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Germany and Croatia test Group B favorite status
by Paul Kennedy, June 6th, 2008 6:45AM
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[EURO '08 PREVIEW]Despite miserable showings at the last two European Championship, Germany is the heavy favorite to win Group B, which begins Sunday. Featuring talented playmaker Luka Modric, Croatia is considered a darkhorse, while co-Austria -- arguably the worst team ever to host a major international tournament -- and Poland -- miserable in a 3-0 loss to the USA in March -- are longshots.

OUR PICKS
1. GERMANY.Hasn't won a game at the European Championship since it beat the Czech Republic in the Euro '96 final, so it was fortunate to be drawn into Group B, the weakest of the four groups.

2. CROATIA.
Knocked England out of the finals with a 3-2 win at Wembley on the final day of qualifying, but has since lost Brazilian-born star Eduardo da Silva with a broken leg.

3. AUSTRIA.
So lightly regarded that a group of fans petitioned the Austrian federation to withdraw from the competition on the grounds it caused depression.

4. POLAND.
Looked terrible in 3-0 loss to the USA in March. Playing in its first European Championship and given little chance in its opener against Germany, which it has never beaten in 75 years.

MAGAZINE COVERAGE
Soccer America's Mike Woitalla previews Group B.

SUNDAY'S OPENERS
Miroslav Klose and Ivica Vastic were born in Poland and Croatia, respectively, but they will lead Germany and co-host Austria against their native countries when Group B action begins on Sunday.

Klose scored nine goals in his first 12 Bundesliga games with Bayern but then scored only one more goal for the league champion. Still, Germany coach Joachim Loew is confident that Klose can duplicate his form in the last two World Cups, where he has scored 10 goals.

"I've never seen him looking so fit, so agile and so strong," Loew said.

Vastic is at 38 the oldest player at Euro '08. He was 22 when he moved to Austria to play for First Vienna and 26 when he became an Austrian citizen.

He knows the Croatian team well, though. He told the newspaper "Austria" he had given Coach Josef Hickersberger plenty of tips on Austria's opponent in its opening game.

NAME TO REMEMBER
LUKA MODRIC. The 5-foot-8 Modric is one of the top young playmakers who will be on display at Euro '08. He is good with both feet and doesn't shy away from the play despite his lack of size. Modric was 18 when he was named Bosnian League Player of the Year, 20 when he debuted for Croatia and only 22 when Tottenham agreed this spring to sign him for $26 million from Dinamo Zagreb for the 2008-09 season.

SCHEDULE
June 8 in Vienna
Austria vs. Croatia
ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, 11:50 am
June 8 in Klagenfurt
Germany vs. Poland
ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, 2:30 pm
June 12 in Klagenfurt
Croatia vs. Germany
ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, 11:50 am
June 12 in Vienna
Austria vs. Poland
ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, 2:30 pm
June 16 in Klagenfurt
Poland vs. Croatia
ESPN Classic, 2:30 pm, ESPN Deportes, 5 pm
June 16 Vienna
Austria vs. Germany
ESPN, ESPN Deportes, 2:30 pm

ROSTERS
AUSTRIA
Goalkeepers: 1-Alexander Manninger (Siena), 21-Juergen Macho (AEK Athens), 23-Ramazan Ozcan (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim).
Defenders:14-Gyorgy Garics (Napoli), 12-Ronald Gercaliu (Austria Vienna), 17-Martin Hiden (Kaernten), 13-Markus Katzer (Rapid Vienna), 16-Juergen Patocka (Rapid Vienna), 4-Emanuel Pogatetz (Middlesbrough), 15-Sebastian Proedl (Sturm Graz), 3-Martin Stranzl (Spartak Moscow).
Midfielders:6-Rene Aufhauser (Salzburg), 5-Christian Fuchs (Mattersburg), 10-Andreas Ivanschitz (Panathinaikos), 11-Umit Korkmaz (Rapid Vienna), 8-Christoph Leitgeb (Salzburg), 19-Juergen Saeumel (Sturm Graz), 2-Joachim Standfest (Austria Vienna), 7-Ivica Vastic (Linz).
Forwards:22-Erwin Hoffer (Rapid Vienna), 18-Roman Kienast (Ham-Kam), 9-Roland Linz (Braga), 20-Martin Harnik (Werder Bremen).

