Perhaps the most decorated and prestigious sporting event that is the Olympics may take precedence in 2012, yet it does not lessen the significance of Europe’s prestigious football prize—especially to the host nations.
The 2012 European Championships will be co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine, currently ranked 71st and 35th respectively in the FIFA world rankings.
This will be the first time either Poland or Ukraine have hosted a major football championship, beating Italy and another joint bid from Croatia and Hungary to host the competition.
Therefore, it goes without saying, they will aim for it to be a memorable spectacle.
With Poland and Ukraine’s place at the championships guaranteed as the host nation, the onus is on the remainder of Europe to continue to perform if they wish to join them.
The qualifying rounds are in full flow, with few games left to play and vital points to pick up to earn a place at next year’s finals.
The venues for Euro 2012 will consist of eight host cities shared evenly between Poland and Ukraine.
The four cities in Poland will be Gdansk, Poznan, Wroclaw and Warsaw, while cities in Ukraine that will see play include Lviv, Kiev, Donetsk and Kharkov.
National Stadium Warsaw, Poland
The opening match of Euro 2012 will be staged at Warsaw, Poland, at the currently under construction National Stadium Warsaw. Construction for the stadium, built within the old National Stadium, began in 2008 and is expected to be completed at the end of this year.
As well as the opening match, the National Stadium is expected to showcase matches from the group stage, quarter final and semi-final.
The stadium will boast a retractable roof and a 60,000 capacity, as it is set to be used as a multisport stadium after the European Championships. The stadium will be the future home of the Poland national team.
Baltic Arena, Gdansk, Poland
Located in the city of Gdansk is the Baltic Arena, which will become the home ground for club side Lechia Gdansk. Construction began in 2008 and is near completion.
With its 40,000 capacity it will stage group games as well as a quarter final.
Napoleon once said Gdansk was the “key to everything.” Teams competing in the city will be hoping it is the key to success.
Municipal Stadium, Poznan, Poland
The Municipal Stadium Poznan is situated in the city of Poznan. Opened in 1980 and with a capacity of 40,000, it is home to Lech Poznan.
In 2003 renovation work started, and it is expected to be Poland’s largest club ground once it is completed. The city will host only group games next summer.
The name of Poznan is loosely translated to “one who is recognised.” Any player competing in Poznan will be hoping to stand up and be counted—and be recognised on Europe’s grandest stage.
Olympic Stadium, Wroclaw, Poland
As with the Municipal Stadium, the Olympic Stadium in Wroclaw will host only group games. With a capacity of 40,000, it is currently the home ground for Slask Wroclaw.
The post war reconstruction of the city was an inspiration of Pablo Picasso. Those competing in the city will be expecting similar inspiration also to progress further in the competition.
Olympic Stadium, Kiev, Ukraine
Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, has a stadium with a capacity of 77,000, but it is due to be reduced to 60,000 for the championships. It is the largest venue of the joint host bid, with it also being given a new transparent roof. It will be the stage for group matches, quarter final and semi-final.
Once portrayed as “joy of the world,” teams will be hoping for joy after 90 minutes. The final is due to be hosted in Kiev, should conditions be met by certain deadlines.
Donbass Arena, Donetsk, Ukraine
The Donbass Arena in Donetsk is the home ground for well-known Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk. The arena, opened recently in 2009, has a capacity of 50,000 and will play host to group games, quarter final and semi-final.
The stadium is home to Shakhtar, who have enjoyed domestic success as well as European success, winning the last UEFA Cup final. Any team competing at the Donbass Arena will take to heart the winning mentality around the grounds.
Metalist Stadium, Kharkov, Ukraine
Another host city to stage just group games is Kharkov and its Metalist Stadium with a capacity of 50,000. Kharkov is the second largest city in Ukraine, but anyone participating in the group stage will not want to finish second best.
