Just a couple of weeks ago I posted on the rather fabulous Eurovision song contest. This pan-European spectacle (won by Sweden this time around) is a lot of fun and offers a bit of light-hearted competition. It also teaches us that in Lithuania they are not big on metaphor as the singer wore a blindfold whilst performing the song ‘Love is Blind.’ Anyway, enough of that, it is time for us Europeans to get really competitive and enjoy something meaningful – this Friday sees the start of Euro 2012, the 2012 UEFA European Football Championships.
I shall begin by declaring a (lack of) interest. While I love football (soccer) and am quite happy for a bunch of players in north London to ruin a good proportion of my weekends between August and May, I am not that interested in international football. The thing is, we fans have our rivalries and when players from teams I, frankly, dislike, suddenly get called up to play for England then I find it hard, nay impossible, to support them. However, my petty grievances aside, this is still a quite fun tournament. Normally in a tournament you need to wait for some of the weaker sides to be eliminated before the big games happen, but this one has some serious match ups from the outset – mainly because the pruning has been going on for some time.
For the last two years some of Europe’s most average nations have been humbling those footballing powerhouses of San Marino, Andorra and Liechtenstein in the hope of joining the co-hosts Poland and Ukraine in the final 16. This weekend sees the start of the tournament. Four groups of four, the top two from each proceed into the quarter finals where it is straight knockout until Germany wins. Indeed, that is how it was for so many years but Spain are in the ascendency these days and might well retain their title.
How does any of this affect those taking an EF tour in June or early July? Quite simply, you won’t be able to avoid it. Games will be on TV each evening and interest across the continent will be high. Congratulations to you if you are touring in Ireland this month, they have qualified and will be playing in a group with Spain, Italy and Croatia. Ireland is most definitely one of the smaller nations in the competition but the atmosphere there will be terrific whenever they play and they will relish the chance to beat one of the big sides. Other key dates in the early stages are June 10 and 11 which sees Spain versus Italy and England versus France respectively. Once you get over that then there is the small matter of Holland versus Germany on June 13th. Tasty stuff. If it all gets a bit much then the Czech Republic will be playing Greece to keep things balanced.
Yes, England’s finest (well, the best we’ve got after injuries) are there, and as with the Hump at Eurovision, what can possibly go wrong? (I’ll save you looking it up – 25th out of 26, thanks Norway). Wherever you are on tour this month, enjoy the games, have fun and remember, it’s not the winning that matters…..
(Editor’s note: Add Paul on Google+, Paul Mattesini’s posts appear Tuesdays on Following the Equator. If you have a travel question for our resident expert tour director, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Paul here, and he will answer readers’ questions in future posts.)