Finally the wait is over. Euro 2012 is underway and the tournament curtain raiser hopefully heralded the start of some spectacular football.
However, plenty of questions remain unanswered – Can England pull off the impossible? Can one of the underdogs take the tournament by the scruff of the neck? Or will one of the three genuine ‘Golden Generations’ charge to glory?
With the action in its early days, GMF takes a look at the major issues that will be resolved in the coming weeks.
Are Spain on the slide?
Carles Puyol out. David Villa out. Fernando Torres woefully out of form. Spain have plenty of issues as they attempt to make history by becoming the first team to win three consecutive major tournaments. Fans of La Roja will likely be concerned with plans to make David Silva, a diminutive playmaker, the focal point of their attack.
Equally, the heartbeat of the Spanish side, Xavi, has struggled badly with injury this season and appears off the beat; something he has never been accused off during his illustrious career.
Fans have been quick to draw parallels with Barcelona’s stumble this season and Spain’s possible downfall – but are the reigning champions vulnerable?
While they don’t go into the tournament in the best shape imaginable thanks to fatigue, to say that Spain’s fate will mirror that of Barcelona’s seems foolhardy. A glance at their squad reveals a staggering strength in depth; the likes of Santi Cazorla, Juan Mata, Javi Martinez, Fernando Llorente and David Silva are all ready to fire if Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Pedro fail. Their friendly record may contain defeats against England and Italy in recent months but they qualified strongly without defeat and are rightly favourites to reach the final.
Should players walk off?
It is the issue that hangs heavy over Euro 2012. Since Panorama’s documentary highlighting issues with racism in host countries Ukraine and Poland it has been the hot topic and one question remains; should players walk off if racist chants occur?
Former England defender Sol Campbell implored fans not to travel or risk ‘coming back in a coffin’- something that Andriy Shevchenko refuted - while the Netherlands squad was subject to racist abuse during a training session on Thursday.
Michel Platini, head of Uefa, issued conflicting statements by suggesting players could be booked for leaving the field if they hear racist abuse while also telling referees that they can lead teams off in similar circumstances.
Uefa’s record in dealing with issues of racism is somewhat chequered – Manchester City’s fine for appearing one minute late for the second half of their Europa League tie against Sporting Lisbon tis season was greater than the punishment doled out to Porto after their fans hurled racist abuse at City players in the previous round.
There is no greater stage to make a clear and bold statement that racism cannot be tolerated in football – and if that means players, referees or Uefa officials bringing games to an abrupt end then so be it.
Is there such thing as low expectations breeding expectations?
England expects. Except in this case, they don’t. The Sun did the best it could to inspire some chest thumping with its headline suggesting that maybe England could possibly recreate the achievements of Denmark and Greece in years gone by but make no mistake, England are not expected to make many waves in Poland and Ukraine.
That has proved quite refreshing, as has England’s approach to the tournament thus far; their stroll around amongst fans outside their hotel in Krakow was in stark contrast to the isolation they encountered at the 2010 World Cup.
Trouble is, that this low expectation has given rise to some whispers that suggest with the pressure off England, they can upset the odds.
A new manager, controversy over team selection and injury ravaging their squad – even with a tournament on the horizon Three Lions fans will not allow themselves to look through rose tinted glasses. This will be a new experience for England, but it won’t end in a similarly new fashion (winning), so fans shouldn’t convince themselves otherwise.
Group(s) of death
Many of football’s elder statesmen believe the Euros to be a tougher competition than the World Cup – Jurgen Klinsmann believes because of the concentrated talent of teams in Europe compared to those who take part in the World Cup that this summer’s tournament will represent the ultimate test.
And there is plenty of evidence to back that up. One group of death (Group B), one group of semi-death (Group C) and another particularly tough group (D) which could see England or France suffer an early exit – Euro 2012 is shaping up to be a memorable tournament.
There should be some big names exiting early – Portugal and England look prime candidates while the relative weakness of Group A means that at least one underdog will make it through to the knockout stages.
Throw in three teams with their strongest line ups for years – Germany, Spain and the Netherlands, and all that adds up to one exciting tournament. Let the action begin.
Finest German side in 40 years?
While in 2010 Germany set the world alight with their youth-inspired counter-attacking football, two years down the line Joachim Loew’s side will offer few surprises, but that doesn’t mean anyone can stop them.
Germany’s young pioneers in Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller and Sami Khedira have been joined by the next wave of emerging talents, with Mario Gotze, Andre Schurrle and Marco Rues all pushing for starting spots. Add into that established names like Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm and they appear to have the complete team.
There is some concerns that Bayern Munich’s devastating end to the season which culminated in Champions League defeat may have an impact on morale, but there is no doubting in Germany that this is the finest group of players they have possessed since the famous team of the 1970’s – they even have the same mint green kit.