Poland, as co-hosts, will begin Euro 2012 today against Greece. Group A is the weakest group and arguably the least predictable. There is no great team there and not very many great players. So the support of nearly 60,000 Poles in the new National Stadium in Warsaw could well make the difference.
"The whole country has great expectations," said captain and right-winger Jakub Blaszczykowski yesterday. "We are aware of it but it will only motivate us to win. These are things players wait their whole career for – to play in a tournament like this, in such a great stadium. This is a dream come true, the only thing we can do is realise those dreams and make them last."
Poland have a full-strength squad to choose from, including, crucially, the Borussia Dortmund trio of Blaszczykowski, right-back Lukasz Piszczek and striker Robert Lewandowski. Coach Franciszek Smuda said yesterday that he is confident his players will perform. "They have convinced me in every way during the last two and a half years," Smuda said. "I just hope myself that together we will achieve what we desire."
Greece, champions in 2004, have less expectation to deal with. Like Poland, they will be keen not to lose and coach Fernando Santos's main decision is which centre-back to leave out from Avraam Papadopoulos, Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Sokratis Papastathopoulos.
Russia should be the most confident side of progressing from Group A. They have the same core of players who took them so thrillingly to the semi-finals four years ago. Tonight in Wroclaw they face the Czech Republic, and coach Dick Advocaat was upbeat about his side yesterday.
"We have a good team, we have the quality," Advocaat said. "It is very important that the players start believing in that. So, yes, if we have the form and everything is going the right way, we have a very dangerous team."
With no injury worries, Russia should be at their cohesive best tonight. Nearly their whole team is drawn from Zenit St Petersburg or CSKA Moscow, and midfielder Roman Shirokov – of Zenit – said yesterday that the team had no outstanding individual. "I don't think we have one key player," Shirokov said, "but lots of good ones. There's no one leader in the side."
With Petr Cech and Tomas Rosicky, the Czechs have their own core of experience and Advocaat praised their unity. "The Czech Republic work very hard for one another," he said, "and also have some good individuals."
Andrei Arshavin, who could dazzle if he finds his 2008 form, knows Russia will have to work hard to score. "Czech Republic have a strong defence," he said. "Plus, their goalkeeper is Petr Cech, who is capable of dealing with all the sins of their defence."
Player to watch: Robert Lewandowski (Poland)
The burden of delivering success is not new to Robert Lewandowski. The young striker is indispensable to Polish hopes: he is their best player and lone striker. Weighty responsibilities at any tournament, but even more as a host nation.
But Lewandowski has shown he can handle it. He is only 23 but has already fired Lech Poznan and Borussia Dortmund to long-overdue Polish and German titles. It brings the best out of him.
This season was his best yet. Lewandowski scored 30 goals for the Dortmund side which won the German double. In the cup final against Bayern Munich, he scored a hat-trick. In the game which effectively decided the title, again against Bayern, he flicked in the winner.
It was a clever goal but, like all modern centre-forwards, he has a range of skills: two-footed, imposing, lively at the near post, towering at the far post, and intelligent in his movement. He is an exceptional team-player, too, and link-up artist.
This season was only his second at Dortmund. Before that, at Lech Poznan, his prodigious goal-scoring delivered a cup and a league title, their first since 1993.
But his current club-mates will be most use to him here. His fellow Poles Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek play right-wing and right-back at Dortmund and will be providing him with service for the national side too. Expect him to make the most of it.
3 Consecutive opening-game losses by hosts at European Championships - Portugal (2004), Austria and Switzerland (2008).
150-1 Pre-tournament odds on Greece winning Euro 2004 - which they did. This year they are as low as 80-1.
0.65 Goals per game record for Robert Lewandowski at Borussia Dortmund this season.
1 Goal scored by Poland in European Championship finals - Roger Guerreiro against Austria in 2008.
Poland v Greece (5pm)
Russia v Czech Republic (7.45)
Netherlands v Denmark (5)
Germany v Portugal (7.45)
Spain v Italy (5)
Republic of Ireland v Croatia (7.45)
France v England (5)
Ukraine v Sweden (7.45)
Greece v Czech Republic (5)
Poland v Russia (7.45)
Denmark v Portugal (5)
Netherlands v Germany (7.45)
Italy v Croatia (5)
Spain v Republic of Ireland (7.45)
Ukraine v France (5)
Sweden v England (7.45)
Czech Republic v Poland (7.45)
Greece v Russia (7.45)
Portugal v Netherlands (7.45)
Denmark v Germany (7.45)
Croatia v Spain (7.45)
Italy v Republic of Ireland (7.45)
Tuesday 19 June
Sweden v France (7.45)
England v Ukraine (7.45)
Thursday 21 June Winner Group A v Runner-up Group B (7.45)
Friday 22 June Winner Group B v Runner-up Group A (7.45)
Saturday 23 June Winner Group C v Runner-up Group D (7.45)
Sunday 24 June Winner Group D v Runner-up Group C (7.45)
Wednesday 27 June Winner QF 1 v Winner QF 3 (7.45)
Thursday 28 June Winner QF 2 v Winner QF 4 (7.45)
Sunday 1 July Winner semi-final 1 v Winner semi-final 2 (7.45)