Butler: EURO 2012 will likely be tourney unlike any other

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Noel Butler
5/18/2012 4:32:28 PM
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EURO 2012 squads spring into action for summer like no other

The name Jóan Símun Edmundsson doesn't exactly roll off the tongue in the vein a Van Persie does, a Platini did or even a Kostas Fortounis might in the future. Edmundsson has already written himself into the EURO 2012 history books.

On a windswept Wednesday evening in Tallinn, it was Edmundsson who scored the very first goal on the hazardous football politicking journey to Poland-Ukraine 2012, as the Faroe Islands took the lead in the Estonian capital. Estonia went on to write their own fairytale before eventually succumbing to Republic of Ireland Giovanni Trapattoni-inspired charm during last fall's playoff round.

Edmundsson's milestone moment occurred back on August 11, 2010 but as we sit here now exactly three weeks before EURO 2012 gets underway in Warsaw, some of the greatest players in the game today stand a chance of scoring the tournament's concluding goal in Kiev on July 1; in doing so, help etch the name of their beloved nation on the Henri Delaunay Trophy.

Like the World Cup before under Jules Rimet, it was a Frenchman who was the true inspiration behind a tournament that today rivals a World Cup Finals in scale, scope and global appeal. In his role as the first UEFA General Secretary, Delaunay had originally submitted a proposal to FIFA back in 1927 to stage a tournament that would span the UEFA continent.

It would be more than three decades before Delaunay's dream and vision turned into reality. With only four nations competing in those inaugural Finals staged in Delaunay's native France, the USSR reigned supreme by beating Yugoslavia 2-1 in the final held at the illustrious Parc des Princes in Paris on July 10, 1960.

With the 51 nations that now make up UEFA whittled down to a mouth-watering and highly appetizing sweet 16, there are now but 10 days left before the governing body must receive the names of all players that will be participating in Poland-Ukraine.

With the conclusion of the European domestic league season, most eyes have become more firmly gazed on Munich ahead of Saturday's Champions League Final and without much fuss, Nyon's administrators have been hard at work this past week as 10 of the 16 nations have formally notified UEFA of their squads.

In most cases, these are oversized squads that will need to be trimmed and finalized by the May 29 deadline. A few exceptions include England, who earlier this week named their final 23 with Roy Hodgson likely wanting to avoid the scenes that surrounded Glenn Hoddle in 1998 when he had to tell players, instead of boarding the plane to Paris, they could get the early jump on their summer vacation. 

A certain Paul Gascoigne, one of England's heroes at EURO 96 took Hoddle quite literally as he jumped and stomped his way through his destroyed hotel room before departing for home in his official England car.

Of the 16 nations that will initially embark on friendly match-driven training camps before descending on their bases in Poland or Ukraine, as many as half of them unlock their training camp padlocks with a genuine belief their squad possesses the footballing prowess that will allow them to hold aloft the Henri Delaunay Trophy into the warm night-time Kiev air come July 1.

Top of those considerations come the current World and European champions, who must not only do battle with the likes of a resurgent Italy and a defiant Croatia in the group stage. Spain's greatest opponent will be history itself. Never before in world football has any single nation won three straight tournaments.

The last such nation to stand in that position was France, who, after winning the 1998 World Cup, followed it up with triumph at EURO 2000, only for their football world to come crashing down at the 2002 World Cup Finals. The French entered that tournament as one of the favorites, only to be embarrassingly defeated by the very same 1-0 margin in all three of their group stage encounters.

Holland will certainly feel they can go one better than South Africa 2010 and emulate their Marco Van Basten wonder strike class of 1998. Majestic through qualification, they won't need reminding following that German Mannschaft Machine that steamrolled over them by three goals to nil in Hamburg in a friendly last fall that the Dutch will have to be at their very physical and football best when they face that finely fettled German opponent again this time for real in the group stage on June 13.

Germany have only improved themselves after their remarkable South African odyssey before they got a taste of impeccable French resistance when going down to a home soil 2-1 reversal in Bremen during the last round of friendlies back in late February.

Reborn under Blanc and playing their own expansive, expressive style that has been a hallmark of French soccer in recent generations, France could not have asked for a better group after they were seeded in pot 4 along with Denmark, Czech Republic and the Republic of Ireland for last December's group draw.

It may well have been youth and zest Blanc opted for after a mutinous core ripped the soul out of the vestiges of anything resembling football two short summers ago, but France have one of the best pedigrees at this tournament; triumphs only bettered by the Germans.

The last French victory came at the cost of an Italian golden goal loss that still haunts a nation that itself is looking for redemption from that earliest and brutally demoralizing of South African exits.

Under Cesare Prandelli, Italy have rediscovered their roots without the need of an emphatic qualifying campaign. The whole nation let out a collective sigh of relief recently when Cassano returned to the pitch following a very serious health scare that ruled him out for most part of the domestic season.

They'll need Cassano, the man and his goals. He managed six through 10 qualification matches. No matter how insignificant many think friendly matches are, their 2-1 win over the World Champions last August certainly puts the Azzurri into a psychological advantage when they open their campaign June 10 against the current European champions.

No one in Italy or amongst the multitude of ex-pats scattered across the globe need reminding International Tournament Football isn't defined by your first game, but your last. Rare is the case you'll be at your very best from the opening game but few nations will look to replicate the Spanish South Africa 2010 model where the eventual champions lost their opener. 

With our days becoming longer as we head into deepest spring, the days before EURO 2012 gets underway are shortening. This final European Championships before the expanded 24-team format is introduced at EURO 2016 will likely go down in history as a tournament unlike any other since the UEFA European Football Championship fuse was lit by Monsieur Delaunay back in 1927.

National Stadium in Warsaw, Poland (Photo: Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
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