30,000 tickets have been sold for tonight’s friendly at the new Estadio Algarve between Euro 2004 hosts Portugal and England.
With less than four months until the championships start, England’s travelling support have provided a first serious test in ensuring adequate security measures are in place. Portuguese police have proposed a fan friendly policy with English fans, a strategy intended to reduce trouble when the tournament begins in June.
The UK operation is also efficiently monitoring every flight headed for Europe. The FA has sold its allocation of 2,000 tickets but police are checking fans to detect any with a background of any kind of violence or disorder.
PC Keith Parkes of West Midlands Police clarified that fans could be arrested even if they were only suspected of planning to cause trouble.
The match brings back memories of Portugal’s eppic 3-2 win over England at Euro 2000.
England captain David Beckham and Portugal’s Louis Figo are now of course Real Madrid teammates but their respective preparations have differed considerably ahead of the game. Both players ability to mastermind attack were illustrated when the teams met in Eindhoven in 2000.
Beckham created both goals early on for England before Figo pulled one back following a run from the halfway line and a shot which beat David Seaman from the edge of the penalty area.
Beckham’s national coach Sven Goran Eriksson last night admitted the midfielder, along with Michael Owen would be risked again in a competitive match if either star player was not fully fit.
Eriksson was criticised after the squad’s elimination from the World Cup for playing the duo when they were not a hundred per cent fit.
The coach has a major selection headache in Faro concerning his central defence with all four first choices now unavailable. Experienced Gareth Southgate is expected to partner rookie Ledley King from the start. Tottenham’s King wasn’t included in Eriksson’s original squad, but joined the camp on Monday when it became clear that Sol Campbell was not fully fit.
On Monday, Beckham questionned the FA’s timing of a contract extension offered to Eriksson last week. Middlesbrough’s Southgate, linked with a move to Manchester United during the recent transfer window is the only outfield player aged over 30 in the squad. He has made six starts for England since the 2002 World Cup despite not making a single appearance in Japan.
In midfield Steven Gerrard has family commitments which might mean a return to duty for Nicky Butt who is currently suffering from a lack of first team opportunity at Manchester United.
Former team mate Beckham, said on Monday: “The thing about Manchester United is that even if you are not playing they work on keeping all the players match fit.”
Figo is as significant a figure within the Portugal squad as Beckham is for England. This latest meeting of the two teams will mark Figo’s 100th appearance for Portugal, a feat only achieved previously by the team captain Fernando Couto.
“I’ve felt enormous pride on all 99 occasions when I’ve worn the national team shirt,” Figo said.
Elsewhere, European champions France face Belgium in a friendly at a time when they are ravaged by injuries to their forward line.
Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet are sidelined while Liverpool target Djbril Cisse is suspended. Santini has called up Auxerre striker Olivier Kapo and former Fulham forward Steve Marlet. Peguy Luyindula and Sidney Govou of Lyon are also included.
Auxerre central defender Philippe Mexes provides a defensive option but the back four of Silvestre, Thuram, Gallas and Lizarazu is well-established.
France manager Jacques Santini could award a first cap to Manchester United’s Louis Saha. Before the 27 goals he scored last season for Fulham, Saha was relatively unknown in his homeland but a move to Old Trafford has raised his profile considerably.
This week Switzerland need to be doggedkly persistent with Morocco. Their opponents threatened to field an understrength side. while Switzerland in turn threatened to withdraw from the game altogether. The African Nations Cup runners-up have only had a few days to recuperate, but Swiss coach Jakob Kuhn was pleased they would meet the initial agreement. His side will therefore face strong opposition for the first time since the Ireland qualifying game.
The only change expected in the Swiss starting line up is Liverpool defender Stephane Henchoz makes a return.
Croatia meet Germany in Split. The Germans travel to Croatia without Michael Ballack who has a throat infection. Liverpool’s Dietmar Hamann is in line to pick up his 50th cap. 20-year-old Stuttgart defender Phillip Lahm could earn a first cap having impressed coach Rudi Voller.
Greece will welcome to Athens a Bulgarian side: “which has shown a lot of improvement in recent years,” according to Greece’s coach Otto Rehhagel.
The German looked ahead to the friendly: “We must show the same passion and will to continue our undefeated run. The players can play freely and without pressure. We want to achieve something in Portugal to prove that our qualification was no coincidence.”
Stilian Petrov of Glasgow Celtic has recovered from injury and should continue as Bulgaria’s captain.
Brazil should field a strong starting eleven in the friendly at Landsdowne Road tonight. The World Champions take on the Republic of Ireland in front of a sell-out 44,000 crowd.
Most of the stars on show for Brazil play club football in Europe. However this will be an important team exercise before the South American World Cup qualifier against Paraguay.
“It is not enough to have good technical qualities. You have to have the right attitude as well,” said Brazil’s coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira.
Kenny Cunningham, the Irish captain has admitted to not watching any Spanish football for the past two weeks. The Birmingham City centre half did not want be reminded of the ability possessed by Ronaldo. It will be Cunningham’s responsibility to man mark the Real striker.
There could be a first international appearance since September 2002 for Sunderland’s Jason McAteer.
The former Liverpool midfielder joked, “I am sure Roberto Carlos is really worried about facing me.”
Meanwhile, the Republic of Ireland are without the injured Chelsea winger Damien Duff.
Italy entertain the Czech Republic in Palermo. Giovanni Trapattoni made a gesture to Serie A clubs by taking a maximum of three players only from each team, as several coaches threatened to withhold their players, so angry were they with the timing of the friendly.