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
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
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