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This week in soccer

Corner Kicks

Five things happening around the world:

May 07, 2008|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

1 One month from today, on the evening of June 7, the national teams of Switzerland and the Czech Republic will walk out onto the field at the St. Jakob-Park stadium in the Swiss city of Basel, the referee will blow his whistle, and Euro 2008, soccer's second-most significant tournament, will be underway.

Twenty-two days and 31 matches later it will end at the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna. Europe will have a new champion and attention will immediately turn to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the European qualifying campaigns that begin in August.

But for each of those 22 days, the focus of fans worldwide will be on Austria and Switzerland, which will jointly stage the 13th quadrennial European Championship, and on the 16 competing teams. It is, as many have said, a World Cup for Europe, and every bit as dramatic and compelling.

Greece comes in as the defending champion, but unlike Euro 2004 in Portugal, this time around the big guns -- read France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands -- intend to restore the natural order.

Among the warmups this month involving the four favorites are: Netherlands-Ukraine on May 24 in Rotterdam; Germany-Belarus on May 27 in Kaiserslautern; France-Ecuador on May 27 in Grenoble; Netherlands-Denmark on May 29 in Eindhoven.

2 From a player agent's standpoint, Euro 2008 is one big supermarket. Those players who do well see their stock rise. Those who do poorly see it fall.

And some, such as Croatia's Luka Modric, avoid the whole thing by switching clubs long before the first ball is kicked.

Modric, 22, a seemingly frail 5-foot-8, 145-pound midfielder, has just been snapped up from Dinamo Zagreb by England's Tottenham Hotspur for a whopping $32.5 million.

The reason? He has speed, agility, creativity, endurance, toughness, pinpoint passing ability and vision. Already compared to the likes of former Dutch star Johan Cruyff, whom he physically resembles, and current Argentine star Lionel Messi, Modric is ready to become a big name in Europe.

"Although he is still very young, I consider him one of the best," said Croatia Coach Slaven Bilic. "At Euro 2008, the world will see his talent."

3 The next few days and weeks could be amazing for Dutch national team captain and goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar.

On Sunday, he will win the English Premier League title if Manchester United overcomes Wigan on the final day of the league season.

On May 21, he can add a second European Champions League title to the one he won with Ajax Amsterdam in 1995 if Manchester United defeats Chelsea in the final at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium.

And at Euro 2008, Van der Sar, 37, will bring to a close a stellar international career that has seen him play a Dutch-record 123 games for his country.

4 The average Pole earns roughly $1,086 per month, but the above-average Polish soccer player will earn $15,516 simply for being selected to Poland's 23-man Euro 2008 squad and another $23,275 for each game he plays.

5 Croatia and Poland already have announced their provisional squads for this summer's extravaganza, but Roberto Donadoni, the coach of world champion Italy, still is sweating his choices. One, in particular, is causing him concern.

If Donadoni bows to pressure and includes in-form Juventus forward Alessandro Del Piero, who has netted 26 goals in 85 games for the Azzurri, and the player then fails to deliver, Donadoni will be lambasted for taking a 33-year-old to Euro 2008.

On the other hand, if he excludes Del Piero, who has netted 17 goals in Serie A this season, and Italy fails to produce much in the way of attack, Donadoni similarly will be roasted.

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