On Friday June 8, sixteen of Europe’s best footballing nations will join in Poland and the Ukraine for the 2012 UEFA Euro Cup, a one month tournament to see which country is the best in Europe at the continents most popular sport. Think if every province in Canada joined up for a month long hockey tournament every four years then ratchet that up by a thousand and you have the atmosphere you will see in Poland and the Ukraine this June. Whether it be the always passionate English supporters, who despite never winning much of anything always have a trophy or bust mentality to these tournaments. Or the loud Ireland contingent, who after being robbed from World Cup qualification by a Thierry Henry handball against France get to bring their large and loud numbers back into the international footballing spotlight despite being massive underdogs.
Nationalism sometimes gets a bad rap as it is often used in an extremist context, but these type of sporting events, like the Olympics and the World Junior Hockey Championships for Canadians, give countrymen a chance to unite and cheer for the same common goal and ignore their own political and religious differences for the ninety minutes that both teams take the pitch for. Beyond the pageantry of the tournament and the atmosphere that will fill beautiful cities such as Kiev and Warsaw will be cracking rivalries and matches that fans of the beautiful game have been eyeing up since the draw was announced earlier this winter. England and France face each other on the tournaments opening weekend and with all the animosity that is shared between the two countries combined with England superstar Wayne Rooney’s suspension from the first two matches, there will be no shortage of storylines and drama to kick off their Euro campaigns.
Netherlands and Germany also share the same group despite being World Cup second and third place finishers respectively, the two countries who also share a heated international football rivalry give the fans a chance to see a championship quality fixture well before the knockout stages. Joining Netherlands and Germany in what was pegged as this tournaments infamous “Group of Death” is Portugal led by Cristiano Ronaldo, who is one of the best players in the world, leading Spanish club Real Madrid to a La Liga title an setting an unprecedented record by scoring goals against every team in the Spanish league. With three world football powers in one group and a strong Denmark side that nearly put Portugal out of the tournament in the qualification round the “Group of Death” is guaranteed to claim one or two sides that potentially could have advanced in weaker groups.
Other notable storylines include Spain looking to defend their Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 titles without star striker David Villa, Italy looking to overcome a disappointing World Cup performance and a match fixing scandal, and the host country Poland looking to capitalize on a weak group and advance to the knockout stages on home soil. Regardless of what happens, Euro 2012 should be on every sports junkies radar for the coming weeks ahead.