Euro 2004

Andy Brassell looks at the fallout in Portugal four years after they hosted the European Championship

Fans may complain that the Swiss and Austrian stadiums to be used in Euro 2008 may be a little on the small side, with only those in Basel and Vienna having room for significantly more than 30,000 spectators. And you can imagine by how much those dissenting voices would have been amplified had England, or indeed any of the home nations, managed to qualify for the finals. However, there is at least little doubt over the sustainability of the grounds post-tournament.

Beginning our European Championship reports from writers in Portugal, Philip Cornwall offers an upbeat assessment of the England experience, where expectations were met on the pitch and exceeded off it - even if the portents for 2006 are shakier

C autious optimism, last month’s WSC editorial sug­gested, was in order on and off the pitch for England at Euro 2004. I should have paid attention. Ten min­utes from time against Portugal I was edging nervously past caution and starting to dream. Then again, what happened next was a long, long way from the England nightmares of the past. The national team have won two European quarter-finals: in 1968 against Spain in a home-and-away tie, and against the same opponents in 1996 when, as hosts, they won on penalties after the opposition had had a goal disallowed controversially. Any sensible analysis of England’s exit has to have this context: it rarely gets any better than this and could so easily have done so.

Portugal resident Phil Town watched the local reaction to the national team's efforts change from despair to delight and back again over the course of Euro 2004

Well, it was, according to UEFA chief Lennart Johan­sson, the best-organised European champ­ion­ship ever. It did not have any cases of doping, and terrorism of any kind was thankfully conspicuous by its absence. It was also, of recent editions, the least scarred by hooliganism. Banning orders slapped on around 3,000 of England’s “finest”, plus a similar number from Germany, will have helped that, but so will a general sense, on the ground, that having a good time might just be better fun than kicking heads. And the mild-mannered and relatively non-aggressive nature of the Portuguese gave this mood a valuable helping hand.

Daunis Auers was among the Latvia fans following their team of outsiders around Portugal. They might have even stayed a little longer but for a crucial decision by an English referee...

Euro 2004 arrived suddenly and unexpectedly in Latvia. About two weeks before the tournament, the local media began running stories on the national team. They followed the training regime of the players, reported on their choice of cars (Simon Jordan will be pained to hear that the two ex-Crystal Palace players had the nicest ones) and even ran features on the players’ wives.

Smart-casual wear and laid-back pallyness proliferated on both channels during Euro 2004, even if expert analysis did not. But, says Cameron Carter, the pundits' humour was no worse than Skinner and Baddiel's

 I t started tensely and just got worse. Before the Portugal v Greece game many of us were troubled by Dull Host Anxiety – you may yourself have experienced this on hearing the voice of Norah Jones wafting earward as you pull off your mittens outside the neighbours’ door. I sat there on day one fearing that in the opening ceremony Portugal would be reduced to a demonstration of the port bottling process by a giant Eusébio doll, aided by Lisbon schoolchildren holding dining-table-shaped balloons. So it was with some relief that I learned Portugal had in fact discovered the world and taught it how to exist. To add colour to the nautical scene, several hundred citizens dressed as orange sperm arranged themselves into a representation of a giant football, a spectacle only partly diminished by a shot of two of the sperm clearly chatting about their costumes on their miraculous journey to the ball-womb.

Spread-betting and exchanges gave David Bendelow a staggering range of gambling enticements over the last month. So many he even backed Pauleta for the Golden Boot

It wasn’t that long ago that my betting on a major championship would consist of a tenner on the outright winner and a few quid on the first scorer when England played. These would be placed after a leisurely stroll to the William Hill shop in Headingley.

In three weeks Greek football went from purgatory to paradise, but Paul Pomonis is not sure whether the euphoria will survive Colin Moynihan being called in for advice

“Greeks always exaggerate, whether in sorrow or in joy,” was Otto Rehhagel’s rather unkind re­mark when, minutes after the Euro 2004 final, a Greek TV reporter asked him to comment on the explosion of mass euphoria that greeted his team’s astonishing crowning as European champions. Anx­ious to preserve his seasoned pro image, King Otto had for once got it wrong. If anything, even in jubilation both players’ and fans’ reactions to the “fairytale of Portugal” were characterised by stunned incredulity and down to earth realism. “How on earth did you pull such a stunt?” a reporter asked striker Demis Niko­laides a few hours after the final. “I have no idea,” came the honest reply, while scorer Angelos Charisteas urged the fans back home to party on as “they would most probably never experience anything remotely similar in their lifetimes”.

Another tournament, another predictable failure. Phil Ball looks at what went wrong for the Spanish this time and wonders whether they will ever find a winning formula

Spain rest in peace, in memoriam. ¡Lo de siempre! (The same as always!) screamed the sports tabloid Marca after the defeat to Portugal condemned them to another early exit. The squad usually packs its bags after the quarter-finals of a major tournament and, being slightly less accustomed to such early exits, the press – reasonably tolerant towards the affable Iñaki Saez for the preparatory weeks – finally showed their true feelings towards the manager the day after the defeat. Spain’s national paranoia traditionally centres on its team’s nervous collapse when the going gets tougher, so no one had really expected them to fail at the first hurdle, particularly in such a comfortable-looking group. 

Archie MacGregor believes Berti Vogts’ forward thinking is the one thing going for the German, but Scotland’s topsy-turvy play-off defeat to Holland was a dismal throwback

Ah, the roller-coaster ride that is the lot of the Scot­land supporter. From exultant, wide-eyed op­tim­ism to the pits of despair in four days. Wasn’t this sort of thing supposed to have been banished once and for all after Argentina 78?

Wales’s journey from outsiders to group favourites to narrow play-off failures leaves Paul Ashley-Jones unsure whether to despair at another defeat or celebrate progress

It’s the Euro 2004 draw and, despite my shutting myself in the other room, my wife insists on shouting out who’s in which group. I’ve not quite reached the fingers-in-ears stage but it’s getting pretty close.

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