Euro 2008 is just hours away, the excitement is building up. Will the big boys deliver? Will there be a dark horse, stealing the show? What is the drama in store? Who will stand tall? And who will go out with a whimper?
One thing is for sure: international football is the best there is. The clash of football cultures is the last remaining trace of purity. ‘National leagues’, whose clubs feature very few home-grown players have contributed greatly in killing any kind of regional pride that came with supporting a club. The likes of Arsenal and Chelski have been lining up with 11 non-English players for some time, while the rest are not that much better either. So, to recap, international football is the only remaining stage where regional football cultures can be seen on display. Spaniards playing with Spaniards, Romanians with Romanians. English with English…oh, sorry, forgot about that. Yes. No English this time. Just as well. Saves the painful process of going out on penalties after staggering through to the last 8 by narrowly beating inferior opposition.
Anyhoo, where was I? Yes, the beauty of contrasting footballing cultures. The cool-headedness of the German team. The abundant but usually restrained talent of the Italians. The flair of the Spanish. The unpredictable Croatians. The disciplined Greeks. Or is it? Are these just stereotypes? Of course they are. The Germans are far from cool-headed. And the Italians sometimes show glimpses of the beauty of their game. How about the Dutch? Will they at last deliver, or will they implode as usual? And don’t write off the chances of Romania or Croatia, nations swelling with talent and great stars of proven value.
And how will the great stars fare? Christiano Ronaldo, Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabregas, Adrian Mutu, Luka Modric, Michael Ballack, Luca Toni etc etc? Will they rise to the challenge? And who knows who will shine for the first time? Who is the next superstar to emerge? And consequently, who is the new superstar that will cost Chelski £30m and warm their bench for 2 years before being shipped to Bolton?
Who am I backing? Well, because of my age, I back Italy. This is due to their 1982 heroics, which I saw through the eyes of a 9 year-old. Rossi’s goals, Tardelli’s celebration, the most wonderful explosion of joy and passion, etched on my heart forever. I like the Italians. They play well, their defence is incredibly well organised, and they never ever ever ever hoof the ball out of the box. It’s always passed, carefully and intelligently, in order to launch an attack. Their defenders bring the ball out, skillfully. Watch out for it. If you don’t have the ball you can’t play. So why give it back to the opposition by hoofing it? Can you hear me Steve (and Sven, and Graham etc etc)? However, Italy usually offer me much frustration. Their inability to cut their best talent loose (Baggio, Del Piero, Totti…) to wreak havoc in opposition penalty areas usually means that they go down, like in Euro 2000.
But I am not just behind Italy. I think the Czechs have played some wonderful football in recent years and were really unlucky in 1996 and 2004. On merit, they are the 2004 champions for me. Just think that Pavel Nedved never won the Euro, it’s mad.
I would also love an underdog to come through to win it. Romania, Croatia, Poland. Anyone. Just not Germany. Never liked their football. Because no matter how good or rubbish they are, they always get to the final. And that’s just boring. They were the worst World Cup runner-up in my memory, when they never turned up against Brazil in 2002. Shameful.
But I can’t wait. Bring it on. Hours of footie, total immersion. Oh, and it’s still all free on our TV! And one thing is for sure: I will not miss the idiotic flag-waving and the St George flying on top of cars. Nice. Watch this space for game reviews, updates etc…
And don’t forget the absent greatness, Cyprus…. 😛