SPAIN (Group A)
Apart from a European Championship success on home soil in 1964, Spain have been the great under-achievers at international level, yet FIFA’s No. 3 ranking in the world reflects their consistency. At club level, the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Deportivo la Coruna and Valencia have helped make the Spanish League the strongest in the world, but the teams are largely dependent on expensive foreign imports.
Over the last two years, coach Inaki Saez has established a nucleus of young players in the side, placing more emphasis on talent and less on aggression, instilling a greater work ethic, while cutting out the show-boating. The new generation is complemented by the captain and undisputed star of the team, 26-year-old Real Madrid striker Raul, who now holds the all-time international scoring record with 37 goals. His teammate Iker Casillas is now a firm fixture between the posts.
Convincing performances in their qualifying group were only marred by an inexplicable home defeat against Greece, forcing them into the play-offs, where 2-1 and 3-0 wins against Norway allowed Spain to take its place in Portugal. Drawn against Portugal, Greece and Russia, reaching the quarter finals is not a foregone conclusion, but with two ‘virtual’ home matches in Faro, the ‘Hermanos’ are in a strong position to challenge for honours at Euro 2004. Come June, a hearty chorus of E Viva Espanha could very well replace cries of Spanish Eyes!
The Portuguese Minister for the Interior has finally confirmed that the Schengen Agreement is to be rendered ineffective for the duration of the Euro 2004 Championship. Figueiredo Lopes cites reasons of national security and public order, permitted under European Law, for re-establishing the previously obsolete border controls. The free movement of persons within the European Community will be suspended for three weeks at a cost of 16 million euros, as the Servico dos Estranheros e Fronteiras (SEF), backed up by units of the GNR, re-occupy abandoned border posts. A state of siege is not expected, but it is hoped that, in co-operation with other national police forces, both hooligans and terrorists can be deterred from entering Portugal.
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Brand title favourites
In the ‘kit wars’ arena, sportswear manufacturers Adidas are favourites for the Championship, with Germany, France, Spain, Greece and Latvia all wearing the German company’s kit. Next are Nike, represented by Croatia, Holland, Portugal and Russia and personal favourites Puma, challenging with the Czech Republic, Italy, Bulgaria and Switzerland. England and Sweden are the flag-bearers for Umbro, with Denmark the only ‘Humnel’ team. Place your bets!
UEFA have abolished both the ‘golden’ and ‘silver’ goal rulings, curtailing the standard extra time period. Although no longer applicable as of July 1 of this year, the Euro 2004 tournament will still see possible ‘silver’ goals as the event commences before the cut-off date.
Vladimir Putin and King Juan Carlos of Spain are two of the confirmed visitors to Euro 2004 games taking place in the Algarve that are currently occupying security forces. It is feared that both might present ‘soft’ targets for Chechen and ETA terrorists – a fact that has prevented other visits from Heads of State being publicised.
Burgers in dispute
Last week’s campaign to select Portuguese children to represent the country at Euro 2004 sponsored by McDonald’s has caused a storm of controversy. The alleged stipulations, which excluded the physically and mentally handicapped, have been put down to errors in translation on one part and failure to read the whole document on the other.
A QUESTION OF FOOTBALL
Last Week: Name the only foreign striker to score over 100 goals in the Premiership. Which country does he represent?
Answer: Dwight Yorke, Trinidad and Tobago.
This Week: How many club or national sides can you name which Terry Venables has managed? What is his other ‘claim to fame’?
Answer next week.