Euro 2004 Team by Team
The hosts, Portugal have been expected to make a major impact at a big tournament ever since their 'Golden Generation' won the World Youth Championshps in 1989 and 1991. Portugal are very unpredicatble. They reached the semi-finals at Euro 2000 but crashed out in the first round of the last World Cup with defeats by USA and South Korea. Under Luiz Felipe Scolari, Portugal have beaten Brazil in a friendly but their lack of meaningful action since 2002 makes their progress hard to judge. However Porto's victories in the Champions League and UEFA Cup recently have boosted the nation's hopes.
The Greeks have only ever qualified for two major international tournaments and have never won a game. Despite this the team qualified for Portugal in style by winning group 6 after losing their first two matches. German boss Otto Rehhagel has been a huge success since taking over in 2001 and with players such as Inter Milan's Giorgios Karagounis and Leicester City's Nikos Dabizas the rank outsiders could shock the bigger teams.
The Spanish boast the best domestic league in the world and a world class team that is ranked third in the world. However they have not won a major tournament for 40 years since they won the event back in 1964. Spains qualifying campaign suggests that they may again underacheive internationally as they finished second to Greece and had to beat Norway in a play-off. But with players like Raul, Michel Salgado, Ivan Helguera, Casillas, Jose Antonio Reyes and Fernando Torres in the side Spain believe this could be their championship.
The Russians come to Portugal with a 100% home record from their qualifying group but they failed to win away despite thrashing group winners Switzerland 4-1 with Dmitri Bulykin scoring a hat-trick. The Russians have not really made any real impact in a major championship since, as the Soviet Union, they were beaten in the final by the great Dutch side of the late 1980s.
France will be keep to prove a point in Euro 2004 after their embarrassing first round exit from the World Cup without scoring a single goal. But coach Jacques Santini has not tasted a competitive defeat since replacing Roger Lemerre and they are definite favourites to retain thier crown. France stormed to Portugal with 8 straight victories in qualifying, scoring a staggering 29 goals in the process. Arsenal ace Thierry Henry, Player of the Year in England, will arrive at Euro 2004 widely regarded as the world's greatest striker and Zinedine Zidane the most talented midfielder.
England have never reached the final of this competition. But Sven Goran Eriksson's record of just one defeat in 19 competitive matches suggest his team have the potential to do well. England were unbeaten in their qualifying games but only produced decent form in their key matches against Turkey were they won 2-0 and drew 0-0 in Istanbul to top the group. England are expected to qualify alongside holders France but a lot depends on the fitness of key players.
Since Kobi Kuhn took over his the Swiss nation team in 2001 he has proved a great success as Switzerland topped their qualifying group that included Russia and the Republic of Ireland. However the team have failed to qualify for the last 3 major finals and only 3 players have any experience at international tournaments. They are a dangerous side going forward with hitman Alexander Frei netting 14 goals in 22 internationals, an excellent strike rate at the highest level.
Croatia sneaked into Euro 2004 with a narrow play-off victory over neighbours Slovenia. But after starting their qualifying campaign with a home draw against Estonia and losing to Bulgaria, the Croats are just delighted to be in Portugal this summer. The glory days of World Cup 1998 seem a long time ago when they reached the semi-finals with Davor Suker taking the golden boot. Since then Croatia have failed to qualify for Euro 2000 and were knocked out in the first round of the World Cup. Despite this, 7 clean sheets in 10 qualifying games suggest Croatia will not be easy to break down.
Sweden look to be the dark horses of the tournament despite their bright yellow shirts as they have continuously let themselves down on the biggest stage since their high point back in 1992 when they reached the semi-finals of this competition. But with a run of 5 successive wins in their qualifying group and an impressive 3-0 win over Poland, things are looking good. The squad is a little short on depth and their hopes could rely on keeping the first team fit, but they have all the quality to punch above their weight.
After missing out on Euro 2000 Bulgaria will be keen to make up for lost time by becoming the surprise package of group C. Little is expected of the Bulgarians in such a tough group, but that could prove to be an advantage for one of the best sides in qualification. A young Bulgarian side proved too strong the likes of Croatia and Belgium in qualifying and much of their hopes will come down to Stilian Petrov and Marian Hristov. The countries best success in a major tournament came in the World Cup 10 years ago when they reached the semi-finals and with the blend of talent and team spirit there is little doubt the team can acheive a lot in future years although Euro 2004 may have come a little bit early.
The Danes have a reputation for being the dark horses at European Championships and will be hoping to build on past glories with a similar upset in Portugal. The 1992 tournament winners will come to Portugal with top players such as Thomas Gravesen and Jesper Gronkjaer. Denmark often play a lone striker system with either John Dahl Tomasson or Dennis Rommedahl, both of which will probably given a chance to shine. Perhaps the biggest factor of Denmarks success will fall down to wether tactically minded boss Olsen can conjure up a masterlan against Europe's elite.
Italy's superstars need little more introduction as once again they head to a major championships as one of the favourites. They finished runners-up at Euro 2000 after losing to France after a Golden Goal and Giovanni Trapattoni will be looking for his side to bounce back from the humiliation of the last World Cup. Italy were sent packing by the plucky South Koreans in 2002 but you need only look at their squad to see they are more than capable of being victorious in Portugal.
Any country underestimating the Czech Republic will do so at their peril. The Czech's boast a proud record in the competition, especially when they were unified as Czechoslovakia, and have a squad to cause an upset in Portugal. The fact coach Karel Bruckner's side finished above Holland in the group stages should make every other nation in the competition sit up and take notice.It is true to say the Czech's succeed more through honest hard work than out-and-out flair. But they still possess a host of player who command massive transfer fees in club football.
Little Latvia are playing in the finals for the first time and are not expected to pose much of a threat. They caused a major shock by beating Turkey in the play-offs but they had shown enough in the group stages to prove their emergence as a force under manager Alexsandrs Starkovs by finishing above Hungary and Poland as well as winning 1-0 in Sweden. The minnows have few stars to call upon but Starkovs has got his side playing an effective counter-attacking game.
Never underestimate the Germans has become a classic football cliche and is used at every football championship. But there is a good reason for it as they have earned a place in football folklore because Germany are simply the most successful team at this championship. They did not enjoy the smoothest qualifying campaign with draws against Lithuania, Iceland and Scotland but they can never be counted out.
Dutch fans will just be hoping the players are in the right mental state because few countries can match them when it comes to pure football talent. The play-off matches against Scotland shows Holland at the worst, losing 1-0 in the first leg and at their best, winning 6-0 in the return leg. Coach Dick Advocaat has a wealth of talent going forward with the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy and Patrick Kluivert but their defence can often be very weak.