| Eriksson is relieved at having avoided tough group
Lisbon: England were clubbed with title-holders France while the Netherlands and three-time winners Germany were drawn in the same group for the Euro 2004 finals in Portugal here Sunday.
England and France will slug it out in Group B along with Switzerland and Croatia. The Dutch must also contend with 1996 finalists Czech Republic and play-off qualifiers Latvia in Group D.
Host nation Portugal face neighbours Spain in Group A, while Italy will expect to qualify from Group C, which also features Sweden, Bulgaria and Denmark.
England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson was relieved that England, who have never won the European title, managed to avoid Group D, which is set to earn the title of the championships’ Group of Death.
“D is the most difficult group,” said Eriksson. “We will have the first match against France, in Lisbon. It will be a big, big, game and very nice. Difficult, but beautiful.
“France is one of the favourites to win the tournament and you hope to have them in the final, but we are playing in the biggest stadium in Portugal (the Stadium of Light).
“Switzerland and Croatia are doing very well, so I don’t expect that to be easy. France are a difficult one but I think we can beat them if we play our game.”
France coach Jacques Santini said the clash with England would be “like a derby” because France stars such as Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira play club football in the English Premiership. “We played the Swiss in a friendly a few weeks ago, Croatia was the last step we took before winning the (World Cup in) 1998 and well, France vs England which will open our group campaign will be more like a derby given the number of players playing in the Premiership.”
Rudi Voller, the coach of three-time winners Germany, had no doubts his side were in the hardest group after being thrown together with old rivals the Netherlands and 1996 finalists the Czech Republic.
“That is without doubt a strong group,” Völler said. “Certainly there were quite a few other combinations which would have been much easier on paper. It was clear beforehand that at this tournament there would be no easy preliminary groups.”
Völler, who led Germany to runners-up spot behind Brazil at the 2002 World Cup, did see some good points from the draw. “I don’t see starting against Holland as a problem because at a European championships everyone is concentrating fully right from the start. The only thing that bothers me is our late start on June 15 when all the other groups have already played.”
Italy coach Giovanni Trapattoni meanwhile agreed that group D was the one to avoid. The veteran coach is positive that Italy will qualify from their group C but – perhaps referring to their last-minute defeat to France in the 2000 European Championships final – warned they would have to perform when it mattered. “On paper we are favourites (to win the group), but I say on paper because on the pitch things can turn out differently,” said Trapattoni. “I think the toughest group is D, while France and England shouldn’t have problems in qualifying.
“For us it was important to avoid France and Portugal. Psychologically it’s a small advantage.”
Group A: 1. Portugal 2. Greece 3. Spain 4. Russia. Group B: 1. France 2. England 3. Switzerland 4. Croatia. Group C: 1. Sweden 2. Bulgaria 3. Denmark 4. Italy. Group D: 1. Czech Republic 2. Latvia 3. Germany 4. Netherlands.
(Group stage — kick-off times GMT)
June 12: Group A – Portugal vs Greece (Oporto, 1600); Spain vs Russia (Faro-Loule, 1845); June 13: Group B – Switzerland vs Croatia (Leiria, 1600); France vs England (Lisbon, 1845); June 14: Group C – Denmark vs Italy (Guimaraes, 1600); Sweden vs Bulgaria (Lisbon, 1845); June 15: Group D – Germany vs Netherlands (Oporto, 1600); Czech Republic vs Latvia (Aveiro, 1845);
June 16: Group A – Greece vs Spain (Oporto, 1600); Russia vs Portugal (Lisbon, 1845);
June 17: Group B – England vs Switzerland (Coimbra, 1600); Croatia vs France (Leiria, 1845); June 18: Group C – Bulgaria vs Denmark (Braga, 1600); Italy vs Sweden (Oporto, 1845); June 19: Group D – Latvia vs Germany (Oporto, 1600); Netherlands vs Czech Republic (Aveiro, 1845); June 20: Group A – Spain vs Portugal (Lisbon, 1845); Russia vs Greece (Faro-Loule, 1845); June 21: Group B – Croatia vs England (Lisbon, 1845); Switzerland vs France (Coimbra, 1845);
June 22: Group C – Italy vs Bulgaria (Guimaraes, 1845); Denmark vs Sweden (Oporto, 1845); June 23: Group D – Netherlands vs Latvia (Braga, 1845); Germany vs Czech Republic (Lisbon, 1845).
Quarter finals: June 24 to June 27
Semi-finals: June 30 and July 1.
FINAL: July 4 in Lisbon. (AFP)