Euro 2012 Draw: 10 Games to Watch in Poland and Ukraine
The waiting is finally over for the 16 teams who will be competing in Euro 2012 next summer.
UEFA drew the process out for as long as possible, but once all the Cossack dancers, Europop acts and bland interviews were done with, the four groups were eventually drawn.
The groups are:
Group A: Poland, Russia, Greece, Czech Republic
Group B: Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, Denmark
Group C: Spain, Italy, Croatia, Republic of Ireland
Group D: Ukraine, England, Sweden, France
Here are 10 of the fixtures scheduled to be held in Poland and Ukraine next year.
Poland vs. Greece
This match is certainly not regarded by anyone as one of the most sexy fixtures of the tournament, but it is the opening match.
Co-hosts Poland will get the championships underway by facing Greece in Warsaw. The last time the Greeks faced the hosts in the first match of a tournament, against Portugal in 2004, they went on to win the whole thing.
On paper it is not the most exhilarating match, and that is likely to be borne out on the pitch on Friday, June 8.
But hey, it's the opening game. You'll be watching.
Netherlands vs. Germany
This is more like it. A proper tournament clash of European heavyweights.
Not only does this Group B fixture pit the world's second- and third-ranked teams, it also sees two neighbours and great rivals go head to head.
The last time the Oranje and Die Mannschaft met at a tournament, Ruud van Nistelrooy struck with nine minutes remaining to claim a 1-1 draw in Porto at Euro 2004. The Dutch went on to reach the semifinals (more on that later), while a goalless draw with Latvia and defeat to Czech Republic saw Germany failed to qualify from the group.
Since they first played each other in 1910—a 4-2 win for the Dutch—here have been many thrilling matches between these two old foes, not least a 5-5 draw in 1912.
The last time they met was little more than a fortnight ago when goals from Thomas Mueller, Miroslav Klose and Mesut Ozil claimed a convincing win for the Germans.
On Wednesday, June 13, all eyes will be on Kharkiv.
Portugal vs. Netherlands
That aforementioned semifinal at Euro 2004 sent hosts Portugal through to the final via a 2-1 win over Netherlands.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored the opener before Maniche scored a stunning strike from a short corner to eliminate the Dutch.
They met again two years later in a match which became known as The Battle of Nuremberg. A World Cup record-equalling 16 bookings and an outright mark of four red cards were shown in a tempestuous affair which finished with nine men on each team in their second-round clash.
Again, Maniche was the match-winner, firing into the top corner midway through the fist half to score the only goal of the game.
Portugal have certainly got the Indian sign over Netherlands; they have won six of their 10 meetings, with the Dutch winning only once. Bert van Marwijk's team will be looking to put that right when they face their Iberian nemesis in Kharkiv on Sunday, June 17.
Germany vs. Portugal
This is the other big clash in this tournament's "Group of Death," but this time it is Portugal who are the ones feeling the weight of history upon their shoulders when they face Germany in Lviv on Saturday, June 9.
Their win over one of the worst Germany sides in living memory at Euro 2000 is the only time they have ever beaten the Germans in eight attempts.
Since then they have met twice more at major finals, with Germany prevailing 3-1 in the third-place playoff at the 2006 World Cup and again two years later in a thrilling Euro 2008 quarterfinal, this time by 3-2.
Portugal have struggled in recent years, and only booked their tickets for the last two tournaments via playoffs wins of Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Denmark vs. Germany
One more match from Group B, and a first mention of Denmark. Netherlands, Portugal and Germany may be the reason that the group looks so promising, but Denmark's recent record against their southern neighbours will certainly give Joachim Loew food for thought.
For despite Germany leading the all-time head-to-head by 14 wins to eight (with three draws), Denmark's greatest-ever footballing moment came against them.
After the breakup of Yugoslavia saw the war-torn nation's participation in the 1992 European Championships cancelled, Denmark stepped in as late entrants and proceeded to take the tournament by storm. They surprised everyone by getting to the final, where they beat reigning world champions Germany courtesy of goals for John Jensen and Kim Vilfort.
