Jacques Santini, coach of reigning champions France was upbeat after hearing his team would face England, Croatia and Switzerland in Group B of the EURO 2004 finals.

Santini is aware of the importance of his country’s opening game against England -Êwhich is scheduled for Lisbon’s Luz stadium on 13 June.

“Playing England is a derby for us as there are so many French players in the English Premier League,” Santini said.

“Meanwhile, playing Croatia will remind us of 1998 when we won the World Cup and it was a great match against them in the semi-finals.

“As for Switzerland,” he added. “We played them in a friendly at the start of this season so it is a team we know very well. And as I come from a part of France that is near Switzerland it is little derby for me.”

“It is a very even group,” he said.

“But we were happy to avoid Holland and are hopeful of reaching the quarter-finals.”

England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson also highlighted the game against France.

“For this tournament we have to be ready very early as we play France on 13 June in the Luz,” he said.

“I’m sure it will be a very beautiful occasion but it will be a tough match as France are the big favourites to win the tournament.

“It is a very difficult group,” continued Eriksson.

“But you can’t expect easy groups in the final rounds of European Championships. I have a lot of respect for all the teams in the group. But for me Group D with the Czechs, Germany, Netherlands (and Latvia) is the most difficult on paper.”

Although France and England will be the favoured sides in Group B, Switzerland and Croatia’s chances should not be discounted.

Michel Pont, assistant to Switzerland national coach Kobi Kuhn said: “We are certainly not the favourites as we are up against some of the biggest teams in Europe but we will give all our best in the big games. One of our best qualities is our fighting spirit and we will at least try to come second.”

Croatia coach Otto Baric added. “It is a very tough group,” he said.

“There are at least two teams better than us in England and France who are among the best sides in Europe. Switzerland are equal opponents to us and we will try our best to at least beat one opponent.”