Portugal v England: Bottlenecks, bottletops and road rage
In retrospect, all went well on the big day until the moment that fans attempted to reach the stadium. With two and a half hours to go before kick off, traffic chaos ensued the likes of which has not been witnessed in the Algarve before, even at the height of summer. Tailbacks of up to 10kms brought the region’s main arteries, the EN 125 and the Via do Infante, to a complete standstill as approximately 7,000 cars and coaches approached from all directions.
Impatience, disbelief and despair reigned and many abandoned their vehicles at the roadside to make their way on foot to the stadium, inevitably arriving late for the match. Colin, from Alvor, left his friends on the moribund coach and decided to trek cross-country, only to discover that the bright lights ‘just ahead’ turned out to be a gruelling five miles away. The exhausted fan arrived 11 minutes late. Another carload of residents from Carvoeiro were turned away and told to go home by police when they eventually reached a full car park. Only a daring ‘U-turn’ on the way out to Faro Airport, resulting in a different approach to the stadium, resulted in success – 19 minutes late. The apparently empty blocks of seats were eventually taken well into the first half. Stories of the return journey after the game were little different. Car park exits all led to the same mini-roundabout, which congealed into a massive bottleneck. As a result, many spectators did not reach their homes until three in the morning.
Clearly, a radical re-think is required over the next three months to alleviate this problem. The 5,000 parking spaces are not enough for a stadium in the middle of nowhere holding 30,000 people. José Vitorino and Emilio Seruca, leaders of the Faro and Loulé Câmaras have promised to take appropriate steps. They consider that priority should be given to improved road signage and the installation of additional traffic lights. They also want to raise public awareness about alternative access routes and significantly increasing public transport – a new railway station at Almancil-Nexe is already under construction.
The experience has also highlighted the need to complete the as yet incomplete access infrastructure at the other Portuguese Euro 2004 stadia. Hopefully a smoother passage will be possible by the time June arrives.
Facilities, seating and atmosphere in the arena itself are first-class. The absence of signs to direct spectators to the correct entrance, malfunctioning turnstiles, full body searches and the confiscation of plastic bottletops are not. So much can be achieved with a friendly smile, as David Beckham and Luis Figo demonstrated while sharing a post-match grilled fish at a local restaurant.
SWITZERLAND (Group B)
In a sporting sense, the small Alpine republic has never set the world alight, until recently that is, when first Martina Hingis and then Roger Federer became tennis world number ones. However, despite being founded as long ago as 1895, the Swiss Football Federation has nothing to show for its efforts. Hence, it is surprising that the nation ranked 43 by FIFA finished on top of its qualifying group, beating Georgia, Ireland and Albania in the process and relegating Russia to the play-offs.
The team is largely made up of Bundesliga-based players and revolves around the Yakin brothers, Murat and Hakan, veteran ex-Borussia Dortmund striker Stefan Chapuisat and top scorer in qualifying with five goals, Alex Frei. Coach Jakob Kuhn has already achieved a minor miracle in getting to Portugal with his limited resources and Group B opponents France, England and Croatia look to be a different calibre to the team that Switzerland has faced so far. Last place and an early exit look assured.
Friendly Fire – England’s 1-1 draw with Portugal was not the only international played in preparation for the European Championship. Forthcoming group rivals Spain and Greece were both in action. Spain struggled to overcome Peru 2-1 in Barcelona, but Greece now remain unbeaten in 14 games after brushing aside fellow Euro 2004 qualifiers Bulgaria 2-0 in Athens.
Two teams strongly fancied for the competition, Italy and the Czech Republic, shared a 2-2 draw in a game that saw an excellent first half before an avalanche of substitutions robbed the spectacle of any real meaning. The Czechs are now unbeaten in 20 games.
Germany travelled to Croatia and ended their poor run of away results – no wins since 2001 – with a 2-1 victory in Split, Ramelov scoring the winner in the ninetieth minute.
Euro favourites France won their 14th consecutive game, beating Belgium with two Louis Saha goals in Brussels. Their winning run now equals the world record set by Brazil in 1997.
Surprise losers of the night were Euro hopefuls Sweden and Switzerland, beaten 2-1 by Albania and Morocco respectively. Northern Ireland finally got on the score sheet after 1,298 goal-less minutes, but were still on the losing end of a 4-1 thrashing by Norway.
Elsewhere, Euro participants Latvia, Denmark and Holland all won by narrow margins against inferior opposition.
Porto – Hot on the heels of the security operation surrounding England’s visit to the Algarve, attention focused on Manchester United fans attending Wednesday’s Champions League match in Porto. Alcohol was not allowed within the police perimeter established around the stadium, fans travelling without tickets were turned back and disturbances of the peace and signs of racist abuse were severely punished. Memories of running street battles in 1997, when the two teams last met, are still fresh in the memory and everything was being done to prevent a recurrence of the situation. Then the problems resulted from the availability of thousands of counterfeit tickets, ending in the use of tear gas by police causing 25 injuries.
A question of football
Last Week: Who did the US defeat in the final stages of the 1950 World Cup in Brazil to cause one of the greatest football upsets of all time?
This Week: Name three England internationals who have played, or are currently playing in Germany’s Bundesliga.
Answer: next week.