To the delight of football fans from northernmost Norway to southernmost Spain, the 8th of June brings with it the arrival of Euro 2012 – 3 weeks in which the best footballing nations in Europe battle it out to lift the coveted European cup. This year’s competition is being joint-hosted by Poland and Ukraine who fought off competition from Italy and Croatia-Hungary to win the bid.
The Euro tournament has grown and grown from the first competition in 1960 in which only 4 teams competed, to its present incarnation of 16 teams – set to increase again to 24 teams in 2016. The 16 teams are equally divided into 4 groups. The competition then consists of one group stage after which 8 teams, the winner and runner-up of each group, progress to a quarter-final knock-out round and, if their luck holds, to the 4-team semi-final and then the final. Extra time and then the dreaded penalty shoot-out are used to establish a winner of any drawn game in these knock-out stages. In all-or-nothing fashion those who don’t make it to the final go home sans title as unlike in the World Cup, there is no 3rd and 4th place play off.
Historically quite an open competition, since its inception in 1960, the cup has been played 13 times and won by 9 different countries – with no team ever achieving the feat of winning it consecutively. Germany tops the leader board with 3 wins, with France and Spain next in line with 2-a-piece. Proving the existence of a home advantage, the nation hosting the cup has gone on to win the tournament 4 times.
Unfortunately being at home turned out to be no such advantage for England in 1996. Their hosting the cup was much hyped as ‘bringing football home,’ as the modern game originated in England’s private schools. This excitement was immortalised in the Euro ‘96 official song, Three Lions, however sadly for England fans, it ended abruptly with their being booted out in the semi-finals by Germany.
Inspired not just by sporting prowess and country, each of the 16 teams has secured 8 million Euros for making it to the final competition. Each team will then net a further million for each win in the group stages, which rises to 2 million for the quarter-finals, 3 million for the semis and 7.5 million for the final. This takes the total the winning team could net to over 23 million, with the total prize money paid out to all teams set at 196 million.
Tipped to repeat their success in 2008, Spain is the current bookies’ favourites with Germany and the Netherlands just behind. The Republic of Ireland return this year after a 24-year absence to make only their second ever appearance in the final competition. They survived a qualifying process that took over a year, in which 51 teams competed for the remaining 14 places. Since the groups were established, UEFA have gone on to name 12 referees, 2 official mascots – twins Slavek and Slavko, and 1 official football – the Adidas Tango 12.
This summer’s tournament will be played out in 8 cities, including popular tourist destinations Warsaw, Kiev and Wrocław. Hosting the cup and meeting UEFA’s exacting standards is no mean feat; 6 of the venues are brand-new stadiums with the remaining 2 having undergone major renovations. The demand for investment continues beyond the pitch. UEFA required both nations to renovate the infrastructures surrounding the host cities with Ukraine having spent €3.3 billion so far and Poland forecasting an eye-watering total spend of €18 billion.
Hoped to generate as much incoming revenue as the many outgoings, UEFA received a record 12 million applications for the 1.4 million tickets to the games. Typically ticket pricing has attracted controversy, with seats ranging from €30 for the group stages to €600 for the final. Aside from ticket revenue, the competition is set to prove a massive boon for tourism with over 20,000 people expected to cross the Poland-Ukraine border each day during the tournament.
Those who make the odyssey to either Eastern Europe or down to the pub do so in the hope of seeing the timeless, world-class football of previous competitions which make fans’ memories and youtube montages for years to come: