A-Z of Euro 2012

by Luke Lambert

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

The draw for the 2012 European Championships in Poland and Ukraine was made yesterday with some very interesting match-ups. This A-Z guide should enlighten, confuse, bore or maybe even fascinate some of you football fans.

A is for Absence – The group games are being played at 5pm and 7.45pm UK time which should mean that many of us will get home in the nick of time to see England kick off against France on the 11th June. However, should people work evening shifts, there are sure to be absentees. In the 2010 World Cup when England played Algeria there was a 42% rise in absences from the previous month. And that game didn’t kick off until 7.30!

B is for Base – Although Fabio Capello will have been delighted at the draw yesterday he would not have been pleased about the group. Group D means England will play their games in Ukraine, despite having their base at the Hutnik stadium in Krakow, Poland. Capello will not move the base meaning huge journeys in-between games which are only 4 days apart. In honesty, it would have been better to play Spain in Group C if it meant staying in Poland? You have to beat the best to be the best.

C is for Club Clash – Inevitably, with only 16 teams competing, many club mates will come face to face in the group stages. Robin Van Persie and Per Mertesacker have already posted a Twitter picture representing the Holland vs Germany clash. Mesut Ozil and Pepe of Real Madrid will go toe-to-toe in the same group. Also Gareth Barry and Samir Nasri could both be starters in Group D. Feisty.

D is for Don Fabio – This will be the last time we see Capello as the manager of England. Who will replace the man who appears to have reformed England and certainly given them a new sense of self-belief. His willingness to introduce new talent such as Danny Welbeck and Phil Jones is refreshing and he also gave Jack Wilshere his big break in the middle of the field. Can he go out with a boom? I doubt it. But it would be a fitting end to a man who has done just about everything.

E is for Expectations – There will be a lot of pressure on the big nations to perform. Spain will be expected to win after their last two outings in international tournaments with Germany also strong contenders. The pressure piled on England by the media will again affect the team and most likely reinforce the fact all we can boast is a bunch of prima donna’s. I hope I am wrong.

F is for favourites – Spain. They boast talent all over the field and cannot even accommodate Thiago Alcantara and Javi Martinez. Players such as Fabregas and Mata and perhaps Silva may have to be substitutes. Phenomenal. Germany and Holland will be their closest challengers. If I had to tip anyone it would be the Germans.

G is for Group of Death – Group B. The Netherlands, Germany, Portugal and Denmark. All these sides have realistic aspirations of qualifying from the group. The Danes finished above Portugal in the qualifying rounds but I still expect them to prop up this group. A Portuguese side, held afloat by Cristiano Ronaldo, will not be above to compete with the two heavyweights of this group. Holland often rely on their strikers to outscore the amount they concede as their defensive prowess does not compare to their attacking threat. Germany are efficient and effective all over the pitch. I back them to come top. Group C looks nasty as well.

H is for Home Advantage – Poland and Ukraine will have a strong fan base for this competition. With  the home fans always creating an atmosphere to relish, the Poles and Ukrainians will look to South Korea, Japan, and sparks from South Africa when they played at home. The wave of euphoria that comes with an international football tournament  will give the sides extra energy and confidence and with Poland getting such a favourable draw and Ukraine also possible progressor’s from Group D, the noises coming from these countries could be prolonged beyond expectation.

I is for Ireland (Republic) – After the injustice of the Republic of Ireland not reaching the last World Cup, they were given a highly favourable draw against Estonia in the play-off’s for next year’s championships. After winning comfortably, they have been drawn in the same group as Spain, Croatia and Italy. Although a tall order, with the astute management of Giovanni Trapattoni, Ireland will look to beat Croatia and claim points off Italy. The inconspicuous Doyle and Long up front can cause problems for any defence.

J is for June – What a June it will be. From 8th June to 1st July we are in for a football feast. Even year’s are always the best. We have only a month to wait before the start of the 2012 Premier League season. I know it’s too long but we can’t really complain.

K is for Knock-Out – The knock-out stages of the competition take us from the group stage straight to the Quarter-Finals. England’s habit of losing at this stage must come to an end at some stage but to avoid it happening again they must finish top of the group. If not it is very likely they will play Spain and even if they finish second there is a strong chance of playing Italy, who’s new younger generation looks fresher and more dangerous. But still with a reliable defence. We always knew it was going to be tough.

L is for Limited Tickets – Should England qualify from their group they will only have 5,000 tickets for fans, who will already have to endure a ludicrous amount of travelling to support their side in the championships. This has been done to give other fans from smaller countries their fair share of tickets. I don’t know why England fans would bother going anyway. You spend loads of money, do loads of travelling, know you will end up disappointed, am I missing anything?

