Portugal will host the 2004 European Football (Soccer) Championships and many of the venues will have been built by Russians and Ukrainians, since a substantial part of the now 130,000 immigrants from these countries in Portugal are employed in projects to build the six brand new stadiums.
The main Portuguese clubs, namely FC Porto, Sporting Clube de Portugal and Benfica (the latter two in Lisbon) are demolishing their old stadiums and building newer ones. Gone is 130,000 capacity Stadium of Light but Eusebio remains, a symbol of the potential of Portuguese football, which stubbornly insists on not producing the goods at the last moment.
This time, Portugal is quietly confident that if the team does not win the coming World Cup, then the European Championship will be theirs two years hence.
Regarding the groups, France should win group 1, with Slovenia, Israel, Cyprus and Malta. Romania and Denmark will dispute group 2 against Norway, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Luxembourg. Group 3 will be hotly disputed by the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Austria, with Byelorussia and Moldavia. Likewise, Sweden, Poland and Hungary will see who scores more goals against Latvia and San Marino.
On paper, Germany should take group 5 against Scotland, Iceland, Lithuania and the Faroe Islands. Ukraine and Spain will dispute group 6 against Greece, Northern Ireland and Armenia, this being the third time that Ukraine and Armenia meet in a UEFA qualifying group, while in 7, England should walk through over Turkey, Slovakia, Macedonia and Liechtenstein, the last three of which it has never before faced.
In group 8, Belgium, Croatia and Bulgaria will fight for first place against Estonia and Andorra. Italy and Yugoslavia will vie with each other for the leadership of group 9 along with Finland, Wales and Azerbaijan. In group 10, Russia and the Republic of Ireland will be the favourites against Switzerland, Georgia and the improving Albania.
The event will be extremely important for Portugal, a country which emerges from the mists of oblivion after decades of international isolation during its colonial war in Africa and steps competently onto the world stage as an organiser of international events.
Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.Ru LISBON PORTUGAL