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  EURO 2004 Review


Star system takes a hammering at Euro 2004
A banner in the Greek fans' area at Porto's Dragao Stadium during the semifinal against the Czech Republic told the story.
Saturday, 03 July 2004

Emblazoned across it were the names Figo, Raul and Zidane. Through each was a red line. Underneath, it asked: 'Next?'

It was a message that summed up both Greece's surprising progress at Euro 2004 and the story of the tournament itself.

Euro 2004 may be remembered as the one where European soccer's star system was dismantled - by Greeks and others - and replaced by a new kind of meritocracy.

Few outside Greece's army of fans will have anything more than a scant knowledge of the Greek players' names, let alone their background or lifestyles, as they settle to watch Sunday's final against Portugal.

Though the hosts' improving team have become increasingly familiar, only their ageing winger Luis Figo, who prefers to avoid the celebrity limelight, and the youthful Cristiano Ronaldo can be classed as well-known beyond Portugal.

Most of the men who banked fat cheques from pre-tournament advertising contracts went home long ago - Zinedine Zidane and his French team-mates, England captain and clothes horse David Beckham, Germany's Michael Ballack, and Italy's small galaxy led by Francesco Totti.

For the marketing moguls who handed over their millions, it has been a month of escalating disappointment.

Almost certainly the rate cards will be revised for the old brigade although new talents like England's Wayne Rooney, the Czechs' top scorer Milan Baros and Cristiano Ronaldo are ready to take over.

Sunday's final is not a contest between two teams filled with individuals but rather a collective struggle for superiority under the guidance of astute 'foreign' coaches.

In their training camps, Portugal's Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari and Greece's German Otto Rehhagel are the ruling figures - Rehhagel calls his coaching style "democratic dictatorship".

They have an appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of their respective adopted nations, and have no in-built prejudices about individual players or clubs.

There are few hints of the player-power politics that surfaced in the English, French, Italian and Dutch squads, packed with players experienced in top-flight football and all the celebrity that goes with it.

Greece disposed of Portugal in the opening game, Spain in their group finale and France in the quarter-final with collective effort, blockade defending and swift counter-attacks.

Figo, an established name by virtue of his time with Barcelona and Real Madrid, appeared to storm off the field after being substituted in Portugal's quarter-final against England.

Scolari openly respects Figo for his experience and leadership, but the captain remains just one among equals. The coach made clear that nothing, and nobody, would change his tactical plan.

Scolari was rewarded with a man of the match performance by Figo in the semifinal win over the Netherlands.

The Czech Republic, in spite of having a squad filled with foreign-based players, were conditioned into a collective unit by their coach Karel Brueckner and reached the semi-finals.

Pavel Nedved, the European Footballer of the Year and Czech captain, never took on celebrity status ahead of his team mates.
- Reuters



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