Euro 2012: #1 Countdown

Seven Things About The European Championships

Once every four years the continent’s greatest football teams all gather to decide who the best European nation of all is. Sometimes England are there too. When they are the whole country becomes a fan of the beautiful game, people you never thought would be interested suddenly are and every few days when England are playing pubs are packed and everyone is united in one cause; to celebrate and cheer the Three Lions on. The excitement is building already and we aren’t playing until Monday! Euro 2012 starts today in Poland and Ukraine. Bring. It. On!

The Euros may be the secondary competition behind the World Cup but I think it’s a more difficult trophy to win. There’s half the amount of teams and most of them are pretty decent. Sometimes in the World Cup you get a couple of easy games; rarely in the Euros. England found it so difficult that four years ago we didn’t even qualify. Thankfully this time Capello got us there as group winners. As everything was going so well we suddenly found ourselves manager-less, our best player suspended for two games and confidence low.

The build-up to this tournament has been strangely muted. For the first time the media and fans alike haven’t really talked about winning it. The pressure is off. We have Roy Hodgson in charge now; a man with international experience and a very clever tactician. I’m looking forward to him and Gary Neville’s coaching with great interest. I think we’ll get out of the group, it may be tough but we’ve got the quality to do so. Then when Rooney returns from game three onwards it’s a bonus and we can really go for it. We have nothing to lose in this tournament. I have a sneaky suspicion we might surprise.

Also present are the Republic of Ireland. It’s the first time they’ve made it to a tournament for ten years. The Republic have looked strong and difficult to beat in qualifying under Trappatoni but they have found themselves in the group of death. They play World and European Champions Spain, 2006 winners Italy and the notoriously tricky Croatia. The key game is the first one, lose against Croatia and Ireland have a massive mountain to climb. I don’t think Ireland will progress but it’s going to be great to have them and their fans in town. Personally I’m looking forward to watching a game in Molly Malone; an Irish pub on West Street which opened a couple of years ago. It promises to be a right laugh.

Elsewhere the other team I can’t wait to see is Germany. They were incredible at the last World Cup and after knocking us out 4-1 I was rooting for them to go all the way. They played the most exciting football and have a great squad and a great manager. Ozil, Schweinstiger, Lahm, Podolski; they are full of talent in all areas. It’ll be between them, Holland and Portugal to progress from their group and then have the easier half of the draw through to the final. Potentially it could be England v Germany in the semis; what an absolute cracker that would be. I can but dream.

The hosts of a tournament are crucial to making it a success. Germany’s World Cup in 2006 looked amazing from a fan’s point of view. The introduction of the ‘Fan Parks’ around the country was a great success. I do have my doubts whether Poland and Ukraine can pull this one off. They don’t jump out as being particularly nice places. I wouldn’t want to go there really; it would probably scare me a little. It’s never been hosted this far East before but FIFA and UEFA keep trying to open football up further than the main, established countries and unite nations. Hopefully this one will work as well as South Africa 2010 did.

A lot of the focus has been on the potentially dangerous nature of the hosts fans. A Panorama documentary shown last week focussed on racism in Poland. They showed footage of Asian fans being kicked, beaten and chased out of the terraces by supporters of the same team in a lower league Polish match. It was shocking stuff. Former England defender Sol Campbell, a black man, was shown the footage and warned black fans that they risk their lives if they travel out there. South Africa has had massive racism problems in the past, and may still have underlying issues, but this seems worrying that in 2012 racism still persists so openly in some places. We may return to this space later I fear.

One of the most exciting aspects for me is always the television coverage. The BBC and ITV do us proud on the international stage and always put on a fantastic show. It makes you wonder why they can’t do it all the time! ITV are basing themselves in Castle Square in Warsaw in a purposely-build studio overlooking the main square. It’s sure to have another iconic backdrop like in Berlin, Cape Town and others down the years. BBC are staying at home for much of the tournament which is a real shame as you lose a lot of the host atmosphere and ‘colour’. ITV also have a more interesting line-up with the likes of Roy Keane and Roberto Martinez. And the title sequences are always intriguing too.

Of the rest, Spain are probably everyone’s favourites having won the last two tournaments. I expect them, Holland, Germany and one other to make up the semi-final line-up. England? Maybe, just maybe. One thing’s for sure, once the tournament gets going it’s going to completely take over my life. It’s going to be three weeks of footballing bliss. Or possibly another misery filled England collapse. My seven things to watch out for are England, Ireland, Germany, the hosts, racism, TV coverage and the other contenders. We’ll see if I still think the same when the final’s been won and lost on Sunday 1st July. Until then, let’s enjoy the unfamiliar surroundings and get the beers in. The summer of sport begins now!

About Mark O'MEARA
I am Mark O'MEARA.

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