Euro 2012 Countdown: Polish Hooligans, Oleh Blokhin, Carles Puyol, Gary Neville
Welcome to the final countdown.
Euro 2012 kicks off June 8 in Warsaw—that's just over three weeks away—and every week until then we'll be keeping you up to date with all the latest news, rumors, squad selections, injuries and silliness surrounding the tournament.
In our inaugural edition, officials in Poland worry about hooligans, a legendary player-turned-manager inks a contract extension, big names face fitness fights and Roy Hodgson pulls a surprise.
All the details await inside. Read on for more.
With the first kickoff less than a month away, fears of hooliganism are growing in Poland.
According to the BBC, the co-hosts have focused "much attention" on racism and violence at matches.
The assumption is that Poland's hard-core hooligan groups will cause trouble during the championship and abuse foreign fans and players.
Theo van Seggelen, secretary general of players' union Fifpro, told the BBC recently he was not "100-percent convinced" that "accidents" would not occur both inside and outside stadiums if the majority of fans watching the matches came from the co-host nations, Poland and Ukraine.
Racist incidents do still occur in grounds across the country but mainly in the lower leagues, and they are more infrequent than before.
It's the latest bit of worrisome news for fans, who also must remain mindful of the threat of measles.
Also, The Sun recently reported that police could use "sonic cannons" on unruly fans.
Sounds like my idea of a good time.
England boss Roy Hodgson is set to name his final squad May 16 (this Wednesday), but a few managers have already done so.
He's joined by Real Madrid teammate Pepe, Chelsea's Raul Meireles and Manchester United's Nani.
Wigan's James McCarthy asked to be left out of the Republic of Ireland's final squad so he could tend to his cancer-stricken father. Manager Giovanni Trapattoni obliged.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic leads Sweden's final roster.
Blokhin to Stick Around
Ukraine manager Oleh Blokhin recently agreed to a contract extension that will keep him with the team through the 2014 World Cup.
Blokhin, 59, won the Ballon d'Or in 1975. He was appointed Ukraine manager in April 2011.
"The first game is vital," said Blokhin, looking ahead to next month's tournament. "In this group, against such strong opponents, we simply have no right to lose. Of course, home advantage is a plus, but it's also a huge responsibility. We don't have the right to make a mistake."
Blokhin's provisional 26-man squad includes 36-year-old former Chelsea striker Andriy Shevchenko.
A number of high-profile players are facing fitness fights ahead of the tournament.
Spain's Carles Puyol headlines the list.
Puyol suffered a knee injury during Barcelona's win over Espanyol earlier this month, and he'll be ruled out for about six weeks after knee surgery.
From ESPN Soccernet:
"The rumours that I will retire from the national team? I want to retire on the pitch, not in the operating room," Puyol said at a press conference. "I was looking forward to playing my 100th game for Spain and to be at Euro 2012. I think it will very difficult to make the tournament, though. Looking at the recovery time needed, it's impossible.
"However, I'm in good spirits. These things happen, although it's at a bad moment. I'm looking forward to starting the recovery process after the surgery.
"I want to go on for many more years. I always say five or six. I will take care of myself. If I can make my 100th appearance for Spain later on, that's fine, too."
Roy Hearts Gary
England manager Roy Hodgson pulled a surprise this week by naming Gary Neville to his coaching staff.
Neville, 37, played for Manchester United from 1992-2011 and collected 85 England caps.
Hodgson said Neville impressed him as a television pundit.
"He's not a person I have known well before inviting him to join me in the team.
"But he's been someone I have been very impressed with since he has joined Sky in terms of his tactical and analytical ability and his knowledge of players."
He added: "I wanted someone who was a younger up-and-coming coach, someone who is starting off on his coaching career.
"But in particular I wanted someone who was able to give me the benefit of his experience of playing for England and being involved with England in international tournaments.
"Also, he is someone who would relate with a lot of the players because the age difference is so much closer than it is for Ray [Lewington, coach] and myself," he added.