Countdown to Euro 2004
With just over three weeks to go until the greatest sporting jamboree the country has ever seen kicks off, you may well ask yourself what our relatively small footballing backwater has done to deserve such an honour. After all, countries like Hungary and Holland have produced some of the greatest teams ever seen. England, Germany, France and Italy have all won the World Cup and, above all, the Brazilian samba rhythms on the pitch are generally recognised as epitomising the very essence of the game.
Portugal has had its Eusebio and the still active Figo, but its achievements in the international arena have been less than noteworthy. Now this minnow, to all intents and purposes deeply rooted in an economic crisis, spends millions on brand new stadia in order to stage football’s second biggest competition. Why? Because the game is part of the Portuguese soul – the only outlet for joy and non-political identification during many decades under dictatorial rule.
Do you know of any other country that produces three (!) daily sports newspapers, which devote almost their entire space to the domestic football scene? A country in which the major conversation topics revolve around the fortunes of Sporting, Benfica and Porto? The Portuguese nation is drawn to football, irrevocably connected to it and truly passionate about it, without losing sight of the game’s importance in the greater order of things. That is why football and the Euro 2004 Championship are at home here.
FOCUS: The dream team
Defence: Philipp Lahm (VFB Stuttgart and Germany)
The meteoric rise and rise of the 20-year-old Bavarian has been one of the few highlights of the German football scene during the last 12 months. Just one year ago, the right-footed left defender, who is equally at home on the right wing or in midfield, was playing for Bayern Munich’s reserves. Neither the first-team coach nor any of the dozens of scouts attending weekend matches noticed the outstanding talent that was maturing under their very noses. So reserve team manager Hermann Gerland, who has voiced the opinion that Lahm must have already played football in his mother’s womb, gave the Stuttgart coach, an old friend, a ring and he promptly took the young player on loan for the paltry sum of 200,000 euros.
Only one metre 70cm tall, Lahm makes up for his lack of height with strong tackles, technical and tactical maturity, as well as explosive speed and incredible skill on the ball. Six weeks into the new season, he started his first game for Stuttgart, who enjoyed a great year both domestically and in the Champions League, and has commanded a regular place ever since.
Against Manchester United, he virtually marked the great Ryan Giggs out of the game and in February of this year, he received his first cap for Germany during the 2-1 victory over Croatia. He perfectly fills Germany’s problematic left-back position, demonstrating his ability with his next appearance, a 3-0 win against Belgium. He was not to blame for his country’s 5-1 defeat in Romania when earning his third cap and even scored in the final minutes of the game. Bayern Munich are already looking forward to his return at the end of his loan period, but for now both Stuttgart and the German national team have found the solution to their long-standing defensive deficiencies. Portugal will further enhance Philipp Lahm’s rapidly growing reputation.
Sven names squad
England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson has named his 23-man squad for Euro 2004. Ledley King and Jamie Carragher have been selected as centre-back cover, while in midfield Chelsea’s Joe Cole was chosen ahead of Scott Parker. Up front, Aston Villa’s Darius Vassell was picked in front of Tottenham’s in-form striker Jermain Defoe.
The England coach is reported as claiming to feel luckier than he did with the World Cup. He reportedly went on to say: “To go far in a tournament, to reach a final or win a final, you must be lucky both with injuries and in the games. So I am very confident. If the team stay fit before and during the tournament I think we have a very good squad and I look forward to it very much.”
Eriksson is able to make changes up until June 2. After that he can only draft new faces in if there are fresh injuries. Gareth Southgate had hoped to recover from injury in time to go to Portugal, but remains on standby in case any of Eriksson’s first-choice defenders are injured. Defoe, along with Matthew Upson, Alan Smith, Richard Wright and Parker are also on standby. Eriksson has decided Defoe will accompany the 23-man squad to a training camp in Sardinia and will be available for the pre-tournament friendlies.
England’s Euro 2004 squad:
Goalkeepers: David James (Man City), Paul Robinson (Tottenham), Ian Walker (Leicester)
Defenders: Gary Neville (Man Utd), Phil Neville (Man Utd), Ashley Cole (Arsenal), Wayne Bridge (Chelsea), Sol Campbell (Arsenal), John Terry (Chelsea), Ledley King (Tottenham), Jamie Carragher (Liverpool).
Midfielders: David Beckham (Real Madrid), Paul Scholes (Man Utd), Nicky Butt (Man Utd), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Owen Hargreaves (Bayern Munich), Kieron Dyer (Newcastle), Joe Cole (Chelsea)
Strikers: Michael Owen (Liverpool), Emile Heskey (Liverpool), Darius Vassell (Aston Villa), Wayne Rooney (Everton).
Standby: Jermain Defoe (Tottenham), Richard Wright (Everton), Matthew Upson (Birmingham), Gareth Southgate (Middlesbrough), Scott Parker (Chelsea), Alan Smith (Leeds).
The Portuguese Football Federation will pay out a total of seven million euros in bonuses, should the national side triumph in the Euro 2004 Championship. Each player is in line to receive the princely sum of 200,000 euros, considerably more than during either the last European Championship or the 2002 World Cup tournament.
The Portuguese Government has decreed that its land and maritime borders will be closed from May 26 until July 4, in effect suspending the Schengen Agreement providing for the free movement of people within the European Union. Spain has already taken similar action on the occasion of the royal wedding, re-manning border posts between May 15 and 24.
A giant screen will be erected in a 5,000sqm field in the city’s Jardim Pescador, offering space for 2,500 fans. The municipality is providing an extensive entertainment programme throughout the Championship to accompany the action on Portugal’s football pitches.
The Portuguese railway service will lay on more trains and increase frequency during Euro 2004, in an effort to facilitate access to matches all over the country. In all, 231,000 extra seats are to be made available by adding carriages and running additional trains until the end of the tournament.
Strength in numbers
A total of 780 freshly-baked police officers who have just graduated from the Academy will swell law-enforcement numbers to 12,000 during Euro 2004. The latest additions have all received specific training in crowd control and up-to-date detection techniques.
The European Championship has given rise to a network of 73 dental clinics remaining open 24 hours a day and judges, public defenders and magistrates working in shifts throughout the same period, without days off.
A question of football
Last week: Which English club was the first Football League champions in 1888-89?
Answer: Preston North End. They also set the record of going an entire season unbeaten, which Arsenal have now equalled, and won the FA Cup to boot. Manager William Sudell signed England’s first black player, goalkeeper Arthur Wharton.
This week: For which League clubs has England goalkeeper David James played in his career?
Answer: Next week.