Draw gets pulse racing
There was a song and there were speeches and children thumping drums
brought it all to a noisy end but what matters is the 16 finalists
now know what lies in store for them in the warm days of June 2004.
Threads of golden Christmas lights will illuminate the Lisbon
streets after dark today but already thoughts are turning here to
the stars, and showdowns, that will light up the long days of next
Sunday, 30 November 2003
Lisbon's Pavilhão Atlântico. - UEFA.com
end of the EURO 2004 draw ceremony at Lisbon's Pavilhão
Atlântico was signalled by a spectacular drum show from
traditional group Tocá Rufar but as the sounds from the
official draw ceremony faded out, they were replaced by the
equally cacophonous sounds of reaction to the draw itself and
fevered speculation about the tournament which is now less
than 200 days away.
Certainly, UEFA Chief Executive Gerhard Aigner could hardly
gave delivered a more dramatic script as he conducted his last
ever national teams draw before he retires from his position
at the end of the year.
Group A pitted hosts Portugal with their Iberian rivals Spain; holders France begin their defence in Group B against England; Scandinavian neighbours Denmark and Sweden were paired together with Italy in Group C; while newcomers Latvia found themselves in the group most deserving of the traditional 'Group of Death' appellation: up against the Czech Republic, Germany and the Netherlands.
Portugal will kick off the tournament on 12 June at the Dragão stadium against Greece, with Russia and Spain the other teams in Group A. The sides' last competitive meetings were [UEFA] European Championship qualifiers in 1991, with Greece defeating Portugal in Athens in January before Portugal overcame Greece 1-0 in Lisbon with João Pinto scoring the only goal.
Portugal and Spain, who play their Iberian derby on 20 June at the José Alvalade stadium in Lisbon, met most recently in the European Championship in EURO 84 when they drew 1-1 in Marseille. Spain have met Greece much more recently, and will be eager to avenge their 1-0 defeat in qualifying Group 6 in June this year when the sides meet again in Porto's Bessa stadium on 16 June.
The standout fixture in Group B is the meeting of France and England at the Luz stadium, described by England coach
Sven-Göran Eriksson as a "beautiful venue". Defending champions France last faced England in the European Championship at EURO 92 when the sides played out a 0-0 draw.
France defeated Switzerland 2-0 in Geneva in August this year and memorably overcame Croatia with two Lilian Thuram goals in the semi-finals of the 1998 FIFA World Cup. England, who have never won the European Championship, last faced Switzerland competitively when they hosted EURO 96, with Kubilay Türkyilmaz's 83rd-minute penalty equalising Alan Shearer's opener.
Group C comprises four teams who won their qualifying groups, with Italy, runners-up in UEFA EURO 2000, beginning their campaign against Denmark in Guimarães on 14 June. Sweden will hope to continue their recent good run against Bulgaria, who they meet on the same day, after defeating them twice in qualifying for EURO 2000. Italy finish their campaign against Bulgaria, reviving memories of their quarter-final in the 1968 European Championship when Italy triumphed 4-3 on aggregate.
Denmark and Sweden, who meet in the Bessa stadium in their final group game, share one of the oldest rivalries in international football, but they have only met once in European Championship history, when Tomas Brolin's goal gave Sweden victory on home turf in EURO 92.
Latvia face a daunting final tournament debut in Group D, and have never before faced the Czech Republic, the Netherlands or Germany in the competition. But it is the opening match between Germany and the Netherlands that is the highlight of the group.
The sides have met three times in the final tournament before with Germany triumphing at the group stage in EURO 80, while the Netherlands won 2-1 in 1988 en route to winning the competition and 3-1 in a group match in 1992. German coach Rudi Völler said: "I played in two of those games between Germany and the Netherlands myself so I know they are always special."
Germany and the Czech Republic have an equally storied past; with the Germans memorably overcoming the Czechs in the EURO 96 final thanks to Oliver Bierhoff's golden goal. Today's draw promises more such golden moments to come.