Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Final Four Prove to Be Class Above the Rest




ROTTERDAM, Netherlands -- Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo. Orange against Azzurri.


After 28 matches and 79 goals, armchair fans can look forward to the promise of two of the most thrilling semifinals ever at a European Championship finals.


World champion France against Portugal's "Golden Generation" and co-host the Netherlands against Italy are matches made in soccer heaven.


Nobody f excepting those disappointed fans whose teams have long fallen by the wayside f could really have asked for more from a tournament that has for once rewarded the most adventurous and exciting sides.


More goals? The Dutch scored a record six in their quarterfinal demolition of Yugoslavia.


More thrills? Not after Spain, in a comeback classic, powered from 3-2 down to beat Yugoslavia 4-3 with two injury time goals and then lost 2-1 to France in Sunday's quarterfinal after missing a last-minute penalty.


The last four all have that extra something that quickens the pulse and draws gasps of admiration.


World champion France f which beat Brazil in the 1998 World Cup final f now faces Portugal, the Brazilians of Europe, in Brussels on Wednesday.


That will be a rerun of one of the most thrilling championship matches of the past 20 years when Michael Platini's France came from behind to beat Portugal 3-2 in the 1984 semifinals in Marseilles.


Platini scored the winner a minute before the end of extra time and France went on to take the title.


This time, Zidane has taken on Platini's mantle as the French try to become the first reigning world champions to go on and win the European title as well.


"He really is exceptional," said striker and friend Christophe Dugarry, who played with "Zizou" when he was at Bordeaux. "Sometimes you want to stop playing just to watch him."


Portugal's Figo has a similar mesmerizing effect on defenders bewildered by his outrageous talents.


The Barcelona midfielder's fluid passing, as well as a wonder goal against England in their opening 3-2 victory, have been crucial in taking the Portuguese to their first major tournament semifinal since Euro '84.


The prospect of seeing Zidane and Figo battle for midfield mastery is a mouth-watering one indeed.


"He is a great player ? but it would not be Zidane vs. Figo," insisted Figo. "It would be 11 against 11."


Italy, three-time world champion, has the power to silence street parties and cast a pall across an entire country for whom orange is the only color.


That will happen if Dino Zoff's rejuvenated "Azzurri," who arrived at Euro 2000 with plenty of doubts about their abilities, continue to surpass expectations and beat the Netherlands at the Amsterdam Arena on Thursday.


The Italians f along with Portugal and the Netherlands f have yet to lose.


But they have also yet to impress as much as the others and have ridden their luck along the way.