Euro 2012: Who Lifts The Trophy?

News Introduction: 
With the end of the European leagues, attention now shifts to EURO 2012 to be co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine where, old foes battle for honour in Europe’s big soccer prize. - By Chris Onokpegu

As the 14th edition of the European Championship commonly referred to as Euro 2012 co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine kicks off on June 8, 2012, favourites have emerged, dark horses have equally emerged and there are many players to watch out for. The 16 nation tournament parades Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Ireland, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Ukraine. This is the last time the championship would feature 16 countries because from 2016 it will be 24 countries. 
Spain, the defending champions have been tipped to retain the trophy they won four years ago, if Spain wins again, it would make history as no country has achieved that before. Germany and the Netherlands have equally been tipped as teams that are likely to go all the way.
Countries like Denmark, Portugal and Croatia are tipped as countries to watch out for as they are likely to repeat the 2004 edition when Greece came from nowhere to pip stronger contenders to the championships. 
Many pundits have written off the chances of England, describing them as perennial underachievers as England has never won the tournament before. France and Italy are described by many followers as spent forces.
There are some interesting statistics in this year’s championship. There are seven teenagers aged 18 and 19 making it to Poland and Ukraine. England’s duo of Jack Butland and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are aged 19 and 18 respectively. Greece’s Kostas Fortounis, Ukraine’s Maxym Koval, Denmark’s Jores Okore and Poland’s Rafał Wolski are all 19 while Jetro Willems of Netherlands is 18. 
There will be 368 players taking part in the tournament. Italy, Russia, Republic of Ireland and Sweden will take the oldest squads to UEFA EURO 2012, with an average age of 28. At four years younger a man, Germany’s squad are the youngest in the competition.
At 37, Greece goalkeeper, Kostas Chalkias, is the oldest player at UEFA EURO 2012, while Netherlands defender, Jetro Willems, is the youngest at 18. If Willems makes an appearance, he will become the youngest ever player to take the field at a UEFA European Championship (the current record is held by Enzo Scifo at 18 years and 115 days).
With 129 caps, Spain goalkeeper, Iker Casillas, is the most experienced player at the finals. The tallest individual player is Sweden’s goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson (199cm).
England is the only country that all the squad members ply their trade in their local league. Of the four major European leagues of England, Spain, Italy and Germany, England accounts for the highest number of players playing in the country who will participate in the tournament. 79 players going to Euro 2012 ply their trade in England followed by Germany where 45 players play in the German Bundelisga. 33 players play in Spain while 31 play in Italian Serie A. Only one player, Robbie Kean, the Irish captain, plays outside of Europe, for LA Galaxy of the USA. 
Bayern Munich have the highest number of players in the tournament at club level with 12, followed by Real Madrid with 11. Dynamo Kiev have 10 whilst the duo of Chelsea and Borrusia Dortmund have nine each. The newly crowned English Champions, Manchester City have eight. 
Of the four top Premiership clubs, Chelsea have the highest number of nine, Manchester City eight and the duo of Manchester United and Arsenal have seven each.   
Though there are racist concerns, especially in Ukraine, but the authorities have come out to dismiss that stressing that both players and fans of colour have nothing to fear. 
Meanwhile, eight cities will be hosting this year’s tournament as venues. In a return to the format used at Euro 1992, 1996 and 2008, each of the four groups will be based around two stadiums each. The host cities are: Warsaw, Gdańsk, Wrocław, Poznań, Kiev, Lviv, Donetsk and Kharkiv.
Six of the eight venues are brand new stadiums currently being constructed ready to open in advance of the tournament; the remaining two, Poznań and Kharkiv underwent major renovations.
The European Championship in Poland and Ukraine will be the 14th time that the competition has been held. It was the brainchild of Henri Delaunay, the secretary of the French Football Federation, who first came up with the idea of a continental competition in 1927. 
At first he had little support and it did not start until 1960. Until 1980 only four teams went through to the final stages, but it is now a 16-team competition and one of the major events on the football calendar. 
All 13 of the previous tournaments have provided memorable events. The first tournament was held in France and won by the Soviet Union. The victorious team had legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin in goal. 
Spain’s first success came at Euro 1964, when they won on home soil with a team spearheaded by Luis Suarez. The third European Championship was held in Italy and, as with Spain in 1964, it was won by the host nation. Reigning European champions Italy failed to make it to the finals, falling victim to hosts Belgium in the last eight. However, West Germany did, defeating the hosts on their way to a final in which they comfortably overcame the USSR 3-0. 
Euro 1976 was won by Czechoslovakia, as they defeated West Germany in a penalty shoot-out in Belgrade. The format changed in 1980, with eight teams through to the finals, but the result had a familiar look about it, with West Germany triumphant. France went close at the World Cup in 1982 before losing to West Germany in a memorable semi-final, but there was no disappointment on home soil, as a team led by the imperious Michel Platini emerged triumphant in 1984. 
1988 was the tournament which Netherlands striker, Marco van Basten was without equal, as he scored the goals that led his team to victory. In 1992, Denmark did not qualify for the tournament in Sweden but got their chance when Yugoslavia, in a state of civil war, did not participate. Denmark took Yugoslavian’s place and they take it, beating Germany in the final to carry the trophy. 
The Euro 96 tournament was when football came home, when it all began, England. England reached the last four, but lost to Germany on penalties. Germany went on to win the final, defeating Czechoslovakia. In 2000, France had won the World Cup on home soil in 1998 and went on to prove their supremacy by winning in Belgium and the Netherlands. It was the turn of Greece in Euro 2004, when they were crowned kings. 
In 2008, Spain ended a 44-year wait to end their international disappointment. A brilliant tournament in Austria and Switzerland produced a stack of stunning games to lift the trophy. 

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