Ticket sales hit record high as festival stirs the passions

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The Independent Football

Official figures show the Portuguese will emerge as the leading nation at Euro 2004. England's stunning progress will secure second place. Terrific performances will see the Welsh and the Republic of Ireland riding high. And Scotland? They lag some way behind, uncertain even to qualify. Luckily for Berti Vogts, all the above applies only to ticket sales.

As the "Sold Out" signs spring up around the host nation, time is already running out to secure seats. To check on availability, visit the tournament website at www.euro2004.com. But a majority of the matches - 16 from 31 - are already sell-outs.

These include the opening match on 12 June at Porto's Estádio das Antas and also the tournament's second semi-final on 1 July at the same venue. The first semi-final on 30 June at Sporting Lisbon's Estadio Jose Alvalade is also a sell-out, as are two of the other four games there, including one of the quarter-finals. There are no tickets left for any of the three games - two group games and a quarter-final - at the Estadio Algarve near Faro. And all the games at Boavista's Estadio do Bessa and in Coimbra are sell-outs.

General availability is already limited at the rest of the matches, despite most aspirant nations not even being sure whether they will be participating. It is hard to disagree with the assessment of Gilberto Madail, the chairman of the organising committee, that the sales process has been a "spectacular success".

The downside is that many fans have not been aware that the first deadline for applications has been and gone, nor that the general first-come, first-served second round of sales started on 1 August. There are still ways to apply for seats, however, either directly or through the Football Associations of competing nations.

Some 1.2m tickets were available at the outset for the 31 games, which will be played in 10 stadiums (seven new, three extensively refurbished) in eight cities, ranging from Braga in the north to Faro-Loule in the south. Of those, five per cent will go to the media, and five per cent to corporate customers. Another 13 per cent will go to officials and local partners and sponsors.

That leaves 77 per cent being sold to "ordinary" fans, which equates to a higher proportion than at any major international event in recent years. Of those "public" sales, 38 per cent at each game have been or will be sold through an open process - mostly via the internet - worldwide. The other 39 per cent at each game will be split between the two competing FAs. This will see a minimum of 6,000 tickets per country per match distributed via participating FAs. Euro 2004 group qualifying finishes in October, with the play-offs and draw for the finals in November.

The English FA has yet to finalise how its allocation will be allotted, should Sven Goran Eriksson's side progress. Certainly anyone wanting tickets via the FA will need to be a member of englandfans, the FA's official supporters' club. There are already around 17,000 members. Seats are likely to go to fans who have already amassed most 'points' from following England away during the Euro 2004 campaign.

English supporters have already shown a greater appetite for the tournament than those in any country besides the host nation. Fans in Portugal have been responsible for 35 per cent of all applications so far, with English fans next on 20 per cent.

England fans have also been the keenest applicants for "Follow Your Team" packages, whereby seats could be ordered on a provisional basis for all games for one team. Organisers could have sold England's allocation for these packages 20 times over. No more applications will be taken. Welsh and Irish "Follow Your Team" packages have also all gone. Some Scotland packages were still available on Tuesday.

Prices for individual games range from £24.50 to £70 for group matches to £28 to £95 for quarter-finals. There is already apparently a thriving black market on the internet, with web-based touts offering group matches at between £250 and £400 and tickets to the final at between £550 and £1,200.

As is usual, organisers are strongly advising fans to stay away from the black market as their tickets could be ruled invalid if checked against IDs on the gate. Such checks, in practice, have never been widespread. Touts, however, sometimes fail to produce the tickets they promise.