Why Euros are tougher than the World Cups?
As Euro 2012 nears to our drawing rooms, it is time to ponder about the significance of a European Championship compared to a football World Cup. While in terms of global popularity the football World Cup is way ahead than any other sporting extravaganza apart from the Olympics, football’s European Championships could easily be ranked in third position after Olympics and soccer World Cup in terms of global viewership and quality. In fact sometimes as a part time football blogger and analyst I believe the Euros are tougher than World Cups as far as competition is concerned.
History wise the World Cup has dazzled us with differing football cultures with Latin America countering Europe with its style and aura while Africa gives us colour and power as all the continents come head to head in a month long celebration of football. Yet the European Championships prove why Europe still remain a prime force in the world of football as sixteen even nations vie for the Henri Delaunay trophy. In a World Cup group a leading football nation might find itself pitted against a lesser side which could allow the former to gather some type of momentum before heading into the difficult zone of the knock out stages yet the French and many others might disagree with me on what Senegal achieved in 2002 in Japan and Korea. Although the European Championship is a sixteen team affair, the competition tends to be closer right from the first game. In fact the four groups look like a battlefield with no favourites to pick from. Look at the groups for this year’s finals in Poland and the Ukraine. One can hardly pick out a firm favourite to go through to the next round.
World Cups have always provided us with predictable winners with the likes of Brazil, Italy, Germany and Argentina managing to dominate the global showpiece. Even the first time wins of France in 1998 and Spain in 2010 never raised eyebrows as both were regarded as perennial under achievers until the years of their respective success. Compared to this the Euros do sometimes throw open the gates for giant killers to shine like Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004. The draw for Euro 2012 kept up the tradition of serious competitive edge in European Championships with Group B standing out from the rest comprising of three former champions and a continental giant in the forms of Germany, Holland, Denmark and Portugal. The set up of this group alone gives one the idea of how tough the initial stages are in the Euros. Germany are 2008 runners up and the firm favourites after defending champions Spain to lift the trophy come July the first in Kiev yet Joachim Lowe’s young side could easily find themselves out of the Euros before the quarter finals if they slip up against any of the three sides as all the four nations have the potential to beat any side on any given day and that is what European football is all about. Odds are stacked against Portugal and Denmark to qualify from this group but the reality is Germany and Holland would have to play their best football against the two to qualify and keep their favourites tag intact.
Caretaker England coach Stuart Pearce summed up the level of competition in the Euros when he was quoted as saying, “In the Euros you have to hit the ground running.” The same formula applies to all the other teams as they gear up for a busy international summer. England open their campaign against Laurent Blanc’s France and with Sweden and co hosts Ukraine in their group things cannot be taken for granted. Each and every game in the group stage has the potential to be fast and competitive with Group A having an Eastern European flavour consisting of co hosts Poland, Russia, the Czech Republic and 2004 champions Greece. In this group also each team can beat the other on any day given what grass roots football of Europe have achieved over the years under the astute leadership of UEFA. We can analyse each of the four groups and look for the pros and cons of every team but one just cannot predict the eventuality in any European Championship.
Spain are the favourites and probably would cruise to the next round from Group C but hang on Italy beat them in a friendly held in Rome last year and so Cesare Prandelli’s side would not lack in confidence and if the famous old Italian defensive mechanism takes shape at the right time we are in for an even more eventful tournament. The Irish aren’t any pushovers either and with an Italian manager at the helm in the form of Giovanni Trapattoni and with Croatia ready to mount a fiesty Balkan challenge Group C might just turn out to be a dangerous proposition for the defending World and European champions. Defending champions have a bad history in European championships in the last decade with France and Greece failing miserably to cope with the pressure of being champions. It remains to be seen whether Spain can re-write the record books.
All the sixteen teams that have qualified for Euro 2012 have appeared in World Cups with the majority having the requisite experience in the tough competitive environment of international football and that’s what makes this tournament such fun to watch. Furthermore all the global attention remain on Europe year and year out with domestic club competitions in England, Germany, Spain, Italy, France, etc captivating the minds of the football supporters. The Champions League final is the ultimate climax to a long drawn season that each of us look forward to come the end of the season. So when Europe’s international teams get head to head to prove their superiority over the other nothing could be as enthralling and fascinating as the Euros.