Evenly-matched field highlights world's second most-anticipated event.
(Saturday, June 10, 2000) -- All of Europe, and much of the soccer world, will be riveted on the European Championships. Euro 2000, the most important international tournament after the World Cup, is set to kick off today, and soccer fans from England to the Baltics are whipping themselves into a frenzy.
Italian and Spanish fans are in despair over their teams' play of late. English and German fans are hopeful, no make that prayerful, that somehow their sagging national teams will be born again. Lesser countries such as Sweden and Slovenia hope this will be their breakthrough into the elite.
This year's tournament marks the first time that two countries (Belgium and the Netherlands) are co-hosting the finals. One, the Netherlands, is the heavy favorite to win the title for the first time in 12 years. However, it faces the most difficult of opponents in Group D, "the group of death," and any one of probably eight teams might emerge as the eventual champion.
Some of the game's most legendary stars have something in common -- winning the European Championships. Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullitt, Michel Platini, Dino Zoff, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Franz Beckenbauer, Lev Yashin, and Peter Schmeichel all made their names during the quadrennial tournament. Fans have witnessed moments of inspiration such as Paul Gascgoine's stunning volley against Scotland in Euro '96, and scenes of icy composure such as Antonín Panenka's winning penalty kick against Germany in the 1976 final.
The world awaits to see which players can make their mark in European Championship history.
For a betting man, here are the odds as set by legal British bookmaking firm William Hill & Co. Because this is a British firm which expects to get many bets on the English team, the odds are reduced accordingly. The odds to take it all: Holland 4.33-1, France 5.5 - 1, Spain 6.5 - 1, Italy 7. - 1, England 10 - 1, Germany 13-1, Belgium 17-1, Czech Republic 17-1, Sweden 21-1, Portgual 23-1, Norway 26-1, Yugoslavia 34-1, Denmark 41-1, Romania 41-1, Turkey 67-1, Slovenia 151-1.
Belgium opens the tournament today against Sweden in Brussels. Other first round matches drawing the most media hype and world attention are England vs. Germany, France vs. Netherlands, and Italy vs. Turkey. Here are the nations that will be playing in their respective groups with odds for advancing beyond group play.
Group AEngland, Germany, Romania, Portugal Group odds: England 2.87 - 1, Germany 3.20 - 1, Portugal 4-1, Romania 5 - 1
EnglandGoalkeepers: Nigel Martyn, David Seaman.
Defenders: Richard Wright, Gareth Southgate, Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Sol Campbell, Stephen Gerrard, Phil Neville, Gary Neville.
Midfielders: Gareth Barry, Paul Scholes, Paul Ince, Dennis Wise, Nick Barmby, David Beckham, Steve McManaman.
Forwards: Alan Shearer, Robbie Fowler, Kevin Phillips, Michael Owen, Emile Heskey
Key players: David Beckham (Manchester United), Michael Owen (Liverpool), Steve McManaman (Real Madrid).
Overview: Despite enduring subpar performances in qualification, England has improved over the past few months under new manager Kevin Keegan. His first major test will be getting past the first round, a task that won't be easy. The pivotal match will be the emotionally-charged match with Germany, a team to which it has lost on penalties at Euro 1996 and World Cup Italy 1990. Its main strength is David Beckham's pinpoint crossing and unstoppable free kicks as well as the resurrection of Steve McManaman's career after winning the European Cup with Real Madrid. England's two main problems are how to solve the weakness at left midfield and who to partner up front with captain Alan Shearer. England's problem at left midfield has been well scouted by opponents and Keegan will be hard pressed to find someone to complement Beckham. The problem up front is more political. Once the most lethal striker in Europe, Shearer has not been the same since a knee injury three years ago. This hasn't stopped his automatic selection on the national team and despite any pressure to drop him, he is likely to start all matches.
GermanyGoalkeepers: Oliver Kahn, Jens Lehmann.
Defenders: Markus Babbel, Thomas Linke, Lothar Matthäus, Jens Nowotny, Marko Rehmer,
Midfielders: Michael Ballack, Sebastian Deisler, Thomas Hässler, Dietmar Hamann, Jens Jeremies; Carsten Ramelow, Mehmet Scholl, Dariusz Wosz, Christian Ziege,
Forwards: Oliver Bierhoff, Marco Bode, Carsten Jancker, Ulf Kirsten, Paulo Rink.
Key players: Oliver Bierhoff (AC Milan), Sebastian Deisler (Hertha Berlin), Oliver Kahn (Bayern Munich).
Overview: With names such as Matthäus, Hässler, and Kirsten on the squad, one could be forgiven for thinking this is a flashback. Age is the weakness of this year's German squad. Whether coach Erich Ribbeck can use this as an advantage remains to be seen. Over the last year, the Germans have looked lost, uninspired, and incompetent in all facets of the pitch. However, the Germans have a knack of persevering and making it to final rounds of major tournaments. The key to Germany is the limited youngsters on the squad. Sebastian Deisler has been touted as the best of the limited youth prospects in German football. Fans will be counting on his performance to push the Germans into the next round. The major strength is experience as the defending champions. This squad will need to summon every resource to get out of this group.
RomaniaGoalkeepers:Bogdan Stelea, Bogdan Lobont, Florin Prunea.
Defenders: Cosmin Contra, Gheorghe Popescu, Miodrag Belodedici, Liviu Ciobotariu, Iulian Filipescu, Cristian Chivu.
Midfielders: Dan Petrescu, Florentin Petre, Gheorghe Hagi, Constantin Galca, Catalin Haldan, Eric Linkar, Dorinel Munteanu, Ionut Lupescu, Laurentiu Rosu.
Forwards: Ionel Ganea, Adrian Mutu, Viorel Moldovan, Adrian Ilie.
Key players: Gheorghe Hagi (Galatasaray) Dan Petrescu (Chelsea) Adrian Ilie (Valencia).
Overview: This Romanian side is another group of aging players which has a similar lineup to the squad that went to France 1998. National team coach Emerich Jenei focuses his squad on a core of veterans -- Hagi, Petrescu, Popescu, Moldovan and Belodedici -- in a bid to get through the first round. Fresh off a UEFA Cup victory with Galatasaray, Hagi predicted something special in this year's team. "I'm confident we will be able to win the first three matches in the group," he revealed this week. Romania's biggest strength is its stingy defense which allowed only three goals in 10 qualifying matches.
PortugalGoalkeepers:Pedro Espinha, Vitor Baía, Joaquim Silva.
Defenders: Rui Jorge Oliveira, Abel Xavier, Carlos Secretário Fernando Couto, Dimas Teixeira, Paulo Bento, Roberto Severo.
Midfielders: Rui Costa, Luis Figo, Sergio Conceiçăo, Francisco Costa, Paulo Sousa, José Luis Vidigal.
Forwards: Nuno Gonçalves Rocha, Ricardo Sa Pinto, Pauleta, Pedro Joăo Pinto, Nuno Gomes.
Key players: Luis Figo (Barcelona) Rui Costa (Fiorentina).
Overview: The Portuguese youth system produced a phenomenal team. Current stars on the Portuguese national team made their names in FIFA world youth tournaments. Players such as Luis Figo, Sergio Conceiçăo, Rui Costa and Fernando Couto, have gone on to star for some of the biggest clubs in Europe over the past decade. However, as a national team this group has yet to make an indelible mark on world soccer. It has yet to qualify for a World Cup and it has failed to impressed in European Championships. The key to Portugal's success in Euro 2000 will be Figo, who is the arguably the most important player at Barcelona.
Group BBelgium, Italy, Sweden, Turkey Group odds: Italy 2.1-1, Belgium 3.6-1, Sweden 4-1, Turkey 9-1
BelgiumGoalkeepers: Filip de Wilde, Geert De Vlieger, Rony Herpoel.
Defenders: Lorenzo Staelens, Joos Valgaeren, Jacky Peeters, Marc Hendrikx, Eric Van Meir, Erik Deflandre, Philippe Léonard.
