By Greg Demetriou & Borja Bilbao
David Beckham has already enjoyed a dream season. Playing the best football of his career at Real Madrid CF, and with a major role in their assault on the UEFA Champions League, Primera División and Copa del Rey, Beckham has more than lived up to the expectation created by his €35m move from Manchester United FC last June. He has proved there is plenty of substance to go with his undoubted style.
The switch to a new country and a shift in position from right to central midfield, where he has prospered of late alongside Guti, has been shouldered with ease and the Madrid superstars have praised his commitment to the cause. However, even if his club triumph on all three fronts, an even greater challenge awaits. Beckham will captain England at UEFA EURO 2004™ and has a realistic ambition of lifting the Henri Delaunay trophy.
Speaking to uefa.com, he said: "It always means a great deal for me to be captain of my country so to lead us into the championships will be special." For England, it is likely that Beckham will revert to his old right-sided berth, although coach Sven-Göran Eriksson has riches in midfield and Liverpool FC captain Steven Gerrard is a proven performer on that flank.
Eriksson could show his hand next Wednesday, with England's trip to take on EURO 2004™ hosts Portugal in a friendly at the Algarve stadium. With the finals drawing near, the sides, who could meet in the quarter-finals this summer, are expected to field their strongest possible lineups.
Wherever he plays in Faro, Beckham has plenty of reason to perform well. Not least because he will be up against Madrid colleague Luís Figo, but also because of the nations' group-stage encounter four years ago at UEFA EURO 2000™. Two Beckham assists helped England into a two-goal lead only for the Portuguese to fight back for a 3-2 triumph, and ultimately qualify. England went home.
The challenge facing the 28-year-old promises to be no easier this summer, with France, Croatia and Switzerland all to come. Beckham said: "We are very happy with the group but it is a very difficult group as well. It's something that we're looking forward to but it is going to be hard."
The French are up first on 13 June, and Beckham cannot wait to take on the holders. "
You always like to play against the best teams and the best players and France are one of the best teams in the world," he said. "It's going to be a good match."
But first things first for Beckham, and February could prove to be the deciding month of Madrid's season. Wednesday night sees the second leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final with Sevilla FC. Madrid travel with a 2-0 advantage but will remember a 4-1 defeat by the same opponents last November.
Then on Sunday, league leaders Madrid welcome second-placed Valencia CF to the Santiago Bernabéu for a game with significant championship consequences. If that was not enough, Madrid then visit FC Bayern München on 24 February for their Champions League first knockout round first-leg fixture.
"I think it's a difficult match," Beckham said. "Every time you come up against Bayern it is very difficult, but it's a game you have to look forward to because it's one of the biggest games in Europe." Over the coming months, looking forward will become a popular pastime in the Beckham household.
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