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  Coaches Reaction


Group B: France relish England opener
Reigning European champions France will have to negotiate their way past England, Croatia and Switzerland in UEFA EURO 2004 Group B if they are to successfully defend the crown they won so spectacularly in the Lowlands in 2000.
Sunday, 30 November 2003


With only the top two teams in the section advancing to the quarter-finals, France coach Jacques Santini is well aware of the importance of his country's opening game against the group's other big gun England - which is scheduled for Lisbon's Luz stadium on 13 June. 

"Playing England is a derby for us as there are so many French players in the English Premier League," Santini said. "Meanwhile, playing Croatia will remind us of 1998 when we won the [FIFA] World Cup and it was a great match against them in the semi-finals. 

"As for Switzerland," he continued. "We played them in a friendly at the start of this season so it is a team we know very well. And as I come from a part of France that is near Switzerland it is little derby for me." Santini added that he expected there to be little between the four teams. "It is a very even group," he said. "But we were happy to avoid Holland and are hopeful of reaching the quarter-finals." 

England coach Sven-Göran Eriksson also singled out the game against two-time champions France as of particular significance. "For this tournament we have to be ready very early as we play France on 13 June in the Luz," he said. "I'm sure it will be a very beautiful occasion but it will be a tough match as France are the big favourites to win the tournament. 

"It is a very difficult group," continued Eriksson, who is hoping to lead England to their first European Championship triumph. "But you can't expect easy groups in the final rounds of European Championships. I have a lot of respect for all the teams in the group. But for me Group D with the Czechs, Germany, Netherlands [and Latvia] is the most difficult on paper." 

Although France and England will be the most fancied sides in Group B, Switzerland and Croatia will also be determined to make a mark in Portugal. Michel Pont, assistant to Switzerland national coach Köbi Kuhn said: "We are certainly not the favourites as we are up against some of the biggest teams in Europe but we will give all our best in the big games. One of our best qualities is our fighting spirit and we will at least try to come second." 

Croatia coach Otto Baric was slightly more circumspect. "It is a very tough group," he said. "There are at least two teams better than us in England and France who are among the best sides in Europe. Switzerland are equal opponents to us and we will try our best to at least beat one opponent."




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