Football: Group D: A Team-By-Team Guide To England's Opponents Next Summer

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Diesler the one bright spark in Germany's ageing machine

LAST MONTH Germany celebrated the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Unfortunately in recent years as regards the national football team's fortunes, there has been less cause for celebration, which have been more fall than rise.

True Germany, under the guidance of Eric Ribbeck, qualified for Euro 2000 relatively comfortably. But the task he faces to emulate his predecessor Berti Vogts' Euro 96 triumph is not dissimilar to the ongoing reconstruction work that confronts the German government in healing the divisions between east and west.

Germany's success in Euro 96 resembled the purring efficiency of its automobile industry. Ribbeck's side these days, most notably during the 2-0 defeat to the United States and the 4-0 loss to Brazil in the recent Confederations Cup, bears more of a resemblance to a clapped-out Trabant.

When the 62-year-old Ribbeck took over as German coach back in September 1998, he immediately stressed that his main selection criteria would be ability not age. In doing so he highlighted Germany's main weakness; its inability to develop young players. Indeed Bayern Munich's French defender, Bixente Lizarazu, has said that Germany's young players are more concerned with fitness than technique.

The German Football Federation (DFB) is well aware of the problem. Back in the summer Franz Beckenbauer, the DFB's vice-president, announced a five-year plan to invest pounds 1.7m on 121 new football schools for 4,000 players aged from 13 to 17 in a bid to replicate France's successful programme of youth development.

Ribbeck, in the interim, has to try and keep the current engine ticking over. The fact that in the recent 1-0 victory over Norway, the 38-year- old Lothar Matthaus won his 143rd cap, suggests that the German coach will be taking a full tool kit with him to the Low Countries.

The one bright spark for Ribbeck is Sebastian Diesler, Hertha Berlin's teenage midfielder. He had been set to make his full international debut against Norway, but he was ruled out with a knee injury.

Ribbeck will be hoping that Oliver Bierhoff, scorer of Germany's golden goal over the Czech Republic in the Euro 96 final, has not lost his golden touch, but the striker's performances for Milan have looked distinctly lacklustre this season.

After Vogts had resigned, Ottmar Hitzfeld, Jupp Heynckes, Otto Rehhagel and Christoph Daum all refused the DFB's chalice. Now that is saying something. A job even more unpopular than the position of England coach.

European Championship record

Previous appearances: 7 (1972, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996).

Winners: 1972, 1980, 1996.

Runners-up: 1976, 1992.

Hosts: 1988.

Overall finals record:

P26 W15 D7 L4 F42 A24.

1960: Did not enter

1964: Did not enter

1968: Eliminated in qualifying stages

1972: Winners

1976: Runners-up

1980: Winners

1984: Eliminated after first round

1988: Semi-finals

1992: Runners-up

1996: Winners

PREVIOUS EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP RESULTS AGAINST ENGLAND

April 1972 (Wembley): England 1 West Germany 3.

May 1972 (Berlin): West Germany 0 England 0.

June 1996 (Wembley): England 1 Germany 1 (Germany won on penalties) (last meeting between two countries).

England's overall record against Germany: P22 W9 D3 L10 F38 A29.

PORTUGAL

Figo needs finisher to feed

PERHAPS ENGLAND and Portugal, before they meet in next summer's Euro 2000 finals, should engage in an exchange programme.

For while England have a surfeit of world-class strikers, Portugal have an over abundance of world-class defenders and midfielders. Kevin Keegan, that well know bagpipe dreamer, could soon be visited by hallucinations figuring Luis Figo. Equally adept on either the left or the right wing of Louis van Gaal's Barcelona, Figo is perhaps only rivalled by David Beckham in the deadliness of the way he delivers a cross.

Portugal's striking deficiencies were strikingly exposed in Euro 96. After Karel Poborsky had given the Czech Republic an early lead at the quarter-final stage, the Portuguese dominated the game, only to exit the tournament because of their inability to deliver the coup de grace to their intricate passing movements.

