For much of the sporting world the Olympics will be the highlight of 2012. But for soccer fans it will be Euro 2012, a tournament for only the most elite soccer stars of Europe, taking place only once every four years. Throughout June the top 16 qualifying countries will battle it out in Poland and Ukraine for continental supremacy and bragging rights until 2016.
Yes, the Olympics will also have a soccer tournament this summer. But each of these teams are composed of players under the age of 23 (except for three designated players) and don’t necessarily represent the best of the best. For the European Cup, the very best players lay it all on the line – because this is as big as it will get until the 2014 World Cup, and for some of them, it’s the last major competition they will play.
The tournament has four groups, each with four teams. The top two teams from each group will move on to the knockout stage; winners progress and losers go home. Group A begins play on June 9th with a draw that could see any of the four teams (Poland, Greece, Russia, and the Czech Republic) going through. Group B is the “group of death” with traditionally very strong teams across the board (The Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, and Portugal), any of whom could take the entire tournament. Group C should be more predictable with two stronger teams (Spain and Italy) and two weaker teams (Ireland and Croatia). Group D is more evenly matched (France, England, Sweden, and Ukraine) and while the odds are against all these teams to take the tournament, group play should be exciting. Both France and England feel they have much to prove after disappointing World Cup performances and a healthy rivalry with each other.
I can’t think of a better time to be in Europe than during the European Cup. Every pub is filled with patriotic fans and every win sparks an all night celebration in the streets. In Madrid, following Spain’s 2008 championship, the city erupted into a cacophony of honking horns, beating drums, nationalistic songs, and call and response chants, along with more excessive than usual drinking ALL NIGHT LONG. I’m not even Spanish and it was the best night of my life.
If you can’t make it to Europe for the tournament the next best thing is probably right in your neighborhood. Many of the bars and restaurants in and around DC will be showing the games. The complete schedule can be found at www.uefa.com.