Lisbon, June 29:
Portugal meets the Netherlands on Wednesday in a European Championship semi-final between two teams full of veteran stars taking one last shot at international glory. Both sides were among pre-tournament favourites but struggled to make it this far, winning their quarter-final matches in penalty shootouts as Portugal topped England and the Netherlands beat Sweden. Both were eliminated in the semi-finals at Euro 2000 when the Dutch co-hosted the tournament. But this time around, one of the two will advance, which means one â€œgolden generationâ€ of players will have a chance to finally leave the international stage with honours at a major tournament.
If the Dutch win, Portugal will bid farewell to captain Fernando Couto, Luis Figo and Rui Costa. A victory for Portugal will mean the departure of Netherlands captain Frank de Boer, Jaap Stam and Marc Overmars, who have all announced their retirement from international soccer after Euro 2004. Portugal has never won a major trophy while the Netherlandsâ€™ last success was the European title in 1998.
But while the outgoing veterans of both sides will be playing as if there were no tomorrow, itâ€™s the younger stars who have been most impressive. Netherlands left wing Arjen Robben, 20, has three assists, is blindingly fast and can dribble. Portugal right wing Cristiano Ronaldo, 19, scored once and also has amazing ball skills. Both teams claim they have the momentum after winning their last two games and are confident they can advance. Clarence Seedorf has been a dominant figure for the Dutch at midfield, while Ruud van Nistelrooy has scored four goals at Euro 2004 to share second place in the scoring chart. Both coaches said they plan to pull out all the stops to win, even if it means abandoning the teamâ€™s traditional style.