petr Cech (fresh from his heroic penalty save during the south London side’s Champions League final win).
ONE TO WATCH: Russia’s Andrey Arshavin. Definitely worth watching because a) sometimes he’s excellent (like on the way to the Euro 2008 semi-final, when he was both playmaker and goalscorer) and b) even when he can’t be bothered and is completely ineffectual (like in the Euro 2008 semi-final) at least he looks like an owl.
SECRET WEAPON: Czech Republic’s Milan Baros. I say he’s the Czechs’ secret weapon but actually I mean he was my secret weapon when I used to play Uefa Euro 2004 on the Xbox. We’re both a bit slower now than we were back then but, even at 30, the former Liverpool striker and 2004 Golden Boot boy looks the Czechs’ most likely goalscorer (although that’s not really a secret. Perhaps we should rename this category?)
PREDICTION: Despite Petr Cech, this has Russian win – let’s say 2-0 – written all over it (although I’d love to see Tomas Rosicky recall his 2006 World Cup form with another of those long-range scorchers).