In Lisbon on 4 July, 26 television cameras will relay pictures of this goalmouth to 35 million screens, to be watched by some of the 7 billion viewers who have followed the finals of the 2004 European championship.
In the stadium, 65,000 lucky fans from among the 1.2 million who will have attended the games during the previous three weeks will also be looking at these three bits of wood.

  Welcome to Building's guide to the Euro 2004 championships in Lisbon. If you are a recent visitor to planet Earth, you may not know that this football competition, the world's third largest sporting fixture, kicks off on 12 June. This will presents us with an opportunity to see England continue its glorious 38-year record of uninterrupted failure, and also to appreciate four years of hectic construction work by the host nation. And unlike the Greek Olympics, the building work was completed nearly a year before the actual event.

It was touch and go at times – UEFA, the governing body of European football, threatened to take the championships away from Portugal in 2001 unless it got its act together. But the threat worked and Portugal produced 10 new or new-look stadiums. More than £500m has been spent on building seven and renovating three – an achievement that was hailed as a "miracle" by the head of UEFA's stadium committee Ernie Walker at the end of an inspection last September. He said: "I never imagined it would be possible to have all the stadiums ready and functioning in time for Euro 2004."

We reveal the shaky start at the centrepiece stadium in Lisbon, Benfica's Stadium of Light, which will host the final of the championships. We also look at three other stadiums that have benefited from British expertise, and we meet a QS who has dedicated three years to getting the country ready for the big event. In addition, for those of you who want to pick up a bit of the local lingo, we have a list of key Portuguese football phrases, including one or two Beckhamite swear words (we think).

Benfica's bold vision
While the politics and passion on the terraces may be much the same in England and Portugal, the Iberian country's approach to building stadiums is somewhat different. The Portuguese seem a little less averse to risk than the English. Our two most recent high-profile grounds, Wembley and Arsenal, have been bedevilled by delay – one due to political meddling, the other because of a long wait for finance. Similar political machinations could have stymied developments at Benfica's Stadium of Light, but the team behind the scheme didn't appear to let it get to them. Instead they decided to start construction in the autumn of 2002 without detailed designs or finance in place. It just shows how a deadline concentrates the mind.

Rewind three years and the world famous club, a dominant force in Portuguese and European football throughout the 1960s and 1970s, when it was led by talents such as the great Eusebio da Silva Ferreira, was in chaos. The club had not won the Portuguese championship since 1994, had failed to qualify for the lucrative UEFA Champions League and had debts of £73.4m, including £6.6m in unpaid taxes. These problems had emerged after a disastrous reign under Joao Vale e Azevedo, who was finally arrested on suspicion of corruption, and placed under house arrest.

Design anxieties: doubts and delays
These travails called into question whether the club would be able to refurbish or rebuild its shabby 50-year-old stadium in time for Euro 2004. A plan to refurbish it in early 2001 had been looked at by architect HOK Sport but the firm had discarded this as an option, largely for safety reasons (for example, the gradients of the staircases were too high). However, building another stadium would have involved paying out more money, something that the club was hardly rolling in. The problems intensified when in early 2001 UEFA stepped up the pressure on Portugal by threatening to take Euro 2004 away unless it pressed ahead with its ambitious construction programme. UEFA also set a deadline of 2 October 2000: if work had not started on one or more of the 10 stadiums pencilled in for the tournament, no games would be played there, and the Portuguese government would refuse to contribute 25% of the cost as it had promised.

HOK and Northcroft, the QS and project manager brought on board, swallowed any doubts they might have had and started to work on a stadium for Benfica in May 2001 after a presentation to the board. Last-minute value management work was carried out, graphics of what it would look like were produced and negotiations with contractors, lawyers, banks and UEFA got under way. Portuguese clubs tend to be run by the fans, who pay an annual membership fee for the privilege. The club had to obtain permission from them to go ahead and called a meeting of the membership on 29 September, three days before the deadline. Debate raged back and forth, broadcast live on television, until 5am on the fateful day. In the end, 92% voted in favour. Within hours, lorries rolled onto the site near the old stadium and excavations began.

Only at this point was the issue of detailed design addressed. The next four to five months, when the team juggled this work with overseeing construction, was described by Northcroft chairman Mark van den Berg as "pretty hairy". The Australian structural engineer Sinclair Knight Merz worked 24 hours a day. "It was non-stop action until we felt we had the design for all of the construction programmes," says van den Berg.

Financial headaches: persistence wins through The next hurdle was to get the scheme fully financed which, amazingly, was not wholly achieved until 18 months into the construction programme. "The biggest chunk of money came through in June 2003," admits van den Berg. The Northcroft boss has much experience of working in Portugal, but even he was somewhat baffled by the bureaucratic hoops the team were required to jump through.

