Portugal and France under pressure

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Hosts Portugal will be under pressure when the Euro 2004 opens on Saturday and so will defending champion France when they meet England on Sunday.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:07 IST
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Pierluigi Collina blew the final whistle in the World Cup two years ago in Yokohama. And it will be the charismatic Italian who blows the first one when Euro 2004 opens Saturday in Porto. Collina, widely regarded as the best referee in the game, was named today to officiate the opening match between hosts Portugal and Greece. The Italian combines a fearsome look - piercing eyes and a shaved head - with a smile and a supportive word when players get out of line. "I am very happy," said Collina, who faces mandatory retirement next year when he turns 45. "It is the first time that I've even been appointed for the opening match of a tournament. An opening match is always special." Collina will be under pressure, and so will host Portugal. The Iberian nation has never won a major international soccer title, and some feel this could be the year. "We've always had pressure," defender Rui Jorge said today. "We had it in the World Cup, I just hope people are not disappointed like they were two years ago." Portugal made a quick exit from the World Cup following losses to the United States and South Korea, a humiliation that still haunts the soccer-mad nation as it prepares for its biggest sporting event. Defending champion France will also feel tension when it meets England on Sunday, with French midfielder Zinedine Zidane saying defeat would be a disaster. The French were the defending champions two years ago in the World Cup, but lost all three of their games and failed to score. "We must absolutely not lose this game," Zidane said today. It's so important for peace of mind in such a competition." "It is possible to recover, but it's not a good situation for the team's confidence," the Real Madrid midfielder added. "We haven't forgotten the frustration and enormous disappointment of the World Cup." "It's good to start a competition well and to get the confidence of the coach." Scalpers are getting up to 10 times the face value for tickets to the match, the first high-profile game of the tournament. Buying and selling tickets on the black market is illegal in Portugal, but scalpers - mostly English - get away with it by selling them one or two at a time. "We have heard that people are being asked 500 (US$600) for tickets," said Kevin Miles, international coordinator of the (English) Football Supporters Federation. Tickets for the game cost between 35-90 (US$42-108). "It hasn't been reported to us yet, but I must say I'm not exactly surprised," UEFA director of communications William Gaillard told The Associated Press. The start of play cannot come soon enough for many players, bored with training and trying to get over niggling injuries. (AP)