PREVIEW : Iberian nerves frayed as Spain takes on Portugal

Associated Press

Alcochete, June 19:

The 22 players on the pitch at Alvalade stadium may be the calmest people in the Iberian peninsula Sunday night in the biggest ever Portugal vs Spain match. Fifty-million citizens from the Portugal’s Algarve beaches to the Pyrenees mountains of Spain know that this match is critical for their teams in Euro 2004. For two nations where passion for soccer is an integral part of daily life, tension will be at breaking point. Both teams are packed with stars but have a record of flopping on the big occasions. An early exit this time will be a disaster for the Portugal of Luis Figo and Rui Costa and the Spain of Raul Gonzalez and Fernando Morientes.

With a one-point lead over its neighbour Spain looks to have the advantage. A draw would see them through while Portugal has to win.

However, the Spanish will be missing some key players on Sunday. Valencia’s Carlos Marchena is suspended in defence and Bilbao winger Joseba Etxeberria is injured - after shinning in the tournament so far. The Portuguese should be at full strength and have home advantage. Goalkeeper Ricardo was confident Portugal would not repeat their failure in that friendly. Neither team was showing the tension ahead of the game. Portuguese players laughed and joked through training in the last open session before their Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari shut the door on the two final days of preparations at their secluded camp outside this Tagus river town. Further north, the Spanish also looked relaxed, despite press criticism of their unconvincing 1-1 draw with Greece on Wednesday. Portugal lost to Greece in the opening game plunging the host nation into gloom, but a remodeled team recovered to beat Russia 2-0 Wednesday and set up the sudden-death derby.

Greece vs Russia

FARO: Coach Otto Rehhagel is trying to quiet premature celebrations as Greece heads into its last Group A match against Russia in a promising position to reach the quarter-finals of a major tournament for the first time. Although it would take a cruel twist of fate for the Greeks to lose a berth in the final eight of the European Championship, the wary German warned that the two advancing teams have not been decided yet. Greece shares the lead in Group A with Spain, both with four points, followed by Portugal with three and Russia with zero.

Greece can advance to the quarterfinals even with a defeat, provided Spain doesn’t lose to Portugal in the other group match. If Portugal wins, then the second spot would be decided on goal difference.

It would be a historic first for the Greeks, who had never won a game in a major tournament until Euro 2004. The team previously appeared at the 1980 European Championship and the 1994 World Cup. More than 10,000 Russian fans have flocked to the shores of Portugal’s Algarve resorts to cheer on their team, but Russia has so far played badly, losing to Spain 1-0 and to Portugal 2-0.