Football / European Championships: Minnows' threat grows

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The Independent Online
THE European season, which has hardly begun in some countries, starts in earnest today with the biggest-ever qualifying campaign for the European Championship.

A proliferation of new nations in the wake of the break- up of eastern Europe has led to an expanded championship, and 17 countries are competing for the first time. With a record 47 entrants in the competition, the minnows' ranks have grown, creating greater scope for upsets.

Denmark begin the defence of their title away to Macedonia, buoyed by the return of the Arsenal midfielder John Jensen. He is back in the Danish squad after suffering a leg injury on his last international appearance in May.

Italy travel to Slovenia for their first match since they lost to Brazil in the World Cup final. They will be without the injured Roberto Baggio, whose goals in America took Italy to the final.

Sweden also have to travel to an unfancied country, Iceland. They will be without their captain, Jonas Thern, who is suspended after being sent off in the World Cup semi-final against Brazil.