TREE-HUGGERS: Stockholm is the capital of a country that is 70% covered with forest, while the squad of national boss Erik Hamren (inset) boasts many of the same hardy qualities.
MUNICH MAYHEM: Mild winters and warm summers allow citizens to break out the lederhosen regularly.
UP FOR GRABS? Thessalonika in Greece boasts spectacular views of the Aegean Sea and Mount Olympus that is difficult to put a value on — although some may soon try.
Land-locked and mountainous in places, the weather in the Czech Republic is as unpredictable as a Tomas Rosicky performance. There are warm summers, cold winters and sporadic rain throughout the year, which might explain why everyone loves going to the pub. It’s also crisscrossed with rivers that eventually lead out into the North Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea.
The Greeks have hundreds of sun-bleached islands plonked in the middle of crystal clear aquamarine sea. Given the awe-inspiring scale of their national debt and the unquestioned loveliness of their territory, it’s a wonder that Germany and England haven’t offered a new loan deal that involves the partition of Corfu.
Framed to the south by the Carpathian mountains, Poland is littered with lakes and covered with forest. In fact, there are areas of woodland that are absolutely ancient and survive almost entirely unmolested by man. Out in the Bialowieza Forest, which covers the border with Belarus, you’ll even find the last surviving European bison.
I’ll give you biodiversity. Russia has absolutely everything. Plains, grassland, tundra, desert and enormous forests that are referred to as the ‘lungs of Europe’. In fact, only the mighty Amazon rainforest absorbs as much carbon dioxide. That’s the kind of thing you can brag about when your country covers over six million square miles.
The majority of Denmark is flat, arable land surrounded by miles and miles of nook-shotten coastline. The weather is, for the most part, much the same as Ireland with cold — but not terrifyingly cold — winters and absolutely buckets of rain. It’s obviously much, much colder in Greenland and the Faroe Islands, self-governed territories under the Danish realm.
One third arable and almost one third forest, Germany is a particularly green and lush nation. It’s colder in the east than the west, but winters tend to be mild and summers warm. Except in the Alpine regions of course, which are a law unto themselves. There’s a little something for everyone. Provided you don’t mind rain.
Holland is lower than Gianfranco Zola’s hat-rack and, as a result, is rather susceptible to flooding. A series of dikes were built hundreds of years ago, manned by the ‘waterschappen’, who still look after to them to this day. If climate change continues to take effect, shares in flippers and snorkels will skyrocket.
Portugal, and the archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores, are like a motorway service station for hundreds of migratory birds. Every year, huge flocks of them yawn, stretch and then descend to earth, begrudgingly paying inflated fees for stale sandwiches and coffee. You definitely don’t want to be near the queue for the toilets.
The land of a thousand islands, so it’s no wonder that the team has always been about moulding many strong individuals into one unit. Equally symbolic in Croatia is the mountain peaks of the Dinaric Alps, which represents tenacity to breed talent in adverse conditions. Luka Modric grew up on top of one of those mountains, where rumour had it, he started playing football with wooden shinpads — until Modric denied it, that is.
Maremma is a vast plain in south-west Tuscany whose borders are difficult to define. Just like Prandelli’s team — without a proper No 10 and trying to change their philosophy from catenaccio to tiki-taka. There are also many famous cows in Maremma, not that the Azzurri would milk it.
The Pyrenees are in Spain, which is flanked by the Atlantic Ocean in the north and the Mediterranean Sea eastwards. The Canary Islands have the Teide volcano, while there are desert areas and green strips in the north. Spain’s national team has the same variety of characters melting into one unique entity: the defence is difficult to climb for rivals, the midfield explodes with ‘tiki-taka’ football and in attack, there are top strikers who smash in goals like waves against a breakwater.
An island with an island mentality: never mind that Spain are world champions, Germany a coming force in the game and Holland streets ahead. England fans remain convinced their team can beat anyone else and if not this summer, then in 2014, when Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay join the contenders for the World Cup. Reality check required.
What better way to sum up the French national team than comparing Les Bleus to the haunting peaks and troughs of the Alps? France reached the very top of Mont Ventoux, ascended L’Alpe d’Huez and conquered the Galibier pass by winning the 1984 European Championship, World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000, but then farcically plummeted to seemingly bottomless ravines in the 2002 and 2010 World Cups and at Euro 2008. Merci, Raymond Domenech.
Now, boreal taiga may be sniffed at in large parts of Europe but for the Scandinavians it is a source of pride. Forest and forest plantations cover almost 70% of Sweden and, although Erik Hamren is unlikely to line his team up in a Christmas tree formation a la Terry Venables, his players display the same kind of characteristics as those found in the forests: tall, hardy and unflappable.
The west of Ukraine is typical of central Europe in that it’s a mix of arable ground and woodlands, but out east it all becomes a little more exciting. The heavily forested regions are home to prowling brown bears, wandering packs of wolves and the most feared natural predator of all, Ukrainian hamsters. Beware, brave traveller.