Euro 2012 Tournament
Know your Euros: A guide to the best international soccer tournament that's notthe World Cup (Part Two)
After months of anticipation from soccer fans around the world — especially in Europe — the Euro 2012 tournament starts Friday, June 8 with an 11 a.m. match between Greece and Poland and a 1:45 p.m. match between Russia and the Czech Republic. Then, this weekend, Holland faces off against Denmark, Germany meets Portugal in what could be one of the best matches of the group stages, Spain and Italy (the last two World Cup winners, by the way) tussle and Ireland battles Croatia to finish out Sunday.
The usual suspect bars serving up soccer and drinks to Austinites are all in for the tournament, including Cuatros (1004 W. 24th) and Mister Tramps (8565 Research Boulevard). Fado (214 W. 4th Street) is not only showing matches live, but will replay both group matches of the day at 6 p.m. each day between June 8 and June 19 — even on weekends — for those who can't get free from work or those who just want pub food with their soccer.
The finals are Sunday, July 1, and from 1 p.m. on, I'll be where I was to witness the 2010 World Cup Finals: at the ND (5th and Brushy), which will be hosting the CultureMap Austin-sponsored Euro 2012 Finals Watch Party. There will be a live Twitter stream you can join. There will be jersey wearing. And, if the 2010 event is any indication, there will be a crowd of Austin soccer lovers likely to know what tiki-taka means (keep reading if you don't) and which player is a dead-ringer for Back to the Future's George McFly.
Yesterday, we showcased Group A and Group B. Today, we look at Group C and Group D.
FIFA world ranking: 1
Players to watch: Fernando Llorente (F, Athletic Bilbao), Fernando Torres (F, Chelsea), Juan Mata (F, Chelsea), Xavi Hernández (M, Barcelona), Sergio Busquets (M, Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (M, Real Madrid), David Silva (M, Manchester City), Cesc Fàbregas (M, Barcelona), Andrés Iniesta (M, Barcelona), Gerald Pique (D, Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (D, Real Madrid). Oh, hell, everyone's worth watching.
The more you know: It seems like Spain has been the number one ranked team in the world for an eternity. Actually, it’s only since winning the Euros in 2008 that they’ve been the world’s best team. But in the four years since, they’ve held that spot exclusively — save for a month in 2011, two months in 2010 and four months in 2009. (In those months, they were second.) In large part, this is due to playing a style of soccer called tiki-taka that relies on lots of possession and precise passing. Here’s what it looks like in practice (as modeled by Barcelona), and here’s Spain doing it in a game from 2010. (There are also numerous examples of this on YouTube videos made from video games. But that's just nerdy.)
Prediction: They’re either winning it all or losing in the finals. This is the most talented international team on the planet, and the only real concern heading into the Euros is how they deal with the loss of striker David Villa and stud defender Carles Puyol, and the collective bummer that the Barcelona club players -- the backbone of this team -- might feel with the double indignity of losing this year's La Liga title to rivals Real Madrid and failing to make the finals of this year's Champions League.
FIFA world ranking: 12
Players to watch: Mario Balotelli (F, Manchester City), Antonio Di Natale (F, Udinese Calcio), Antonio Nocerino (M, AC Milan), Andrea Pirlo (M, Juventus), Thiago Motta (M, Paris Saint-Germain), Giorgio Chiellini (D, Juventus), Gianluigi Buffon (G, Juventus).
The more you know: Striker Mario Balotelli has had quite a year. Put his name next to search terms like "starts fire," "call girl," "strip club," and "fouls Alex Song" in Google, and you’ll get a sense of why Italian coach Cesare Prandelli is publicly cautioning him to behave. If the “Why always me?” message he wore on a T-shirt earlier this season is any indication, he’s the early favorite to be the most intriguing player to follow at the Euros, for reasons that have nothing to do with soccer.
Prediction: Even though Croatia’s got a higher world ranking and an arguably more talented side, and even though Italy’s coming into this tournament with 99 problems, there’s still a good chance that Italy steps up and finishes second to Spain in this group: a partial atonement for a poor showing during the last World Cup. They could be on a collision course with an elimination match against France, who they have history with, including the 2006 World Cup finals and perhaps the most famous red card incident in world soccer history (seen by, depending on what stats you believe, anywhere from 260 to 715 million people around the world).
FIFA world ranking: 18
Players to watch: Robbie Keane (F, LA Galaxy), Shane Long (F, West Bromwich Albion), Shae Given (G, Aston Villa), Glenn Whelan (M, Stoke City).
The more you know: Ireland will have Jim Ryan among the fans rooting for them — according to an article in The Independent, the 59-year-old Ryan has spent 400,000 Euros (that’s nearly half a million dollars) since 1976 on being a fan. (That is to say, outfitting himself in Team Ireland garb and following his beloved team to various international competitions.) This year’s travel budget of 4,000 Euros provides for the contingency that Ireland makes the finals and Ryan will get to scream himself hoarse in Kyiv.
Prediction: Despite Jim Ryan’s unwavering faith, this team certainly can’t win the group, and edging past Croatia and Italy to get past the group stage seems unlikely. (Though an Ireland run would make Fado that much more interesting.)
