The 16 contenders for summer glory in Portugal

European Championship Finals 2004: France have been back to their best in the qualifying competition while Dutch could be dark horses
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BULGARIA

Coach: Plamen Markov.

Best performance in EC finals: 1968 QF.

Recent record in EC finals: 1980 DNQ; 1984 DNQ; 1988 DNQ; 1992 DNQ; 1996 R1; 2000 DNQ.

Record v England: P8 W0 D4 L4 F2 A9.

Last three v England: England 1 Bulgaria 0 (Wembley 1996, F); England 0 Bulgaria 0 (Wembley 1998, ECQ); Bulgaria 1 England 1 (Sofia 1998, ECQ).

A side staffed by veterans earned Bulgaria a semi-final place in the 1994 World Cup. A fresh crop has finally emerged under Markov, who belied criticism of a modest coaching pedigree by pipping Croatia and Belgium to qualify. Theirs is no longer an inward-looking football culture, with players in Germany, France, Greece, Turkey and Scotland, where Stilian Petrov has become an accomplished attacking midfielder. But reaching Portugal is one thing; improving on the early exit in '96 quite another.

CROATIA

Coach: Otto Baric.

Best performance in EC finals: 1996 QF.

Recent record in EC finals: 1996 QF; 2000 DNQ.

Record v England: P2 W0 D1 L1 F1 A3.

Last two v England: England 0 Croatia 0 (Wembley 1996, F); England 3 Croatia 1 (Ipswich 2003, F).

Croatia's previous coach, Miroslav Blazevic, hailed the generation of Boksic, Prosinecki and Suker as "Europe's Brazilians". The present-day reality is that they trailed in behind Bulgaria in their group before winning a tight play-off with Slovenia. Baric is unlikely to lead them to the heady heights of 1998, when they were officially third best on the planet, but Zvica Olic is an eye-catching forward and they will be more skilful than most as well as fired by an uncommonly fierce nationalism.

CZECH REPUBLIC

Coach: Karel Bruckner.

Best performance in EC finals: 1976 Winners (as Czechoslovakia).

Recent record in EC finals: 1980 3rd place; 1984 DNQ; 1988 DNQ; 1992 DNQ; 1996 Runners-up; 2000 R1.

Record v England (including Czechoslovakia): P 13 W2 D3 L8 F15 A27.

Last three v England: England 4 Czechoslovakia 2 (Wembley 1990, F); Czechoslovakia 2 England 2 (Prague 1992, F); England 2 Czech Republic 0 (Wembley 1998, F).

That the Czechs took four points off the Netherlands, as well as scoring more goals and conceding fewer, is ample evidence of their capabilities. Only France, who they beat away from home in a friendly last spring, had a better qualifying record. In a squad steeped in the football of the West, Bruckner has integrated Tomas Rosicky and Milan Baros among a core of survivors from the 1996 final. Deservedly one of the top seeds, they will be underestimated at the peril of the more fancied and fashionable sides in the tournament.

DENMARK

Coach: Morten Olsen.

Best performance in EC finals: 1992 Winners.

Recent record in EC finals: 1980: DNQ; 1984 SF; 1988 R1; 1992 Winners; 1996 R1; 2000 R1.

Record v England: P16 W2 D4 L10 F14 A32.

Last three v England: England 1 Denmark 0 (Wembley 1994, F); Denmark 0 England 3 (Niigata 2002, WCF); England 2 Denmark 3 (Old Trafford 2003, F).

The Danes had a roller-coaster ride to Portugal, a 2-0 home loss to Bosnia following a 5-2 romp in Romania and Everton's Thomas Gravesen scoring from 50 yards in Bucharest but being shown a red card in Sarajevo. Olsen's team and tactics are little changed since England thumped them in Japan, their Manchester revenge being achieved with touchline-hugging wingers and Jan Dahl Tomasson playing off a big front-runner. The absence of the virtuosity once supplied by the Laudrups should preclude a repeat of '92.

ENGLAND

Coach: Sven Goran Eriksson.

Best performance in EC finals: 1996 SF.

Recent record in EC finals: 1980 R1; 1984 DNQ; 1988 R1; 1992 R1; 1996 SF; 2000 R1.

Alone among the leading nations, England have never won the European title. Expectations have been raised by their rugby union counterparts, but a flattering qualifying record and the recent outmanoeuvring by Denmark leave little hope that they can be satisfied. Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen are strikers to equal any yet they remain unconvincing defensively. A single competitive defeat under Eriksson points to a second-phase place but they may fall short against, say, the Italians, Dutch or French.

FRANCE

Coach: Jacques Santini.

Best performance in EC finals: 1984 Winners; 2000 Winners.

Recent record in EC finals: 1980 DNQ; 1984 Winners; 1988 DNQ; 1992 R1; 1996 SF; 2000 Winners.

Record v England: P25 W5 D4 L16 F30 A64.