Midfielders: Yves Vanderhaeghe, Marc Wilmots, Johan Walem, Bart Goor, Philippe Clément, Nico Van Kerckhoven, Mbo Lokonda Mpenza, Gert Verheyen.
Forwards: Gilles De Bilde, Branko Strupar, Emil Mpenza, Luc Nilis.
Key players: Luc Nilis (PSV Eindhoven), Marc Wilmots (FC Shalke 04), Johan Walem (AC Parma).
Overview: Belgium is the favorite at home in this deceptively weak group. However, with some controversial omissions, the squad will be under increased pressure to perform. Coach Robert Waseige caused some controversy by leaving veteran striker Luis Oliveira and Belgian league scoring leader Toni Brogno off the final roster. Marc Wilmots and Johan Walem should provide the midfield spark but much of the scoring burden will fall on the shoulders of veteran front man Luc Nilis. Waseige revealed this week that he isn't optimistic about his squad. "Can we win it? No, I don't think so," Wasiege told reporters by phone this week. "It's not realistic."
ItalyGoalkeepers: Francesco Toldo, Francesco Antonioli, Christian Abbiati.
Defenders: Fabio Cannavaro, Ciro Ferrara, Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Maldini, Gianluca Pessotto, Paolo Negro, Mark Iuliano.
Midfielders: Luigi Di Biagio, Gianluca Zambrotta, Demetrio Albertini, Massimo Ambrosini, Angelo di Livio, Stefano Fiore, Antonio Conte.
Forwards: Vincenzo Montella, Filippo Inzaghi, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Marco Delvecchio.
Key players: Paolo Maldini (AC Milan) Alessandro Del Piero (Juventus) Angelo di Livio (Juventus).
Overview: Manager Dino Zoff was the starting goalkeeper when Italy won the tournament back in 1968. Aside from dealing with the immense criticism from the Italian press, his toughest task is to find a formidable striking tandem. World Cup hero Christian Vieri has pulled out the tournament because of injury leaving Zoff questionable scoring threats to choose from. After Vieri, the drop off in quality forwards is alarming. Alessandro Del Piero is coming off a subpar season and Felipe Inzaghi is opportunistic at best. Marco Delvecchio has had another quality season at Roma, but few feel that he can contribute on the big stage. With Zoff's defensive-minded system, this Italian squad is likely to produce many 0-0 and 1-0 matches.
SwedenGoalkeepers: Magnus Hedman, Mattias Asper, Magnus Kihlstedt.
Defenders: Roland Nilsson, Patrik Andersson, Joachim Björklund, Teddy Lucic, Gary Sundgren, Tomas Gustafsson, Olof Mellberg.
Midfielders: Anders Andersson, Niclas Alexandersson, Daniel Andersson, Johan Mjällby, Fredrik Ljungberg, Magnus Svensson, Hĺkan Mild.
Forwards: Kennet Andersson, Jörgen Pettersson, Yksel Osmanovski, Henrik Larsson, Marcus Allbäck.
Key players: Henrik Larsson (Glasgow Celtic), Fredrik Ljungberg (Arsenal FC) Niclas Alexandersson (Sheffield Wednesday FC).
Overview: Sweden was impressive in its qualifying campaign, including victories against England, Bulgaria, and Poland. Attacking midfielder Niclas Alexandersson was a key figure in qualification as he started scoring more goals for the national team. The surprise inclusion of star striker Henrik Larsson by coach Tommy Soderberg shows that he believes the Celtic man has recovered from a broken leg seven months ago. If he is indeed 100 percent during the tournament, the Swedes should pose a dangerous threat to opponents.
TurkeyGoalkeepers: Rüstü Reçber, Fevzi Tuncay, Ömer Çatkiç.
Defenders: Alpay Özalan, Osman Özköylü, Ogün Temizkanoglu, Fatih Akyel, Hakan Ünsal.
Midfielders: Mustafa Izzet, YalçinTayfun Korkut, Ümit Davala, Fehmi Ergün Penbe, Arif Erdem, Okan Buruk, Ayhan Akman, Tugay Kerimoglu, Sergen, Tayfur Havutçu, Suat Kaya.
