Countdown to EURO 2004 – 71 Days to Go!

FOCUS: Bulgaria (Group C)

The Eastern European Balkan country has little to show in terms of footballing achievement, apart from its ‘Golden Era’ in the 1990s, when the combined talents of Balakov, Stoichkov and Penev catapulted the small nation into the semi-finals of the 1994 World Cup in the USA.

Since the retirement of these gifted players, national coach Plamen Markov has unearthed a new flag-bearer in Celtic midfielder Stilian Petrov. Together with the scoring talent of Bundesliga star Berbatov, Petrov has enabled the minnows to qualify for Portugal ahead of the likes of Belgium and Croatia (the latter finishing second in the group, qualifying via the play-offs). Similar to Greece, Bulgaria have come to rely on a tight defence that did not concede a goal in six of nine games played in 2003. Whether that will suffice against the calibre of teams like Italy, Sweden and Denmark, drawn in the same group at the Euro 2004, is unlikely. Bulgaria look set for an early exit in June.

Considering that the country has a population of only 7.7 million, it was quite a feat to field a side in the 1994 World Cup, even if all of the players’ surnames ended in ‘ov’. Bulgarians collect rose petals in the Kazanluk region, which are used to make perfume for the country’s upper class – 30,000 kilos need to be harvested to produce just 12 kilos of fragrance. The national team’s sojourn in Portugal will not be a ‘bed of roses’ so humming along to Lynn Anderson’s I never promised you a rose garden might prove appropriate for fans – who will be nodding their heads. Why? Well, Bulgaria is the only country in the world where this gesture signifies ‘no’. Shaking your head means ‘yes’, as some intrepid visitors to the country have found out to their cost!

Law and order

Miguel Macedo, Secretary of State for Justice, has presented the government’s proposed interim measures to the NationalAssembly for approval. These are to be applied for the one month and 11 day duration of the European Championships and include:

• The introduction of 24-hour criminal courts, also in session at weekends and public holidays.

• The use of banning orders preventing troublesome fans from entering stadia.

• Swift expulsion of foreign citizens from Portuguese territory.

• The installation of electronic surveillance equipment in public places.

• Special security arrangements on public transport taking fans to matches.

Furthermore, the Minister for Internal Administration, Figueiredo Lopes, has declared that the elite police unit, the Intervention Corps, are well prepared for the tournament. Lopes was speaking on the occasion of the force’s 28th anniversary, as fire and shock-proof uniforms, as well as 92 tactical response vehicles, were unveiled, representing part of the 7.5 million euros spent re-equipping this sub-division of the PSP, which now numbers 1,001 men.

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Airport jam

The Secretary of State for Public Works, Jorge Costa, has gone on record as saying that no Portuguese airport, or indeed any in the world, is ready for the peak level of passengers expected for the European Championship. He has suggested that the Air Force bases at Beja and Curtegaca be used as alternative landing strips for appropriate aircraft ‘on hold’, to supplement facilities at Lisbon and Porto. Further ‘parking spaces’ that could be utilised include the strips of Portela and Sa Carneiro.

Public spending stop

Money that has to be spent on Euro 2004 will not now be available for other public works planned for this year. An example is the escalating cost of the Algarve Stadium, which will prevent important renovations from being carried out in the city of Loulé, explained Seruca Emidio, President of the local Câmara . “It’s quite simple”, he said, “if you take money on one side, the other will have none left”.

Since he took control of Loulé Câmera, Seruca Emidio’s spending has been swallowed up by the construction of the sporting venue. At present there is little hope of recouping the investment, as both the local clubs sharing the new stadium, Farense and Louletano, play in the third division and attract little support. Three Euro 2004 games will not fill the municipality’s coffers and it is for this reason that Emidio advocates the creation of a new club, able to represent the region at the highest level.


Last Week:

Which national team only lost one game between 1950 and 1956? Which game was it?

Answer: Hungary; 1954 World Cup final v Germany in Switzerland.

This week:

In which country was Portugal’s football idol Eusebio born? Which club did he play for?

Answer next week.