Last three v England: France 0 England 1 (Montpellier 1997, Le Tournoi); England 0 France 2 (Wembley 1999, F); France 1 England 1 (Paris 2000, F).

Under a new coach, France made the humiliating failure to defend their World Cup look like a baffling blip, boasting the only 100 per cent group record plus a goal tally of 29 for and just two against. Most of the Euro 2000 champions remain, with Olivier Dacourt and William Gallas among those breaking through. Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet and Djibril Cissé offer scorching pace and scoring potential, while Zinedine Zidane ought to be in his pomp, all adding up to a challenge très formidable.

GERMANY

Coach: Rudi Völler.

Best performance in EC finals: 1972 Winners (as West Germany); 1980 Winners (as West Germany); 1996 Winners.

Recent record in EC finals: 1980 Winners; 1984 R1; 1988 SF; 1992 Runners-up; 1996 Winners; 2000 R1.

Record v England (including West Germany): P25 W9 D5 L11.

Last three v England: England 1 Germany 0 (Charleroi 2000, ECF); England 0 Germany 1 (Wembley 2000, WCQ); Germany 1 England 5 (Munich 2001, WCQ).

Unexpected World Cup finalists, Völler's team have since endured the opposite experience to France. In the softest group, they drew at home to Lithuania and scraped by 2-1 at home to the Faroes and Scotland, who also exposed their ordinariness in a Glasgow draw. Franz Beckenbauer bemoans over-reliance on Michael Ballack, though Oliver Kahn and Kevin Kuranyi provide saving grace and finishing prowess. Hardly a vintage Germany, but surely harder to beat than in Euro 2000.

GREECE

Coach: Otto Rehhagel.

Best performance in EC finals: 1980 R1.

Recent record in EC finals: 1980 R1; 1984 DNQ; 1988 DNQ; 1992 DNQ; 1996 DNQ; 2000 DNQ.

Record v England: P8 W0 D2 L6 F3 A19.

Last three v England: England 5 Greece 0 (Wembley 1994, F); Greece 0 England 2 (Athens 2001, WCQ); England 2 Greece 2 (Old Trafford 2001, WCQ).

In 2001, Greece came fourth in England's World Cup qualifying group. The push for Portugal started with 2-0 defeats by Spain and Ukraine, but they won the last six without conceding a goal, including Spain away. Unlike his predecessors, the German Rehhagel has players based in Italy, Germany and Spain; Vasilis Tsartas, now back at AEK, averaged a goal every two games during two years in Seville's midfield. No goals or points in their last finals, USA '94, so respectable failure may suffice.

ITALY

Coach: Giovanni Trapattoni.

Best performance in EC finals: 1968 Winners.

Recent record in EC finals: 1980 SF; 1984 DNQ; 1988 SF; 1992 DNQ; 1996 R1; 2000 Runners-up.

Record v England: P22 W9 D6 L7 F26 A28.

Last three v England: England 1 Italy 2 (Leeds 2002, F); Italy 1 England 0 (Turin 2000, F); Italy 0 England 0 (Rome 1997, WCQ).

After the Azzurri lost to South Korea and Wales last year, Italian football entered one of its periodic bouts of soul-searching. The powers-that-be resisted the urge to fire Trapattoni and the players duly regained self-belief, purging the calamity of Cardiff by beating the Welsh 4-0 in Milan. Strong as ever in a defence built round the rock of Alessandro Nesta, the invention of Francesco Totti and the nicely balanced front duo of Christian Vieri and Filippo Inzaghi combine to make them powerful candidates.

LATVIA

Coach: Aleksandrs Starkovs.

Best performance in EC finals: Never qualified.

Record v England: No previous meetings.

This Baltic, ex-Soviet republic of just 2.4 million people matched England in the play-offs by drawing in Turkey after winning at home. Marian Pahars was the one success among six Latvian exports to Britain, yet the experience has clearly been more beneficial than staying to win an eight-team league with Skonto Riga. Those who would cast them as makeweights should note that they also beat Sweden away in their group, while Arsenal, Wolves and Roma covet the striker Maris Verpakovskis.

NETHERLANDS

Coach: Dick Advocaat.

Best performance in EC finals: 1988 Winners.

Recent record in EC finals: 1980 R1; 1984 DNQ; 1988 Winners; 1992 SF; 1996 QF; 2000 SF.

Record v England: P15 W4 D6 L5 F18 A23.

Last three v England: England 4 Netherlands 1 (Wembley 1996, ECF); England 0 Netherlands 2 (Tottenham 2001, F); Netherlands 1 England 1 (Amsterdam 2002, F).

The Dutch had the best qualifying record among runners-up but paid heavily for Edgar Davids' dismissal in Prague. Faltered in Scotland in the first play-off, but when it was win or bust stormed the second 6-0 in a game that resolved some quandaries for Advocaat. It confirmed Ruud van Nistelrooy as main striker in a system like Manchester United's, and Ajax's Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder as worthy of the Cruyff-Gullit creative mantle. Dark horses in "Sellafield" orange.

