So yeah, of course international tournaments like the Copa America and African Cup of Nations are wonderful to watch. Deep rooted national rivalries, no mean level of skill, pride in the shirt - all of the very best elements of international football, what’s not to love?
While these great tournaments are of huge continental and international importance, the World Cup remains the pinnacle of all football, regardless of whatever claims the UEFA Champions League wishes to make. Glory at international level cannot be bought in the same way that it can at club level……..we’ll talk about Italy v South Korea 2002 some other time.
As compelling as the World Cup is, the sheer volume of participants and the often lop sided nature of each group renders a high percentage of matches at FIFA’s premier competition limp. In a tournament with 32 finalists, a swathe of dead rubbers and 90 minute yawn-athon sieges are now an inevitable bi-product. That doesn’t make the World Cup a bad tournament, but catch a bad one and there’s not much to get excited about. Just how many *truly* memorable matches can you recall from South Africa 2010? See what we mean?
Contrast this with the immediate adrenalin hit that the UEFA European Championships can deliver. Just sixteen teams, a high concentration of talent and those deep rooted rivalries good to go. No room for sluggish starts here, and if the phrase ‘no easy matches at international level’ rings true, then it applies ten fold at the Euros. Consider the rise of West Germany in 1972, Marco van Basten’s Holland in 1988 and the emergence of Spain last time out in 2008. Delicious.
The 2012 UEFA European Championships will be held between 8 June and 1 July across eight cities in two neighbouring countries - Poland and Ukraine. This is the last time that the tournament will be contested by just sixteen teams; the 2016 version, to be held in France, will see the number of participants increase to 24. While Europe remains a strong continent for international football, the expansion is just as likely to lead to a dilution of quality. Enjoy it while it lasts and all that.
We, of course, fully embrace the European Championships at IBWM and today we launch the first comprehensive venue guides by serial football travellers Stuart Fuller, from The Ball Is Round, and Ryan Hubbard, from Ekstraklasa Review.
The guides will be published on a weekly basis over the next seven weeks and you will find them by clicking the Euro 2012 link just below the IBWM site banner. The highly detailed guides include a wealth of information which is extremely useful for visitors to Poland and Ukraine this summer and beyond. The guides will also be available as a single, free, downloadable pdf ahead of the tournament. Stuart and Ryan really know their onions, and we’re sure you’ll agree they’ve done a great job.
Once the venue guides are published, we will turn our attention to the sixteen competing teams, with a thorough assessment of each nation competing in what promises to be a compelling tournament.
Spain will, rightly, be favourites, but the challenge from a greatly improved Holland, and a German team that marked this tournament as a target more than six years ago, should not be underestimated. Are France and Italy ready to return to the top? Could a Zlatan led Sweden or Dick Advocaat inspired Russia emerge? Are the talented underdogs of Croatia or a Trapattoni drilled Ireland ready to follow in the footsteps of Greece in 2004? Do we write off any side that contains Cristiano Ronaldo? Or give up on an England team with the burden of expectation removed from youthful shoulders? And what about the host nations? Or any of the others? Compelling indeed. We need a lie down.
We’ll have the skinny on each of the teams and all of the venues here at IBWM, so stay with us, and tell all of your friends. Euro 2012 starts here. Enjoy.