Focus: Following our guide to Latvia and the Czech Republic, we continue our series by taking a closer look at England.
Regarded as the ‘home’ of football, organised games have been taking place here since 1863. Although geographically relatively small, England boasts a population of over 60 million and its football side is ranked eighth in the world by FIFA. The 1966 World Cup winners, however, have a dismal European Championships record, with nothing to show but a third place in 1968 from seven successful qualifications for the final phase. The group stage for this year’s competition produced less than spectacular results, although England remained unbeaten and qualified in first place.
In general, the team is young and inexperienced, lacking the individual skills so abundantly found in rival squads such as France. The exception, and star of Sven Goran Eriksson’s ensemble, is David Beckham. At 28, the Real Madrid midfielder is at the peak of his powers and England’s progress heavily depends on his form and fitness during Euro 2004. Beckham and the injury-prone Michael Owen contributed 10 out of 14 qualifying goals between them and anything but inspirational displays from the pair next June could spell an early end for England’s hopes.
Did you know?
Best known abroad for the Queen, Shakespeare, cups of tea and fish and chips, the English are also one of the last remaining countries in the world to drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. This custom dates back to the Middle Ages when horses were steered to the left in order to allow their riders to keep their right hands free in case of combat. Big Ben, one of England’s best known landmarks, was constructed in 1859. It is named after the particularly overweight Public Buildings Minister of the time, Sir Benjamin Hall. During the same period, the world’s first traffic lights went into operation in England and the first passenger railway started service.
On the terraces of Portugal you are likely to hear all kinds of vocal support for England – after all, the Beatles started a long tradition of popular music in England! The words ‘month’, ‘orange’, ‘silver’ and ‘purple’ are less likely to be included in possible lyrical compositions as the English vocabulary does not have a rhyming equivalent!
The region’s very own Euro 2004 stadium finally saw some action on New Year’s Day. Perhaps the fact that it is difficult to get a ‘bica’ never mind anything else on this particular day helped bring almost 15,000 into the new ‘cathedral of the south’ and prompted the still unpaid Farense FC players to turn up for the inaugural match featuring two local third division sides. Louletano was dominated by Farense’s attacking first-half display, but the Algarve’s capital club were unable to convert countless chances in front of goal and were duly punished in the 40th minute by a spectacular Braulio free kick, which will go down in the history books as the first goal scored in the new stadium. The 1-0 lead enabled Louletano to improve in the second half, despite wholesale substitutions on both sides, but the score remained. The festivities were embellished by a veterans’ game between the two clubs’ former players beforehand, as well as gymnastics and martial arts displays. The numerous spectators were happy and the acid test between Portugal and England on February 18 is eagerly awaited.
Following Germany, Holland and Denmark, Russiahas confirmed that its squad will be based in the Algarve during the Championships. The choice of Browns Sport and Leisure Club in Albufeira, which will be home from home for the Russians between June 5 and July 2, will minimise travelling time to two of the team’s three group matches against Spain and Greece, which will take place in the Algarve stadium. The number of Russian tourists visiting the Algarve has been steadily increasing over the past few years and more are bound to visit the region following their team’s choice of residence.
Cancelled flights out of Heath-row, renewed Bin Laden tapes in the media and increased security measures at US airports prove that the threat of international terrorism is far from over. A few hoax bombcalls have been the extent of the Algarve’s experience in this field.Greek authorities are taking the potential danger very seriously in view of the forthcoming Olympics. Greece has a population of 11 million, five million of which live in and around Athens – a situation not dissimilar to that of Portugal. Terrorism is a spectre hanging over the Euro 2004 Championships that seems to be pushed into the background as concerns over potential hooliganism grows. It is to be hoped that adequate precautions are being taken by the time June comes round.
A QUESTION OF FOOTBALL
How many of the Euro 2004 finalists have foreign managers? Can you name them?