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Germany head coach Joachim Loew, centre, conducts a training session in Lviv ahead of their opener against Portugal. Frank Augstein / AP Photo
Germany head coach Joachim Loew, centre, conducts a training session in Lviv ahead of their opener against Portugal. Frank Augstein / AP Photo

Euro 2012: Little margin for error in tournament's toughest group

Four of the world's top 10 Germany, Holland, Denmark and Portugal prepare for their opening matches in Group B. Paul Radley reports from Lviv.

Not everyone has been urging Euro 2012 to hurry up and arrive. London has been bragging for over a year that their stadiums have been ready ahead of time and under budget for this summer's other major sporting event. Not so in Ukraine.

The inside of the ground has long been ready, but the tarmac in the car park at one end of the Arena Lviv, which hosts the heavyweight clash between Germany and Portugal this evening, smelled so ripe yesterday that standing still might have carried the risk of getting stuck fast and missing the game.

Meanwhile, at the other end, heavy rollers were still rumbling and workmen were busy laying paving slabs.

The new, slate-grey stadium in the Galician capital is of modest dimensions but reportedly cost just as much as the eminently more striking arena in Donetsk, on the other side of Europe's second-largest nation.

The ground, though not the handsome city to which it was recently added, seems a little unbecoming of one half of the toughest group assembled at a major championship.

Bearing in mind 13 of the top 18 sides in Fifa's world rankings are playing in Euro 2012, the chances of there being a draw of this pedigree were always high.

The only other time four teams from the top 10 have been together in a group, the Germans won the tournament, at Euro 1996. They have been without a major title since.

Unlike for the workmen of Lviv, today's kick-off probably could not have come soon enough for the players of Germany.

Joachim Loew's side leans heavily on Bayern Munich, whose players are said to be carrying the scars of their Champions League final loss to Chelsea.

Even fresher in the mind will be the 5-3 pasting they suffered at the hands of Switzerland - world No 21 - in warming up for this tournament.

The Germans may be the pick of many learned observers to win this competition, but defeat against Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal side who, at No 10 in the world are statistically the worst team in the group, would leave Germany with a tough assignment even to progress to the last eight.

Given the distinctly more serious issues they have been confronted with in the lead-up, Holland will also be thankful for the chance to focus on business in the blithely named "group of death" today.

"If you did hear it, and don't want to hear it, that is even worse," Mark van Bommel, the Holland captain, said after his side were subjected to racial abuse by a section of the 25,000 fans at an open training session in Krakow in Poland on the eve of the tournament.

Kicking the newly minted Tango football around a field for 90 minutes should provide a happy release by comparison.

Distracting, perhaps, but far from easy, given the opposition. In the form of their playmaker Christian Eriksen, Denmark have a potential star of this competition.

The midfielder plays his club football in Holland, and it is not clear whether Eriksen or his Ajax teammates will benefit more from the insider knowledge.

The answer to the question could go far towards deciding the victors.

pradley@thenational.ae

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