Spain begins quest to defend European title

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Spain begins quest to defend European title

PARIS - Defending champion Spain begins its quest for a third straight European Championship title against the Czech Republic, while host France also escaped with a relatively unthreatening group in Saturday’s draw and opens Euro 2016 against Romania on June 10.

Spain’s other opponents in Group D are Turkey and Croatia, while coach Didier Deschamps’ France also takes on newcomer Albania and Switzerland in Group A.

World Cup winner Germany faces Robert Lewandowski’s Poland, Ukraine and Northern Ireland in Group C, while England has its work cut out against local rival Wales and Russia in Group B, which also contains Slovakia.

Italy will not be relishing Group E much, which contains a top-ranked Belgian side - featuring Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany - Sweden, led by Paris Saint-Germain star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Ireland.

Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo will be confident of adding to his record 26 goals in Euros, including qualifiers, in a Group F featuring Iceland and Hungary, although Austria was unbeaten in qualifying and poses a strong threat.

In September, with Bayern Munich’s David Alaba playing in a more attacking midfield role, Austria won 4-1 away to Sweden in a performance full of speed and menace.

England will first play Russia in Marseille on June 11, and there is likely to be a heavy security presence after serious outbreaks of fan violence there when England played Tunisia during the 1998 World Cup.

The European Championship has 24 teams for the first time, and will feature a new second round that includes the best four third-place finishers.

France will be confident of winning its group, having beating Switzerland 5-2 in the group stages at last year’s World Cup in Brazil.

Karim Benzema starred in that match, but could well miss the tournament after being indefinitely suspended from the national team. He has been charged with conspiracy to blackmail in a case involving France teammate Mathieu Valbuena. AP
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