Tough encounter on the cards

FEUSISBERG (Switzerland): Czech Republic striker Martin Fenin has been joking that based on his own quirky mathematic equation his team should beat Switzerland 7-0 in the European football championship’s opening match.

The Eintracht Frankfurt forward has been teasing club teammate Christoph Spycher of Switzerland with his calculation ever since March, when the Swiss team was crushed by Germany 4-0 in a friendly. The Czech Republic beat that same Germany team 3-0 last year.

“He doesn’t mean that seriously,” Switzerland midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta said of the 21-year-old Fenin’s prediction for Saturday’s game in Basel.

“The Czechs have good players and are very compact in the middle. They are a block, but it’s up to us to break this block.”

The Czechs reached the semifinals at Euro 2004 and are ranked sixth in the world. They also harbour hopes of repeating their 1976 triumph by winning this month’s 16-nation tournament. The Swiss, No. 48 on the FIFA list but co-hosting the event with Austria, are hoping to reach at least the second round.

“We are in good form and I’m very confident,” Switzerland coach Koebi Kuhn said. “We’re concerned about playing our best football. We’ll see if that’s enough.”

Timely recovery

After a camp full of injury and off-field problems, Switzerland has been buoyed by the timely recovery of Barnetta and long-injured defender Patrick Mueller. Both were declared fit on Thursday, reviving spirits after a week in which striker Marco Streller angrily announced he would retire after the tournament, and Kuhn’s wife was hospitalised after suffering an epileptic attack.

Barnetta’s return could be crucial. The 23-year-old Bayer Leverkusen player has emerged as the creative spark for Switzerland in the past year, scoring both goals in a 2-1 friendly win over the Netherlands in Geneva last August.

He injured ligaments in his left ankle on May 20 and missed Switzerland’s last two warm-up matches, but rejoined his teammates in training on Wednesday and said a day later he was “ready” to play.

The Czech Republic hasn’t been as lucky, and is without its midfield dynamo Tomas Rosicky for the duration of Euro 2008.

The captain was ruled out following surgery on his left knee tendon last month.

“For them it’s a big blow,” said Switzerland defender Philippe Senderos, who plays alongside Rosicky at Arsenal.

Czech Republic coach Karel Bruckner has yet to say how he will compensate for Rosicky’s loss.

He tested a five-man midfield with a lone striker in two warm-up victories last week over Lithuania and Scotland. But the formation would be a departure from the attacking style that won wide admiration four years ago, when the Czech team upset Germany and the Netherlands in the group stage before losing to Greece in the semifinals.

Bruckner said he expected Switzerland to be a “tough opponent,” and cited the threat posed by Barnetta and Alexander Frei, who last week scored his 35th goal for Switzerland to set the National record.

The Czech team includes the 35-year-old Jan Koller, its record holder with 54 goals in 87 international matches. Bruckner also has seven players who have tasted success in Basel, winning the under-21 European Championship there in 2002.

Stingiest defence

Even if the Czech Republic attack is slowed, it still boasts one of Europe’s stingiest defences — allowing only five goals in 12 qualifying matches — and Petr Cech, perhaps the world’s best goalkeeper.

“It will be more pressure for Switzerland because when you play at home... everyone expects you to play well and to go far,” said the Chelsea goalkeeper. Barnetta disagreed with that assessment. “If you play football there’s pressure. It’s normal for every player,” he said. “I’m not nervous.” — AP

TODAY’S MATCHES

Switzerland vs. Czech Republic, 9.30 p.m.

Portugal vs. Turkey, 12.05 a.m. (Sunday)

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