New Lviv Stadium, Lviv, Ukraine
Once part of Polish territory, Lvov is now a city in Ukraine. It will host group games at next year’s tournament in its New Lviv Stadium, with a modest 30,000 capacity.
En Route to 2012: Qualifying Groups
Current European champions Spain are making light work of Group I, as they maintain a 100 percent record, winning their five matches played.
The Czech Republic are seemingly likely to join them after recovering from the shock of an opening defeat to Lithuania.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal find themselves deadlocked in a three-way tussle for top spot in Group H with Denmark and Norway. All three sides are on 10 points with only marginal goal differences separating them.
With each team only having lost once it remains to be seen who will come out of the group, as winners and runners up.
Having failed to qualify for Euro 2008, England are likely to return to the European stage in Group G, along with Montenegro who gained independence from Serbia in 2006. Neither side has lost a match yet and remain level on 11 points.
England may be favourites to finish top, yet they won’t take anything for granted after missing out altogether four years ago.
Greece, European champions in 2004, currently top Group F by one point over Croatia and Israel. Yet to lose a game in six matches, Greece could qualify from the group as winners leaving Croatia and Israel to fight for the runners up place.
If these two collapse, Georgia could still qualify for their first tournament since being part of the Soviet Union.
As with Spain, the Netherlands proudly hold a 100 percent record in Group E with 18 points following six successive victories.
Sweden, three points ahead of Hungary, may just take the runners up place, with Hungary having played a game more and Sweden having lost just once. Their match in September could decide each team’s fate.
After the shambles of the World Cup, France have become a rejuvenated side and top Group D. A point behind, but a game ahead of them lie Belarus, who look set to qualify for a tournament for the first time since being a part of the Soviet Union.
However, with few remaining games left to play, Bosnia and Herzegovina will believe they have a good chance of qualifying. They are two points behind Belarus with a game in hand.
Italy, who lost in the quarter finals in 2008 to eventual winners Spain, top Group C comfortably, having accumulated 16 points out of 18 and remaining unbeaten.
One would think Slovenia are the most likely to take second spot, being two points more ahead of Serbia, Estonia and Northern Ireland.
In Group B, the Republic of Ireland are in a great position to qualify for the European Championships for the first time since 1988. They top the group in goals scored after being locked on 13 points with Russia and Slovakia.
With Republic of Ireland due to play Slovakia and then Russia in their next two fixtures, qualification could look a lot clearer come September.
And in Group A, Germany also have a winning streak of seven games and are all but guaranteed qualification. No one seems even close to catching them.
Belgium, 10 points behind, and Turkey are destined to fight it out for second place.
Favorites in 2012
It is currently a great time for Spanish football. One of their club sides are champions of Europe and are being dubbed the greatest side ever—a side that contains seven Spaniards.
However, they say internationally is where it counts, and Spain are speaking loud and clear. Holders of the European Championship—not to mention World champions—Spain are undoubtedly favourites to retain their title and be the first team ever to do so.
Germany and the Netherlands look to be going about themselves in perfect fashion, maintaining 100 percent records in their respective groups. They too will be among the favourites to make it to the quarter finals, at least.
Despite their lack of a World Cup, the Netherlands have done well in the past decade, reaching the quarter final and two semi-finals at the European Championships.
They will hope to continue progressing and get to the finals—and potentially win the tournament after 22 years.
Being runners up in 2008 to Spain, Germany have enjoyed relative success in getting to the latter stages of tournaments in recent years, including World Cup runners up in 2002 and third place in 2006 and 2010.
Germany will be hoping to go one better next year and claim victory at the European Championships, for the first time since 1996.
Below them is the pool of teams, Portugal, England, France and Italy who will be hoping to ensure they commence to the knockout stages of next year’s competition—providing they qualify to get there.
The race to Euro 2012 seems a bit more clear cut than that of the London Olympics next year. While hundreds of people are missing out on next year’s games in the capital, a trip to Poland and Ukraine remains up in the air for a few.
Source: Bleacher Report