On Saturday afternoon, millions of football fans the world over will turn on their TV screens in anticipation of a special and intriguing football tournament. That any one of perhaps 10 footballing nations could be celebrating winning this coveted trophy is one of many reasons for the fervour that is building up ahead of this weekend's opening ceremony and matches in Austria and Switzerland.
Perhaps the only disappointment for many is that even the most optimistic Swiss or Austrian football fans hold out little hope that their national sides will progress past the group stages. Home advantage must not, however, be forgotten or under-estimated and it it would not be wise to write off these lesser fancied sides just yet. An inexperienced Jurgen Klinsmann did, after all, lead a Germany squad that looked short on depth and defensively frail to third place in the more prestigious but perhaps less competitive 2006 Football World Cup.
There has been much talk of dark horses and of possible under-achievers and over-achievers. Can Spain, boasting an ever-formidable wealth of youthful talent and proven club performers, finally live up to their hype and reach the final? Can Raymond Domenech gel young stars like Nasri and Benzema with the Henrys, Trezuguets and Vieiras of the footballing world? Will Germany again prove their doubters wrong and continue to 'exceed expectations'? Will there be a team that 'do a Greece' and defy all odds to make it to the last stages? Russia perhaps, the Czech Republic or, dare I say it as an Englishman, Slaven Bilic's Croatia? Who will wilt in the midsummer heat, who will stand up and be counted when it matters most?
After a club season which saw three super-wealthy English members of the G8, ahem, dominate the Champions League and during which the usual footballing giants of the European scene dominated the domestic leagues, this is a chance to show that whilst money can seemingly buy success, football still has the capacity to shock, surprise and captivate. This must be partially true in the light of the claim by many English bookmakers that more money will be bet on the outcomes of the 31 matches that will take place over the coming weeks than on any previous such occasion.
Who will succeed and fail, who will entertain and which players will shine through and which will flatter to deceive are not by any means the only foci of the tournament. There are many issues at stake here and many questions to be answered, problems to be resolved. Will the tournament be remembered for the events on the pitch or for numerous off-field dramas that have plagued football for years? Will respect and love for the game stand up against the outbreaks of hooliganism that have spontaneously and intermittently broken out in the stands and on the streets between rival football thugs? Will many overpaid and often mercenary players finally set an example to young aspirers in sportsmanship and respect for officials and each other? Only time will tell. Until then, all we as fans of all shapes, sizes and followings need to do is tune in and enjoy the drama that will unfold before our eyes. Enjoy!
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