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  Group Stage Review


Euro 2004 Group-by-group analysis
A group-by-group analysis of the European Championship at the end of the first stage.
Thursday, 24 June 2004

GROUP A Portugal, Greece, Spain, Russia

Portugal appeared set to fall at the first hurdle when they lost 2-1 to Greece in their opener. But the hosts recovered to finish top of the group after coach Luiz Felipe Scolari boldly removed stalwarts Fernando Couto and Rui Costa from the starting line-up for the next two matches.

After beating Russia 2-0, Portugal qualified with an historic 1-0 win over Spain -- their first for 23 years and first ever in a competitive match with their neighbours.

Greece clung on to claim second place ahead of the Spaniards on goals scored despite losing their final game 2-1 to Russia.

Spain lived up to a reputation for underachieving with their usual early exit but resisted public pressure to fire coach Inaki Saez who will stay for the 2006 World Cup qualifiers.

Russia's win over Greece just salvaged some pride as they had already lost their first two matches without scoring. They were hit by their usual bickering, with Alexander Mostovoi sent home after one game for criticising coach Georgy Yartsev.

GROUP B France, England, Croatia, Switzerland

Champions France won the group with seven points despite showing only flashes of their best. Their 2-1 win over England, when Zinedine Zidane scored twice in stoppage time, was followed by a lucky 2-2 draw with Croatia and a 3-1 win over Switzerland, when Thierry Henry got his first international goals this year.

England bounced back to beat Switzerland 3-0 and Croatia 4-2 to join France in the second round as 18-year-old Wayne Rooney scored twice in each match. His goal against Switzerland made him the youngest player to score in the Championship's history.

His record, however, lasted only five days until Swiss teenager Johann Vonlanthen scored in the 3-1 defeat by France -- at the same stadium and in the same goal as Rooney -- to claim his team's only goal of the tournament.

Switzerland and Croatia shared the dubious honour of playing a 0-0 draw widely rated as ther Championship's worst game.

GROUP C Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Bulgaria

Italy traditionally like to find scapegoats when they are knocked out of a major championship. They did not have to look very far on this occasion when Sweden and Denmark played out a 2-2 draw that sent both through and eliminated Italy, despite their stoppage-time 2-1 win over Bulgaria.

The Italians found few sympathetic ears. They managed just one good half of attacking football in the 1-1 draw with Sweden, had Francesco Totti banned for three games for spitting at Denmark's Christian Poulsen and sulked with the media. Despite the failure, coach Giovanni Trapattoni refused to quit.

Sweden were among the revelations, especially with their spectacular 5-0 demolition of Bulgaria, while Denmark's short-passing game made them the nearest thing to a South American team in at the Championship.

The record books will probably be unkind to Bulgaria, who were the only team to go home without a point, but they did not play that badly apart from a disastrous second half against Sweden when they conceded four goals.

GROUP D Czech Republic, Netherlands, Germany, Latvia

The Czech Republic were the only team to complete the first round with a 100 percent record. Even more remarkably, the Czechs, inspired by the brilliant Pavel Nedved and three-goal Milan Baros, came from behind in all three matches.

They needed an 85th minute winner to overcome outsiders Latvia in their opener and produced the tournament's most spectacular fight back to come from 2-0 down to beat the Netherlands 3-2. They the fielded a weakened side in their final group match against Germany -- and still won 2-1.

Germany's defeat opened the door for the Dutch who took full advantage by recovering from their traumatic loss against the Czechs to beat Latvia 3-0 and reach the last eight.

The Germans, meanwhile, slunk home after poor campaign in which they failed to win a game. Despite coming last with only one point, Latvia, playing at their first major championship, won friends all round with their spirited performances.
- Reuters



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