Dutch football legend Marco van Basten holds up the ballot paper of Spain during Friday's Euro 2012 draw in Kiev.

Story highlights

Co-hosts Poland play 2004 winners Greece in opening game of Euro 2012

Defending champions Spain take on Italy in Group C opener on June 10

Group B features the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Portugal

Co-hosts Ukraine in Group D with France, England and Sweden

CNN  — 

Spain’s world champions will begin the defense of their European title against fellow football superpowers Italy next June, after both were drawn in Group C on Friday.

That match in Gdansk will be the feature clash of the third day of the Euro 2012 finals, while the Republic of Ireland will take on Croatia in the other opening Group C fixture in Poznan.

“It is a difficult draw. The 16 strongest teams are in this tournament so whatever team we came up against would have presented problems,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque told UEFA’s website.

Relive the draw as it happened

“Given the circumstances, it is good that we will play our three games in Poland and we will not face Germany. Along with Italy we have a squad with pedigree, and the two teams that came through the playoff, Ireland and Croatia, did so with little difficulty. It will be a competitive group.”

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli will come up against his mentor Giovanni Trapattoni in Poznan on June 18 in the four-time world champions’ final group game against the Irish.

“We wanted to avoid a game against Trapattoni’s Ireland for various reasons. I met him today and he is very good at cooling down every situation,” Prandelli said of the 72-year-old, who coached Italy from 2000-2004.

Co-hosts Poland will launch the 16-team tournament on June 8 against 2004 champions Greece in Warsaw, it was confirmed in Kiev on Friday. Russia, the 2018 World Cup hosts, face the Czech Republic in the other Group A game in Wroclaw that day.

The Netherlands, beaten by Spain in the 2010 World Cup final, will play Euro ’92 winners Denmark in the opening Group B match in Kharkiv on June 9.

Germany, the 2008 runners-up, will begin their bid for a fourth title against 2004 finalists Portugal that day in Lviv.

“It is probably the strongest, most interesting and most balanced group of them all,” said Germany coach Joachim Low. “Every team has strong players and even some world-class players, so we can look forward to some great matches.

“Denmark are very difficult to play at tournaments because they are well organized and go into the matches without fear. They fit well into the underdog role, have no fear and because they have a great mentality, they are so dangerous to play.”

Ukraine, given a top seeding like their co-hosts, also escaped with a relatively good draw in Group D along with England, France and Sweden.

France, the 2000 champions, face cross-channel rivals England on June 11 in Donetsk, while Sweden will have a difficult opening test in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.

“It is an exciting group,” Sweden coach Erik Hamren said. “I was hoping to avoid Spain and Germany, and perhaps get an easier team. I am pleased.

“Whichever group we would have landed in, we would have been underdogs because we are among the lowest-ranked teams.”