Sat, Jun 12, 2004 - Page 20 News List

All the stars are out for Euro 2004

SET TO SHINE From Portugal's Luis Figo to England's David Beckham and France's Zinedine Zidane, the big guns of European soccer are ready to rumble in Portugal


An England fan stands underneath a giant flag yesterday as he helps others hold it up at Rossio Square in Lisbon.


Portugal captain Luis Figo will be the first man out on the field today for the opening game of Euro 2004 while two other possible superstars -- Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham -- will line up against each other tomorrow.

The June 12 to July 4 tournament in Portugal boasts big-name players galore among the 16 teams -- each of them only too ready to shine on the continental stage.

Figo, 31, kicks off his last major event on today when his Portuguese team meets Greece in their Group A opener. The playmaker would like nothing more than to win a major national team title before stepping down from the team.

However, Figo faces a rival in the quest for stardom from within his own team's ranks as the 19-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo heads to Euro 2004 after a spectacular season for Manchester United.

"I believe that Cristiano Ronaldo will be the biggest discovery at Euro 2004," said another Portugal player, Nuno Gomes.

Tomorrow France open their quest for back-to-back titles with a mouth-watering match against England bringing together Zidane and Beckham, who like Figo plays for Real Madrid.

"The first match is very important. We go to Portugal confident but not over confident. We want to defend our title," said Zidane.

He added in the direction of Beckham: "He is a fantastic player."

Beckham, for his part, expressed similar confidence as Zidane in his role as England captain.

"We should be going into the competition believing we can win it -- and I believe that we can," said Beckham, who over the past months got more headlines for alleged extra-marital affairs than footballing skills.

But the three-time World Footballer of the Year Zidane is not the only star of the French team, another is Arsenal striker Thierry Henry who could become the tournament's top scorer if all goes well.

"He is a phenomenal player. He can drive an entire defense crazy," said Gunner teammate Sol Campbell.

Other stars at Euro include Pavel Nedved, the 2003 European Footballer of the Year from the Czech Republic.

The Dutch team features a range of possible heroes ranging from Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy to youngster Rafael van der Vaart from Ajax Amsterdam.

Van Nistelrooy can hardly wait to play because he missed the 2000 edition in his home country and Belgium with torn knee ligaments.

Germany, like the Czechs and Dutch in group D, have goalkeeper titan Oliver Kahn and playmaker Michael Ballack, who more than any other player wants to reach the final after being suspended for the 2002 World Cup final.

"It would be a dream to reach another final and if I could play in it," said Ballack.

Other superstars include Italians Francesco Totti and Christian Vieri as well as a Spanish team led by striker Raul Gonzalez.

"I long for no title more than for a title with Spain," said Real Madrid's Raul, whose team is always rated highly at big events but then never quite meets the expectations.

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