CROATIA
Goalkeepers: 1-Stipe Pletikosa (Spartak Moscow), 23-Vedran Runje (Lens), 12-Mario Galinovic (Panathinaikos).
Defenders: 5-Vedran Corluka (Manchester City), 2-Dario Simic (AC Milan), 4-Robert Kovac (Borussia Dortmund), 3-Josip Simunic (Hertha Berlin), 15-Dario Knezevic (Livorno), 6-Hrvoje Vejic (Tom Tomsk).
Midfielders: 22-Danijel Pranjic (Heerenveen), 11-Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), 10-Niko Kovac (Salzburg), 14-Luka Modric (Tottenham Hotspur), 19-Niko Kranjcar (Portsmouth), 16-Jerko Leko (Monaco), 7-Ivan Rakitic (Schalke 04), 8-Ognjen Vukojevic (Dinamo Zagreb), 13-Nikola Pokrivac (Monaco).
Forwards:21-Mladen Petric (Borussia Dortmund), 18-Ivica Olic (Hamburg), 17-Ivan Klasnic (Werder Bremen), 20-Igor Budan (Parma), 9-Nikola Kalinic (Hajduk Split).

GERMANY
Goalkeepers: 1-Jens Lehmann (Arsenal), 12-Robert Enke (Hannover 96), 23-Rene Adler (Bayer Leverkusen).
Defenders:21-Christoph Metzelder (Real Madrid), 17-Per Mertesacker (Werder Bremen), 16-Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich), 3-Arne Friedrich (Hertha Berlin), 2-Marcell Jansen (Bayern Munich), 4-Clemens Fritz (Werder Bremen), 5-Heiko Westermann (Schalke 04).
Midfielders: 13-Michael Ballack (Chelsea), 15-Thomas Hitzlsperger (VfB Stuttgart), 6-Simon Rolfes (Bayer Leverkusen), 8-Torsten Frings (Werder Bremen), 7-Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), 14-Piotr Trochowski (Hamburg), 18-Tim Borowski (Werder Bremen), 19-David Odonkor (Real Betis).
Forwards: 11-Miroslav Klose (Bayern Munich), 20-Lukas Podolski (Bayern Munich), 9-Mario Gomez (VfB Stuttgart), 22-Kevin Kuranyi (Schalke 04), 10-Oliver Neuville (Borussia Moenchengladbach).

POLAND
Goalkeepers:1-Artur Boruc (Celtic), 12-Tomasz Kuszczak (Man. United), 22-Lukasz Fabianski (Arsenal).
Defenders:13-Marcin Wasilewski (Anderlecht), 4-Pawel Golanski (Steaua Bucharest), 2-Mariusz Jop (FC Moscow), 6-Jacek Bak (Austria Vienna), 14-Michal Zewlakow (Olympiakos), 23-Adam Kokoszka (Wisla Krakow), 3-Jakub Wawrzyniak (Legia Warsaw).
Midfielders: 18-Mariusz Lewandowski (Shakhtar Donetsk), 5-Dariusz Dudka (Wisla Krakow), 16-Lukasz Piszczek (Hertha Berlin), 19-Rafal Murawski (Lech Poznan), 15-Michal Pazdan (Gornik Zabrze), 10-Lukasz Gargula (Belchatow), 8-Jacek Krzynowek (Wolfsburg), 20-Roger Guerreiro (Legia Warsaw), 17-Wojciech Lobodzinski (Wisla Krakow).
Forwards:9-Maciej Zurawski (Larissa), 7-Euzebiusz Smolarek (Racing Santander), 11-Marek Saganowski (Southampton), 21-Tomasz Zahorski (Gornik Zabrze).




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