Portugal's coach, Humberto Coelho, has followed Aime Jacquet's philosophy of keeping a core group of players together come what may. Indeed the current Portuguese side still very much revolves around the players who won the World Youth Cup in 1989 and 1991.

Apart from Figo, the backbone of Coelho's team is the goalkeeper Vitor Baia, the defenders Fernando Couto and Jorge Costa, while in midfield there is Paulo Sousa and Joao Pinto. It is just the skeleton's head that is the concern for Coelho, though the Portuguese coach is hoping that the young Benfica striker, Nuno Gomes, and the Lazio midfielder, Sergio Conceicao, will add some flesh to the bones come next summer.

The Euro 2000 finals are likely to prove the last hurrah for most of these players. Both Paulo Sousa and Joao Pinto are 29, while Fernando Couto is 30. Coelho, who won 64 caps for Portugal and retired as a player in 1985 through a knee injury, took over from his former Benfica team- mate, Artur Jorge, after Portugal failed to qualify for the World Cup in France two years ago.

Championship record

Previous appearances: 2 (1984, 1996)

Overall playing record in the finals: P 6 W 0 D 1 L 5 F 3 A 8

1960-1980 Eliminated in qualifying competition

1984 Eliminated after first round

1988 Eliminated in qualifying competition

1992 Eliminated in qualifying competition

1996 Eliminated after first round

No previous European Championship meetings with England

Last match against England: June 1998 (Toulouse): England 1 Romania 2 (World Cup finals group match)

England's overall record against Romania: P 10 W 2 D 6 L 2 F 8 A 7

ROMANIA

Ienei has to pick up baton

AS WITH the politics of the Balkans, it remains almost impossible to predict how well Romania will perform in Euro 2000.

Will England meet the side that bedazzled Argentina in the 1994 World Cup quarter-finals, or the team that failed to win a single game in Euro 96?

Romanian football politics appear equally Byzantine. How else to explain that Victor Piturca, the man who led his country to Euro 2000, will not be making the trip to the Low Countries.

Romania were unbeaten in their qualification group, but Piturca was dismissed by the Romanian Football Federation in November, after months of conflict with key players. His replacement is the wily 62-year-old Emeric Ienei, a man who Terry Venables has good reason to remember. In 1986 Ienei was the coach of Steaua Bucharest, who beat Barcelona on penalties to win the European Cup. Ienei coached Romania between 1986 and 1990 leading them to the last 16 in Italia 90 and before he took up his current position he was again coaching Steaua.

Whereas Germany's Erich Ribbeck is struggling to find a player under the age of 30, Ienei is likely to draft a whole host of indigenous-based youngsters into his squad next year. They include the Steaua Bucharest midfielders Laurentiu Rosu and Eric Linkar, Florin Cernat, of Otelul Galati, and the strikers, Adrian Mutu, Adrian Mihalcea and Marius Niculae, of Dinamo Bucharest.

Gheorghe Hagi, 34, and his brother-in-law Gheorghe Popescu, 32, are both still around, but the real star of the team is Valencia's Adrian Ilie. Nicknamed "the Cobra," Ilie's four-year contract with Valencia contains a special clause allowing him to leave only if another club comes up with a transfer fee of pounds 20m.

It's a sign of Romania's consistency that they have never been out of the top 15 in the Fifa rankings and have qualified for three successive World Cups.

Championship record

Previous appearances: 2 (1984, 1996)

Overall playing record in the finals: P 6 W 0 D 1 L 5 F 3 A 8

1960-1980 Eliminated in qualifying competition

1984 Eliminated after first round

1988 Eliminated in qualifying competition

1992 Eliminated in qualifying competition

1996 Eliminated after first round

No previous European Championship meetings with England

Last match against England: June 1998 (Toulouse): England 1 Romania 2 (WC)

England's overall record against Romania: P 10 W 2 D 6 L 2 F 8 A 7

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