Sat, Nov 29, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Euro 2004 draw set to put nerves on edge as nations vie to avoid Holland

AP , LISBON

Stay clear of the Dutch.

Defending European champion France and World Cup runner-up Germany already know they could meet each other at the group stages of next summer's Euro 2004 championship in Portugal.

Because of the seedings, the host also could wind up in the same group as the Germans, Italy, England or Spain when the 16-team draw is made in Lisbon tomorrow.

But the Netherlands has been placed in the third group of seeds and that means the Dutch, who only qualified through the runners-up playoffs, are a dangerous floater in the draw.

Dick Advocaat's team of stars crushed Scotland 6-0 in the playoffs to finally hit top form after two years of poor performances from players who frequently let down their fans by failing to raise their game.

The Dutch failed to reach the 2002 World Cup and were in danger of losing out on Euro 2004 as well when they lost 1-0 to the Scots in the first playoff leg in Glasgow.

That result led to critics saying that the stars don't get on with one another and simply don't play as a team. There was more speculation of a racial divide among the players.

Patrick Kluivert and Clarence Seedorf have become particular targets of the Dutch fans' anger and there was speculation that Advocaat might quit even though the team qualified.

"Of course I'll be going to Portugal," he said. "There's something to be won there. As far as I'm concerned, why go at all if you don't think you have a chance to win the top prize?"

If they do lift themselves for the championship, every other team needs to beware.

The Dutch have the likes of Manchester United's Ruud van Nistelrooy in attack with plenty of backup, Edgar Davids, Seedorf and 20-year-old Rafael Van der Vaart in a talented midfield and Jaap Stam at the heart of the defense.

Advocaat has also added some new blood to the team, such as 19-year-old Ajax Amsterdam midfielder Wesley Sneijder, who scored the first goal against the Scots and then set up the next two.

"I've never been somber about the talent on the Dutch team," Advocaat said. "This was the right moment to add some youth to it."

With the exception of France, who didn't have to qualify for the World Cup, and Portugal, who hosts the Euros, the seedings are based on each team's record in making it to the two championships.

Sweden, which qualified for both as group winners, and the Czech Republic are in the top pot of seeds with France and the Portuguese.

They just edged Italy, Spain, England and Germany who are in the second pot of teams.

The Netherlands is in the third along with Croatia, Russia and Denmark. Bulgaria, Switzerland, Greece and rookie Latvia, who knocked out World Cup semifinalist Turkey, are in the fourth pot.

That leads to some interesting combinations.

If France, England and the Netherlands are in the same group, it would mean Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham and Van Nistelrooy facing one another for places in the quarterfinal.

If it's Portugal, Germany and the Dutch, then it's Luis Figo, Michael Ballack and Davids chasing places in the last eight.

Whomever Latvia gets in the draw, the Baltic nation will enjoy the prospect of creating more upsets.

Alexander Starkov's team, who did well to finish runner up in its qualifying group, beat Turkey 1-0 at home in the playoffs and gained a 2-2 tie in Istanbul to make its first championship final.

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