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In the tradition of legends of the past

MAN ON

THE SPOT

Rui Costa

(Portugal)

The number on his shirt might not have stood out had it not been for the flapping locks, the rhythmic way he accelerated away from opponents, and a hunger for the ball.

Rui Costa may not be quite ready to be ranked alongside Pele, Platini and Maradona among football's great No 10s, yet the signs are that he is well on the way. By the time Hillsborough opened its gates on Sunday night, three matches at Euro 96 had provided plenty of talking points, if precious little to justify the hype and hopes of a continent.

It was left to Portugal's youthful proteges, and the 24-year-old Rui Costa in particular, to make the heart dance - and provoke palpitations in Denmark's defence. Indeed, he might have finished with the first Portuguese hat-trick in a major tournament since Eusebio single-handedly overturned North Korea's 3-0 lead at Goodison Park 30 years ago.

In a sense, Rui Costa has already confirmed his arrival as a major player on the world stage, having established himself in Italy's Serie A with Fiorentina after a pounds 5m move from Benfica. But in Florence he has tended to be overshadowed by the cult of Gabriel Batistuta and, with the national side, Paulo Sousa and Joao Pinto have bigger reputations.

Nominally a midfielder, he is at his most dangerous exploiting the space behind the main attacker. His ability to ghost into scoring positions troubled the Danes, while he also underlined a penchant for wickedly flighted long-range shooting.

On a balmy night in Sheffield, Paulo Sousa revealed the potential to become a performer on a par with the great No 10s. The coming days will provide an intriguing indication as to whether it will be fulfilled.

Phil Shaw

Striking to the sound of panzers...

The most entertaining of the many Euro 96 magazines on the newsagents' shelves is the English-language tournament preview published by Don Balon of Barcelona.

It contains by far the best statistical package of any of the Euro magazines - but it is the translations of the player profiles that stand out. Scotland's Gary McAllister, we learn, "possesses an extremely potential physique" while the ubiquitous Mr McKimmie is, apparently, "a little too rough in his actions."

There are many more in similar style, but perhaps the best of the lot is Turkey's top striker, Hakan Sukur who, according to Don Balon, "is an authentic panzer."

EURO 96

RIP-OFFS

No 2: At Old Trafford on Sunday, half-litre bottles of Manchester United "own-brand" mineral water... at pounds 1.50.

FOOTBALL: THE UNIVERSAL

LANGUAGE

"Dai, arbitro! Hai bisogno degli occhiali. Minchia, non era mai rigore."

Scottish doom and gloom - or dreams of fame and glory

From the July issue of Goal magazine: "So definitely a place in the last four for England. Unfortunately I don't think Scotland will be there with them... Realistically, I just can't see Scotland making it beyond the qualifying group."

From the Sun last week: "The fixture list is very much in Scotland's favour... Maybe they are peaking at the right time... If they can harness their passion and use it constructively, who knows? They are not the no- hopers people think." The author in both instances? George Graham.

Another optimistic Scot: the defender Stewart McKimmie, right-back against the Dutch yesterday, has booked a family holiday - starting the day after the last Group A fixture.

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