Allez Les Blues!! On present form, surely there is little anyone can do to stop France retaining the trophy they won four years ago.
Barring a repeat of their World Cup debacle then Jacques Santini’s team are surely the ones to beat in Portugal.
Defensive frailties? Hardly. On Sunday the French again didn’t concede; a year has now passed since they let in a goal. Their unbeaten run stands at 18 games.
Against the Ukraine – minus Andrii Shevchenko, the French however did struggle to create chances.
Only a late Zidane goal separated the sides, the strike coming after a cushioned header from Thierry Henry.
France’s opening match opponents England, came through a tri-tournament involving Japan and Iceland with mixed results.
Having drawn 1-1 with Japan in what was considered a disappointing performance, England then thrashed Iceland 6-1, with both Wayne Rooney and Darius Vassel scoring twice.
A cloud still hovers over coach Sven Goran Eriksson’s midfield tactics, which saw Paul Scholes revert to left wing in the game against Iceland. This switch from the diamond formation was intended to incorporate Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in central positions, both enjoying their most fruitful seasons at club level.
While Group B ultimately looks a two-way tussle between the French and English, Croatia, their attack spearheaded by new Rangers signing Dado Prso, will go into the competition optimistic having between Denmark 2-1 on Saturday. This match was the only game in the preceding weekend of friendly fixtures to incorporate two teams represented at Euro 2004.
In Group A, Spain eased questions on their defensive and offensive credentials with a 4-0 win over Andorra.
With Michael Salgardo ruled out of the tournament, Carles Puyol played down the right flank in what was considered a gamble by coach Inaki Saez – with Capdevila operating on the left.
A four-nil scoreline did not flatter Saez, whose decision to play Morientes up front looks set to continue ino the finals.
Likewise Portugal outlined their quality, beating a hapless Lithuania 4-1.
Coach Luis-Scolari singled out Milan’s Rui Costa for particular praise, publicly praising the player who has come under criticism because of poor performances at club level.
The game also saw a goal for Tottenham’s Helder Postiga, who is currently seeking a move back to Portugal.
Despite optimistic expectations, the Portuguese public has seldom been happy with the performances on the pitch.
Scolari has since proclaimed that he is ‘increasingly happy with his team’, adding that, ‘They’re changing their characteristics and starting to have a competitive sprit’.
Greece meanwhile secured a confidence-boosting 2-0 victory over Liechtenstein in preparation for the opening game against Portugal in Porto.
Naming a strong starting X1 the Greeks made amends for last weeks defeat to Poland in what has been an indifferent build-up to Euro 2004.
Influenced by public apathy the players had hardly been pulling their weight on the pitch but German-born coach Otto Rehhagel has bought discipline and organization to the team in an effort to avoid finishing bottom of group A.
He has done this by promising the players recognition should they achieve beyond all ambitions.
Stelios Giannakopoulos the Bolton midfielder remarked: ‘Otto Rehhagel has bought German resilience to the Greek character, it’s the perfect mix!’
‘There is harmony in the camp’.
Germany did little to ease fears of a EURO 2004 debacle with an unprecedented 2-0 defeat at home to Hungry, ironically managed by German World Cup winner Lothar Matthaus.
The Germans are under increasing pressure from the domestic press to perform in this tournament, despite the acknowledgment that the team is not as strong this year as the one that reached the World Cup Final in 2002. Nonetheless, the team was booed off the pitch at full time.
Coach Rudi Voller though is unconcerned by the result saying the Germans will be focused when the tournament kicks off.
‘Of course we didn’t want to lose but at Euro 2004 warm up games will count for nothing,’ said Voller.
Out of the three main contenders from Group D, it is the Czech Republic who go into the tournament with the most impressive form.
The Czechs notched up two victories within a week, following their against 3-1 win over Bulgaria with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Estonia. With Milan Baros scoring three goals in two games the Czechs have finally got a goalscoring threat to match the genius of Paval Nedved, on whom most of their hopes will rest.
In contrast, Holland’s current form is poor. The Dutch succumbed to a 1-0 defeat to the Republic of Ireland in Amsterdam. Outplayed and out classed by an inexperienced, but industrious Irish midfield, allied to the creativity of Robbie Keane, Holland looked some way short of being considered potential winners.
Italy thrives on a strong dexterity and the Azurri look in top form going into the finals. Although France possess the technical flair, Italy boast a rigid formation with the emphasis on good organisation – a trademark that has served them well in the past.
Their most recent performance was a 4-0 victory over Tunisia, when a three manned attack including Francesco Totti outplayed the African Champions.
In their Group, Sweden were the only other team to record victory, a 3-1 over Poland, in which Henrik Larsson showed his worth to perspective suitors by scoring his 24th international goal.