has point to prove
31 March 2004
Of all the players likely to be in action in EURO 2004, few will as anxious to impress as Arsenal star Robert Pires. Not only is the French winger desperate to defend the title he helped his country win in 2000, his visit to Portugal is something of a homecoming.
Pires's father, Antonio, hails from Braga, one of the cities hosting EURO 2004 matches. As a boy, Pires could often be found wearing the burgundy and green of Portugal on family holidays in Braga in his youth.
But, did he ever dream of playing for France in Portugal? "Ah no," replied the modest midfield player. "I would have never believed it - and to be honest with you, I never dreamed of it because when you're young, playing for the French team is something rather unreachable.
"This is what I used to say and then I met people who trusted me during all these years and who allowed me to obtain my first cap in 1996. Since then I have never left the French team. For me it is very important. It is not really a dream come true because I never dreamed of playing for the French team."
Pires was forced to miss the 2002 World Cup finals through injury, but having already accumulated 67 caps for Les Bleus, he is well versed on the relative qualities of France's opponents in Group B.
He told euro2004.com: "Switzerland are probably the outsiders of the group. As for us, we will take this game very seriously. True we beat them last summer 2-0 on their home ground, but it was only a friendly. This will be the one that counts and we'll have to be careful not to be too relaxed against the Swiss."
He expects a tougher test from Croatia. "Croatia, for me, will probably be much more difficult, "Pires said. "It is obvious because Croatia are a team full of very technical talents. They have always been good in that area. They don't let go. The players are physical. It might be the most difficult game physically speaking."
Pires naturally has more familiarity with England, who play France in their opening match on 13 June. "We know them well, yes," he said. "It is true because most of the French international players are lucky enough to play in the Premiership. We know that this game will be difficult. We will be facing our team-mates. Of course it will be nice to play against them but once again let's not forget that the European crown is at stake.
Pires is a fan of Sven-Göran Eriksson's side, saying: "I really like this team. What the coach is doing is absolutely fantastic. He has brought on a lot of young players, improved their fitness and it has probably benefited this English team. Once again we'll have to be careful as they can score goals at any time, especially on free-kicks."
And Pires is looking forward to a direct confrontation with Arsenal colleague Ashley Cole. "This situation is actually funny," he grinned. "It is true that if I play on the right side I'll have to face my friend Cole. I don't know how he will react. I don't know what will be my reaction. But I know that we will play against each other in a friendly way."