Euro 2012 - a prelude to the World Cup
One week ago I had a serious challenge trying to generate enthusiasm for the on-going Uefa Euro 2012™ championship before it started.
One week later I am hooked on the championship by the excitement and high level of football, despite not having a preference for any one team.
Coming so soon after the nerve-wracking end of the English Premiership, surprising results in some European leagues (France, Spain and Italy) and the dramatic end to the Uefa championship, anything else in European football was going to be boring and anti-climactic. So I thought. Now I know differently.
These days the relatively empty streets in the evenings and the milling crowds that spill into side streets from several make-shift television viewing centres, all speak volumes about what the European football and, perhaps, football in general, means to the ordinary man on the streets of Nigeria.
While following the matches I saw more reasons why Euro 2012 should interest the rest of the world. The European Championship is a good pointer to the World Cup proper; a useful barometre to gauge where the 2014 World Cup trophy is likely to go. It also serves to remind us about the traditions in football that have determined success in the past, are doing so even now, and are likely to continue to do so for a long time to come.
As Brazil prepares to host the 2014 edition, there is no better ground to test where the biggest challenge to Argentina, Brazil and, possibly, Uruguay will come from. Wonder why I mention these three countries only? If tradition is anything to go by, it is one of these three South American countries that will win the 2014 World Cup.
To start with, winning the World been the preserve of only a few countries – Brazil (five times), Italy (four times), Germany (three times), Argentina (two times) and Uruguay (two times). England and France have won it once each and did so only because they were hosts.
Every time the championship is held in the Americas (South and North) one of the three giants of the southern continent wins it. Every time it is hosted in Europe, also, one of three European giants wins it. Only Brazil has broken that trend in Sweden in 1962, Mexico in 1970, USA in 1994 and South-East Asia in 2002, winning it outside their natural 'domain'. When it was held in South Africa in 2010, in South Africa, Spain, a European country, won it outside Europe for the first time in Europe’s history.
Luck plays little part in winning. Consistency, hard work, excellent preparation, exceptionally gifted players, a great team that wins tactically and psychologically through a mastery of the game and the art of winning, are the basic ingredients. Only a few teams have had all these attributes. For having won the Cup twice or more times we can say that the five countries that have what it takes and know how to win the championship are Brazil, Italy, Germany, Argentina and Uruguay.
The only other two countries to have won the World Cup have done so having some of the above ingredients plus the advantage of being hosts. They are England in 1966 and France in 1998. Neither country has 'smelt' the Cup before and since then. That’s why, for football analysts, Euro 2012 provides a small but important window for us to see the outlines of what to expect in 2014. So, as I watch I am indirectly gleaning Brazil 2014.
The tradition of the European Championship is slightly different from that of the World Cup. Germany is the only team that truly stands out in its history. It is the only country that has won it three times since 1960 when it started. Spain and France have won it twice each. Six other countries – Italy, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Denmark, Greece and the Soviet Union – have won it once each. The competition for supremacy in Europe is definitely more fierce than in any other continent. Nine different countries have won in 13 editions. No single country has won it consecutively.
Europe has the largest number of teams so close to one another in strength that every match is closely fought and results are hardly ever predictable. That’s why Denmark will defeat Holland that lost to Germany, and lose to Portugal that also lost to Germany. Every match in the European Championship is a serious tactical contest between coaches and their strategies.
At Euro 2012, it is Germany that is confirming its tradition in the World Cup. Even when the team is not doing well, it has a way of winning its matches. That is what separates the many great teams of Europe that never win anything from the few winners.
So, what am I learning from Euro 2012? Traditionally, no European team is expected to win in Brazil. That would run contrary to the established tradition of South America winning all the World Cups played in that region.
Having said that, looking at Euro 2012 so far, Germany and Italy are once again the teams to watch out for at the final rounds of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Including, of course, Spain (not asserting their authority in Euro 2012 at the time of writing this) because they are defending champions and, on paper, have some of the best players in the world and a playing style that is the vogue in world football at the moment. So, in watching the on-going matches I recommend a close scrutiny of these three European.
Beyond the championship, however, Brazil have been on their usual World Cup preparation form, touring the world, testing their strength and slowly but gradually building their team towards 2014. As South America braces for the 2014 World Cup that is likely to be won by one of its three giants, Argentina have posted warning to the rest of the world with an absolutely magnificent display of attacking football. Lionel Messi, in all his brilliance and glory, scored a hat-trick in defeating Brazil in a friendly match played last week.
I am watching Euro 2012 but I am seeing Brazil 2014 in my crystal ball. All this without stress or strain.