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Germans, Dutch set to duel
( 2003-12-01 09:06) (Agencies)

The Germans and Dutch will resume their often intense soccer rivalry at next year's Euro 2004 finals, after being pooled together in a tough group D yesterday.

A fascinating draw also saw hosts Portugal lining up against neighbours Spain in group A, and defending champs France meeting England in group B in another of the most interesting encounters in the tournament's early stages.

The German-Dutch rivalry is always intense, and their matches have become explosive affairs since the Dutch knocked the German hosts out of the 1988 European Championship.

Two years later, the two teams were involved in a turbulent encounter at the World Cup in Italy, when current German coach Rudi Voeller was sent off along with Dutchman Frank Rijkaard.

The two sides will play in their opening group D game on June 15, in a section which also includes the Czech Republic and Latvia, the only newcomers to the finals. The Dutch and the Czechs will meet again after qualifying together from the same group this time.

The Germans, Dutch and Czechs will have a tough time competing for two places in the quarter-finals.

"Our good fortune with the draws has abandoned us this time," said Guenter Netzer, a former German international and now a television commentator and columnist.

Portugal play Spain on June 20 in Lisbon, in a match which home fans will see as the undoubted highlight of the opening round. Portugal will be wary of their neighbours, who beat them 3-0 in a friendly in Guimaraes in September.

Greece, who topped their qualifying group and beat Spain away from home, are also in this section with Russia.

The Greeks will play Portugal in the tournament's opening match in Oporto on June 12.

France and England play their opening fixture the next day in Lisbon, in a group which also includes Switzerland and Croatia.

The two old rivals look to be the favourites to make progress.

French defender Marcel Desailly, who plays in England for Chelsea, said: "This draw is neither easy nor very hard. It's in between. We'll see. Our group is not so bad since the first two qualify. For sure, we'll talk about it at Chelsea."

England's Swedish skipper Sven-Goran Eriksson said: "Our first game against France... it's a big, big game. It will be difficult, but beautiful."

Italy appear on paper to have the easiest ride into the quarter-finals. They were drawn in group C, with Bulgaria, Sweden and Denmark.

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