Friday saw the kick off of the much anticipated Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. Neither nation has hosted a major international sporting event before. A huge effort has been put in to organize the competition properly.
Nothing but football topped the media’s agenda during the months of preparations. While the controversy over former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's ongoing imprisonment dominated the news from Ukraine, Poland tried to calm down a dispute with workers constructing Warsaw’s National Stadium. They threatened to block the venue on the day of the opening ceremony after not being paid for their work.Both countries are using the event to showcase their development.
But on Friday all these issues pale into significance as Europe looks forward to more than three weeks of high-profile football.
The 14th European Championship for national football teams sanctioned by UEFA started to break records even before its official start. An amazing crowd of 25,000 gathered to see Team Holland’s open training session in Poland. Equally impressive figures were recorded during Ukraine’s home warm-up.
With Spain and Germany among the bookies’ favorites, there is a whole bunch of other contenders willing to lift the updated version of the Henri Delaunay Cup on July 1. Russia is among the dark horses. Team Russia showed their strength four years ago making it to the Euro 2008 semis. Now Dick Advocaat’s charges are more experienced and have greater appetites.
Russia have matured since their Euro 2008 semi-final appearance, becoming a team to be feared at this year's tournament, Russia’s iconic striker Roman Pavlyuchenko says.
"We were the dark horses in 2008 and very few people believed in us," the 30-year-old Lokomotiv Moscow striker told his team’s website. "Now we have serious experience, we have a robust team that people have begun to fear."
The team’s captain Andrey Arshavin argues. "I think that our team lacks speed too much to be considered a favorite during this tournament," he was quoted by the UEFA.com site.
Of the 16 teams at the tournament, only Ireland has an older average squad age as Russia carry over much the same squad core that took the country to the semi-finals of Euro 2008.
But Russia is still extremely dangerous, according to Arshavin.
"What lies in the Russian character, and why someone might consider us a dark horse, is that we can lose against every team and we can win against every team," he says.
Meanwhile, Russia’s head coach Advocaat has jested his charges the tournament’s underdogs. The Dutchman will have at least a couple of roster decisions to make ahead of the Euro 2012 opener against the Czech Republic.
The day’s first game saw hosts Poland draw with Greece 1-1 in the tournament's opener in Warsaw.
Host countries: Poland / Ukraine
Dates: 8 June – 1 July
Venues: 8 in 8 host cities
European Football Championship summary
Current champions: Spain (2nd title)
Most successful team: Germany (3 titles)
Team Russia (USSR) at the Euros
Winners in 1960
Runners-up in 1964, 1972 and 1988
Semi-finalists in 1968 and 2008