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Host Austria takes on Croatia

STEGERSBACH (Austria): Austria and Croatia open their European football Championship campaigns on Sunday with completely different expectations.

Surviving the group stage would be a miraculous success for Austria, while Croatia sees itself at least as an outside favourite for the title after convincingly qualifying with a win in England in its final match.

Austria qualified automatically because it is co-hosting the tournament with Switzerland. “I don’t think it was a disadvantage to play only friendlies for two years,” Austria coach Josef Hickersberger said on Friday.

“We choose some top-draw opponents and therefore lost many times. That created the same pressure on us like in competitive matches. We are ready for Croatia.”

Croatia is ready to spoil Austria’s opening party at the sold-out Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna. “I believe in my team,” Croatia coach Slaven Bilic said. “We will try to impose our (attacking) style of play and win the game.” Austria and Croatia share Group ‘B’ with Germany and Poland, who meet on Sunday in Klagenfurt.

Flawless record

Croatia has a flawless record against Austria, winning all three previous matches. But Austria will try to put history aside when it competes at its first ever European Championship and first major event since the 1998 World Cup.

“Based on the home advantage, I rate our chances on Sunday at 40 per cent,” Hickersberger said. “Croatia is a world-class team, so my prediction is very optimistic.”

In their current 23-man squads, Austria and Croatia have no injury worries, but both teams lost some players due to injuries prior to the tournament. — AP

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