The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Baby-faced future and egg-on-the-face present

Everyone at this European Championship has been commenting on how many of the so-called superstars failed to perform to their highest level and it is something Uefa need to look at because their other tournament, the Champions League, is messing up this one. It is no coincidence players such as David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane looked jaded after playing so many games in the Champions League, as well as fulfilling full domestic programmes.

Things could have been even worse if Uefa had not cut out the second group stage in last season’s Champions League. But the fact is the top players are still playing too many matches, leaving them out of sorts when the big international competitions come around, which is when you want them at their best.

Having said that, I was pleasantly surprised by the players who did come to the fore. Some of them were unlikely names, and one who impressed me more than anyone was Portugal’s Ricardo Carvalho. He was not even first choice at the start of the tournament but he came in for Fernando Couto and showed what a good performer he is. He’s quick and strong, good in the air, he reads it well and he can play.

Another defender who has impressed is Traianos Dellas of Greece, who also reads it well and has been outstanding in every game, but especially so in the semi-final win over the Czech Republic. He even got the silver goal winner for good measure. How on earth was he unable to cut the mustard at Bramall Lane'

One I plucked out to watch before this event started was Czech Tomas Rosicky and he did more than anyone to try to turn the semi-final in his country's favour. He’s a lovely little player, a bit baby-faced but one who is now maturing and now looks a more complete player. At 23, he is certainly one for the future.

What I particularly liked against Greece was that when Pavel Nedved was injured early on and came off, Rosicky shouldered the responsibility and tried to make things happen. He was unlucky not to score early on with a stunning strike and then produced a sublime piece of football which should have produced a goal for Jan Koller. Unfortunately, he lacked Rosicky’s finishing touch.

Portugal’s Maniche has also been as impressive as anyone and, having won the Champions League with Porto, he has played more games even than Beckham and Co. So that says a lot for his energy level because his commitment and work-rate is second to none.

On top of that, he can even score goals and his one against Holland was probably the goal of the tournament. Pity the Portuguese director happened to be looking the other way at the time, which we have got captured on camera as the ball hit the net.

Most people would have expected Luis Figo or Rui Costa to be the biggest stars in the Portuguese team but Maniche has outshone everyone. Not that Figo can be called a failure. Having been brought off in an earlier game against Spain, which he was clearly not happy about, he did not sulk but came back like a true professional and was magnificent against Holland.

There is every chance he will do the same against Greece in Sunday’s final. I will also be looking for Cristiano Ronaldo to continue showing he is growing as a player. He has his critics but I think he is improving all the time and he is scoring more frequently, even with his head.

Ashley Cole marked him brilliantly in the quarter-final but Portugal still had plenty to spare over England, which proves that they are a real team, rather than one relying on one or two big names.

England failed to deliver again when it mattered most but they had some good performers. Cole’s Arsenal colleague, Sol Campbell, was also immense and I am sure he would have earned a place in my team of the tournament if England had gone further. But the last eight were disappointing given the strength in depth of the team.

I could not, of course, leave out Wayne Rooney, who was the sensation of the tournament and would probably have picked up the golden boot as top scorer if England had gone all the way. Even so, he must be delighted with the contribution he made and no doubt his agent Paul Stretford has had a smile on his face since the first ball was kicked.

The biggest disappointment of Euro 2004 is Portugal’s Pedro Pauleta, who I expected to do well and score a few goals, though having written him off, he will probably score a hat-trick against Greece in tonight's final.

I cannot see Portugal throwing away the chance of lifting the trophy after coming so far but we all keep writing off the Greeks and ending up with egg on our faces.

Everything is also in Portugal’s favour — home advantage, an extra day’s rest since their semi-final and having not moved from Lisbon since the tournament began. So surely they cannot lose to Greece again. Can they'

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