CROATIA (Group B)
Independent from former Yugoslavia since 1991, this small country on the Adriatic, which is less than a quarter of the size of Britain, is made up of 1,185 islands, 66 of which are inhabited. A great proportion of its 4.3 million inhabitants live in the capital Zagreb, although many of their countrymen emigrated during the civil war, with large numbers now living in Germany. Croatia is credited with two great inventions – the necktie in the 18th century and, 100 years later, the pencil-case.
Yugoslavia had a strong footballing tradition and Croatia, whose federation was founded in 1912, has managed to continue that, with international success in the 1990s, when the team reached the quarter finals of the 1996 European Championships and finished third in the 1998 World Cup in France.
Following the retirement of most of that era’s star players, such as Suker, Prosinecki and Boban, Austrian coach Otto Baric is now charged with building a new side from young players coming through. Foremost of these is AC Milan’s Dario Simic, who is ably supported by the likes of the Kovac brothers, who play in the German Bundesliga, Benfica’s Sokota and Monaco’s prolific Champions League scorer Prso. Still, Croatia struggled in their qualifying group, finishing second to Bulgaria. Only a draw, and a narrow victory over Slovenia in the play-offs, saw them secure a place in Portugal, where they will face France, England and Switzerland. If the big two in the group slip up, Croatia will take advantage but realistically they have little chance of making the quarter finals.
The Village People’s YMCA and the Tom Robinson Band’s Glad to be Gay are unlikely to be heard in the changing rooms. Otto Baric has banished all players with homosexual tendencies from the squad, leading Croatia’s gay community to switch allegiance to England because the United Kingdom is said to have the most liberal legislation vis-à-vis non-heterosexuals in Europe!
Germany – A police unit specialising in hooliganism will accompany German fans, many of whom have booked cheap package holidays to the European Championship. In total around 4,500 known supporters have been blacklisted and will be prevented from travelling. The move came after the Portuguese government appealed to the German Minister of the Interior for assistance in preventing any outbreaks of violence during the competition.
Opportunity – Loulé Câmara and the Association of Portuguese Marketing Professionals is holding a conference at the Ria Park Hotel in the Vale de Garrão this Thursday to explore the economic possibilities offered to the Algarve by the Euro 2004 Championship.
Airstrip – The Penina aerodrome will be utilised by small aircraft during Euro 2004. Firemen will be permanently stationed at the strip near Alvor during the tournament, although lack of suitable equipment prevents its operation at night.
Economy – 48 per cent of Lisbonites do not believe that the Euro 2004 tournament will have a positive impact on the Portuguese economy. The study showed that only 28 per cent expect to benefit and only four per cent of those asked have high expectations vis-à-vis the competition.
Opening Hours – Opinion is divided over the question of extending opening hours of bars and restaurants during the European Championship in the Algarve. The Civil Governor, who is against the proposal, is at loggerheads with the President of the Regional Tourism Authority, who supports the idea. In Albufeira, for example, bars intend staying open until four in the morning with reduced noise levels. Mayor Desidério Silva, however, says this is only one of many alternatives currently under consideration. RTA President, Helder Martins, goes one step further. He would like to see 24-hour opening and is convinced that tourism would benefit.
Wales – The Welsh appeal to disqualify Russia in the Titov drug case will be heard in Nyon on March 19.
Detention – Portuguese authorities are desperately searching for provisional prison space near the country’s stadia in order to accommodate troublemakers arrested during the Championship.
Swift Retribution – Justice Minister Celeste Cardona has confirmed that temporary legislation applicable to the period June 1 to July 11 will be in place shortly. Courts will remain open at weekends and on public holidays; cases will be heard immediately and offenders will be swiftly expelled from Portugal for any public order or security offence, as well as for health reasons. Electronic surveillance systems have also been approved for public areas.
A QUESTION OF FOOTBALL
Last week: In which country is the African Cup of Nations being held at the moment?
This week: Who is the all-time top goal scorer during the final phase of a World Cup tournament? How many goals did he score? (Answer next week)