UEFA European 2012 Championship: Preview
As summer stills attempts to make its mind up about whether to actually show up this year, June sees the beginning of the UEFA 2012 European Championships, hosted by Poland and Ukraine. The award of the event to these countries has divided opinion. UEFA President Michel Platini, unsurprisingly, is fully supportive of taking such a major tournament to new territories. However, Theo van Seggelen (Secretary General of the World Players Union, FIFPro) is concerned that the abiding memory of the Championships could be more about racism and violence than events on the pitch. This assertion is based around work carried out by FIFPro and highlighted at the Soccerex 2012 event in Manchester and covered recently by the BBC’s Panorama programme. It is a very real concern and UEFA must be holding it’s breath at what may ensue over the next month.
On the pitch, the general consensus is that there is no pressure on England going into the tournament as the expectation from the media and football public is low. The tournament has been swallowed up amidst the Jubilee Celebrations and the impending Olympics; perhaps it is no bad thing. Preparation has hardly been ideal for the Three Lions, with the appointment of a successor to Fabio Capello left in limbo for months. Then once appointed, Roy Hodgson received a less than overwhelming response from some sections of the media and fans. For my part I think it is a good appointment given that The FA were totally sold on having an English manager this time around. Hodgson has good experience at club and international level and I just hope he isn’t subject to the sniping that marked his brief time at Anfield. Of the England squad picked by Hodgson, it has a very familiar look about it and it will surely be the ‘last hurrah’ for the likes of Terry and Gerrard. There hasn’t been a great deal of luck with injuries either, as the squad has seen Ruddy, Barry, Lampard and Cahill all have to withdraw and there has also been some background dissent at the non-selection of Rio Ferdinand. Will adversity work for or against England?
In terms of how the 2012 competition pans out, I can’t see the shocks and emerging of an underdog to win, as happened earlier this year in the African Cup of Nations. Having said that, Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004, showed that upsets are possible. However in 2012 for me the European ‘big guns’ of Spain, Netherlands, Germany and Italy will be the ones to beat and in terms of the Groups, this is who I expect to emerge to the knock-out Phase:
Group A: Russia and Czech Republic.
Group B: Germany and Netherlands.
Group C: Spain and Italy.
Group D: England and France.
Tomorrow Poland face Greece at the National Stadium in Warsaw, in the opening fixture, with Russia and the Czech Republic playing later in the day at the Municipal Stadium in Wroclaw. Co-hosts Poland do not have a great track record in the European Championships, and have only ever qualified for the Finals on one occasion, that being in 2008. In their Group games the Poles lost to Germany and Croatia and drew against Austria. Poland won their last warm-up game 4-0 against Andorra, but will be under tremendous pressure from the home fans to get a winning start to their campaign against Greece.
This will be the fourth appearance for the Greeks in the Finals. Their debut came in 1980, where they drew 0-0 with West Germany, but lost to the Netherlands and Czechoslovakia. Greece had to wait 24 years before qualifying again and what an incredible tournament they had. In the Groups Stage, Greece beat hosts Portugal 2-1, drew 1-1 with Spain and went through on goals scored after a 2-1 loss to Russia. In the Quarter-Finals, the reigning Champions France were beaten 1-0 to set up a Semi-Final meeting with the Czech Republic. The game went to extra-time and a single goal was enough to see Greece into the Final. Incredibly the Greeks overcame hosts Portugal 1-0 with a goal from Charisteas to become European Champions. However in 2008 it was a rather different story for Greece as they lost all three Group games, to Sweden, Russia and Spain. Greece qualified for this tournament after topping a Group containing Croatia, Israel, Latvia, Georgia and Malta. The Greeks were unbeaten winning seven games and drawing three. However, going into their last friendly before Euro 2012, Greece had not won in four games, before a 1-0 win over Armenia provided a boost ahead of tomorrows game.
Russia (in the guise of the Soviet Union) were the first European Champions in 1960 beating Yugoslavia 2-1 and had an impressive record in the early years, finishing runners-up in 1964, fourth place in 1968 and runners-up in 1972. There were then barren years until 1988 when they reached the Final only to lose to the Netherlands. As the political situation changed in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union broke apart, by the time the Euro 1992 arrived a team that represented the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a regional confederation formed by 12 of the 15 newly formed sovereign states that emerged out of the break-up, competed in Sweden. In the Group games, the CIS drew with Germany and the Netherlands before bowing out with a 3-0 loss to Scotland. As Russia emerged as a footballing entity they qualified for Euro 1996, but finished bottom of their group, losing to Italy and Germany before ending with a draw against the Czech Republic. Eight years later in Portugal, Russia again finished bottom of their Group after losses to Spain and Portugal, although they did beat eventual Champions Greece 2-1 in their closing game. Four years ago, Russia had their best showing in recent years, reaching the Semi-Finals before bowing out to three second half goals from Champions elect Spain. In qualification for Euro 2012, Russia topped the Group in which the Republic of Ireland were runners-up. In their last warm-up game, Russia impressively overcame Italy 3-0.
As Czechoslovakia (prior to the political break-up in 1992), the country had a rather hit and miss European record, in that between 1960 and 1992, they failed to qualify for six of the nine tournaments. However, when qualifying they had an impressive record. In 1960, Czechoslovakia having lost to the Soviet Union in the Semi-Finals, beat France to take third place. Sixteen years later Czechoslovakia won the competition, overcoming West Germany winning 5-3 on penalties. Another third place was achieved four years later, overcoming Italy 9-8 on penalties. As the Czech Republic the team has qualified for every Finals from 1996 to date. In England in Euro 1996, they made it to the Final, only to lose to Germany. In the tournaments of 2000 and 2008, the Czech Republic didn’t get beyond the Group stage, but in 2004 got to the Semi-Finals only to lose to eventual Champions Greece in extra-time. Their qualification for this years tournament was sealed through the play-offs with a 3-0 aggregate win over Montenegro. Their last outing before this tournament ended in a 2-1 defeat to Hungary.
The opening round of games in any tournament are invariably cagey, as nobody wants to get off to a losing start, so part of me says that the two opening fixtures will end as draws. Let the action commence…