By way of proof that that result was no fluke, Denmark have also won two of their three subsequent meetings with Germany and drawn the other. That draw came in August, when Mads Junker's late equaliser claimed a 2-2 friendly draw.
Spain vs. Italy
The tone was set for what has been a closely contested rivalry at the 1934 World Cup, when hosts Italy drew their quarterfinal with Spain 1-1. These were the days before penalty shootouts, so two days later the match was replayed, and Italy won 1-0 and went on to win the tournament.
Since then they have played nine more times, and only once has either side won by more than the odd goal.
Their most recent competitive meeting was in the second round at Euro 2008. After a 0-0 draw, Spain won the shootout and went on to lift the trophy.
However, Italy gained a small measure of revenge in August of this year when they won a friendly in Bari 2-1 thanks to Alberto Aquilani's deflected winner in the final 10 minutes.
This heavyweight match in Gdansk on Sunday, June 10 promises to get Group C up and running in style.
Republic of Ireland vs. Spain
When Ireland secured qualification for their first major tournament in a decade via their playoff win over Estonia, this was the draw all followers of the men in green must have been hoping for.
Not only have they bagged a match against the defending champions and the best team in the world, but they have a chance to avenge a defeat at the hands of the same opponents the last time they were at a finals.
In a second-round clash in Suwon, Japan at the 2002 World Cup Robbie Keane's penalty in injury time forced 30 additional minutes after Fernando Morientes had put Spain ahead and Ian Harte had missed his own spot-kick for the Irish.
Spain won the shootout 3-2, but Ireland left the tournament with great credit after their campaign had been rocked by the row involving the FAI and captain Roy Keane.
The reality, of course, is that the game in Gdansk on Thursday, June 14 is most likely going to be a Spanish victory, but there is chance that Giovanni Trapattoni's obdurate tactics could emulate Switzerland at the last World Cup and upset La Furia Roja.
Italy vs. Republic of Ireland
Trapattoni has led Ireland to their first European Championships since 1988, and has been rewarded with a match against his home country.
Not that the veteran coach will be intimidated at the prospect of facing the Azzurri; in three games against them in charge of Ireland he is yet to lose.
Having been paired with Italy in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup Ireland claimed score draws both at home and away against the 2006 world champions, with both games featuring dramatic last-minute levellers.
Even better, Ireland beat an admittedly experimental Italy side 2-0 win they played a friendly in Liege, Belgium back in June of this year.
That victory on neutral ground will stand the Irish in good stead when they face Cesare Prandelli's team in Poznan on Monday, June 18.
England vs. France
Another meeting of two nations for whom little love is lost, there is no entente cordiale whenever England meet France in the sporting arena.
This is also a fixture which harks back to Euro 2004, when Zinedine Zidane scored twice in stoppage time to overturn England's one-goal lead. His free kick to equalise was an exceptional strike, and the pressure of his spot kick just moments later was such a high-pressure moment that the great Zizou threw up a little just before taking it.
England have not beaten France in their last five meetings, since Alan Shearer scored the only goal in Paris in a friendly tournament a year before the 1998 World Cup.
Both these sides endured torrid World Cups last year, and they will be desperate to make up for their own embarrassments when they meet in Donetsk on Monday, June 11.
Sweden vs. England
Sweden could perhaps be described as England's bogey side, were it not for the Three Lions' poor record against virtually every other decent side in world football.
In seven previous competitive meetings with the Swedes, England have never won. At both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups England let leads slip and allowed the Scandinavians to claim two draws.
The last time they met at a European Championship, hosts Sweden won their final group match to progress to the knockout phase and see England eliminated.
With England coming into the match in Kiev on Friday, June 15 having faced France in their opening Group C match, this could already be a make-or-break game for Fabio Capello's men.
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