Friday, June 08, 2012
A is for Arshavin: The diminutive little playmaker lit up this tournament four years ago, tormenting a fine Dutch side and inspiring Russia to a place in the semi-finals.
Arshavin’s performances helped seal a move to Arsenal where he occasionally inspired but frequently frustrated. Now back in Russia on loan at Zenit, Arshavin will be hoping to repeat those heady summer days of 2008 in the weeks ahead.
B is for Bayern Munich: Along with Real Madrid the German giants are the most represented club in the tournament with 11 players. Bayern were out in front with 12 before Croatia’s Ivica Olic was ruled out through injury. The bulk of the 11 play for Germany with Croatia’s Danijel Pranjic, the Ukraine’s Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and France’s Franck Ribery making up the rest.
C is for Casillas: The Real Madrid goalkeeper has won 131 caps for Spain, making him the most capped player at Euro 2012 ahead of Sweden midfielder Anders Svensson (126) of Sweden and Shay Given (122). Casillas broke an international wins record when he came on in the recent friendly victory against South Korea — victory number 95 in an illustrious career.
D is for Dragon Dzajic: The Yugoslavia winger was star of the show in the 1968 finals, finishing top scorer with what now looks a measly two goals. However the tournament was unrecognisable then to what it is now — only four teams played in the finals and the competition lasted for just six days.
E is for England: Our noisy neighbours are famous for their capability to hit the self-destruct button in major tournaments but this time they’ve outdone themselves, losing a manager just months before the tournament and failing to replace him until the eve of the competition. Add in a crippling injury crisis and the potential for disaster is clear.
F is for finals: Euro 2012 is the 14th European Championship finals and the last that will comprise of 16 teams. From Euro 2016 on, 24 teams will make the finals, a move that may dilute the quality but also make it easier for smaller nations like the Republic of Ireland to qualify. A total of 51 finals games will be played from 2016 as opposed to 31 now.
G is for Germany: The Germans are the most successful team in European Championship history, having won the tournament on three occasions, 1972, 1980 and 1996, and lost the final three times in 1976, 1992 and most recently 2008. Joachim Low’s men are among the favourites to win this tournament and boasted the youngest squad with an average age of 24.5.
H is for Henri Delaunay: Over the next month 16 teams will compete to win the trophy named after this Frenchman. It was he who first proposed the idea of a European championship as far back as 1927. It would be 33 years before the inaugural tournament would take place in 1960. Sadly Delaunay would not live to see it. He had died in 1955.
I is for Iniesta: The brilliant playmaker was the most creative player in the qualifying campaign, setting up a chance every 18 minutes as Spain cruised into the finals. Spain’s match-winner in the World Cup final two years ago, Iniesta will be critical to their hopes of retaining their European crown.
J is for Jetro Williams: At the age of 18 the Netherlands left back is the youngest player at the finals. Should he make an appearance he will become the youngest player ever to take the field in a European Championship finals match, breaking a record set by Belgium midfielder Enzo Scifo in 1984.
K is for Kostas Chalkias: The Greece goalkeeper will be the oldest player at Euro 2012, having celebrated his 38th birthday at the end of May. Chalkias is one of just three survivors from the squad that shocked Europe by winning this tournament in 2004 but Greece face a tough task to repeat the feat on this occasion.
L is for Lilian Thuram: The former French defender shares the record for the most final appearances with former Dutch keeper Edwin van dar Sar. Both played 16 finals games, two more Portugal duo Luis Figo and Nuno Gomes, Czech Republic midfielder Karel Poborsky and France ace Zinedine Zidane.
M is for Michel Platini: No player has scored more finals goals than the French star. All of Platini’s nine goals came in a single tournament as he finished top goalscorer and inspired France to victory in the 1984 finals.
N is for Netherlands: The Dutch may have strayed from their ‘Total Football’ ethos in the last World Cup but they were at their free-flowing best in qualifying for the tournament, scoring 37 times in 10 games, more than any other team in the competition.
O is for Olof Mellberg: The Sweden defender will be one of a dozen players on show who has played over 100 times for his country. Mellberg is one of two Swedes in the list, Anders Svensson is the other while Ireland and the Ukraine also have two apiece in Shay Given, Robbie Keane and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and Andriy Shevchenko respectively.
P is for penalties: A total of 13 finals games have been decided on penalties since the Czech Republic beat West Germany in a shoot-out in the 1976 final. The Czechs are the most successful shoot-out outfit, having won all three they have participated in. Euro 96 saw the most shoot-outs as a total of four matches were decided in this manner.
Q is for Quaresma: The much-travelled Portugal winger has flattered to deceive throughout most of his career. He has frustrated at Barcelona, Inter and Chelsea. His record at international level is similarly underwhelming and time is running out for the 28-year-old to make the most of his talent.
R is for Robbie Keane: The captain will be crucial to Irish hopes and although he has his critics, Keane boasts an impressive goalscoring record at international level. He is one of just two players playing his club football for a side outside Europe. Sweden’s Christian Wilhelmsson, who plays for Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal, is the other.
S is for Spain: The holders and favourites are chasing immorality. No team has ever retained the Euros and having won the World Cup in 2010, Spain are chasing a unique treble. Shorn of David Villa and Carles Puyol, a third successive championship would be their greatest achievement yet.
T is for Torres: The striker was Spain’s hero four years ago, netting the winner in the final victory over Germany. The intervening years have not been kind to the striker, who has struggled for fitness and form but winning the Champions League with Chelsea will have boosted his confidence and with David Villa injured, he could be a key figure.
U is for Ukraine: With the Irish focus understandably on Poland, it’s easy to forget that the Ukraine is co-hosting this tournament. Indeed the final on July 1 will be held in Kiev, not Warsaw. As co-hosts the Ukraine will be desperate to make an impression in their first ever European Championship finals but face a tough task in a tricky group.
V is for Vladimir Granat: The Russia defender is one of five uncapped players heading to the finals. England’s Jack Butland, Italy’s Emanuele Giaccherini, Denmark’s Kaspar Schmeichel and Croatia’s Ivan Kelava are the others.
W is for Wim Kieft: Remember him? Of course you do. Wim Kieft was the man who ended Ireland’s participation in the only previous European Championship finals the Boys in Green reached. Jack Charlton’s men were just eight minutes away from reaching the semi-finals of Euro 88 when Kieft’s header spun viciously past Packie Bonner to shatter Irish dreams.
X is for Xavi: The Barcelona midfielder was named player of the tournament four years ago after putting Spain on course for victory with the opening goal in the semi-final against Russia and assisting in Fernando Torres’ winner in the final. Four years on, he remains a key player despite showing clear signs of fatigue in recent months.
Y is for Young: Manchester United winger Ashley Young has become notorious for going down under the slightest of contact (or sometimes none at all) but with Wayne Rooney suspended for the first two games Young could be crucial to England’s hopes of navigating Group D playing in a withdrawn role behind the main striker.
Z is for Zola: The Italian is best remembered for his time with Chelsea when his trickery and touch lit up Stamford Bridge. However his international career was, in truth, a disappointment with the low-point being a missed penalty that cost Italy victory in a must-win group game with Germany in Euro 96. He quit the international scene two years later after he was left out of the Italy squad for the 1998 World Cup.