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  Quarter-Finals Preview


Cream rising to top as Euro 2004 gets tougher
Twenty four games played, 64 goals scored, eight teams remaining, seven matches left to play. The cream is rising to the top in Euro 2004 with the quarter-finals kicking off on Thursday.
Wednesday, 23 June 2004

The stage is now set for all the drama, joy and pain that knockout football delivers. The four games are spread over four nights starting on Thursday when Portugal face their old rivals England at the Luz stadium in Lisbon.

European champions France then meet surprise quarter-finalists Greece on Friday at Lisbon's Jose Alvalade stadium before Sweden play the Netherlands in Faro on Saturday. The quarter-finals end with the Czech Republic facing Denmark in Porto on Sunday.

Understandably, most media attention in Portugal is focused on the match between the hosts and England, who both came through the group phase after losing their opening games.

Portugal's campaign got off to a poor start when they lost 2-1 to Greece but wins against Russia and Spain in which they did not concede a goal have revitalised Luiz Felipe Scolari's side.

Scolari is relishing another duel with Sven-Goran Eriksson, their first competitive clash since Scolari's Brazil beat Eriksson's England in the World Cup quarter-finals before going on to become world champions for the fifth time two years ago.

Eight of England's players that day may face Portugal but one who did not could make the biggest difference of all.

Wayne Rooney, just 18 and the Euro 2004 joint-top scorer with four goals, will have to find a way through the solid-looking central defensive partnership of Jorge Andrade and Nuno Valente.

Portugal's 1-0 win over neighbours Spain to secure their place in the last eight was a tremendous boost to their confidence.

Like Portugal, England lost their opening match, conceding two goals in stoppage time to France as what looked like a certain 1-0 victory evaporated into a 2-1 defeat.

They have come back strongly with wins over Switzerland (3-0) and Croatia (4-2) and Thursday's match could be a classic between two teams buoyed and confident with so much at stake.

The winner of their quarter-final faces Sweden or the Netherlands in the semi-final being played at the Jose Alvalade stadium in Lisbon on June 30.

The Dutch will take heart from their 3-0 win over Latvia on Wednesday in which Ruud Van Nistelrooy scored twice to join Rooney as the leading marksman of the tournament.

Sweden reached the last eight with their 2-2 draw against Denmark on Tuesday but, unlike the Dutch, have qualified for the last eight unbeaten.

France, attempting to become the first country to successfully defend the European title, face Otto Rehhagel's well-organised Greece side in the second quarter-final.

France's campaign has remained on track despite problems in defence and scares in their group matches against England, Croatia and Switzerland in which they fell behind in each game.

France, though, are made of the stuff of champions and with Zinedine Zidane playing as well as ever and scoring, and Thierry Henry contributing his first goals of the tournament in their 3-1 win over Switzerland, it is hard to see Greece winning.

If they do emerge victorious they would write another chapter in their improving soccer history. Their six previous meetings since they first played in 1958, when France won 7-1, have ended in five easy wins for France and one draw.

Whoever wins that match will meet Denmark or the Czech Republic in the other semi-final at the Dragao Stadium in Porto on July 1.

All eight quarter-finalists have a chance of winning the title but the Czech Republic look one of the better prospects.

Karel Brueckner's inventive, attacking team showed incredible qualities of teamwork, resilience and attacking power in overturning a two-goal deficit to beat the Netherlands 3-2 last Sunday and, after finishing as the only team to win all three group matches, they look too strong for Denmark.
- Reuters



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