WARSAW, Poland (A.W.)—On June 8, the 14thinstallment of the European Football Championships kicked off in Poland and Ukraine with the 16 countries that earned a place in the finals tournament vying for glory. Qualifying for the tournament began in September 2010. Poland and Ukraine received automatic qualification as hosts, leaving the remaining 51 European soccer nations to battle it out for the remaining 14 places.
Just over a year later, 10 teams had secured qualification from the group stages and an additional 4 teams earned their right to play through an extra home and away playoff round. With the tournament participants set, plenty of countries with championship pedigree, such as Turkey and Romania, and a few up and coming countries, such as Armenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, were left to watch the tournament from afar.
The countries represented at the tournament range from the usual powerhouses Spain, Italy, and Germany to the one-time finalists Poland and Ireland along with Ukraine, which are making their tournament debut. Other teams that pose a threat are Holland and England, while Denmark and Greece can never be written off after their wins in 1992 and 2004, respectively.
As I write, Greece has provided the first upset of the tournament. The same Greece team against which Armenia gave a decent account of themselves a week before the tournament turned Group A on its head by beating Russia to earn passage from the group and into the quarter finals.
Tournament hosts Poland gave their all in their third group match against the Czech Republic, but fell short and were eliminated. Their terrific fans showed tremendous spirit and support as time expired on their Euro 2012 journey.
Experiencing firsthand the Polish fans’ energy and infectious enthusiasm for the game, their team, and the myriad of traveling fans visiting their country was amazing, and a testament to their country and people.
The tournament has already produced terrific fans, goals, red cards, talking points, and the inevitable surprise or two, and there will no doubt be plenty more to come in the coming days.