As the countdown begins, the expectations reaches fever pitch as Portugal led by Luiz Felipe Scolari, kick off Euro 2004 against Greece at the newly refurbished Estadio do Dragao in Porto.
Spectators who were fortunate enough to purchase a ticket will be rewarded by becoming an active part of ‘an ocean of people’, just one of the many ideas formulated for the opening ceremony.
However the festivities will not end at the opening game. Before the start of every game in Euro 2004 there will be a three minute welcome for the two teams, culminating in the final, where celebrations will take place both ahead of kick off and the after the match – the latter a tribute to the tournaments greatest players.
The entertainment is the brainchild of championships director Ana Dia, who explains that the tournament wants to ‘give Portugal to the rest of the world’.
Fortunately for fans of the Portuguese, Scolari’s plans on the field seem a little more concrete.
His pragmatic but progressive virtues have earned him success at international level, culminating in Brazil’s World Cup success in 2002.
This time around ‘Big Phil’ is seeking to become the first non-native manager to win the European Championships.
In the build up to Euro 2004, the Portugal side has been the subject of intense domestic media speculation, the majority questioning whether the hosts have the ability to win the tournament outright.
With Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Fernando Couto all participating in their last championships the golden generation of Portuguese football has never been better equipped to deliver a parting gift.
Scolari will be pleased to choose his team from a fully fit squad despite concerns earlier in the week about the fitness of Luis Figo.
The Brazilian is likely to adopt a 4-2-3-1 formation, omitting playmaker Deco, preferring Milan’s Rui Costa behind the lone striker, Pauleta.
The last time Portugal and Greece met was in November, when the score ended 1-1. The Greeks formation that day is likely to be the same as in Porto, a conventional 4-4-2, relying heavily on the attacking threats of Vassilis Tsiartas of AEK Athens and Demis Nikoladis of Athletico Madrid, who has shrugged of muscle pains and should start.
The Greeks only worry is stalwart Traians Dellas, and should the defender not recover from a muscle injury in his leg, Nikos Dabizas will deputize in central defence.
On paper the Portuguese should overcome their adversaries and top Group A ahead of Spain’s clash with Russia.
The Greeks go into the match as big underdogs, and to dispell any negative thoughts, coach Otto Rehagel has closed the door to the public before the game. Whether such a ploy will work against the host nation, remains a matter of conjecture.
Portugal: Paulo Ferreira, Fernando Couto, Jorge Andrade, Rui Jorge; Petit, Costinha; Luis Figo, Manuel Rui Costa, Simao Sabrosa; Pauleta
Greece: Nikopolidis; Seitaridis, Dellas/Dabizas, Kapsis, Fyssas; Giannakopoulos, Tsartas, Karagounis, Zagorakis; Vryzas, Charisteas.
Referee: Pierluigi Collina (Italy)