M is for Moving on – A lot of club players spend their weeks on the bench, seemingly watching the season pass them by. However, to appear for their national sides they need minutes on the pitch and a lot of top players will have to move in January to make sure they go to Poland/ Ukraine. Raul Albiol of Real Madrid is not getting a look in ahead of Pepe and Ricardo Carvalho and, occasionally, young Raphael Varane. Gary Cahill of England plays for Bolton who are languishing at the bottom of the Premier League. How long will he remain alongside John Terry? Especially as Lescott and Jagielka were so good against Spain. Jermain Defoe is not getting a look in at Spurs with Adebayor often being supported by one attacking midfielder. Fabio Quagliarella of Juventus has barely had a sniff this season and would be a good choice for Italy. Given Cassano’s heart surgery and Balotelli’s temperament, he is an option and Milan are said to be interested.

N is for Nincompoop – In a word. Wayne Rooney. His ridiculous kick out at Miodrag Dzudovoic in England’s last qualifying game mean the forward will now miss England’s games against France, Sweden and Ukraine. We have come to expect moments of stupidity from Rooney but this really takes the biscuit. He is appealing the ban but it is likely that we will have to rely on Welbeck, Sturridge, Zamora, Carroll, Defoe or Crouch to fill his boots, at least for the group stage. Who knows, they may do such a sterling job that Rooney won’t get a look in after that. Should we qualify from the group.

O is for Old Hand’s – This will be many players final chance of appearing in a major tournament. Players like Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are getting caught up by the talent of tomorrow and experienced talents such as Antonio Di Natale, although still scoring freely in Italy, will not be able to carry on for much longer. Germany’s oldest player in their recent clash with Azerbaijan was Philip Lahm and he is only 27. The Spanish squad is also very young and even if players like Xavi and Puyol are getting older it is not as thought there are not adequate replacements.

P is for Prolific – Some of the greatest players in the world will be on show at the tournament and three of the most consistent finishers in world football will be in the same group. Robin Van Persie of the Netherlands, Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Mario Gomez of Germany have been red-hot for the last 12 months and they will come head to head as the teams battle to qualify from the group of death. Who will come on top? It’s anyone’s guess.

Q is for Qualifying Strategy? – It is vital for England to finish top of their group to avoid Spain. For those unlucky (or lucky as you may look at it) enough to be in Group A they will have a tough match in the Quarter-Finals no matter who they play. I am pleased to see that the final group games will be played at the same time as their other group opponents. There have been fixes in the past and there will be fixes in the future. The only bad thing about this is I have to choose a match to watch. Hmmm.

R is for Results – Not the results you may have in mind. I am in fact referring to GCSE’s. The exams usually take place over the month of June and research has shown that many students spend more time talking and thinking about football than their exams. Results dropped by a quarter of a grade when exams were held over an international tournament. One doctor even suggested that the education authorities should look to move the exams forward three weeks. These students have got their priorities right. Good job.

S is for Surprise Package – I would say Poland from Group A. Lukasz Piszszek, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Robert Lewandowski (all of Borussia Dortmund) are excellent talents and will cause the opposition all sorts of problems. The pace of Poland will also be an important factor for the joint hosts. I will also say France. This may seem an odd choice but under Laurent Blanc Les Bleus look much improved and have an excellent balance in the side now. Benzema has a new lease of life at Real Madrid and Koscielny is much improved at Arsenal.

T is for Travel – England will have to travel 5,000 miles in their group stage games. They could move base but Capello has his heart set on Poland. I fear this could be a mistake. And what about the fans? I know this couldn’t be helped but the travelling contingent can’t be happy.

U is for Underdogs – Teams like Russia will be probable favourites in Group A but once qualified (assuming they do so) they will face a team from Group B. Most likely Germany or the Netherlands. Russia played Holland in Euro 2008 and it was an excellent game. They will go into these games without fear but more importantly without high expectation. It will be a similar case for Denmark in Group B, Croatia in Group C and Ukraine in Group D.

V is for Vicious Tackles – In the 2006 World Cup there was a match that sticks in the mind for all the wrong reasons. And it could be relived in next year’s tournament! Holland vs Portugal brought 16 yellow cards and 4 red cards in the Round of 16 and what a game it was. Maniche scored the only goal but no-one remembers that. 17 June. Put it in your diary.

W is for WAGS – Fabio Capello has surprisingly allowed the players wives and girlfriends to stay in Krakow. After the kerfuffle of 2006 and Baden Baden it was thought they would be banned from seeing their husbands/boyfriends during the tournament. They will be able to see them after the matches and they have been welcomed by the Mayor of Krakow. I doubt they will be much interested in the culture the city has to offer though. Any good shoe shops?

X is for XIV – It is the fourteenth European Championships to be held since it began in 1960. I was struggling to find an X..give me a break.

Y is for Young Stars – Mario Gotze of Germany will be a star, whether he moves in January or not. The only question is whether he can play alongside Mesut Ozil. A front three-pronged attack of Ozil, Gotze and Podolski is truly frightening. Christian Eriksen of Denmark showed his ability in a friendly with England during 2011 and will shine even in the group of death. Phil Jones, Kyle Walker and Daniel Sturridge will also be ones to watch from England.

Z is for Zany Fans – The last few tournaments have shown the football fans around the globe in their best light. The wonderful noise and passion in South Africa and the colour and enormity of the event in Japan and South Korea will live long in the memory so it is up to the hosts to create an atmosphere that can rival those of the past. I can’t wait.

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