Power Ranking the 16 Fanbases at Euro 2012
We may all be enraptured by the (mostly) beautiful football on offer at UEFA Euro 2012, but none of it would be possible without the fans.
Traveling from all corners of the continent, they fill the stadiums of Poland and Ukraine with their unique chants and nationalistic spirit that makes the neutral observer feel the tension of every match.
Regardless of whether their boys are winning, losing or drawing, you can count on almost every fanbase to cheer to the very last whistle.
That said, we have recently seen that there are some rather unsavory folks among the merely passionate, so, taking everything into account, let's attempt to rank all the fanbases at Euro 2012.
What kinds of fans boo and jeer their own team?
According to national team coach Oleg Blokhin, Ukrainian ones.
The co-hosts accosted their own countrymen during the latter stages of their recent 2-0 loss to France, apparently failing to realize the fact that they capitulated with dignity to a team that everyone believes is much better than they are.
If you strive to sully the reputation of your country even more than it already has been by allegations of racism, you deserve to be last on this list.
Many thought before the tournament that the Ukrainian or perhaps the Polish fans would be the rowdiest of all, but it has been the Russians who have brought the most hooligans to the Euros.
Decades-old tensions between the Poles and their rivals to the north have resurfaced recently, especially at the hotly-contested match between the two, and local police were forced to use force to quell mass Russian marches and the brawls that ensued.
I think the rest of the world can join me in saying: "Not cool, Russia, not cool."
Poland is yet another country that has brought hooliganism and racism to the Euros. Manager Slaven Bilic had to decry his own fans for bringing intolerance and hate to Croatia's matches.
Appallingly, after a recent match in Wroclaw against the Czech Republic, missiles and fireworks were hurled onto the pitch and at stewards, some of whom required hospitalization. At another match, a supporter invaded the pitch.
The Croats have been giving authorities headaches all over the world, as New York Giants offensive lineman David Diehl was arrested for drinking and driving after watching Croatia beat Ireland earlier in the tournament.
Yet another troubled nation that needs to be forced to clean up its act.
At matches, Polish fans have proven to be worthy hosts and ardent supporters of their national team.
But away from the stadiums, they have been much worse, clashing with the aforementioned Russian hooligans and brawling in public places.
The Russians may have incited violence, but the Poles have certainly responded, taking their opponents' bait and sullying their reputation.
Now, both groups of supporters will return home in shame after exiting after the group stage.
Unlike the supporters I've already listed, Portugal do not find themselves in the bottom half of my list because of racism or bad behavior.
What irritates me about them is that their utter worship for Cristiano Ronaldo knows no bounds, and the entire Portuguese fanbase never stops putting their meritless dreams of glory on the shoulders of one man who flatters to deceive in big tournaments.
Even in America, I will see fans of the Selecção sporting jerseys that feature the face of their demigod more prominently than his name, number or the team crest.
As soon as Portuguese fans accept that Ronaldo cannot be their Maradona, they can move forward as a footballing nation.
11: Czech Republic
The Czechs have some of the most passionate fans at Euro 2012, but sometimes they can get a bit carried away.
Despite recently clinching the top spot in Group A, fans decided to vociferously boo and jeer veteran Milan Baros and coach Michal Bilek when the former touched the ball and when the latter came out of the tunnel.
They would do well to remember that those targets of their ire just piloted the team to the quarterfinals of the European Championships.
Among throngs of loud, rambunctious supporters from all across Europe, there are the Danes, who are almost nice to a fault.
Sure, they're passionate about their very good, if overrated, national team, but you won't hear any crushingly loud chanting from their end of the pitch, nor will you hear about anything bad that they have done before or after the game.
They're just Danish. They won in '92—they'll be more than happy to tell you—and that's about that.
Traditionally, England has had some of the best and most passionate fans around, though hooliganism has always lurked just below the surface.
This time around, the English seem to have finally learned that their beloved Three Lions don't stand much of a chance of winning the competition, but their trademark enthusiasm has not been lost in the process.
But, of course, neither has their infamous reputation for acting up. After accusations of a conspiracy to invade the pitch versus Sweden, England will have to claim yet again that its people are not as rowdy as you'd think.
