Euro 2004: Portugal face Greece in opener

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> High expectations are matched by anxiety for Portugal's soccer fans while Greece can go into the opening match without the burden of expectation.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:07 IST
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Even in his long and illustrious career, Luis Figo has never faced a bigger game. The Real Madrid star who defines Portuguese soccer's "golden generation" will walk on the pitch in Porto for the Euro 2004 opener against Greece tomorrow carrying the hopes and dreams of his nation. The pressure will be immense. Euro 2004 is the biggest sporting event ever hosted by Portugal and western Europe's poorest country has invested millions to make the event a showcase for a nation on rise. Pride in the dazzling new stadiums will count for little however, if 31-year-old Figo and his teammates fail on the pitch. In a country where soccer is a national passion, the red and green national colours are everywhere; Lisbon cabs fly the flag and the media is dominated by speculation about the team's chances. High expectations High expectations are matched by anxiety. Portugal's soccer fans have learned to live with disappointment. Figo, Rui Costa and the other glittering stars failed miserably in the 2002 world cup, crashing out after defeats by South Korea and the United States. They reached the semifinal in Euro 2000 before a Zinedine Zidane penalty brought extra-time heartbreak against France. In 1998 and 1994 they even failed to qualify for the World Cup finals. This time, Portugal has brought in Brazil's 2002 World Cup winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. His target is to use home advantage to secure a first major championship for the Portuguese and erase the perennial underachiever tag hanging over the team. "I think Portugal can beat any team in the world, but we haven't been showing our strengths," defender Rui Jorge said yesterday. "I hope that's going to change, we have the capability to turn that around." No pressure on Greece In contrast to the hosts, Greece can go into the match without the burden of expectation. Few fancy the Greeks to go far in the competition, although the team coached by Germany's Otto Rehhagel was impressive in qualifying, topping Spain and Ukraine in its group. "The pressure is on them," Rehhagel said. "All the players have to do is place their hands on their heart and give the best for their country." The disciplined, hard running Greeks, with Inter Milan's Girogios Karagounis leading in midfield, will be tough to handle. They held Scolari's men to a 1-1 draw last November in a warm up. Coach Otto Rehhagel is anxious to see if defender Traianos Dellas recovers in time for tomorrow's match. The AS Roma star did not train on Wednesday due to a minor hip injury he suffered on Tuesday and is undergoing treatment. Defender Vasilis Lakis has a twisted ankle and also did not train. Portugal should go to the opener in FC Porto's Stadium of the Dragon without injury worries after Figo pulled through a scare in training last week. Scolari's problem in a series of lackluster warm up games has been to blend the backbone of experience provided by Fernando Couto, Figo, Rui Costa and Pedro Pauleta with newcomers like Manchester United's teenage prodigy Cristiano Ronaldo and the bloc of FC Porto players who stunned Europe by winning the Champion's League last month. (AP)