THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

As far as Ian Plenderleith can see, if you want even half-decent coverage of Euro 2004 at the moment then there's not a lot of point looking at English language websites. Head for France or Germany instead

Summer’s approaching and your team’s domestic hopes have long since melted with the last frost. Happily it’s one of those biennial off-seasons when those ever diminishing football-free days before the pre-season friendlies start are filled with a major international tournament. What luck. Now it’s time for a couple of sessions at the computer so that come June you can impress friends, family and passers-by with knowledge of Latvia’s tactical master plan and an effortless phonetic pronunciation of the Czech back four.

Unfortunately the internet – that harbinger of up-to-the-second information on all subjects known to mankind – does not yield one single decent English-language site that will serve you well overall for a major international sporting event that will be watched by millions. In fact there are barely a handful of homepages that are rewarding in even a few selective aspects.

A good site for news in English is Football Portugal , which reports from the host front on the release of the official tournament song (its Canadian singer Nelly Furtado apparently has roots in the Azores), the newest ad campaign portraying Portugal as one great football pitch and late hitches in construction as crews stop work on stadium access due to unpaid bills.

There are some excellent views of the new and rebuilt stadiums, inside and out (minus idle workers), at the official Portugal 2004 site, where a slide show takes you through all the venues without further clicking. You can even learn some new words from the English text. “The venue is both appealing and impressive due to its cromathic and architectural originality,” the site says of the Municipal de Aveiro stadium. At least I presume “chromathic” is a new word, because it’s not in my ten-year-old dictionary. Meanwhile, the steep design of the new José Alvalade Stadium in Lisbon means “the emotions of football can be lived intensely by all”. The linesmen will be delighted.

So, you have some of the latest news and you’ve seen the stadiums, what about the analysis? This is where your search will meet a cyber-wall of inanity. It seems that despite all the potential skill and the tactical variations that will be on display, no one has anything interesting to say about Euro 2004. Check out the following online expertise...

“Russia must be a good side because they beat Wales in the play-offs to qualify for Euro 2004 and in the group they finished ahead of the Republic of Ireland” – Sven-Göran Eriksson at TheFA.Com. “[Switzerland] play a very mixed style of football, maybe because of their geography. In many ways they are quite German in their style but also they are more Italian at times” – Mr Eriksson, ibid.

“[Latvia] deserve their place in Portugal and will obviously be hoping to try to qualify from the group stage” – Sven again. “Everything will depend on the players’ form during the tournament” – Roger Lemerre on Sweden at Euro2004.com, the official UEFA site. “If I had to pick out a few players who I expect to shine I would say Thierry Henry, Zinedine Zidane and Ruud van Nistelrooy. They are all world class” – Jaap Stam at the same site.

There’s plenty more of that, while if you’re looking for the fiercely independent critical view head for Footy Mad for cutting-edge commentary such as: “Gareth Southgate [is] surely worth a place in the squad. Captained Middlesbrough to Carling Cup success like the true pro that he is.” And just to show that they’re not in the pockets of the footballing masters, the site gets you all keyed up for the big event by opining that “with miles of beautiful beaches and a strong footballing and transport infrastructure, UEFA are hoping that the Euro 2004 finals in Portugal will be an unforgettable event”. Me too.

For boisterous but vacuous journalese, try ITV.com, where a feature on who will play in England’s midfield calls Steven Gerrard “the Liverpool braveheart [who] has set the benchmark for midfielders this season with his inspired leadership and graft”. Competing too will be the “lion-like” Scott Parker, whose “commitment will keep Sven purring as he plots a way to eclipse Europe’s elite”. Be careful, though, not to put your hand through your screen in a punch of premature celebration.

Most of the UK daily papers do not, at the time of writing, have sections set aside for the tournament and even those that do, such as the Daily Telegraph, don’t have a lot in them besides news and fixtures. Even World Soccer, which has been sending out tournament preview booklets with its print version for several months, has no space on its website so far for pre-Portugal rundowns and analysis.

You have to look abroad – and perhaps quickly learn a foreign language – to see how a major tournament should be properly covered. The revered German football weekly Kicker has a major section of its site devoted not just to breaking news, results and fixtures, but also features on the tournament’s anticipated Jung-Stars and photo-features on past championships (well, all the ones that Germany won, which is still quite a few). French daily L’Equipe also has its own Euro 2004 section up and running with analysis and interviews. For some reason they fail to quote ex-national team coach Roger Lemerre’s words on the UEFA site about the France squad. “We have an enormous number of quality players,” says Lemerre. “Great players are always beneficial to a team.”

Whether you witness the lifting of the European Championship trophy in a frenzy of joy, a slough of disappointment or a bellyful of indifference, you will recall Roger’s words and acknowledge the prescient genius who uttered them first.

From WSC 208 June 2004. What was happening this month

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