Forwards: ,Hakan Sükür, Abdullah Ercan, Oktay Derelioglu,
Key players: Hakan Sükür (Galatasaray), Tugay Kerimoglu (Glasgow Rangers) Muzzy Izzet (Leicester City).
Overview: What has been a banner year for Turkish football has produced some new stars to Europe. Galatasaray became the first Turkish club to win a European trophy. Striker Hakan Sükür and eight other members of the club are on this tournament's squad. The Turks are a tough team to beat, especially with their take-no-prisoners approach when pushing forward. Sükür and Rangers midfielder Tugay are among the best in Europe and will look to Euro 2000 to bring Turkey forward as a formidable nation of football. There are some weaknesses displayed on this team, namely defensive breakdowns and some inexperienced goalkeeping on the international stage.
Group CNorway, Slovenia, Spain, Yugoslavia Group odds: Spain 1.6-1, Norway 4.3-1, Yugoslavia 4.5-1, Slovenia 26-1
NorwayGoalkeepers: Morten Bakke, Thomas Myhre, Frode Olsen.
Defenders: Trond Andersen, Henning Berg, Andre Bergdolmo, Bjorn Otto Bragstad, Dan Eggen, Vegard Heggem, Stig Inge Bjornebye.
Midfielders: Eirik Bakke, John Arne Riise, Stale Solbakken, Bent Skammelsrud, Roar Strand, John Carew.
Forwards: Tore Andre Flo, Steffen Iversen, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Erik Mykland, Kjetil Rekdal, Vidar Riseth.
Key players: Tore Andre Flo (Chelsea) Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Manchester United) Henning Berg (Manchester United).
Overview: With a crop of players coming off strong seasons in their respective leagues, Norway is seen as the tournaments darkhorse. The depth at the forward position will pose an enviable problem for coach Nils Johan Semb. It is probably the reason he left off Wimbledon striker Andreas Lund. Solskjaeir, Iversen, Flo, and Carew are coming off good years and will battle for the one spot up front as Semb will employ a 4-5-1. The Norwegians have improved much since the departure of Egil Olsen whose long-ball approach to soccer was despised by players.
SloveniaGoalkeepers: Mladen Dabanovic, Dejan Nemec, Marko Simeunovic.
Defenders: Spasoje Bulajic, Marinko Galic, Aleksander Knavs, Zeljko Milinovic, Darko Milanic, Rudi Istenic, Djoni Novak.
Midfielders: Milenko Acimovic, Ales Ceh, Saso Gajser, Amir Karic, Miran Pavlin, Zoran Pavlovic, Zlatko Zahovic, Anton Zlogar.
Forwards: Milan Osterc, Mladen Rudonja, Ermin Siljak, Saso Udovic.
Key players: Saso Udovic (LASK Linz) Darko Milanic (Sturm Graz) Zlatko Zahovic (Olympiakos Piraeus FC).
Overview: One of the most capped Slovenians, Udovic is the key if this squad has any hope of advancing. Although not scoring a goal through qualification, his size and nose for the goal attracts defenders. This tends to free up space for playmaker Zahovic who is the all-time leading scorer in Slovenian national team history. Although none of the players on this squad play in the more glamorous leagues in Europe, Slovenia does pose a problem. Being this tournament's unknown has made it difficult for opponents to scout. France found out last month how dangerous Slovenia can be when it looked unprepared in a narrow 3-2 victory in Paris. Udovic got most of the attention as dangerous balls were played into him the whole match.
SpainGoalkeepers: Santiago Cańizares, Jose Molina, Iker Casillas.
Defenders: Fernando Hierro, Abelardo, Paco, Michel Salgado, Augustin Aranzábal, Sergi Barjuan, Ivan Helguera, Juan Velasco.
Midfielders: Josep Guardiola, Vincente Engonga, Fran, Gaizka Mendieta, Juan Carlos Valerón, Gerard Lopez, Xavier Mendieta.
Forwards: Joseba Etxeberria, Pedro Munitis, Ismael Urzaiz, Alfonso, Raúl.
