Europeans Set for Euro 2004
By GEORGE GROSS, TORONTO SUN
IT IS mid-April and only three things matter to most Canadians: - The looming tax filing deadline.
- The coming warmer weather.
- The Stanley Cup playoffs.
And not necessarily in that order.
However, in most European countries, the sports fascination is currently centered not around Stanley Cup matchups, but on the sport of soccer. And the major issue du jour is the European championship.
Euro 2004, as the European championship is officially called under the management of the European Football Union (UEFA), opens June 12 in Porto, Portugal, with a match between Portugal and Greece and ends with the final in Lisbon on July 4.
Euro 2004 is second only to the World Cup, which is played every four years, on the soccer popularity scale and is the most popular sports event in the world this year. Obtaining tickets for a World Cup final is as easy as scoring seats for the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final or World Series.
In fact, I remember a few fans who were fortunate to obtain tickets to the 1958 World Cup final between Brazil and Sweden at Stockholm's Rasunda Stadium.
The final was made special not only because the home side was in it, but because of the international debut of then 17-year-old Pele, arguably the best player to kick a round ball. He scored two goals in Brazil's 5-2 triumph.
However, tickets are just as difficult to obtain for this year's Euro 2004. Not because another Pele might emerge from one of the European teams but because the rivalry between certain European countries drives the players to maximum efforts and fans to near insanity.
According to the latest information from UEFA, virtually all of the first round games are sold out, including the England versus Croatia match in Lisbon on June 21.
Actually, there is both a Canadian and Swedish connection in the England-Croatia match. England has a Canadian-born player on its national team -- Calgary-raised 22-year-old midfielder Owen Hargreaves -- and is coached by Sweden's Sven-Goran Eriksson, who is getting paid $6.5 million US a year, more than three times as much as Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn
Hargreaves might make us all proud by scoring the winning goal for England just as it would make Toronto fans ecstatic if Tie Domi were to score the goal that would eliminate the Ottawa Senators from the playoffs.
GROSSLY ABBREVIATED: Markham's Paul Beregi, a 71-year-old Masters swimmer, won three gold medals at the recent Ontario Masters championship. He finished first in the 200-metre butterfly, 200-metre backstroke and 400-metre individual medley. Beregi and 39 other Canadian Masters swimmers will compete in June in the World Masters championship in Riccioni, Italy, ... Frenchie McFarlane and his Comedy Pro Shop Agency are set to entertain at corporations' golf tours, fundraisers and conventions. His group includes ex-Chicago Black Hawks' Dennis Hull, radio commentator Jim Ralph as well as the Henri Richard clan featuring the Pocket Rocket of Montreal Canadiens fame and his 11 Stanley Cup rings; his two younger brothers "Socket Pocket Rocket" and "Vest Pocket Socket Rocket" as well as broadcasters John Oakley and John Gallagher. Call 416-480-0077 or fax 416-484-0343 for bookings.