"I never knew how many pre-regulations for funding we had to go though," says van den Berg. "I never realised how difficult it would be. But because of the importance of Benfica I knew it was going to be resolved."

Despite van den Berg's confidence, Portuguese contractor Somague stopped work briefly in October because of a lack of payment guarantees. It was hard to blame the firm, which was in effect co-financing the scheme until it received full backing from the banks. Somague's patience is praised by van den Berg. "Most UK contractors would have walked off site in such conditions," he says.

The team completed the stadium in September last year for a little more than £83m. It has a polycarbonate roof that lets in natural light and has been dubbed the "new cathedral to football". Eusebio, now 62, kicked off the new era at the ground last October. England fans will be hoping the stadium proves a lucky one for their team, who play their opening game against France there in two weeks.

Footing the bill: The cost of building the Benfica stadium
The scale of the Benfica stadium and the difficulties the project encountered meant that costs needed to be tightly controlled. The scheme included not just the 65,000-seater stadium, but also a presidential suite, 156 private boxes, a health club, a restaurant and underground parking for 1400 cars. As QS Northcroft said, the banks putting the money behind the scheme kept a "jaundiced eye on the project at all times". Despite this, Northcroft reckons the final product in terms of cost per seat is "significantly lower than achieved in the UK and is below benchmark costs for major European stadiums". The firm has pointed to smart buying from around the world: it bought sanitary fittings from Turkey and seats from Australia to reduce costs without cutting quality. Under the guaranteed maximum price design-and-build contract, the team ended the scheme with £2.5m of procurement savings that were split equally between Benfica and the contractors.

Work Packages£Cost per seat (£)
Concrete works/steelwork14,411,000229
M&E Installations
Catering Fit-out2,690,00043
Health club fit-out2,002,00032
Pre-Euro 2004 works671,00011
Post-Euro 2004 Works219,0003
IT and central ticket system1,610,00026
Furnishings, stadium screens373,00059
Utilities connections505,0008
Contractor's design fees2,470,00039
Prelims, overheads and profit16,260,000258
External works2,690,00043
Total Contract Value85.2m1,310

Footie phrases: Fala português?

If you’re heading over to Portugal yourself, or just fancy picking up a few phrases to shout at the television, Building has unearthed a smattering of Portuguese to help you through this summer’s football fest. We were unable to find translations for “over the moon, Brian”, “handbags at dawn”, or “who ate all the pies”, and it’s very difficult to find phrases that don’t refer to someone’s mother or sister, but here goes:

Chateado – Gutted, or possibly “as sick as a parrot”
Grande frango! – he shoots but misses (normally said in anger when a player misses an easy strike. Has something to do with a chicken)
Barquinto à vela! – again, no ability to strike. Has connotations of being indecisive with the opposite sex
O arbitro é caseiro – the referee is from the locals (home team)
Vai para casa – go home (the polite form)
For ó arbitro – send the referee home
Seu azeiteiro – low life. Relates in some way to olive oil.

And if you get really angry shout, filho da puta! or cabrao!. But they’re really quite rude, apparently.

Mark van den Berg

Northcroft chairman Mark van den Berg took three years out of his management role at the QS and project manager to oversee the firm’s role in the Euro 2004 construction programme. Having grown up in Portugal as a child he was well suited to the sojourn. He is fluent in Portuguese and Spanish and also spent time working for Northcroft in the country during the early 1980s, in preparation for the firm setting up a permanent office in Lisbon in 1987. Building spoke to him about his recent foreign posting.

What are the main cultural differences between working in the UK and Portuguese industries?
Personal relationships are very important over there. You really have to take time to establish strong relations with the people you work with. Things tend to be a little more mechanical in the UK. Meetings go on for three times as long in Portugal, though. For the first half an hour you drink coffee and have a chat. Just as you are about to leave is when the really serious issues are addressed.

What were the construction teams like in Portugal for the stadiums?
The culture of the teams was very good, especially on the Benfica job. Across the country productivity on site is quite low, but on the Benfica job, our contractor, Somague, was excellent. I would say the firm was as good as any contractor that I have worked with in the UK.

How was the move from management to project-focused work?
It was really nice to be totally immersed in a couple of projects. Professionally it was very satisfactory, especially as they succeeded. It was a very refreshing experience.

You lived there for about three years. What was the experience like?
It is a very pleasant place to live. People are very pro-British. It is a very gentle and conservative nation.

Who do you think will win Euro 2004?
Portugal have a very good side. They have the World Cup-winning coach Felipe Scolaro (known as “Big Phil”). He’s been trying to control some of their more excitable players. They must have a good chance.