Key players: Raul (Real Madrid), Gerard Lopez (Valencia), Xavier Mendieta (Valencia).
Overview: Spain is the favorite to advance out of this group, however its history of underachieving in major tournaments still looms large. Having three Spanish clubs in the Champions League semifinals this year has given the nation aspirations of advancing deep into this year's competition. Valencia midfielders Gerard Lopez and Xavier Mendieta look to replicate their Champions League success on the Euro 2000 stage. With Jose Antonio Camacho now in charge, the Spaniards have been playing some impressive soccer but have to prove it in this tournament. Spain's habit of underachieving in major tournaments is what haunts the team and is considered its biggest weakness. The surprising omission of Fernando Morientes will also be seen as a negative for this squad as he and Raúl have what appears to be a telepathic partnership at Real Madrid.
YugoslaviaGoalkeepers: Aleksandar Kocic, Ivica Kralj, Zeljko Cicovic.
defenders: Ivan Dudic, Slobodan Komljenovic, Goran Djorovic, Nisa Saveljic, Goran Bunjevcevic, Miroslav Djukic, Sinisa Mihajlovic.
Midfielders: Dejan Govedarica, Dejan Stankovic, Ljubinko Drulovic, Vladimir Jugovic, Slavisa Jokanovic, Jovan Stankovic, Dragan Stojkovic, Albert Nadj.
Forwards: Darko Kovacevic, Predrag Mijatovic, Savo Milosevic, Mateja Kezman.
Key players: Dejan Stankovic (Lazio), Sinisa Mihajlovic (Lazio), Savo Milosevic (Real Zaragoza).
Overview: Yugoslav manager Vujadin Bokov is under increasing pressure especially in the wake of two 0-0 draws with South Korea and a lost to South China 4-2 on a pre-tournament Asian swing. The team has looked surprisingly old, slow, and indifferent on the field in all three matches which caused tremendous consternation back home. One of the biggest strengths on the squad is Sinisa Mihajlovic whose free kicks are among the most dangerous in Europe. Interestingly, he almost quit the squad when the press claimed that he was a supporter of President Slododan Milosevic. The biggest weakness will be the defense which has surprisingly looked out of place in recent friendlies.
Group DCzech Republic, Denmark, France, Netherlands
Group Odds: Holland 2-1, France 2.7 -1, Czech Republic 5.5-1, Denmark 11-1
Czech RepublicGoalkeepers: Pavel Srnícek, Jaromír Blazek, Jaromir Blazek.
Defenders: Milan Fukal, Petr Gabriel, Jirí Novotny, Karel Rada, Petr Vlcek, Tomá Repka.
Midfielders: Radek Bejbl, Vratislav Lokvenc, Patrik Berger, Pavel Horváth, Marek Jankulovski, Radoslav Látal, Pavel Nedved, Jirí Nemec, Karel Poborsky, Tomá Rosicky.
Forwards: Ladislav Maier, Vladimír micer, Pavel Kuka, Jan Koller.
Key players: Patrik Berger (Liverpool), Pavel Nedved (Lazio), Tomas Repka (Fiorentina).
Overview: The Czech Republic were very impressive in the qualifying process, winning all 10 of its qualifying matches. Currently at number two in FIFA's World Rankings (behind Brazil), the Czechs are among the favorites to win the tournament. Coach Jozsef Chovanec is still searching for an ideal defensive core, but looks likely to stick with the lineup that he used during qualification. The ability to score quickly and perseverance despite being down a few goals is the biggest strength for the Czechs. Patrik Berger, who scored five goals in the qualifying campaign, is a key player on the squad but is facing a two-match suspension in the tournament. Such is his importance to the squad. Chovanec's reliance on Berger will be its weakness in group matches which it can't afford to play poorly. Pavel Nedved is a continual scoring threat and is the squad's biggest strength behind Berger.
DenmarkGoalkeepers: Peter Schmeichel, Thomas Sřrensen, Peter Kjaer.
