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Euro 2000

Euro 2000

Netherlands, France seem destined for title match.

By Robert Wagman

(Monday, June 26, 2000) -- Before play started in the European Championships, many pundits predicted the final would come down to a match-up between the co-host Netherlands and defending World Cup champion France. Going into this week's semifinals, Euro 2000 is still on course to provide this classic match-up in the final on Sunday.

Both France and the Dutch are facing strong opposition midweek in the semifinals, but barring what would be a significant upset, the two should meet again for the title. In the Group D finale, the Netherlands won 3-2 over the French, who, assured of advancement, rested five regulars.

During its group matches, Netherlands appeared nervous and tentative. The Dutch showed flashes of brilliance, but while they won, their performances seemed sub-par. Subdued might be a better word. Being seen as the favorite and playing at home as host seemed a heavy burden for the team.

That burden was laid aside Sunday when they destroyed Yugoslavia 6-1 in a quarterfinal that was not nearly as close as the final score would indicate.

The Dutch have long talked about "total football." Sunday was a textbook example. When the team attacks, everybody attacks. When the team defends, everybody defends. Patrick Kluivert went in the record books with an astonishing four goals, but it could be said he was not Holland's strongest player, and that three or four others could almost as easily have had a hat trick.

Though Kluivert officially scored four goals, European governing body UEFA confirmed that his third goal should have been ruled an own goal off the foot of defender Dejan Govedarica. Referee Jose Maria Garcia Aranda gave the goal to Kluivert and that's how it will stand, television stop-motion replays to the contrary.

The Dutch will play Italy in Thursday's semifinal before what should be a crazed home crown in Amsterdam. The Italians are certainly a well-organized side playing the kind of defense Italy is know for. But if the home team can match its performance against Yugoslavia, it should be no contest.

Italy, however, is playing well and could make a stubborn opponent for the Dutch to overcome.

The other semifinal is on Wednesday and matches France and Portugal. Euro 2000 will probably go down in the history books as the competition where the Portuguese began to live up to their promise. They feature perhaps the best player in the competition in Barcelona midfielder Luis Figo. Nuno Gomes is starting to live up to his promise as one of Europe's best young strikers.

But the French are playing absolutely at the top of their game. How well they are playing can be shown by the fact that Nicolas Anelka, who many still think is the future of French football, can't break into the starting lineup.

Spain, the chronic underachiever of European soccer, gave the French all they could handle in their quarterfinal losing 2-1 only when a 90th-minute penalty kick by Raul went sailing over the bar by a matter of inches. But even though the final margin was only a single goal, France was clearly much the better side.

Zinedine Zidane showed some dazzling skills and orchestrated the players around him in the French midfield, with a great performance. Laurent Blanc and Marcel Desailly kept Raul and the other Spanish attackers quiet.

Spain had to rely on set pieces for its offense. France should handle the young Portuguese. The Dutch should overcome the Italian defense. That will set up a final featuring two of the world's best three clubs. It's at a time like this, that it's a shame that Brazil is not European.

Euro 2000 is a buzzing rumor mill about transfers. The hottest rumor is that Portgual's Figo will move from Barcelona to Italy's Lazio for a transfer fee probably well in excess of $50 million.

But Barcelona will not be standing still. Jaume Llaorado, who will likely take over as president of Barca, says he is prepared to pay Manchester United a world-record transfer fee of $120 million for David Beckham. But more than that, he will throw in another $60 million or so to bring Dennis Bergkamp from Arsenal

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman can be e-mailed at

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