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Culture

Germany to Face Old Foes in Euro 2004

Old scores and local rivalries are set to be settled in the opening stages of the European Championships in Portugal next summer as the soccer teams of Germany and Holland have been placed together in Group D.

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Rudi Völler knows what's coming as soon as Germany are drawn against Holland in Euro 2004.

Germany will face The Netherlands, Czech Republic and Latvia in the group stages of the European Soccer Championships in Portugal next summer. It is a dangerous group for Rudi Völler’s men who can expect a difficult time of things against the Dutch, one of the favorites for the title and 6-1 destroyers of countryman Berti Vogts’ Scotland in their play-off match.

Rudi himself will have painful memories of the Dutch and their former coach Frank Rijkaard in particular. When the names came out in the same group, Völler’s eyes dropped and he granted himself a wry smile. No doubt he was already reading the future reports which would drag up one of his most distasteful soccer moments.

In the second half of a World Cup match between the two countries in Italia ’90 , the Dutch star spat on Völler a number of times before the German reacted and was promptly sent off. Rijkaard was not far behind him down the tunnel.

Rivalry to be revived in first group match

The rivalry will begin again on June 15 2004 when the two teams open their challenges in one of the clashes of the tournament. This time, however, Völler will be safe from any flying phlegm unless current Dutch coach Dick Advocaat has been taking lessons from his predecessor.

"I don't see starting against Holland as a problem because at the European championships everyone is concentrating fully right from the start," Völler told reporters after the draw.

The Czech Republic will also prove a test for the Germans although history is in Germany’s favor. In Germany’s last successful European Championship campaign, it was the Czechs who succumbed to an Oliver Bierhoff sudden death overtime goal which earned the Germans a 2-1 victory in the final of Euro ’96.

"That is without doubt a strong group," Völler added. "Certainly there were quite a few other combinations which would have been much easier on paper. It was clear beforehand that at this tournament there would be no easy preliminary groups."

Goalkeeper and team captain Oliver Kahn said, "It is an unbelievably hard group and it looks as if there are three favorites but we must not underestimate the Latvians."

"All the teams are enormously strong but of course our clashes with Holland are steeped in tradition and it will be an unbelievably explosive tie. The Czechs also have a fantastic team with many players who earn their money in England, Germany or Holland."

With critics watching every Germany game with pens poised with scorn, the draw for Euro 2004 was watched with possibilities of even more speculation of the team’s shortcomings just a selection ball away.

Hosts to play neighbors

In a painfully long ceremony, where a sphere containing the name of the country was drawn first followed by the ball containing the group allocation number, the 16 teams who made it through automatic qualification and play-off victories were split into four groups of four with only one team from each seeding pot in each group.

Former Portugal star and local hero Eusebio helped various UEFA dignitaries to execute the lottery style allocation which caused ripples through the crowd of coaches and officials in Lisbon when the first group threw the hosts together with their rivals and neighbors Spain in Group A, along with Russia and Greece.

France take on England

Holders France, so disappointing in the defense of their World Cup crown in 2002, were drawn in Group B against England, Switzerland and Croatia. Anyone thinking that the French will collapse as spectacularly in Portugal as they did in Japan/Korea need only to check the statistics to believe that Zinedine Zidane and friends are once again a force to be reckoned with. France are not only unbeaten in their last 13 matches but have won them all, including the recent friendly with Germany in Gelsenkirchen.

Italy face Scandinavian threat

Italy, Euro 2000 runners-up after a cruel extra-time defeat at the feet of Les Bleus, have a marginally less difficult group to contend with although once at this level, as the old soccer cliché goes, there are no easy games. Former Bayern Munich coach Giovanni Trapattoni will have to prepare the Azzurri for games against Scandinavian representatives Sweden and Denmark as well as the battling Bulgarians.

The tournament will be staged in new or renovated stadiums in Oporto, Leiria, Aveiro, Coimbra, Guimaraes, Faro, Braga and Lisbon between June 12 and July 4.

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