PORTO: Switzerland and Croatia meet for the first time today and although the game in Leiria is the first in Euro 2004 Group B, it is already seen by both sides as a must-win match.
With defending champions France and England waiting in the wings, the group outsiders know that three points from todays fixture is essential to give them a realistic chance of progressing to the last eight.
Croatia are the form team having chalked up three warm-up wins, the most recent an impressive 2-1 success in Denmark.
Traditionally a flair team, Croatia earned their place in the Finals more on the back of a parsimonious defence as they conceded only four goals in finishing second to Bulgaria in their group.
They edged past Slovenia 2-1 on aggregate in the playoffs, both goals coming from pony-tailed striker Dado Prso.
Prso continued to score regularly for Monaco in their run to the Champions League final and the 29-year-old is the key to his countrys chances of emulating their only European Championship appearance in 1996, when they lost in the quarter-finals.
Croatia have suffered a blow at the other end of the pitch, however, with first-choice goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa ruled out of the tournament with a thigh muscle injury.
Tomislav Butina is Pletikosas most likely replacement against Switzerland.
The other notable Croatian absentee is experienced central defender Igor Tudor, who is suspended.
The Swiss have no injury worries, though midfielder Ricardo Cabanas is suspended, but it is a lack of form that must concern coach Kobi Kuhn.
They were impressive qualifiers from a group also including Russia and Ireland but since securing their place in the Finals things have not gone smoothly.
Defeats by Morocco, Greece and Germany have hardly been offset by narrow wins over Slovenia and Liechtenstein and the fear is that the squad peaked a year too soon.
There is plenty of experience throughout the team and they are unlikely to panic if things do not go right straight away today.
A tried and tested back four, led by the central defensive partnership of Murat Yakin and Patrick Mueller, with defensive midfielder Johann Vogel in front, presents a difficult challenge for Prso and friends.
Offensively, however, the Swiss look a little short.
Striker Stephane Chapuisat chalked up his 100th cap in the home defeat by Germany last week but he turns 35 later this month and is short of pace.
A veteran of Switzerlands only European Championship appearance in 1996, Chapuisat is due to retire after the tournament 15 years after making his debut and Swiss scoring hopes rest more realistically with Alexander Frei. Reuters