Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The European Championship

The European Championship

So what is the European Championship? What is the Henri Delaunay trophy? What's all the fuss about? 

Well, it's only the second-most important football tournament in the World. That's all. Second only to the World Cup. It's not a club competition, it's a nation thing. The right to play for your country is not something you can buy or sell, so goodbye mega millionaires. The teams that win international tournaments are usually the ones with the most skill and desire.. and luck.

You might think I'm being a bit Eurocentric suggesting this is the No 2 tournament, but I'd argue that even the most impassioned Brasilian, Nigerian, US, or Japanese football fan would surely admit that Europe has more football history and more teams with realistic ambitions of winning than any other football federation.

So, Ok. When did it start? How many have there been? Who has won it most? These are the questions, you're asking, right?

It started in 1960. It was the dream of the general secretary of the French football federation, way back in 1927, to have an international tournament in Europe every four years. Bloody Europeans, eh? Why didn't they just leave us English alone? What is it with their interfering meddling bureaucracy? After all, we invented the bloody game!

Thankfully, some people agreed it was a good idea - or maybe they just felt bad that the man who thought of it had just died. Anyway, three years after his death the dream became reality.

Who was that visionary guy? Henri Delaunay. The name behind the trophy.

I bet you're not surprised to learn that England wasn't one of the 17 teams that participated in 1960. (We're better off out, right?)  It was won by the Soviet Union, beating Yugoslavia 2-1 in the final, in Paris.

They won this...

(it didn't have the Spanish colours around it then)

England magnanimously agreed to enter the tournament in the 14 tournaments that followed over the next 56 years. (Oh, there's a coincidence - I am 56 years old too!)

Ok. I won't bore you with all the details, but...

Let's just cut to the important part. Here are the countries that have won it most...

    1. Germany (1972, 1980 & 1996) and Spain (1964, 2008 & 2012) 3 times winners.
    2. France (1984, 2000) 2 times
    3. Soviet Union (1960), Italy (1968), Czech Republic (1976), Holland (1988), Denmark (1992), Greece (2004) Once.
Yugoslavia (twice),  Belgium and Portugal have also finished runners up.

So, let's be clear. What are we saying? In the year that England are voting whether or not to leave the European Union, here is the biggest ever European football tournament going on right next-door in France, which England have never won, or even been to the final. This is a game, remember, that the English invented.

There are 24 teams in these finals. I'll go through each of the 6 groups here in the next few days but suffice it to say that if you list all 24 teams according to their current FIFA World rankings, here they are...

Euro # World # FIFA Pts Country
1 2 1364  Belgium
2 5 1309  Germany
3 6 1277  Spain
4 8 1184  Portugal
5 10 1069  England
6 11 1067  Austria
7 13 983  Turkey
8 14 974  Switzerland
9 15 959  Italy
10 18 925  Hungary
11 19 920  Romania
12 21 907  France
13 22 880  Ukraine
14 23 856  Croatia
15 24 839  Wales
16 26 825  Northern Ireland
17 27 821  Poland
18 28 821  Russia
19 30 810  Czech Republic
20 31 792  Republic of Ireland
21 32 784  Slovakia
22 35 724  Iceland
23 36 713  Sweden
24 45 632  Albania

Notice that the line up includes three home nations as well as the Irish Republic, so British interest should be at an all time high. Scotland (oops) are the only UK nation not going. Wales, whose squad includes Gareth Bale, are at an unprecedented level, as are Northern Ireland. I also have a soft spot for the Irish Republic who are managed by my Forest hero, Martin O'Neill, but I admit that this blog will be totally biased to England.
The bottom line from all the history and current form is that England are rather obvious under-achievers in this tournament. 

So here's my dream scenario for the next few weeks. Wouldn't it be great if the UK voted to stay in Europe as England went on to win the European Championship for the first time and Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland all excelled themselves?

Come on England!!! Let's stay in Europe and win!

Algis Kuliukas
Wednesday, 26th May 2016

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