The Union of European Football Association (UEFA) European Football Championship 2012 (Euro 2012) will start today with the match between co-hosts Poland and Euro 2008 Champions Greece. The world’s second biggest football event will this year be co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine – the first time that this tournament will be co-hosted amongst the central-Eastern nations of the continent.
This will be the 14th instalment of this three week-long cup competition where reigning European Champions Spain will look to become the first nation in the history to successfully defend their crown. The south European nation will go in to the tournament as strong favourites amongst most bookies and pundits as they are the current FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro Champions as well as being the #1 ranked team in the FIFA World Rankings.
Spain and Germany – the Euro 2008 Runners-Up and #3 ranked side in the world – will be the two favourites and a repeat of the Euro 2008 Final has been predicted by many football experts. Even though Spain are the current World Champions they won the tournament under controversial circumstances as they advanced during the knockout stages due to some poor refereeing mistakes in every match including the World Cup Final.
This year they will be missing striker David Villa – the Euro 2008 Golden Boot Winner – due to injury and for La Furia Roja to win this time around without their talismanic striker they will need a large chunk of luck – not dissimilar to what they received in the WC two years back – even though they are considered as the hot favourites.
Their “tiki-taka” style have been admired by proponents of the “beautiful” game but like Spanish club side FC Barcelona they do not have a “Plan B” to move to against strong defensive opponents and play the same brand of unintelligent - even non-tactical - football irrespective of the nature of opposition or the situation of the game. The team to beat in my opinion, despite the fact that they have drawn into the “Group of Death” (Group B), and my tip for the top ahead of the two fancied favourites is Holland.
The Oranje were incredibly unlucky not to have won the World Cup under controversial circumstances as they were the only team to have remained unbeaten throughout the tournament and lost the Final after some poor refereeing decisions which received widespread criticisms in what was arguably the worst World Cup in living memory due to several refereeing blunders throughout the global sporting event.
The Dutch team consist of world-class performers throughout the pitch and has the most balanced squad of the tournament. Their key player - and probably the most under-rated footballer in the world – is midfielder Wesley Sneijder and in winger Arjen Robben they also possess the best player in that position. Although in striker Robin Van Persie they have the Golden Boot Winner of the English Premier League this season they will not be overly reliant on him to “bang in” the goals (like some other teams) as Sneijder, Robben and Van Der Vaart are all capable of finding the back of the net on a consistent basis. This was the main reason why the Dutch were the best team in the WC two years back and with a bit more luck they may just take the cup home to prove it this time around.
The “Group of Death” of not only Euro 2012 but probably one of the toughest group to have ever drawn in the history of the competition will be Group B where Euro 2008 Runners Up Germany, World Cup 2010 Runners Up Holland, Euro 2004 Runners Up Portugal and Denmark will battle it out for only two places to advance to the knockout stage.
The fact that the biggest superstar of the Euro 2012 - and what many consider to be the best footballer in the world today - Portuguese captain Cristiano Ronaldo is entering the competition as favourites to get knocked out in the Group Stage indicates the strength and competitiveness of this Group. The tie of the round and the most anticipated match of this year’s Championship will be between arch-rivals Germany and Holland and these two nations may well line up against each other on the Final itself in Kiev if they are able to advance to the knockout stages.
The “dark horse” for Euro 2012 has to be the rejuvenated French team who were embarrassed during WC ‘10 and Euro ‘08 when they were knocked out during the Group Stage. Les Bleus may well be the surprise package of the Euros and while a Spain-Germany Final is the one that will be the most widely tipped Final I am going to go with couple of “outsiders” to battle it out in the showpiece finale – Holland and France. Van Persie, Ronaldo and the German striker Gomez will be hotly tipped for this year’s Golden Boot but I reckon the French forward Karim Benzema may well surprise a few people and emerge as the most prolific striker of Euro ‘12.
This will also be a Euro when England are back in the tournament-proper itself after failing to qualify last time in 2008 however this team will go in the tournament with the lowest expectations in the history of the Three Lions due to several reasons, including the fact that the captain-management team who successfully qualified in this year’s Championship are no longer with the National Team after John Terry was sacked and Fabio Capello resigned respectively.
England will also be without several key players due to injuries or suspensions, including Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard. The manner in which England got knocked out in the last World Cup (arguably the worst refereeing error in the history of football) and in other UEFA and FIFA tournaments indicate that there is a potent mixture of luck and conspiracy with regards to England’s participation in tournaments administered by officials who are perceived to be biased against England and allegedly mired in corruption scandals of one sort or the other.
It is ironic that less than a month after English side Chelsea FC won the UEFA Champions League in spectacular and dramatic fashion the National Team is entering a UEFA tournament not amongst one of the favourites. There are always lesser nations which spring surprises and cause “upsets” like Greece and Russia in the last two Championships and this year the two teams who may well continue with this tradition are the tactically-astute and defensively disciplined Ireland (look out for their goalee Shay Given) and co-hosts Poland (especially if the White Eagles’ prolific striker Robert Lewandowski churn out the goals).
The Euro 2012 slogan is called “Creating History Together” and co-hosts Poland and Ukraine – both nations which have a “history” of racism, hooliganism and violence with regards to its links with football – will hope that they create the right sort of history. There are many who think that these two nations did not deserve to host such a prestigious global event unless they improved on their record of racism and tolerance in their respective nations and it is for these two nations from “New Europe” to prove the doubters wrong and create history which will bring everyone from different nations, race, ethnicity and religion together - in deeds, as well as, words.
London, United Kingdom