Euro 2012: 10 Reasons We Can't Wait for It
The last time a UEFA Euro competition came to a close, an explosive Spanish side emerged as the victors, and the Furia Roja went on to take the 2010 World Cup as a follow-up.
Now, with a host of new talent, new management and some resurgent sides, the 2012 tournament in Poland and Ukraine looks like it could well be anybody's game to win. As some of the best national teams in the world prepare to face off, you can bet we're in for one exciting tournament.
Here are 10 reasons we can't wait for Euro 2012 to start. If you have your own to add, by all means, have at it in the comments.
The Best Young Talent Europe Has to Offer on Display
As January approaches, all eyes are on Europe's young talents as potential transfer prospects, but in the Euro tournament, they have a chance to work their magic for their respective countries.
Denmark's Christian Eriksen, Germany's Mario Götze, Switzerland's Xherdan Shaqiri and Russia's Alan Dzagoev are just a few of the names who have shone in this tournament so far.
Shaqiri scored a hat trick for Switzerland in a 3-1 win over Bulgaria, and Eriksen became the youngest Danish goal-scorer ever in a qualifier win over Iceland.
Hopefully, there will be plenty more exciting moments for these wunderkinds in the tournament.
Opportunity to Settle Old Scores
A formidable Netherlands side lost to Spain in the 2010 World Cup final on a late scorcher of a goal from Andrés Iniesta, and the Oranje's fantastic tournament run was marred in part by their conduct in the final, most notably Nigel de Jong's kung-fu kick to the chest on Xabi Alonso, which somehow didn't see him get sent off.
Now, as Spain and the Netherlands sit comfortably at the top of their respective groups and will easily qualify for the tournament, there is always the possibility, scheduling pending, of one heck of a rematch, with both sides stocked with new faces and a hunger for glory.
Old Euro tournament rivalries may see resurgences as well—Russia, a Cinderella team in the 2008 Euro tournament under Guus Hiddink, lost in the semifinals to Spain. Now, at the top of their group and with a host of new talents like 21-year-old CSKA Moscow striker Alan Dzagoev, they'll be ready to greet their old adversaries.
Chances for Redemption
With the dawn of another Euro competition comes more opportunities for some strong but never-can-quite-get-there national teams to redeem themselves after underwhelming performances in the previous tournament.
France, marred by Raymond Domenech's lack of leadership and failure to advance in the 2010 World Cup, is now under new management and leads its group in the qualifiers, and with the likes of Samir Nasri and Yann M'Vila showing great promise, could really be a force in this tournament.
England, which had an underwhelming run in the 2010 World Cup and didn't even qualify for Euro 2008, are back with a host of talented newcomers—Kyle Walker, Phil Jones and Jack Wilshere, if and when he's fit—and have the perfect opportunity now to show they are contenders on the international stage.
The Return of the Azzurri
The 2006 World Cup-winning Italian national team had disappointing runs in Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, losing a heartbreaker in penalties in the former and, courtesy of some lackluster lineup decisions on the part of Marcello Lippi, finishing last in the group stage in the latter, something of an embarrassment for a side that had won the tournament in 2006.
So far, this Euro tournament has seen a very different Azzurri from the one that went down so easily in South Africa. Cesare Prandelli has restored them to a winning record, and they even beat a world-championship-winning Spain side in a friendly back in August.
They're still one of the oldest teams in the tournament, but as recent performances from the likes of Antonio Cassano and Juventus' Giorgio Chiellini have indicated, the Italians still have plenty of fight left. With newcomers like Sebastian Giovinco and Mario Balotelli finding top form in league play, the team looks more balanced.
Also, they still have one of the best keepers in the world in captain Gigi Buffon.
The Jaw-Dropping Germans
There are plenty of formidable teams in this tournament so far, but if there's one that stands out without question, it's the Germans. Germany has gone 10 for 10 in qualifying wins, one of only two teams in the tournament with a perfect record and the side with the most wins. Going into the next stage, they have asserted themselves as the team to beat.
Backed by impenetrable keeper Manuel Neuer, Die Mannschaft, hungry for glory after a third-place finish in the 2010 World Cup, have quite the formidable squad, from established regulars like Philipp Lahm and Mario Gomez to explosive newcomers like Mario Götze and Borussia Dortmund centre-back Mats Hummels.
They haven't won a major tournament since Euro 1996, but from the looks of things, this could very well be the year.
A Top-Klaas Goal Hunter
After helping Schalke 04 win their first major trophy in nearly a decade with the goal that won them the 2011 DFB-Pokal, Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has found his stride in a big way in this tournament. Huntelaar leads the Oranje and the entire tournament in goal scoring, racking up an astonishing 12 in the qualifying rounds.
He's inching ever closer to the Dutch record for goals scored in a European tournament, in this case the 40 goals from Patrick Kluivert. And if he keeps up this rate in the tournament, Huntelaar could very well reach that milestone.
Montenegro and the Sleeper-Hit Shockers
The UEFA Euro tournament is a lot like the Eurovision song contest: It brings out the competitive spirit across the continent, and a clutch of very small countries always end up surprising everyone in the best possible ways.
Estonia and Montenegro have been those countries so far in the Euro qualifiers, with Estonia in second in their group behind Italy and Montenegro wreaking all kinds of havoc on theirs.
Montenegro especially shows promise, with two of the most explosive talents in Europe—Mirko Vucinic, who is shining at Juventus right now, and Fiorentina's young wonder Stevan Jovetic—serving as their primary strikers.
The road could end for either team in the upcoming playoffs, but hopefully, we'll get to see a lot more from them.
The Future of the Football Ground in Action
This is the Donbas Arena, home of Ukrainian contenders Shakhtar Donetsk and one of the venues for the Euro 2012 competition. Shiny, isn't it?
Love it or hate it, Donbas is a perfect example of where the design and construction of the football ground is headed: it cost £262 million to build, seats 51,000 and includes—get this—a thoroughly modern fitness centre, a fan café and sports bar, a retail area, white-tablecloth restaurants and a conference centre. And with Euro looming, it can only get bigger.
ArupSport, who designed the Donbas Arena, designed the Allianz Arena in Munich, Manchester City's new ground at Eastlands and the grounds for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The future of sports architecture, here at Euro 2012.
Hamit Altintop and More Golazos
One of the most surprising stars of this tournament so far has been a 28-year-old, German-born Turkish midfielder whose best years are probably behind him and who has only gotten into one league match since signing with Real Madrid. Versatile midfielder Hamit Altintop has scored what is easily the tournament's best goal so far, a thunderous golazo which helped his side defeat Kazakhstan in a qualifying match.
Although Turkey's tournament future rests in the playoffs next week, meaning this could be the end of the line for Altintop, there will certainly be a host of other fantastic goals to come.
Good News for Greece
With the cradle of democracy often in the headlines for far more newsworthy and ultimately kind-of-terrifying reasons, it's nice to see Greece get some good news, even if it's just in a football tournament. They are the only team in Group F to go unbeaten in the qualifiers, and one of only five teams in the tournament to have not lost a match yet (seven wins, three draws).
Further bolstering Greece's tournament hopes are a pair of promising newcomers: veteran Olympiacos full-back José Holebas and 17-year-old Panathinaikos goalkeeper Stefanos Kapino, who may become the national team's youngest-ever debutant if Fernando Santos chooses him to face Russia and Romania in the upcoming pre-tournament friendlies.