FOCUS: The dream team
Last week’s look at Portugal concluded our series on Euro 2004 participating nations. Over the next two months leading up to the championship, we will be introducing 11 possible stars of tomorrow, who will feature prominently during the competition.
GOAL: Iker Casillas
(Real Madrid and Spain)
The 22-year-old goalkeeper is the working man’s superstar, preferring his parental home in Madrid’s suburbs to the media circus and the hysterical adulation from fans who surround his club teammates. He translates this down-to-earth calmness to the goalmouth, where he has been largely responsible for covering up Real Madrid’s defensive deficiencies this season.
Iker Casillas developed into one of the best goalkeepers in the world while coming through the youth team ranks at Real Madrid who he joined as a nine-year-old. He played for Spain in an U16 European Championship in 1997 and followed up with an U20 World Cup success two years later, the same year he broke into Real Madrid’s first team behind German national keeper Bodo Illgner and the Argentinean Albano Bizarri.
Illgner injured himself early on that season and Bizarri gave then-coach John Toshack nightmares with his failure to deal with crosses. Thus the 18-year-old found himself propelled into the limelight, a place he was to keep as Madrid’s youth coach, Vicente del Bosque, who had guided Casillas’ development, took over from Toshack in mid-season.
The young keeper’s meteoric rise continued and he received his first invitation to join the senior national squad in June 2000. Since then, he has not only collected 34 caps for his country, but has also won the Spanish title twice, collected two Champion’s League winners medals and one Supercup.
Constant practice and hard work have improved Casillas’ game. His reflexes on the line and his positional play, defusing potentially dangerous situations before they occur, are his particular strengths. Naming Denmark’s ex-national goalkeeper Peter Schmeichal as his idol, the young Spaniard made the No1 jersey his own during the last World Cup and he can now underline his standing as one of the best in the world between the posts at the Euro 2004.
Reserve: Buffon (Italy)
Euro 2004 media director Ângelo Marques has echoed journalist satisfaction with the facilities offered to the press at all 10 match venues. A recent trial run at a Benfica v Porto league match highlighted exactly how comprehensive a coverage will be afforded by the 24 to 26 camera positions at each of the stadia. Marques has stated his intention to make Euro 2004 the best UEFA event of all time.
Striking at goal
Following threats by police, customs officers and lorry drivers, cabbie union boss Florêncio Almeida is the latest to consider strike action in June. Taxi drivers want the government to abolish the 1998 ruling requiring them to be re-examined every five years in order to renew their licences.
A QUESTION OF FOOTBALL
Last Week: Who is the only man to win a World Cup both as a player and as a manager of his country?
Answer:Franz Beckenbauer (1974, 1990)
This Week: Name the goalkeeper, regarded by many as the best of all time, whose career record includes an Olympic gold medal, a European Championship medal, four World Cup participations and only seven goals conceded in 79 internationals?
Answer Next Week.