PORTUGAL

Coach: Luiz Felipe Scolari.

Best performance in EC finals: 1984 SF; 2000 SF.

Recent record in EC finals: 1980 DNQ; 1984 SF; 1988 DNQ; 1992 DNQ; 1996 QF; 2000 SF.

Record v England: P19 W3 D7 L9 F22 A42.

Last three v England: England 3 Portugal 0 (Wembley 1998, F); England 2, Portugal 3 (Eindhoven 2000, ECF); England 1 Portugal 1 (Villa Park 2002, F).

Semi-finalists in Euro 2000, Portugal will be expected to do at least as well as hosts. The ability is there, both in the shape of the "golden generation" of Luis Figo and Rui Costa and the new breed represented by Cristiano Ronaldo. Scolari also knows about how to play tournaments after leading Brazil to the World Cup (in which Portugal performed abjectly). But absence of competitive preparation may count against a country that has traditionally lacked the resilience to turn talent into titles.

RUSSIA

Coach: Georgi Yartsev.

Best performance in EC finals: 1960 Winners (as Soviet Union).

Recent record in EC finals: 1980 DNQ; 1984 DNQ; 1988 Runners-up (as Soviet Union); 1992 R1 (as CIS); 1996 R1; 2000 DNQ.

Record v England (as Soviet Union only): P11 W3 D3 L5 F13 A19.

Last three v England: Soviet Union 0 England 1 (Tbilisi 1986, F); England 1 Soviet Union 3 (Frankfurt 1988, ECF); England 3 Soviet Union 1 (Wembley 1991, F).

Russia changed coaches in mid-qualifying campaign, Yartsev replacing Valeri Gazzayev after defeats in Georgia and Albania. The ex-Spartak Moscow manager revived morale sufficiently to win a bruising play-off with Wales. Crucially, he restored Alexander Mostovoi, the Celta Vigo schemer, and blooded the striker Dmitri Bulykin, who scored a hat-trick against Switzerland in only his second international. Yet to fulfil their potential since the Soviet era ended and look unlikely to do so next summer.

SPAIN

Coach: Inaki Saez.

Best performance in EC finals: 1964 Winners.

Recent record in EC finals: 1980 R1; 1984 Runners-up; 1988 R1; 1992 DNQ; 1996 QF;

2000 QF.

Record v England: P19 W5 D3 L11 F20 A38.

Last three v England: Spain 1 England 0 (Santander 1991, F); England 0 Spain 0 (Wembley 1996, ECF); England 3 Spain 0 (Villa Park 2001, F).

The serial under-achievers seem to be no nearer to a team reflecting La Liga's pre-eminence. The Spaniards began the campaign under a new coach, but the old erratic tendencies soon resurfaced. Having won in Greece, they lost at home to them and could only draw 0-0 in Northern Ireland, which effectively forced them into the play-offs against Norway. There is quality enough to win this tournament, from Iker Casillas in goal to Raul up front, but the necessary consistency looks as elusive as ever.

SWEDEN

Coaches: Lars Lagerback and Tommy Soderberg. Best performance in EC finals: 1992 SF.

Recent record in EC finals: 1980 DNQ; 1984 DNQ; 1988 DNQ; 1992 SF; 1996 DNQ; 2000 R1.

Record v England: P19 W5 D8 L6 F23 A30.

Last three v England: England 0 Sweden 0 (Wembley 1999, ECQ); England 1 Sweden 1 (Old Trafford 2001, F); England 1 Sweden 1 (Saitama 2002, WCF).

Organised and obdurate at the World Cup, Sweden continue to draw heavily on Premiership worthies like Olof Mellberg and the Southampton Svenssons. The onus to spice up a smorgasbord of solid fare used to fall solely on Freddie Ljungberg, but is now shared by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the gifted, volatile Ajax striker. They will not win the tournament, despite being in Pot A, but England's inability to beat them in 10 meetings suggests Sven Goran Eriksson will be keen to avoid his compatriots.

SWITZERLAND

Coach: Kobi Kuhn.

Best performance in EC finals: 1996 R1.

Recent record in EC finals: 1980 DNQ; 1984 DNQ; 1988 DNQ; 1992 DNQ; 1996 R1; 2000 DNQ.

Record v England: P18 W3 D4 L11 F15 A42.

Last three v England: England 3 Switzerland 1 (Wembley 1995, F); England 1 Switzerland 1 (Wembley 1996, F); Switzerland 1 England 1 (Berne 1998, F).

England be warned: Switzerland's capacity to get the better of "British" players is proven, their qualification having turned on a double over the Republic of Ireland. In Dublin, they caught the Irish in turmoil over Mick McCarthy, but they again prevailed in a winner-takes-all tussle this autumn against a side reputedly revitalised by Brian Kerr. Kuhn's hopes of an improbable second-round spot hinge on Hakan Yakin, a playmaker who helped Basle upset Celtic and Liverpool in the Champions' League.

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