Most Americans know football (the American kind and the other known to us as soccer), many are unfamiliar with the European Football Championship (also known as the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, Euro 2012, the European Championship or Euro Cup). Here, football/futball/soccer is huge. People here are excited. We see flags decorating balconies, viewing parties at bars, people wearing jerseys, etc. Even if people aren’t huge fans, they absorb a lot of football knowledge and culture by osmosis. We’re enthusiastically embracing Euro 2012 as a chance to learn and are watching games. Although I don’t think we are as enthusiastic as some fans who have been driving through Switzerland’s streets honking their horns for the past hour.
Here’s how it works. The top two teams from each of the 4 groups (referred to as pots) move on for a single elimination tournament. Group “B” with Germany, Holland, Portugal and Denmark, is the toughest section. Many argue that it is the hardest group ever assembled in international tournament history. The top two teams in each group advance to a single-elimination tournament.
According to our friends, the Euro Cup is one of the most important soccer tournaments to Europeans. Although Americans might not be familiar with it, it is one of the world’s preeminent tournaments. To Europeans, it is second only to the World Cup and to some, it is bigger than the World Cup. They argue that the World Cup has some weak teams while the Euro Cup only has strong teams. It is more important than the Olympics and the European Championships. The Euro Cup occurs every four years, alternating cycles with the World Cup’s so that a major tournament occurs every two years.
Like the Superbowl or the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, gambling pools abound. Most offices have several pools. Friends make informal bets. It’s crazy.
In Geneva, an area with many immigrants and foreigners. Euro Cup is a chance to embrace your heritage. Everyone supports their home country and foreign nationals here get together to watch their home country’s games. Our friend who lives next door to a Portuguese bar reports that it is packed, loud and, um, very festive on game days.
Neighboring countries seem to rival each other more than non-neighboring countries. History also may play a role. We know more about European history than football/soccer history, so there could other explanations for rivalries. Here are some of the rivalries:
- England vs Scotland (ever see Braveheart)
- Russia vs Ukraine (neighbors who have squabbled over everything from gas to Gogol)
- Poland vs Russia (a history filled with bitter conflict and mutual invasions)
- Czech Republic–Slovakia football rivalries – Czech Republic vs Slovakia
- Hungary vs Romania (rivalry for control of Transylvania)
- Hungary vs Slovakia (a Slovak minority in Hungary, a Hungarian minority in Slovakia, and disputes over territory mean you have a bitter rivalry)
- Portugal vs Spain (Iberian neighbors)
- Northern Ireland vs Republic of Ireland (Did you see In the Name of the Father, Bloody Sunday, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, The Boxer, Five Minutes in Heaven, Four Days in July…)
- Netherlands vs Germany (German occupation of the Netherlands?)
- Belgium vs Netherlands (low country neighbors)
- Denmark vs Norway vs Sweden (the Danes lost Norway to Sweden in the Napoleonic wars)
- Croatia vs Serbia (remember the war from ’91-’95)
- Bosnia Herzegovina vs Serbia (pretty sure you’ve heard about their conflict)
This European Cup has had a few controversies:
- They had to post some of the games in Ukraine because some Polish cities (I’m looking at you Krakow) didn’t want to invest in the infrastructure and stadiums.
- Several government officials are boycotting Euro 2012 to protest former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko‘s mistreatment in a Ukrainian prison.
- BBC’s Panorama did an exposé on race-related soccer hooliganism in Poland and the Ukraine. It showed disturbing images of racist taunts, violent attacks of minority students, as well as scenes of fans making Nazi salutes and chanting anti-Semitic epithets.
- Authorities struggled to contain violence after the Russia – Poland game.
If you want to watch it in the US, a DVR is handy. Most tournament games air in the morning in America.