We are less than 24 hours away from Poland getting their game underway against Greece, thus signaling the start of Euro 2012. But in the odd paradox that is sports, the closer we come to the start of a game, the more the questions surrounding it rise in volume.
It is the uncertainty of the answers to these questions, the vagueness of diluted quandaries answered only after 90 minutes of play that makes this game and all sports fun to watch.
Never in my limited historical knowledge of the game have I seen such an open field.
As the level of play has increased worldwide and more nationalities are representing top clubs, the nations themselves have closed the gulf between traditional powerhouses and sides without as much “tradition."
Euro 2012 is shaping up to be one of the best competitions in years, not necessarily because of the amount of talent in it, but the burning uncertainty that surrounds the games. Here are 10 questions we have on the eve of the tournament.
It is one of the biggest mysteries in sports, how a team that consistently is made up of the world’s best players never can seem to achieve the success they should. Yet again, Portugal goes into a major tournament boasting one of the most impressive lineups of any side. But they remain distant favorites simply based on a history of failure.
Cristiano Ronaldo will never reach that max level of praise until he leads his nation to some sort of glory.
The heartbreak of 2004, losing in the finals on home soil to Greece, was almost a cruel joke of the footballing gods, letting Europe’s westernmost nation know that they will never give the fans what they want.
This year looks like more of the same with a team that is just as likely to be knocked out in a tough Group B as they are to win it all. But to do so, they will not only have to overcome their opponents, they will have to overwhelm the unseen force that has kept them back for decades.
England’s chances of breaking their 40-plus-year drought of international silverware were pretty small a few weeks ago when Roy Hodgson announced his 23-man roster. But since then, it has become nearly microscopic, as the bad luck of injuries and personal matters has ravaged the Three Lions.
The lead up to Poland saw Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and Gary Cahill all ruled out for the entire tournament due to injuries.
Today, it was announced that Jermaine Defoe would be leaving the camp due to the passing of his father, and understandably, his return remains in question. Then, of course, Wayne Rooney’s suspension keeps him on the sideline for the first two matches.
For you keeping count at home, that is five players Roy Hodgson will be without for the first game and possibly more, four of which were likely starters.
At this point, it is not so much if they can upset everyone and win the whole thing as much as whether they even have enough bodies to compete.
Spain is looking to become the first team to win a World Cup sandwiched between Euro titles on either side. The reason why this has never been done before is the incredibly difficult task of combining a progressive style of play with the right brand of players over the four-year period.
The "tiki-taka" passing Spain plays have been one of the most exciting forms of football the world has ever seen. It elevated the Spanish game—on both a club and country level—to new heights and made it arguably the best football in the world.
But sports are cyclical in nature, and it seems that the wheel may be rotating against this form of football. Not more than a month ago, we saw two Spanish giants go down in upsets to teams who countered the attacking styles with unmitigated defense.
Spain still remain favorites to win it all, but they will have to prove that they are more dynamic than their club counterparts.
It was two years ago that the players of France embarrassed their nation and the game with a very public protest against their manager Raymond Domenech at the World Cup, when they refused to come off the bus for training. The veteran players staged this demonstration and cost the French any hope of respect coming out of the games.
Two years later, with new manager Laurent Blanc and a fresh group of eager youngsters, France heads into Poland/Ukraine with a 20-game unbeaten streak.
Players such as Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema are playing their best football right now, and Chelsea castoff Florent Malouda is enjoying a revitalized tenure in his nation’s colors.
Though the French are not favored to win it all, it is not out of the question. But, the real task here is to ensure that the glory that is French football is restored by the time their tournament comes to an end.
It seems like since the 2006 World Cup, when Germany finished third on home soil, we have been talking about this young group of soon-to-be stars. Every major tournament that comes around, they have been a favorite to win and impressive all the way to the end, but continue to come up short.
Now, this group is entering or in the middle of their prime, and many are the biggest stars on their respective club teams. They are second favorites behind Spain to win it all, and for good reason. In that same stretch where Spain won Euros and the World Cup, Germany has been right on their heels, losing to Spain in the final at Euro 2008 and finishing third at the 2010 World Cup.
The argument that these players are still too young is quickly becoming obsolete. This is the tournament where they must prove that they will not always be second best and finally bring home some silverware to their proud nation.
At every tournament with group stages, there is always the clichéd term “group of death” applied to one of them—a grouping of teams with more talent than any other where at least one favorite will be left out in the cold with an early exit.
