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EURO 2008

Czechs, Portugese post shutouts on first day

June 08, 2008|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

The Czech Republic and Portugal both have a legitimate chance of winning soccer's European Championship and both launched their campaigns with shutout victories in Switzerland on Saturday.

All the same, it was tournament favorite Germany that was earning the lion's share of the attention because of its potentially crucial opener against Poland today in Austria.

First, though, Saturday's matches.

The Czechs made heavy going of it before Coach Karel Bruckner removed veteran striker Jan Koller and replaced him with national team novice Vaclav Sverkos, who promptly scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Switzerland in Basel.

In Geneva, meanwhile, the Portuguese were in rampant form. They had finished as runner-up to Greece in Euro 2004 when they hosted the quadrennial championship, and this time they appear eager to make amends.

With Cristiano Ronaldo and Nuno Gomes pulling the strings, Portugal dominated Turkey, hitting the post and crossbar three times while settling for goals by Pepe and Raul Meireles in a 2-0 victory that left it atop Group A.

Today, Group B kicks off, with co-host Austria playing Croatia in Vienna before the Germany-Poland match in Klagenfurt. The latter has all sorts of possibilities.

Germany barely defeated Poland, 1-0, on an injury-time goal in the 2006 World Cup, and the Poles are intent on ending the Germans' astonishing 75-year run of success against them.

Germany holds an all-time 11-0-4 edge in a series that dates to 1933. The statistics do not scare Poland midfielder Mariusz Lewandowski.

"We believe we can beat Germany because they don't have the technical skills of Portugal although they are physically very tough," he said.

Although Polish goalkeeper Artur Boruc has said "the painful defeat two years ago has stuck in our memory a bit," Leo Beenhakker, Poland's Dutch coach, said he would not be using the 2006 World Cup loss as a spur.

"I don't motivate just for the sake of it," he said. "Most of them don't need it at all -- they're looking forward more than ever to playing the match."

Germany Coach Joachim Loew acknowledged that the Poles could be a formidable opponent.

"They have a much stronger team," he said. "They have improved enormously."

Germany, meanwhile, has not won a European Championship match since Euro '96, when it defeated the Czech Republic in the final in England.

Jones reported from Los Angeles.

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grahame.jones@latimes.com

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