Czech perspective: Michal Petrak
The Czechs have had a nervous week ahead of their first game of the tournament, with fans sweating over the fitness of Tomas Rosicky. The Czech playmaker has been training since Monday after a calf problem and should start, which gives the Czechs some hope.
Two days before the game, though, Milan Baros pulled up in training. He should play too, but there are worries that the injury will limit his abilities. Baros is not the same striker that won the Golden Boot at Euro 2004, but he remains important. In his absence, the Czech team desperately lacks options up front: Tomas Necid is out of form, Tomas Pekhart is promising but unproven on the international stage and David Lafata has impressed only in the Czech league.
The centre of defence will probably consist of Sivok and Hubnik. Kadlec is likely to move back to the left, as he’s still struggling to compete in the air after suffering a broken nose. This is a risk: Hubnik has been erratic all spring and might be exposed by the fast Russian forwards.
The Czechs know that winning the first game is not everything (they began with a win at World Cup 2006 and Euro 2008, yet failed to progress from the group on either occasion), but they might be satisfied with a draw. They will probably sit deep and play on the counter-attack, but I think the Russian attack will be too strong. I can see Russia winning to nil.
Score Prediction: Russia 2-0 Czech Republic
Russia to win 2-0 at 10.50; Czech Republic not to score at 2.35; Russia to win at 2.35.
Russian perspective: James Appell
Let's start with a beacon of hope for my Czech counterpart - Russia have a few problems of their own going into their opening match, particularly in defence. Dick Advocaat announced on Tuesday that long-term first-choice goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev continues to suffer the after-effects of a knee injury he sustained a year ago. That may open the door for Vyacheslav Malafeev to start against the Czechs, and though the Zenit keeper is a very able replacement, it throws the goalkeeping position, which had been a cast-iron certainty, into doubt.
Add in the fact that Russia's centre halves have been dropping like flies, and there's reason to believe the Czech Republic could have some joy in front of goal. He may be the identical twin of absent Vasily, but Aleksey Berezutsky is vastly inferior to his sibling, and his lack of pace can be exposed. One man in the Czech squad who is surely primed to do so is striker Tomas Necid, a club-mate of Berezutsky and his central defensive partner Sergey Ignashevich at CSKA Moscow.
Having said all that, however, Russia's embarrassment of riches in the forward positions may mean that coach Advocaat decides that attack is the best form of defence. Let's hope that this is the case – Group A needs a decent match to whet the appetite of the neutral. Aleksandr Kerzhakov should start up front and will see the game against the Czechs as an opportunity to fill his boots in the race for the Golden Boot. But the really smart money on first scorer should be on Roman Shirokov, Russia's most prolific player in 2012.
Score Prediction: Russia 3-1 Czech Republic
Roman Shirkov to score first at 12.50; Aleksandr Kerzhakov to score at 3.35; Russia to win 3-1 at 25.00.