Thrills and spills of Euro 2004

SLEEPLESS nights for the football fans in India, during Euro 2004, were worth the trouble.

SLEEPLESS nights for the football fans in India, during Euro 2004, were worth the trouble. Memories of the Korea-Japan 2002 World Cup came to one's mind. Like Senegal in the 2002 World Cup, Greece was the sensation of Euro 2004.

The pattern of play, the variety, breathtaking goals and, of course, the passion for the game easily makes this European Championship match World Cup in terms of quality and grandeur. True, the African or the Latin American nuances were missing. But the levels of power and excellence of the Europeans were amazing.

A sample was the way someone like Fabian Barthez was left stranded, when a header from an unknown Greek, Anegelos Chariteas, threw France out of the competition.

It is not the goal-poachers alone who come to mind but also the free-kick experts who made the ball to `talk'. Was there a better sight than a curling ball beating one and all before entering the net? Thanks to television, fans, who were watching the sport miles away from Portugal, could savour every moment of action like this on the field.

There has never been any doubt about football's pre-eminent position in Europe and the extent to which its interest spans the length and breadth of the continent.

But such rivalry, such never-say-die attitude not only enriches the sport, but also makes this European festival an occasion by itself. Football in Europe is business where the leading clubs — particularly in Italy, Spain and England — are virtual industrial houses and quality players with extraordinary skills rake in money that can be mind-boggling.

Yet, surprisingly, as the European championship showed, it is not countries that have the benefit of such clubs rule the roost.

The exit of Spain and Italy first and then England and France thereafter made one thing clear, that club football and national football are two different levels of competition.

The glory of clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona or Juventus does not necessarily rub off on the national players and to that extent the famous clubs' performances cannot be an index to a country's level in a competition like the European or the World Cup.

Greece is a fine example in this regard. Not having gone past the league stage at any time in the history of the European championship, this country could not have chosen a better time to put its best show, when it is all set to host the biggest sporting event in a month's time — the Olympic Games at Athens.

Further, the topsy-turvy results, thanks to teams like Greece, made the championship even more exciting.

True the Zidanes and the Beckhams have an enviable following simply for their magic with the ball. Recall how Zidane single-handedly turned the match on its head to leave France an improbable winner against England. Remember also the way another sensation, 18-year-old Wayne Rooney signalled his entry on to the world stage with his amazing striking ability and instinct to do something different.

He took England past Switzerland and Croatia. The young man is not only bracketed along with Beckham but the great Pele as well!.

Thierry Henry's double strike to get France out of rut against Switzerland was another classic show. In fact each match brought some new names to the fore. In fact this is the better index to judge the success of the championship.

Such has been the competition in Portugal that predicting winners has been dicey. Nobody expected England and France would exit early.

On the other hand despite the pressure of home expectations and past history, Portugal has done better. And Greece has proved that hard work really pays.

This championship has brought to fore the role of coaches like never before.

If the German Otto Rehhgal has made the Greek players believe in themselves, then Phil Scholari, the World Cup winning Brazilian team coach, with his astute handling of the Portugal players, has proved how a coach can turn around a team. The master was at his best against England, a match that many thought was among the all time classics. Forget the fact that the contest was eventually settled on penalties, but Portugal had drained England of its confidence by then.