Euro 2004

Latvia may be the least expected qualifiers for any major tournament, but Daunis Auers believes they travel with a realistic aim: to overcome indifference to football at home

In November, Latvia, a tiny nation of 2.4 million wedged at the northern end of the Baltic, trampled all over World Cup semi-finalists Turkey, home and away, to win a lucrative place (worth eight mil­lion Swiss francs, apparently, £3.6m or 3.4m Latvian lati) at Euro 2004. This is all too much for the small band of long-suffering Latvian football fans, accustomed to years of tediously predictable underachievement. Success has usually been measured by the odd victory over neighbours Estonia. Just a few years ago there were a half-dozen Latvians plying their trade on the substitute benches and reserve teams of English professional football. Now only Marians Pahars (in the cosy South­ampton treatment room) and Andrejs Stolcers (Ful­ham reserves) remain. Yet Latvia have suddenly started playing well, winning and attracting sell-out crowds.

Phil Town explores the stadiums being built in Portugal for Euro 2004

Benfiquistas said a fond farewell in March to their Catedral. The last ever game at Benfica’s once magnificent Luz Stadium was a damp squib of a 1-0 win over modest Santa Clara of the Azores, and that with a penalty. For months, though, the Luz had also been a sorry sight, a quarter of it removed to make way for the mag­nificent new Luz nudging its way in from next door where it is currently undergoing con­struction.

Their was shock when Portugal won the rights to stage Euro 2004, but as Phil Town explains, it won't be an easy ride

Portuguese emotions have been on a veritable roller-coaster ride of late. The plight of its ex-colony East Timor cut the national psyche deep, then the is­land’s resistance leaders visited and the streets of Lis­bon were paved with petals. Spirits plunged again with three days of mourning for the singer and nat­ional institution Amelia Rodrigues, but straight away foot­ball dragged the nation back up by its bootlaces.

Sign up to the WSC Weekly Howl - a small portion of despair and enlightenment delivered to your inbox every Friday