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EURO 2012: The 16 participating nations are the elite among football superpowers
STARTING this morning till July 1, everything else can wait. The 2012 UEFA European Football Championship or Euro 2012 is the second greatest football event after the World Cup. As the venues are eight time zones away, Malaysians will have to sacrifice their sleep to watch as many of the 31 games offered live on TV as possible. It is a good break for us after months of anxiety in anticipation of the general election, which is supposed to happen any time soon.
Sports unite more than anything else. Euro 2012 is special for many reasons. The 16 nations participating are the elite among football superpowers. Not only that, some of the countries have the best and most popular leagues in the world. Okay, many of the best players in the European leagues are not even Europeans, but then there are enough good homegrown players to make the difference. Except, of course, England.
That's the irony of it all -- it is home to the most successful league in the world today. Yet, no one expects much from the team, whose manager is one Roy Hodgson. Roy who? Oh, he has managed 16 different teams in eight countries between 1976 and now. His last managerial post? West Bromwich Albion. Now you know where the English team stands. To be fair, he did guide Finland to their highest ever Fifa ranking, at 33rd in the 2007-2008 session.
I don't mind watching the English team in action. In fact, it is fun to watch them making unbelievable blunders. Like the goal that Robert Green allowed to pass him in Rustenburg, South Africa, two years ago or the "OMG, the-earth-moved-beneath-me" excuse given by David Beckham when he missed the penalty against Portugal in 2004.
It is in fact a good idea to bring back Beckham. He would not be out of place among many of the ageing players in Hodgson's squad. The truth is, I trust Beckham more than any of the other English players. At least, Beckham is among the 100-cap players to be honoured this time.
The English invented football, but sadly, they are now nowhere compared with the Spanish, Germans, Dutch, French and Portuguese. The last time they won something significant was in 1966 (the World Cup) but that was before the advent of colour television. I cannot imagine any other country being so passionate and fanatical about football (they invented hooliganism, too) but has won so little for so long.
Yet, the English Premier League (EPL) sets a new marker of excellence to many among the world's seven billion inhabitants. It is the only league known to mankind. Worldwide TV rights for EPL alone stand at a staggering RM11.9 billion a year. Money attracts the best stars, from the ever-reliable Robin Van Persie to the notoriously unpredictable Mario Balotelli.
Talk about the top four clubs -- Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur -- only Spurs' Harry Redknapp is English. (Oh, he is not even considered worthy of leading the English team for Euro 2012.)
The most successful manager in the history of English football, Sir Alex Ferguson, is a full-blooded Scot.
Need I talk about the owners of English teams? To quote Time magazine, "team owners now include Arab sheikhs, Indian chicken magnates, American hedge fund and real estate operators and Chinese financiers, not to mention the odd Russian oligarch", and I must add Malaysia's "successful low-cost airline entrepreneur", who is trying hard to turn a pony into a thoroughbred.
So, if England advances to the semi-finals, that's a miracle. Meanwhile, let's watch the best teams playing in eight stadiums in Poland and Ukraine, the first time in former communist East bloc nations. Now, if China was proud of its Bird's Nest Stadium during the Olympics, Poland has its "Basket" in the form of the National Stadium of Warsaw.
Let's watch Franck Ribery (France), Andres Iniesta (Spain), Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller (Germany), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Van Parsie (Netherlands) and even Wayne Rooney (if his team, England, makes it after the second game, that is) and even Balotteli.
Would the young talents outshine the elite crop of players this time? Watch out for Robert Lewandowski (Poland), Oliver Giroud (France), Christian Eriksen (Denmark), Hamit Altintop (Turkey), Nikica Jelavic (Croatia) and Claudio Marchisio (Italy), Yann M'vila (France) or Danny Welbeck (England). After all, stars are born in tournaments like these.
So, bear and grin. Staying awake till the wee hours of the morning is worth all the trouble.