| Why Eriksson holds the edge
Apart from England vs Portugal, there will be another battle ó between Sven-Goran Eriksson and Luiz Felipe Scolari. The following is a quick look at why the England coach has a bright chance of avenging his teamís defeat against Scolariís Brazil at the World Cup:
ē Eriksson has been working with this lot for three years. He knows the Englishmen better than Scolari knows the Portuguese. Eriksson has a better understanding of his teamís strengths and weaknesses.
ē The English players ply their trade in a league that is far more competitive than Portugalís. This means the men at Erikssonís disposal are a better lot, tried and tested.
ē Eriksson is tactically more sound, which becomes evident from the way his team tries to control the pace of the game. Also, Scolariís man-management skills are not as astute as Eriksson, who is more careful while talking about his players in public.
Early knockabouts over, the real shootout in Euro 2004 is set to begin in style. England and Portugal are European heavyweights and, in the context of the current scenario, this match assumes even greater importance. England is a team with sound tactical prowess and one of the more ambitious outfits in this tournament. Portugal trail Erikssonís team in allround ability, but the presence of a World Cup-winning coach makes this match a potentially special affair.
Not too many points for guessing that England are clear favourites. They are ahead of Portugal in quality, organisation, tactical understanding and technical skill. This lot is fresh, improving and they also have Wayne Rooney. The British media will probably do everything in its capacity to hinder his progress, but here is a robust talent. Rooney is not the most athletic, and yet, itís clear that there is some mass and speed involved in his runs. His first goal against Croatia was about genuine power. He can be the cutting edge a top team needs, on the biggest stage.
All this is not to undermine the fact that Portugal can sting. In Deco, they have the mind to master the opposition. They also have Cristiano Ronaldo, a superstar of the future. Though their combination so far has not been as dangerous as it can be, they have to be handled with care. Also, one can never write off Figo.
Portugalís problem is that their collective shortcomings overshadow the individual brilliance. Against Spain, they showed a spirit that characterised the pirates of bygone centuries and need that in an overdose to topple England. They also need Scolariís luck.
This Brazilian is probably the best in handling talent that has a tendency to self-destruct. He knows how to drill discipline in systems that hate order and his regimental approach worked wonders in the World Cup. But now, he is not dealing with the same quality.
Scolariís Brazil came from behind to beat Erikssonís England two years ago. This time, Scolariís ship will sink if it concedes a goal first.
England have the ability to come back. The only chink in Erikssonís armoury is in his defence. It looks safe under the enormous wings of Sol Campbell, but the Swede knows Rio Ferdinandís absence has not been covered. Campbell is a ferocious header and tackler who is desperately trying to plug the gap. His companions have tried to keep mistakes to the minimum, with plenty of assistance from midfielders Lampard and Gerrard.
These two are the real strengths in the English midfield, running up and down like a pair of hounds. The presence of these two has added balance to the side, which has received a bulldozing boost from Rooney. In comparison, Beckham looks conscious about avoiding injuries, probably because of his ĎRealí commitments. The ball still obeys him when he floats those right-footed in-swingers but I feel tempted to rank him third in Englandís four-man midfield.
People are right in saying that Owen should have got at least one goal in this tournament, but this non-scoring spell shouldnít take away the credit he deserves for playing the ideal foil for Rooney. All these days, Owen has waited for a co-striker who can ooze power, and now that the wait is over, the two can form a deadly combination.
Portugal look less organised, in every possible way. They have not consistently been a force at the senior level despite doing well till the under-21 championships, quite like Spain. They promise a lot, fail and donít look too disappointed, as if that was destiny. The hosts have the talent that other teams would love to possess, but things never quite crystalise in the Portuguese efforts. They lack the tactical acumen to translate possibilities into success and maintain it. This aspect has to be worked on by a coach and there is no doubt Scolari is the best man to do it.
This time, Scolari has some fine players, but that alone will not do. His team needs to reproduce the fervour they showed against Spain... that spirit to pound the opposition in every opportunity, in front of a roaring crowd. Of course, they also need Scolariís luck.