euro bangers

PARIS - They are the men who will reap the plaudits and milk the applause; the goal poachers who can grab glory for their nation in an instant.

PARIS - They are the men who will reap the plaudits and milk the applause; the goal poachers who can grab glory for their nation in an instant.

And they will deserve the adulation if they can rise above the increasingly defensive fare of the modern international game and the fear of losing, which hung heavy over the finals of both Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup.

Although the 2,5 goals a game average of Euro 2004 bears comparison with earlier editions, the sterile fare of the final, when Greece shocked hosts Portugal with a goal from Angelos Charisteas after seeing off the French and the Czechs in similar 1-0 smash-and-grab style.

Two years on from a similarly sterile World Cup final fans will be hoping for more effervescent stuff from the likes of Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo, fresh from being crowned English Premiership Player of the Year and Spanish vulture Fernando Torres. Four years ago, most of the fireworks came after the final whistle when organisers launched them from the roof of the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon to accompany a Greek lap of honour in front of a stunned Portuguese crowd.

Spain, perennial under-achievers at this level since they won their only major honour at Euro 64, will hope this time they will have the requisite firepower to stage a repeat.

Torres is Spain's golden boy after scoring 24 league goals in his debut season at Liverpool, eclipsing the previous 23 debut season mark for a foreign star of former Manchester United man Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Torres goes into the tournament after scoring in eight straight league games at Anfield, equalling the club record of Roger Hunt, a member of England's 1966 World Cup winning team.

Although Liverpool failed to land a trophy, Torres clearly enjoys the full confidence of coach Luis Aragones, who has seen fit to drop all-time leading Spanish scorer Raul from his squad despite the latter's iconic status and, more importantly, his good form for Liga champions Real Madrid this season.

But with Torres and Valencia hotshot David Villa - who actually outscored his partner in the qualifiers - in his ranks, as well as up-and-coming Mallorca star Daniel Guiza the "Wise Man of Hortaleza" feels his squad has enough ammunition in its tank.

Ronaldo should, meanwhile, instil fear into opposing ranks after his 31 goals in the Premiership for United.

As with United, so with Portugal he has increasingly come in from the flank and scored eight times in the qualifiers, his country's best haul.

Germany will hope that Bayern Munich pair Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose can kick on from their Bundesliga title-winning exploits and that Mario Gomez, whose parents are Spanish, can also bring his shooting boots, having managed six goals for his country in his first nine games.

Italy will rely on Bayern's Luca Toni, who helped secure qualification with vital goals in the Azzurri's tough matches against Scotland.

France coach Raymond Domenech, while he has the evergreen Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka, Sidney Govou and budding star Karim Benzema in their attacking ranks, has dispensed with David Trezeguet, despite his 20 goals for Juventus and big stage experience.

Instead, Domenech has plumped for young St Etienne striker Bafetimbi Gomis, and Trezeguet joins a growing list of proven goal-getters who will not be on the Euro 2008 stage.

So Domenech joins the risk-takers club as France go for a title hattrick after 1984, when Michel Platini scored the goals, and 2000. - Sapa-AP