Over the next few weeks it will be difficult to avoid Euro 2000 - the European football championships. Every newspaper, magazine, radio station and TV channel will offer blanket coverage of the tournament. And, as if we really needed another word on the subject, a number of websites will be adding their services to the mix. Here's our guide to the best of these online soccer sites.
Official sites, particularly when they're addressing an international audience, are often constrained by institutionalised red tape and/or political correctness. While you won't find too much to argue with you at www.euro2000.org , you will find stacks of information, regularly updated and - like the entire site - available in English, German, French, Spanish or Italian.
What you also get is a fine antidote to the mainly Anglo-centric UK coverage. You can get a full run down of the Norway squad, for example, including player profiles, tactics, how they've done historically, when their group matches are scheduled, along with a photo gallery, video clips and a fans poll. You'll also find fans' forums (sometimes informative, but usually not as racy as you'd expect) and a daily newsletter you can sign up for - again, this merely delivers headlines with live links designed to drive you back to the site.
Another official site worth a visit is http://english.eurofinals365.com , which includes the same kind of information but works harder on its irreverence. This site is a bit hit and miss. The Ali G parody, for example, ("Booyakasha! Keggy G is 'ere and I 'as got to name me crew to take out to this Euro 2000 biznizz. But which of me homies is down? Is Alan Shearer me main man, or is I biggin' up Kevin Phillips?") is excruciating, while the lookalikes page is a good idea currently starved of content.
Elsewhere, www.soccernet.com/euro2000/ is worth the bookmark, with a good mix of straight news and comment. Here, for example, former England coach Glenn Hoddle offers his view of the current squad's chances. "I can see us reaching the final," he says. He also uses the opportunity to take a swipe at his previous employers. "On a personal note, I've got the England job out of my system, although I am still disappointed that certain people inside the Football Association turned against me," he adds.
The BBC offers a typically thorough analysis at http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/euro2000/default.stm , where football commentator John Motson has gone pundit-crazy, predicting scores for every game in the tournament. His money is on Holland by the way, but should he fancy a real bet, he might be tempted by the tax-free version being offered at www.sportingbet.com .
Those more interested in facts than flutters, can ask Albert, Match of the Day's stats wizard, any question they like at the BBC's site. Finally, for a really strange view of things, try www.foxsports.com/soccer/ , where you can read what US analysts think of the tournament.
Should you still hold out some hope of going to Euro 2000, there are a number of fan-run sites offering tickets for sale, usually at an extremely high price and with little or no guarantee that you'll actually get anything for your money. The problem is that most of the tickets have been sold (although there may still be a few last-minute competitions still open - check the banners on the bigger sites). Your best bet is to try www.tickexchange.com , which probably is the best organised of the fan sites.
If you're resigned to watching the games on TV, you'll need to know when the games are being televised. Try the BBC, www.rtguide.com , Teletext www.teletext.co.uk or SceneOne www.sceneone.co.uk/s1/tv for listings of Euro 2000 games and other related programmes on TV or the radio. Most have search features, but I failed to find a way of producing a calendar of where and when all the games are being shown on TV and on which channels.
Aside from the thousands of football games available, you'll find lots of wallpaper and screensavers to download at www.euro2000.org (click on the downloads section on the main page) for each of the countries participating in the tournament.
If it's a game you're after, then www.easportseuro2000.com/english/frame_ie.html has full details of the official one, and assuming you're not doing anything for the rest of the day, you can even download a free demo. Also check out vnunet.com's own Euro 2000 game at www.vnunet.com/football2000 .
Finally, should you want to know what lays in store for the England squad you can take a multimedia tour through Charleroi in Belgium - the town that Kevin Keegan and Co will be staying. You can find it at www.charleroi.be/ .
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