Stage set for soccer carnival

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 April, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 April, 2000, 12:00am

Euro 2000, the European soccer championship which begins in June, is more than a sporting event. This tournament, described as the biggest spectacle in Europe, is a testament to the close co-operation of the Netherlands and Belgium.

Organisers say this event is about 'Football Without Frontiers'.

Everyone, including the two Governments, organisers, sponsors and spectators, is hoping they will all be winners. Equally, true soccer buffs are praying that those notorious British thugs will not create murder and mayhem.

The opening game will be at the King Baudouin Stadium (capacity 50,000) in Brussels, where Belgium take on Sweden on June 10. The finals will be played on July 2 at Feyenoord's De Kuip Stadium in Rotterdam, the port city. The stadium, home of Feyenoord (Feijenoord) has a heated pitch. Eight stadiums in eight cities in the Netherlands and Belgium will host all games.

Bearing in mind that they are on home turf, the Dutch team's expectations of winning are high. Coach Frank Rijkaard, says everything will fall into place during the tournament.

'Because we are talking about football, and all the self-proclaimed experts think that the Dutch team have a good chance of winning, the Dutch are likely to go completely wild in June,' Rijkaard told Holland Horizon, the magazine of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

'But the players won't be bothered by all the fuss.' Acknowledging that results have not been good in the past year, Rijkaard, says good progress is being made nevertheless. Rijkaard, a former Dutch international, has been in charge of 15 games so far. The Dutch have won two, lost two and drawn 11.

In a warm up match on Wednesday, they came away with a goal-less draw against Scotland at Arnhem in the Netherlands. The men in orange and black have qualified for the championship by virtue of being co-hosts.

Sixteen teams are carrying the hopes and dreams of their nations: Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and Yugoslavia.

This event, then, will help the organising countries and European nations to forge closer relationships with each other, and hence the theme of the tournament, the 11th edition.

'They say that sport should transcend frontiers, and Euro 2000 organisers are showing how. Rivals on the pitch, our two countries are working closely together to guarantee a tournament that will live up to the fans' expectations. Euro 2000 gives us both the chance to present ourselves as attractive, hospitable places where people of all countries can enjoy top level sport,' says Guus Hiddink, former manager of the Dutch team.

The tournament is administered by the governing body of European soccer, UEFA (Union of European Football Associations). Carlsberg, Coca-Cola, Fujifilm, Hyundai, JVC, MasterCard, McDonald's, Philips, Pringles (Procter & Gamble), PSINET (Internet Service Provider), (sports Web site) and Playstation (Sony Computer Entertainment, Europe) are the sponsors.

Kapila Bandara