By STEVEN HOWARD
A five-star hotel in the woods — the view from room 494 is idyllic — just outside the famous Polish seaport of Gdansk with, of course, a stream running through it.
It is the epitome of peace and tranquillity.
They have already erected an open-air TV studio while the arrival of a huge truck from Hanover the other day heralded the entry of seven nine-seater Mercedes mini-vans to ferry the players around in.
They have built a training ground for £250,000 and, naturally, have booked the hotel all the way through to the final.
Meanwhile, England are in the middle of Krakow. Nice enough city, of course, but hardly bluebells and nymphs.
Out on the pitch, Jogi Low’s side will also be their customary efficient selves.
Yes, they had that 5-3 blip against Switzerland recently but when they settle into tournament play the Mannschaft will be in full working order. No one will be more determined to right the wrongs of the past season than the eight-strong Bayern Munich contingent.
They finished second behind Borussia Dortmund, were thrashed 5-2 by the same team in the German Cup final — and lost on penalties to Chelsea in the Champions League final.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, poor chap, is yet to come to terms with his own miss.
With him, keeper Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, skipper Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos and 2010 World Cup Golden Boot Thomas Muller reinforced by Real Madrid’s Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira, Dortmund boy wonder Mario Gotze, Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski few are betting against them reaching their eighth major final.
Where they could well face Spain, who beat them in the 2008 final and then eliminated them at the semi-final stage of the World Cup in South Africa.
Spain are hoping to become the first country to win three consecutive major tournaments.
Though Sergio Ramos should provide an adequate replacement for injured skipper Carles Puyol, Spain’s main problem will be finding the net in the absence of David Villa and with no one ever quite sure what’s going on inside Fernando Torres’ head.
Villa top-scored with four at Euro 2008 and five of the paltry eight in South Africa. But it was enough to win the World Cup.
As ever, the trouble for the opposition will be winning the ball in midfield where Spain continue have the supreme talents of Xavi, Andreas Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Pedro and Juan Mata.
Poland v Greece in Warsaw today gets us under way. Hardly a blockbuster, maybe, but those will come with Spain v Italy, France v England and every fixture in the Group of Death featuring Germany, Holland, Portugal and Denmark.
It is an immense quartet with Germany (2), Holland (4), Portugal (5) and Denmark (10) ranked in the world top 10.
Germany won all 10 qualifiers while the Dutch, revving up with that 6-0 hammering of Northern Ireland, won their first nine, scoring 37 times.
Bert van Marwijk’s side, able to call on all the usual suspects, will be hoping to eradicate the memory of their shameful World Cup final performance when they did their best to kick Spain off the park.
Their game with Germany in Kharkiv on June 13 should decide who wins the group.
Should it be Germany, then the eventual semi-finals could well be Holland v Spain and Germany v France (what, not England?) On that score, much will depend on the Group D opener between France and England in Donetsk next Monday.
An England win and, with it, the momentum to top the group (stop sniggering at the back) and Roy Hodgson’s team and not France could well be propelled into a quarter-final with Italy — and that semi with the Germans.
Italy, in the same group as Spain, Croatia and the Republic of Ireland, qualified well ahead of Croatia with eight wins and two draws and with just two goals conceded.
But they were thrashed 3-0 by Russia in Zurich recently — their third defeat in three warm-ups — and have again been embroiled in a match-fixing scandal.
They will be hoping players like Andrea Pirlo, Antonio Cassano and our old friend Mario Balotelli help Italy respond like they did in 1982 when, fresh from the bribery and corruption disgrace of that era, they won the World Cup — with Paolo Rossi, who had just completed a two-year ban, winning the Golden Boot with six goals.
As for Ireland, it will be fun though they will be hard-pressed to repeat the heroics of USA 94 where they famously beat the Italians 1-0.
On the back of that 3-0 win in Zurich, the Russians could well top Group A, a weak cluster of co-hosts Poland, the dour Greeks — just 14 goals, six from defenders, in qualifying ahead of Ireland — and the Czech Republic.
Andrey Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko might have had chequered careers in England but they tend to react with a Russian shirt on their back — while the new wave is represented by CSKA midfielder Alan Dzagoev, young player of the year in his debut season.
Of the many global stars on view, the most celebrated will be Cristiano Ronaldo.
And what a job he has on his hands in the Group of Death.
Beaten 3-1 by Turkey in Lisbon last week, Portugal are without a victory this year despite players of the quality of Raul Meireles, Nani, Pepe, Joao Moutinho and Ronaldo himself.
Ronaldo scored 60 times for Real Madrid last season, beating the club record he had set the year before.
Portugal will need all that sort of form and more in a group that sees them kick off against Germany in Lviv and finish with Holland in Kharkiv.
The European Championship is now a far more competitive — maybe even better — tournament than the World Cup with the last one in Switzerland and Austria an absolute belter.
It should continue as such with my money on Germany, with the sharper cutting edge up front, to beat Spain in the final.
Let us hope it all goes off without any racially-prompted trouble in Ukraine.