Euro 2000 Offers Glittering Semis

Monday, June 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) — The showdown has the buzz of a title game: France vs. Portugal. Zinedine Zidane vs. Luis Figo.

The game in Brussels, Belgium, on Wednesday has the makings of soccer at its best, leaving the mayhem wrought by drunken hooligans at the European Championship a distant memory.

The other semifinal also offers compelling soccer when the Netherlands plays Italy in Amsterdam on Thursday.

So far, 77 goals have been scored in Euro 2000. The games have gotten increasingly better, making it one of the most memorable tournaments in recent years.

``What I have seen gives me great satisfaction,'' Gerhard Aigner, chief executive of the European soccer federation, said Monday.

The violence, he added, sent ``a kind of shudder over the tournament for a couple of days ... but I think we in Europe can be very proud of what the players have demonstrated on the field of play.''

Injuries were the main concern Monday — the strained thigh of Italian captain Paolo Maldini and the broken nose of French star Christophe Dugarry.

The French, who beat Spain 2-1 in the quarterfinals, will have had barely two days off before meeting the Portuguese, who had a much easier 2-0 win over Turkey on Saturday.

``When you win you recover more quickly and when you win like we did, that makes it even more reassuring,'' midfielder Patrick Vieira said.

France is favored to become the first team to add a European Championship title to a World Cup title.

``We are here with a very professional attitude. We aren't here to get to the semifinal or quarterfinal, but to win,'' said Vieira, whose grandparents are from the former Portuguese Cape Verde Islands.

The Portuguese have two enthralling players in Luis Figo and Rui Costa. The team has no injury worries, but carries five yellow cards into the semifinal. Portugal faces the prospect of losing players for the final if cautioned again.

The Dutch and Italians need only to look at their coaches for an example. Frank Rijkaard won the title in 1988 and Dino Zoff did so in 1968.

One of them will have the chance to become the first man to play on and coach a European Championship team. Their coaching styles have created two markedly different teams.

The Dutch present a precision-guided, forward-marching attack that has gotten better throughout the tournament. Their last game was their best of all — a 6-1 rout of Yugoslavia.

Italy has managed exactly two goals each game, using counterattacks and capitalizing on the relatively few openings it has found.

``The Dutch are a tight team. Their approach is built upon speed and precision,'' Italy defender Alessandro Nesta said. ``It will not be easy to get the ball off the feet of the Dutch players. But as soon as we do, we should go right away into counterattack.''