With the whole country in an olympic uproar its easy to forget that they aren’t the only major sporting events taking place this year. Two years after 2010’s World Cup championships in South Africa, its time for the UEFA European Championships. This year’s European Championships will be the fourteenth organised for international teams by UEFA and will take place between 8th June and 1st July with the championships hosted by both Poland and Ukraine, the first time either nation has hosted the tournament. The two host nations automatically qualified for the finals championships in which they will be joined by fourteen other teams that have made it through the 51 team qualifiers. The teams that will be joining the home nations are: Greece, Russia, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Croatia, Sweden, France and England.
This year will be the last time that the UEFA European Championship finals will include sixteen nations, with the 2016 championships, hosted in France, being the first to allow twenty-four of the teams into the finals. The winner of Euro 2012 will gain automatic entry into the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil in June of that year. This tournament will consist of the host, Brazil, World Cup 2010 winners, Spain, 2011 Asian Cup winners Japan, CONCACAF Cup winners, Mexico, Copa America winners, Uruguay and the yet to be determined OFC Nation’s winners, Euro 2012 winner and 2013 Africa Cup of Nation’s winners.
The groups from the tournament, which were decided on the 2nd December, have turned out pretty interesting with World Cup runner up’s The Netherlands finding themselves in Group B with possible favourites Germany. The Word Cup champions, Spain (who if victorious will pass their Confederation’s Cup place to the runner’s up), join Italy in Group C along with one of two UK nations to qualify, the Republic of Ireland. England’s Group D has shaped up to be a pretty interesting contest too with both France and Sweden posing a threat to their chances of advancing from the group stages.
For me though, my interest lies with The Netherlands of whom I’ve been a fan for eleven years now. Following their disappointing end to a vastly successful World Cup campaign in 2010, which landed them with the Runner Up place, it’s going to be interesting to see how they handle the European Championships. Many people commented on the change in style of football from Holland in the World Cup, leaving behind their roots in ‘beautiful football’ and instead playing a dirtier game, the nation was criticised. The fact of the matter remained though; it worked.
Dominating the group stages, with a win in every match, the Dutch soon found themselves in the Quarter Finals up against one of the world’s best nations and favourites for the cup; Brazil. Losing 1-0 at halftime to a team who hadn’t lost a World Cup match in which they held a half time victory for 37 matches, the Netherlands managed to turn the tables and win 2-1 with an amazing corner kick straight into the net from Wesley Sneijder.
Meeting Uruguay in Cape Town for the Semi-Finals really tested the team but after a dramatic match they came out on top and on their way into the World Cup Final for the first time since 1978. The final, in which the Dutch took on the Spanish, was an intense rollercoaster of a ride that looked to be going into penalties. The World Cup final marked the last professional match for Dutch Captain Giovanni Van Bronckhorst who was brought off towards the end and replaced in defence by midfielder Rafael Van Der Vaart. It was a bad decision from the manager, arguably in preparation for the expected penalties in which Van Der Vaart’s left foot would have been a valuable asset, but left the Dutch end of the field without the strong line of defence it needed when Spain’s Cesc Fabregas broke the Dutch defence and got the ball to Iniesta. Dutch hearts broke across the nation and as they say the rest is history.
Two years later the Netherlands are back in an international championship, with the chance to meet Spain once again but can they seal the deal this time around? I hope so and I think it’ll be interesting to see how the Dutch approach Euro 2012. Their new style of football, criticised in the World Cup, brought them a lot of success but will they give it up and return to the preferred ‘beautiful football’ that the Dutch are so well known for? I know I definitely won’t be counting them out as one of the favourites for the title and despite the recent retiring of Dutch legend Ruud Van Nistelrooy the Netherland’s have plenty of young and brilliant players. Hopefully this time they can grab the gold.