When you think of the Swedish national team, images of Zlatan Ibrahimovic tend to pop up in your head more than admiration for its top-class fans.
The Swedes do bring fervent and clean support to their team's games, and have been among the most reliably cheerful throughout the Euros thus far.
Unlike many of the other fanbases at the tournament, I cannot remember this one getting mixed up in any sort of shenanigans.
That said, I do catch a whiff of Portuguese worship when it comes to their star player, Ibrahimovic.
For a nation that has been declining as a football power for some time, Italian fans' passion and resilience is admirable.
After crashing out of the 2010 World Cup in disgrace and presenting a much weaker team at Euro 2012 than that which won the World Cup in 2006, there is still a sense among Italians that typically organized defence and old heads such as Andrea Pirlo can still carry the Azzurri to glory.
That pride is most likely misplaced, but it takes a strong will to come back from embarrassment on such a grand scale and still have confidence in a nation's footballing powers.
Fans will most likely come away empty again, but you can be sure that the little matter of a loss or two will not deter the proud supporters of an institution.
France might not have supplied the same number of fans to Ukraine as some of their rivals, but they do make up for it and are nevertheless one of the best groups in the tournament.
Much like Italy, the French have recovered from stinging disappointment in recent years to climb the footballing ladder again and reestablish themselves as one of the best footballing countries in the world.
Now, with a team that can actually do some great things on the pitch, the supporters are wholeheartedly behind Laurent Blanc's men.
You really have to hand it to Greek fans. Their entire country is mired in an economic depression, yet some of the best supporters in the continent have managed to spur the no-name team on to the quarterfinals yet again.
The winners of the 2004 tournament were once again written off as the group whipping boys, but they have performed admirably to beat out Russia by a hair and advance.
That is due in large part to their fans, who have found something to cheer about in these tough times. With an exciting match against Germany looming, some Greeks have decided that their goal should be to defeat their creditors as a means of restoring national pride.
Their priorities might be a bit screwed up, but I do enjoy their spirit as a neutral.
Like Greece, Spain is going through some very tough times, and many football fans are finding relief in their national team.
It is certainly something to be proud of. La Roja is seeking to become the first team in football history to win three major tournaments in a row, and this side would surely cement their place as the greatest to ever step onto a pitch if they accomplish the feat.
Due to the nation's golden generation producing so much beautiful football and so many trophies recently after decades of failure, the Spanish are understandably a bit cocky, but they deserve to be. This sort of dominance does not happen very often.
3: The Netherlands
It's tough to like a team with as many egos as the Dutch team has, and it is even harder to maintain the same level of fervency when your team loses all three of its group stage games.
Yet, as they always do, fans of the Oranje show their support more ostentatiously than any other group of fans and go crazier than almost any other when things do go their way.
Molded in the days of Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten, supporters have come to expect beautiful football from their boys, and they decry performances that rely more on grit than guile, even if it brings some success.
When major events roll around, though, it is hard to find a nation that becomes as singularly devoted to its sports icons.
The Bundesliga has a reputation for having some of the best stadium atmospheres in all the world, and the Germans bring that passion when they come to support their national side.
You will constantly hear them bellowing a range of songs and making a deafening amount of noise at every game, and it is a wonder that the country is not collectively hoarse after gathering en masse in their own land during matches.
If anything can top a German fan's fervor in their support for their hometown team, it is their unwavering loyalty to Die Mannschaft, which unites an entire country that is nuts about the sport.
The true test of fanhood is whether you can keep up the same level of passion when you're crushing the opposition as when they are crushing you.
Irish supporters, knowing they were exiting the tournament in the group stage, as expected hitherto, only sang louder as Spain piled on more and more goals against their old, slow lineup.
The ardent support that they have brought to Poland, both in out out of stadiums, has drawn praise from fans all around the world, and one has to admire their indomitable spirit in the face of sure defeat.
That spirit might have gotten the Irish free of British rule, but it hasn't made their stodgy football team any better. But they don't care. They're the Republic of Ireland, darn it, and they're going to sing it to the whole world.