Kamis, 12 April 2012

Euro 2012 waiting to catch fire

Euro 2012 is less than two months away, although there is little excitement building up yet.

Some of this can be put down to the continent-wide recession, which Polish and Ukrainian hoteliers have ignored, given their suicidal decision to hike accommodation prices to unaffordable levels, a spectacular own-goal which the UEFA President and Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovich have both publicly condemned.
Michel Platini labelled the profiteers "bandits and crooks" this week.

The organisers claim to have sold all the tickets, but given England alone, a nation with a strong tradition of travelling fans, have sold barely 3,000 to their supporters, expect the East European touts to be left with unsold batches and locals who snapped up tickets expecting a similar payday to be left short-changed.



Swathes of empty seats may be visible on television in June, unless the two host nations drastically reduce their hotel prices to sensible levels or thousands of Polish and Ukrainian kids are given the unsold tickets.

This unseemly cashing-in has cast an unfortunate dark shadow on Euro 2012, bolstering the gold-digging stereotype many Westerners have of Eastern Europe, a region which has never hosted the World Cup and only once hosted the European Championship, the four-team 1976 edition in Yugoslavia.

The football itself should be top-quality however, with both World Cup finalists involved and a number of fascinating questions: Can the Spanish Empire maintain its tiki-taka hegemony? Will the Dutch get revenge for their World Cup final defeat? Will a resurgent France challenge for the title and will we forget again how awesome Germany's record in tournaments is?

The usual suspects look hard to bet against. The young and multicultural Germany put four past both England and Argentina in the World Cup's knock-out stages after all, which was no mean feat, and late last year despatched the Dutch in a friendly. The Netherlands, who most recently beat England 3-2 at Wembley, boast a panoply of talent in midfield and attack but will have to hope their ho-hum defence does not let them down.

Italy, rebuilding after their dismal 2010 exit, should provide some green shoots to admire, as will England, likewise in a period of change after a poor World Cup. Add in the wild cards like Russia, Denmark and Ireland, as well as the host nations, and a tasty dish of many flavours is on the menu.

Not least for Platini, Euro 2012 has been a long and arduous road, full of headaches, final ultimatums and second chances. Even though many of us will not be there in person, it will be an almighty relief when Poland kick-off in Warsaw on the 8th of June.



(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile


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