EURO 2012; PRELUDE TO THE 2014 WORLD CUP
Posted: Jun 17, 2012
One week ago I had a serious challenge trying to generate enthusiasm about the on-going Euro 2012 championship before it started. One week later, I am hooked on the championship by the excitement and high level of football without the usual pressure of partisanship.
Coming so soon after the nerve-wracking end of the English Premiership, a few other domestic European leagues with rather surprising and unexpected results (France, Spain and Italy), and the pulsating excitement of the dramatic end to the UEFA championship, anything else in European football was going to be boring and anti-climactic. So I thought. What more can a championship, made up of players that have been dismembered from their clubs and now re-assembled in national teams that attract no special interest or passion for most Africans, offer? That there is only a token representation of players of African descent in the championship further elongates the distance between us and which team wins or loses any match. That was my mind-set before the championship began, believing I would develop little appetite for it beyond that of a lover of the game enjoying quality football without stress. Now I know differently.
These days the relatively empty streets in the evenings, the low level of traffic, the milling crowds that spill unto side streets from several make-shift television viewing centres littering the city of Lagos, all speak volumes about what the European football, and, perhaps, football, generally, means to the ordinary man on the streets of Nigeria. The conversations may not be vociferous, heated, partisan, or even cantankerous because favourite clubs are not involved, but viewers have been faithful to the game itself, hailing and cheering players who once played side-by-side in clubs but are now pitched against one another in their various national teams. Like me, the fans have just settled down into enjoying the games without any risk of hypertension! What a way to watch football!
So, I have been following the matches and now see 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 barometer 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. They also provide an excellent opportunity to peep into the future and start to glean the real prospects for the 2014 World Cup. As Brazil prepares to host the 2014 edition, for the true pundits of the game 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 Cup since the competition started in 1938 has remained the preserve of only a few countries - Brazil (5 times), Italy (4 times), Germany (3 times), Argentina and Uruguay (2 times each). England and France have won it once each and did so only because they were hosts.
The only other country to have won the World Cup without being host is Spain. Their own victory is different and special because the championship was played on ‘neutral’ ground and for the first time in Africa.
The World Cup tradition, therefore, is that the championship oscillates between Europe and South America - who wins the cup and who hosts it. Every time the championship is held in the Americas (South and North) one of 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, in Mexico in 1970, in USA in 1994, and in South-East Asia, between Japan and North Korea, in 2002, winning it outside their natural ‘domain’. When it was held in Africa in 2010, in South Africa, Spain, a European country, won it for the first time in their history.
It is clear that throughout the annals of the championship,no country has won the football World Cup purely on the strength of being lucky. Luck plays a very little part. 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 very few teams have had all these attributes. That’s why the World Cup has a history of victory only earned deservedly throuh sweat, blood, tears and, now, tradition. For having won the Cup two or more times, we can say that the 5 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 and enjoy the on-going championship, 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 European Football Championship 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. 6 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. 9 different countries from over 50 participants have won in 13 editions. No single country has won it consecutively.
In effect,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 also that is confirming its tradition in the World Cup. Even when the team is not doing so 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. Germany is a true winner in the true sense and has qualified for the finals of the European Football championship 6 times and won thrice.
So, what am I learning from Euro 2012? Nothing but a peep into 2014. Traditionally, no European team is expected to win in Brazil. That will run contrary to 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 2102 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 ongoing matches, I recommend a close scrutiny of these three European teams particularly.
Beyond the championship however, Brazil have been on their usual World Cup preparation, touring the world, testing their strength and slowly but gradually building their team towards 2014. As South America braces up for the 2014 World Cup that is likely to be won by one of its three giants, Argentina have posted the greatest warning to the rest of the world - a massive psychological booster to their preparation, an absolutely magnificent display of attacking football, with its leader, Lionel Messi, in all his brilliance and glory, scoring a hat-trick in defeating Brazil in a friendly match played last week.
They were serving notice that although Brazil may be hosting the 2014 World Cup, and Uruguay may be a distant South American threat, it is Argentina and its jewel, Lionel, that the world should look forward to for the answer as to who wins the 2014 World Cup. I am watching Euro 2012 but I am seeing Brazil 2014 in my crystal ball. All this without stress or strain!
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