Football, one of the world's oldest and most popular sports, will be grabbing everyone's attention over the next few weeks following the kick-off of Euro 2004 in Portugal. While you may be a fan of David Beckham or Francesco Totti thanks to their talent and good looks, how much do you actually know about the game? While modern football originated in England, an early form of the game was already being played in China and Japan before the first century. Football was originally banned in England because it was considered indecent. It is said that Queen Elizabeth I even had people jailed for a week for playing football. However, the game continued to flourish around the globe following the introduction of the Cambridge Rules in the 19th century that standardised the game. So what makes football such an irrepressible sport? According to Kenny Lai Sun-cheung, head coach of the Hong Kong national football team, football is about fighting spirit - something that makes the game so unpredictable and interesting. 'As long as the match is not over, nothing is concluded yet,' says Lai. 'Whether you are down by a single goal, five goals or even 10 goals, you have to handle the remaining time in a way to makes the game difficult for the opponents.' This is a quality that Lai finds many Hong Kong teenagers are lacking due to the protected environment they grow up in. Young people here are not well-challenged, he says. 'Because of studying and family issues they cannot follow their hearts to do what they love. Many parents even restrict their children's participation in sports activities,' says Lai. 'This really hampers their psychological and mental development ... they can't handle setbacks and tend to give up easily.' But it is sport, and football in particular, which can help children develop a strong mentality. After all, there are many examples - such as the recent fund-raising game between Italian giants AC Milan and local club Kitchee - in which a seemingly much weaker team slays Goliath thanks to strong team-spirit and a never-say-die attitude. 'Football is a team game, and you have to deal with many people,' Lai explains. 'If you are a good player, you help your teammates out. If you are not that good, other players will help you.' Dealing with coaches, teammates and opposing players can help teenagers mature and learn things that can't be taught at school or in books. Lai has travelled to many countries including Brazil, England and Germany over the past 36 years as a football coach or player. He says football has broadened his mind and has led to many things that he, as a secondary school graduate, would otherwise not have experienced. 'Studying and playing sport are both important, and the two should be well-balanced. Taking part in any sports activities, not only football, can improve you mentally and physically, and you will find yourself much better equipped than bookworms when working in the future.'