Following the shock defeat in the opening game against Greece, Portugal put themselves in with a chance of surviving the group stage by beating Russia 2-0 in a difficult game, which saw the Eastern Europeans finish the game with 10 men. Sunday’s all or nothing showdown with Spain required something special. Portugal had never beaten Spain in a competitive match in five attempts and Spain had not lost to their neighbours in 23 years. Yet, the hosts came out fighting, with the inspirational Cristiano Ronaldo enjoying his first full game and Portugal dominating proceedings for most of the 90 minutes. Nuno Gomes’ 57th minute goal plunged the nation into euphoric celebrations that spelt the end for Spain’s campaign.
At the same time, Greece, who had shown that their win over Portugal was no fluke by drawing 1-1 with Spain, were trailing 2-0 to Russia in Faro. A vital goal made it 2-1 on the night, giving Greece second spot in the group on goals scored, the reward being a quarter-final berth against France.
Wayne Rooney scored two goals with Gerrard adding a third in a laboured win over Switzerland, while France were held to a 2-2 draw by Croatia. On Monday, England needed only a draw against the Croats to progress and a French victory over Switzerland would secure first place in the group for the defending champions.
Any illusions England might have had that Croatia were going to roll over soon evaporated as Niko Kovac gave the Croats a shock lead after only four minutes following James’ one-handed free-kick save. Undeterred, England continued pressing forward, dominating while Croatia sat back, waiting for further counter-attacking opportunities. Six minutes before half-time, Owen was blocked by the Croat goalkeeper Butina at close range and Scholes headed in the loose ball to level the scores. Five minutes later, Rooney let rip from outside the area, his shot whistling past the diving Butina to put England firmly on course for the quarter-finals, confirming his hero status with delirious fans.
After the interval, England came out and laid siege to their opponents’ goal. In the 54th minute, Owen was sent clear with only the advancing keeper to beat, but his measured chip landed on the roof of the goal. Only minutes later, Rooney showed how it is done from an almost identical situation, clinically slotting the ball past Butina to make it 3-1. Top striker on four in the competition so far, Rooney was then replaced by Vassell. Igor Tudor briefly gave Croatia hope with a fine header, before Frank Lampard restored England’s two-goal advantage 10 minutes before the end. Final score 4-2 and the name Rooney was on everyone’s lips, England now face hosts Portugal in Thursday’s quarter-final showdown.
At the same time, Zidane gave France the lead against Switzerland, an equaliser tying the game at half-time. Two trademark Thierry Henry strikes sent the Swiss packing in the second half, the 3-1 scoreline securing first place in Group B for the reigning champions and a quarter-final against Greece on Friday in Lisbon.
Sweden look to be in pole position following a 5-0 thrashing of Bulgaria and a fortunate 1-1 draw with Italy. They faced neighbours Denmark, who followed up their goal-less draw with Italy by beating Bulgaria 2-0. A Scandinavian draw would see Italy eliminated.
The Czech Republic became the first team to qualify for the quarter-finals after coming back from two goals down against Holland, winning 3-2. At the same time, Germany were fortunate to survive 0-0 against rank outsiders Latvia and now needed to win against the Czechs in their last group match to avoid an embarrassing early exit. If Holland beat Latvia, and Germany don’t win, they will finish second.
FOCUS: ALGARVE — Dutch Treat
Not much was heard of late arrivals Holland. Despite a relatively large Dutch community on the Algarve, the team landed without much fuss.
As befits some of the best-paid players in Europe, the ‘Orange’ select are staying at the exclusive five-star Sheraton Pine Cliffs in Albufeira, a fact that has caused some controversy back home in The Netherlands. Local team Imortal are providing training facilities, going so far as to paint their ground bright orange at great cost. Furthermore, the Dutch stars have seven restaurants and five bars at their disposal, as well as a golf course, health club, two outdoor swimming pools, one indoor, a gymnasium, a jogging track and three conference rooms. Nothing is lacking in terms of personal comfort and should Latvia prove an insurmountable obstacle, the players will feel sorry to leave prematurely.
The Dutch fans have not been much in evidence in the Algarve as a whole, tending to congregate in Albufeira. They have so far not caught attention, despite an opening clash with traditional enemies Germany and it can only be hoped that plentiful sunshine and cheap beer keep tempers in check for the duration of their stay.