This Euro’s “group of death” is most commonly seen as Group B, where the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal and Denmark are all facing off for only two spots to advance.
The Dutch, German and Portuguese are all big-named sides who have a chance to win it all. Denmark, though not favorites, are still a very capable side that, in any other group, would have had a good shot of advancing.
In an odd twist, though, rarely does the team coming out of the group of death win the whole thing. It may be due to the fact that they are exhausted from playing such tough games early, and come the knockout stage, they can no longer keep up.
This does not bode well for three teams in desperate need of bringing home silverware.
The best thing about watching this tournament, for an unconnected fan like myself, is watching some small, unregarded nation walk through the big boys and shock the world. It happens almost every year.
In 2008, it was Turkey shocking everyone en route to the semis. In 2004, it was Greece winning it all. In 2000, a very underrated Portugal knocked off both England and Germany in the group stage.
This summer, there are plenty to choose from who could be the big surprise.
Both hosts, Poland and Ukraine, could make a dent and find themselves in favorable groups. The Czechs and Russians also pose a threat that many do not see coming. Croatia could be dangerous if they are able to sneak out of a tough Group C.
Overall, this is the one question that most can’t wait to see answered. It is one of the main reasons that this tournament—or any, for that matter—is so fun to watch!
In what has now become another famous blurb that has been added to Mario Balotelli’s growing list of quotable quotes, the Italian very openly expressed how he would handle racism directed toward him. "I will not accept racism at all. It's unacceptable. If someone throws a banana at me in the street, I will go to jail, because I will kill them," Balotelli said.
This should come as no shock to anyone who is aware of the antics of the vocal striker, but the real question is, will he actually do it?
I personally would not be surprised to see him make a beeline for the stands at the first insult he hears, ripping off the instigator's head in one swift motion, then heading back onto the pitch to score a goal on the his very next touch of the ball.
If this seems nuts, just look at what UEFA president Michel Platini had to say about Balotelli’s proclamation. "I don’t see why clubs and players should be responsible for their fans. I don’t see why a club should be deducted three points and maybe get relegated because their fans are racist," Platini stated.
Well, Mr. Platini, aren't you just a modern-day MLK!
How about clubs and countries should be responsible for their fans' actions because anyone who is stupid and ignorant enough to make such disgusting remarks is also mentally unstable enough that they probably cannot separate sport from real life.
If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
At this point, it almost seems inevitable that games of this stake and magnitude will have at least a handful of major controversy. Most of it will fall under an area where it could be prevented and fixed if it were not for stubborn old curmudgeons who govern the game.
There is far too much money and interest in sports not to use every possible resource to make the game valid.
Officials command the most difficult position of anyone on the pitch, as they are expected to physically keep pace with world-class athletes while simultaneously superseding them mentally in making rational calls in an instant. It is unreasonable to ever expect perfection from a human being, but even more so under these conditions.
UEFA will hear the call for goal-line technology at some point during this tournament, guaranteed. The real question is, will the demands be loud enough to finally make it happen?
A big part of what makes these international tournaments such an amazing experience is getting to take in the culture of a different country. The conglomeration of people coming together for a single event is a spectacle rarely seen on this level outside of sports.
However, Polish and Ukrainian society has a dark underside involved in the brutal act of sex trading. It has been a focal point of protestors against the nations winning the right to host, and for good reason. This kind of coming together of tourists will only increase the occurrence and line the pockets of these worst of the worst criminals.
But if you don’t have any interest in hearing these protestors who will surely pop up throughout the month, perhaps you should first take a look at their “creative” form of demonstration.
The Ukrainian feminist protest group FEMEN has combated sex with sex by staging very public, topless protests. That’s right, these women who are against the misogynists that ravage their country are smart enough to realize that if they want their message heard, all they have to do is give in a little to what those misogynists want.
It is a very crafty psychological play that really pushes the question of who is in charge. Though they are against the status quo, they are hard to ignore—not because they are loud and in your face, but rather, they are giving you exactly what you want, thus really giving them the power!
Don’t think it will work? Why the heck do you think that this is my longest slide!?
Face it, these women are attractive, smart and incredibly witty.
I hope they really do end this terrible human-rights atrocity and in this fashion. It would be a great irony and honestly change the way people get what they want.
In one month’s time, all the preceding questions will be answered. But until then, they remain the reason why we will watch these games. Everything from the football itself to the culture surrounding it keeps us entranced in a hypnotic spell that only sports can muster.
So, what questions do you have on the eve of European footballs biggest competition?
As always, please leave your comments below and thanks for reading!
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