FIFA world ranking: 8
Players to watch: Nikica Jelavić (F, Everton), Eduardo (F, Shaktar Donetsk), Ivica Olić (F, Bayern Munich), Luka Modrić (M, Tottenham Hotspur).
The more you know: Their checkerboard red-and-white jerseys are one of the most recognizable in world soccer. They were designed by avant-garde artist Miroslav Šutej, who also created the nation’s coat of arms when Croatia broke off from the former Yugoslavia in 1990. (Also, Croatia Pac-Man shirt? Sweeeeet.)
Prediction: Croatia, unlike Italy, doesn’t have a match-fixing scandal distracting them, doesn’t have the spotlight on its team in quite the same way Italy does, and has some talented players in Jelavić and Modrić. So, given all that, Croatia, based on its world ranking, should advance past groups. (Though Italy advancing is certainly a reasonable possibility, and would probably be more fun for anyone without a rooting interest in Croatia.)
FIFA world ranking: 52
Players to watch: Andriy Shevchenko (F, Dynamo Kyiv), Anatoliy Tymoshchuk (M, Bayern Munich), Andriy Yarmolenko (M, Dynamo Kyiv), Oleh Gusev (M, Dynamo Kyiv), Yevhen Konoplyanka (M, Dnipro).
The more you know: If you’re wondering which club team has the most players on any one national squad, you might guess Bayern Munich with Germany or Barcelona with Spain. Good guesses, but the winner’s actually Dynamo Kyiv, the best known of the Ukranian club teams, with nine players. The other big Ukranian team, Shaktar Donetsk, has six players on the national team leaving only eight players on the squad not repping those two teams.
Prediction: Like Poland, Ukraine’s here by virtue of being a co-host (and one being given serious international side-eye, according to this "Why Always Me?" Kyiv Post report), and likely wouldn’t have qualified for the Euros otherwise. They’re probably three and out, though betting folks might like the 50-1 odds for them to ride an enthusiastic home crowd to an unlikely victory. Of course, recent collective stomach troubles for the players might not help.
FIFA world ranking:17
Players to watch: Zlatan Ibrahimović (F, AC Milan), Sebastian Larsson (M, Sunderland), Christian Wilhelmsson (M, Al-Hilal FC), Olof Mellberg (M, Olympiacos FC).
The more you know: After his shabby treatment of a female Sky Italia reporter earlier this year, Ibrahimović apologized to her in the most self-aggrandizing way possible: by sending her 19 roses. As in, a rose for every goal he’d scored to date that season. (Had the apology come at the end of the season, he would have finished with a league-leading 28-rose apology.)
Prediction: Though many predict they’ll get past the group stage, especially with England being in relative shambles, it would most certainly be as a runner-up, leading them to a likely quarterfinals match against Spain. And that’s not likely to end well.
FIFA world ranking:14
Players to watch: Hatem Ben Arfa (F, Newcastle), Franck Ribéry (M, Bayern Munich), Karim Benzema (F, Real Madrid), Florent Malouda (M, Chelsea), Laurent Koscielny (D, Arsenal), Patrice Evra (D, Manchester United).
The more you know: It didn’t go so well for France last time they were in a major international tournament. After qualifying for the 2010 World Cup by beating Ireland in aggregate play (thanks to a missed-by-the-refs handball by French legend Thierry Henry), the 2006 World Cup runner-ups went into full meltdown, which included a key player being kicked off the team in the middle of a match, the team refusing to practice after that incident and losing its final game of group play with a player sent off midway through the first half. Manager Raymond Domenech, you won’t be surprised to know, didn’t stay on following that campaign.
Prediction: Bolstered by the late addition of Ben Arfa, one of the most exciting new young players in the English Premier League, France has a deep squad, a historical penchant for doing well in Euros and World Cups, and a desire to eradicate everyone’s memories of the 2010 Waterloo re-enactment. They have the talent to go far in the tournament, and winning it is not entirely out of the question. It’ll be one of the most intriguing storylines of the tournament to see which France shows up.
FIFA world ranking: 6
Players to watch: Joe Hart (G, Manchester City), Andy Carroll (F, Liverpool), Danny Welbeck (F, Manchester United), Scott Parker (M, Tottenham Hotspur), Ashley Cole (D, Chelsea) and Wayne Rooney (F, Manchester United) once he gets there.
The more you know: Recently-brought-on manager Roy Hodgson was teased about his speech impediment in an article from The Sun about his promotion headlined, “Bwing on the Euwos!” Even though the article noted friends and fans call him “Woy,” that didn’t stop the Football Association (soccer’s governing body in England) from condemning the widicule.
Prediction: Injuries have plagued the English in the run-up to the Euros including Gary Cahill suffering a double broken jaw last week in a not-so-friendly with Belgium when he was pushed into his own goalie by a Belgian player. They still have the talent to make it past the group stage, but the upheaval and resultant media scrutiny, plus not having Rooney available for the first two games thanks to suspension – in addition to the competition – might be too much to overcome. Of course, this being England and all, virtually no one will notice when they ultimately succumb.
Don't forget to join other soccer-loving Austinites and CultureMap Austin for the Euro 2012 finals at The ND on Sunday, July 1.