Home advantage doesn't always guarantee success. When Poland and Ukraine were first announced as co-hosts for the European Championships in 2012, few would have given either nation much chance of winning the tournament. And, if the first round of group stage fixtures are anything to go by, you cannot underestimate the power or the pressure of playing on home soil.
Ukraine's 2-1 victory over Sweden last night helped get their Group D qualifying campaign off to the perfect start in the country's debut appearance in the competition, following two second half strikes from national hero Andriy Shevchenko, providing the perfect platform to help them reach the latter stages, even if they have their hardest two fixtures still to come.
Poland, meanwhile, failed to capitalise on the early sending off of Greece defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos, despite leading the tournament opener 1-0 when he was handed his second yellow card before the interval at The Warsaw National Stadium.
The joy of Robert Lewandowski's opener was tempered by a frantic closing period that yielded a Greek equaliser, a second red card - this time to Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny after he brought down Dimitris Salpigidis in the box - and a missed penalty, which kept the locals' hopes of qualification alive following an eventful 1-1 draw.
In the aftermath of Friday's showpiece, Poland coach Franciszek Smuda admitted that some of his players were "paralysed by the pressure" and it remains to be seen how they will cope with the upcoming challenges presented by Group A favourites Russia, and the Czech Republic.
Euro 2012 needs one of its co-hosts to qualify, though. Particularly off the back of the last two major international tournaments, after South Africa fell at the first hurdle in World Cup 2010, and both Austria and Switzerland failed to progress beyond the group stages four years ago.
Before South Africa, no World Cup host had failed to qualify from their group in the post-war era, and Belgium in 2000 were the only other nation to exit the European Championships early on their own turf.
The gift and the curse of the host nation can be presented in a more positive light, when recalling South Korea, who beat the odds to make it all the way to the semi-finals at the 2002 World Cup. Two years later, Portugal were losing finalists at Euro 2004, while a new-look German side had a respectable run to the semi-finals at World Cup 2006, under the former stewardship of Jurgen Klinsmann. They have since gone from strength to strength.
Group qualification is one thing, but what chance do Poland and Ukraine - the two lowest ranked teams in this year's competition at 62nd and 52nd - realistically have of winning the tournament? As the only participating nations outside of the world's top-30, the gulf in class is significant. However, what both sides may lack in world-class talent, they make up for in commitment and work ethic.
Of the two squads, Poland are certainly the stronger group of players, with a sprinkling of star quality. At the heart of their side are three key contributors to Borussia Dortmund's double-winning campaign; right-back Lukasz Piszczek, forward Jakub Blaszczykowski, and Lewandowski, while suspended stopper Szczesny is usually a reliable source at the back.
Ukraine, on the other hand, rely more heavily on seasoned veteran Shevchenko, Bayern Munich midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, and former Liverpool forward Andriy Voronin. But, there is also excitement surrounding young prospects Andriy Yarmolenko of Dynamo Kiev, and Dnipro's Yevhen Konoplyanka, whose attacking prowess provides a renewed threat going forward.
Unfortunately for Ukraine, a newcomer has not triumphed in the European Championships since 1972, when only four teams played in the finals, and the last time a host nation won the tournament was 28 years ago, when France were victorious in 1984.
The chances of the Henri Delaunay trophy staying in Poland or Ukraine beyond the final on July 1 remain slim, but with the vociferous support of the home faithful, both co-hosts have a genuine chance to buck the recent trend and prolong their stay in the competition, en route to the knockout stages.
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