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  EURO 2004 Review


Stars falling
Euro 2004 ends badly for big-name players, nations
Saturday, 26 June 2004

For the first time since the European Championship began in 1960, none of Europe's major soccer-playing nations will be in the semifinals.

France have been deposed as champions, Italy, Germany and Spain all failed to make it out of the group stage and England lost on penalties in the quarterfinals to hosts Portugal.

The Czech Republic, Netherlands and Denmark, who have all won the title in the past, did reach the last eight but for various reasons are not quite among the elite.

Yet UEFA's technical group -- experienced coaches trained to notice developments in the game -- say no new trend has emerged and there is no common thread for the failure of the giants.

Englishman Roy Hodgson, a member of the delegation, who took Switzerland to the World Cup finals in 1994, said they had all lost for different reasons but fatigue was not a factor.

"Before the tournament every player says how much they are looking forward to playing, that they are up for it and the fact they have played 40-odd matches will have no effect.

"When a team goes out the players say they are tired. I find that hard to accept. Either you are up for the tournament, or you're not.

"I think there is a long enough break between the end of the league season and the start of the tournament and these days the teams prepare very well, so I don't understand that argument."

Hodgson also dismissed as an excuse the fact that, for example, the Greek League is not as tiring as Serie A or the English premier league.

Greece have been the major surprise of Euro 2004 by reaching the semifinals after knocking out holders France on Friday. But even Latvia, eliminated in the group stages, played some good football and gained a highly creditable 0-0 draw with Germany.

"The top players, say in the Czech Republic, are not playing in the Czech League, they're playing in Germany, in Italy."

"The same for the Swedes and the Danes, they're playing in Italy, England, too, not in the Danish or Swedish championship, so they're under the same pressures as the players appearing for Italy or England," added Hodgson.

"The major point is it's a knockout tournament between three to six games, three to six finals if you like, and in a cup competition the team that's best on paper, doesn't necessarily win it. We see it all the time in our domestic cup competitions.

"Millwall were in the FA Cup final this year and, with all due respect to their coaches Dennis Wise and Ray Wilkins, not even they would suggest Millwall are one of the best teams in England."

The only global reason Hodgson would identify -- and it has long been established now -- is that the old gap between bigger and smaller nations is closing faster than ever.

"A small nation like Slovenia prepares just as well as Italy or England do these days. They are just as hard to beat."

The one trend linking the bigger countries here was their failure. But Hodgson said the technical delegation believes they all lost for different reasons.

"England went out basically through a combination of bad luck and losing a key player after 20 minutes. The French team would probably suggest they didn't play anywhere near their true potential during the tournament.

"The Germans might suggest their morale or their confidence was affected by bad preparation games and they didn't come into the tournament as confident as they sometimes do.

"The Italians went out without actually losing many matches. Spain and Italy also had enough points to go through had they been in other groups."

So, with Portugal and Greece already in the semifinals, could this be the first tournament since Denmark's surprise triumph in 1992 to be won by a small nation?

Hodgson wasn't saying.

"It'll probably be won by a moment of magic from a player," he said, "and that can come from anyone."
- Reuters



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