WASHINGTON'S status as an international city is borne out during major soccer tournaments, when sports bars are filled with diverse crowds sporting England shirts, Italy jerseys or the Netherlands' distinctive orange. The European Championship -- known to fans as Euro 2004 -- kicks off Saturday, heralding four weeks of competition between 16 of the continent's top teams. (France, winner of the last tournament in 2000, is favored by many to retain its title.) Unlike the Super Bowl or the World Cup, only a limited number of Washington area bars will be allowed to show the games. North American broadcast rights are controlled by Ireland's Setanta Sport, which is trying to create demand by limiting the number of venues. Fans can choose from Fado Irish Pub (808 Seventh St. NW; 202-789-0066; game schedule at www.fadoirishpub.com), Lucky Bar (1221 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-331-3733; www.soccer-nation.com), Summers (1520 N. Court House Rd., Arlington; 703-528-8278; www.summers-restaurant.com) and Flanagan's Irish Pub (7637 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda; 301-986-1007; www.flanagans-irish-pub.com). All are charging $20 admission per day, a price set by Setanta. (Customers who plan on spending a lot of time at Fado can purchase a tournament-long pass for $150.) Some bar owners are unhappy with Setanta's restrictions; one complained that he was told he wouldn't be allowed to show the tournament because his bar was "too close to Fado."

"One of the biggest problems with watching soccer in America is the lack of atmosphere," explains Shane O'Rourke, Setanta's president of North American operations. "If we gave [the tournament] to everybody, you'd have 10 venues with 10 people in each of them. This way, we can get the bars packed, with people singing and bantering, and people feel like they're at the match."

Members of D.C. United's fan clubs might disagree with this assessment, as would the rabid supporters who packed bars like Summers until 6 a.m. during the last World Cup. It should be easier to draw crowds for this tournament, though, because it's staged in Portugal, and the time difference with Washington is only five hours. Games will be shown live at noon and 2:45 p.m. EDT, although bars are making adjustments for those who can't take long lunch breaks during the week. Both Summers and Flanagan's will repeat the day's matches at 7 and 9 p.m. Still, bars are expecting large crowds for such matchups as England vs. France (2:45 on Sunday) or the highly charged clash between traditional rivals Germany and the Netherlands (2:45 Tuesday).