Who will you be supporting?
England. My eight-year-old son is a mad keen fan of David Beckham and I am taking him out of school for a week starting with the England vs France match.

Vox pop: Chloë McCulloch went to Lisbon to ask the Portuguese what they’re expecting from Euro2004

Luis Monteiro, 29. lives in Lisbon, works for the technical department at corus

How important is Euro 2004 to Portugal?
Very important. Any big event that brings people here – like Expo 98 - is a good thing.

Will you be going to a match?
No. Watching it at home on the TV is more comfortable.

Which is your favourite stadium?
Sporting Lisbon’s Estadio Jose Alvalade [see page 44]. The architecture is the most unusual – it has great colours and configurations.

Do you support Sporting?
No. Benfica.

Who will win the championships?
France … maybe

Who is more talented: Luis Figo or David Beckham?

Who has the best haircut?
Figo too.

Who’s your favourite Portuguese player?

And in the world?

So you like Figo?
Yes, for sure.

What will be the score in the opening match Portugal vs Greece?
1-0 Portugal. But we are disappointed with Portugal. They are good players but very inconsistent. I don't have great expectations for Euro 2004.

Mario Manuel Coroa Mira, 36. lives in south Lisbon, works for Amorium (biggest cork makers in the world)

Will you go to a match?
No. I used to go to Sporting games before I had kids. When they are bigger I will take them to the football. For now I have to wait and watch it on television.

Which are the best teams in Euro 2004?
Italy and France.

And Portugal?
It can win but the players need to work harder.

Which team do you support?

What do you think of David Beckham?
I think Beckham is more famous than he is talented. He is too confident of himself.

Ricardo rego, 26. Lives in Coimbra, works for BLP as area manager (the company supplies steel bathtubs to Twyford)

How will Euro 2004 benefit Portugal?
It is good for all the areas that have new stadiums – especially areas that tourists don't usually visit beyond Lisbon and the Algarve. In Coimbra, we have a new stadium also, which is where England plays Switzerland.

So you support Coimbra?
And Benfica.

What do you think of the new stadium is Coimbra?
It's good but there will be a problem. They spent a lot of money to be able to seat 30,000 people, but after the championships, for normal matches crowds are not more than 5000-10,000.

Which team has the best fans?
Portugal for sure. But there will be many Spanish fans who come and many British because they like holidays here, especially in the Algarve.

Who will win?

How far will Portugal get?
The semi-finals

What will the score be in the Portugal vs Greece match?
2-0 to Portugal

Who’s better, Figo or Beckham?
They are different players. Beckham is good at keeping the ball in play – passing and dribbling. Figo scores goals, while Beckham is good at penalty kicks.

And here’s three more…

Estadio Do Algarve
Designed by HOK Sport and built by Dutch contractor Ballast Nedam, the Algarve stadium is in the south of Portugal near Faro, the region’s capital. It has 30,000-seats, and a dramatic mast-and-cable structure that supports a transparent membrane roof above an elegant reinforced-concrete and steel stand structure. The main feature is the dramatic fabric roof that is suspended by a system of catenary cables spanning 210 m between the tops of the four 72 m high mast structures. The stadium is built in a 31.5 ha urban park called “Park of the Cities”, which also has a botanical garden, landscaped spaces, a lake and a nine-hole golf course. Northcroft was project manager, QS and technical consultant on the scheme and Atkins worked on the structural and M&E design.

Key fixtures
12 June, 19.45 Spain vs Russia
20 June, 19.45 Russia vs Greece
26 June, 19.45 Third quarter final

Estadio Municipal Coimbra
To the north of Lisbon lies the university city of Coimbra, which decided to upgrade its ground from 14,000 to 30,000 seats, the minimum requirement for the tournament. UK firm KSS Design Group worked in partnership with local practice Plarq on the remodelling, which created an upper level of seating. The team included structural engineer Buro Happold, which created the concept for the main roof.
Key fixtures
17 June, 17.00 England vs Switzerland
21 June, 19.45 Switzerland vs France

Estadio Jose Alvalade, Sporting Lisbon
Like Benfica, local rivals Sporting Lisbon decided on building a stadium next to their old one. Designed by local architect Tomas Taveira, the £100m scheme is clad with green tiles and is 2 km away from the Benfica stadium. It includes a commercial area, designed by UK architect Broadway Malyan, that includes 9600 m2 of retail space as well as cinemas, a bowling alley and a live music performance stage.
Key fixtures
14 June, 19.45 Sweden vs Bulgaria
23 June, 19.45 Germany vs Czech Republic
25 June 19.45 Third quarter final
30 June, 19.45 First semi-final
25 June, 19.45 Third quarter final
30 June, 19.45 First semi-final