Defenders: Sřren Colding, Thomas Helveg , Rene Henriksen, Jes Hřgh, Michael Schjřnberg , Jan Heintze, Martin Laursen, Brian Steen Nielsen.
Midfielders: Allan Nielsen, Jesper Grřnkjaer, Stig Třfting, Bjarne Goldbaek, Morten Bisgaard, Thomas Gravesen, Martin Jřrgensen.
Forwards: Ebbe Sand, Mikkel Beck, Mikos Molnar, Jon Dahl Tomasson.
Key players: Peter Schmeichel (Sporting Lisbon), Jon Dahl Tomasson (Feyernoord), Thomas Helveg (AC Milan).
Overview: "We are outsiders and underdogs," was what Denmark coach Bo Johansson recently declared. If this sounds familiar, it's because it is what the Danes stated before the 1992 European Championships when it entered the competition after United Nations sanctions forced Yugoslavia out of the tournament. Denmark was the Cinderella story of the tournament and upset the Germans in the final 2-0. This year's squad is led by the man that was the hero in 1992, Peter Schmeichel. His goalkeeping is what keeps Denmark on top form. Jon Dahl Tomasson is coming off a stellar season and Miklos Molnar is well known to Americans as he is one of the leading scorers in Mlajpr League Soccer But without retired striker Brian Laudrup, Denmark have something to prove up front. The squad's organization on the field has come under fire recently. Lack of movement and the tendency to lose interest in the short-passing game plan is its biggest weakness.
FranceGoalkeepers: Fabien Barthez, Bernard Lama, Ulrich Ramé.
Defenders: Vincent Candela, Lilian Thuram, Laurent Blanc, Frank Leboeuf, Marcel Desailly, Bixente Lizarazu.
Midfielders: Johan Micoud, Patrick Vieira, Youri Djorkaeff, Emmanuel Petit, Didier Deschamps, Christian Karembeu, Zinedine Zidane, Robert Pirčs.
Forwards: David Trézéguet, Thierry Henry, Sylvain Wiltord, Christophe Dugarry, Nicolas Anelka.
Key players: Zinedine Zidane (Juventus), Marcel Desailly (Chelsea), Bixente Lizarazu (Bayern Munich).
Overview: The defending world champion is a bit of an enigma at the moment. Some dodgy performances in qualification and friendlies have raised doubts as to whether the team can advance far into the tournament. The French have the talent and heart to win Euro 2000. However after an arduous season in the most strenuous leagues in the world, some players may be feeling a bit tired this summer. The key is the play of World Cup Final hero Zidane and speedy winger Lizarazu. Inspiration is likely what will get France out of the group and far into the tournament. Manager Roger Lemerre's insertion of Nicolas Anelka wasn't exactly a surprise, but whether his bizarre antics flare up during the tournament is always a threat.
NetherlandsGoalkeepers: Edwin van der Sar, Sander Westerveld, Ed De Goey.
defenders: Jaap Stam, Frank de Boer, Bert Konterman, Arthur Numan, Michael Reiziger.
Midfielders: Philip Cocu,Ronald de Boer, Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, Paul Bosvelt, Edgar Davids, Roy Makaay, Marc Overmars, Clarence Seedorf, Aron Winter.
Forwards: Pierre Van Hooijdonk, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Kluivert, Peter Van Vossen, Boudewijn Zenden.
Key players: Edgar Davids (Juventus), Dennis Bergkamp (Arsenal), Jaap Stam (Manchester United).
Overview: With an outstanding cast of players such as Bergkamp, Kluivert, Overmars, Stam, and the de Boer brothers, the Netherlands is favored to win Euro 2000. Frank Rikjaard, a member of the 1988 Dutch squad, is the manager and will be under a lot of pressure to get his players to perform well. The obvious strengths are the Dutch defense which is among the strongest in Europe and its offensive prowess. The key player is the tireless workhorse Edgar Davids. Coming off another strong season in Italy's Serie A, Davids is hard to contain and is even harder to get past. There aren't glaring weaknesses on the squad although there have been a string of mediocre results recently. The Dutch will look to come out firing in its opening match against the Czech Republic on June 11.