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.