6 7 2008 12375 l - Euro Cup football begins today

Euro Cup football begins today

GENEVA: For the 13th time Europe's finest will battle it out for the right to lift the Euro Cup Football Championship trophy.

The Swiss will get the competition off and running when they meet Czech Republic in the opening game in Basel on Saturday.

Over the next 23 days the tournament will cram in 31 games at eight different stadiums across Austria and Switzerland.

Until 1980 only four teams competed in the European Championship finals, but since then it has grown into the third largest sporting event in the world after the World Cup and Olympic Games.

The organisers are hoping the footballing extravaganza will bring in a global TV audience in excess of eight billion viewers over 200 countries, while millions of fans are expected to travel from around Europe to watch the games.

The 16 teams involved have been drawn into four groups, with the top two countries from each progressing to the knockout rounds.

The final will take place at the Ernst Happel stadium in the Austrian capital of Vienna on 29 June.

Greece are the reigning champions after producing one of the biggest shocks in international football history by winning Euro 2004 in Portugal.

World champions Italy are in the so-called 'group of death' - along with France, champions in 2000, the 1988 winners Holland and unfancied Romania.

Spain, who were winners in 1964, have been heavily tipped to end their 44-year wait for another major tournament victory.

Germany, who are three-time winners of the trophy, are expected to be one of the teams battling out for the crown once again.

Croatia are one of the tournament's dark horses along with Czech Republic and Russia.

While the cream of Europe is fighting it out in Switzerland and Austria, Britain's footballers will be looking on enviously from at home or on holiday