The Casual Fan’s Hastily Thrown-Together Guide to Euro 2012 Part I

WOO Euro 2012 baby. For those unfamiliar with the tournament, the Euros are just like the World Cup, except only white countries are allowed to play. It’s a blast for lots of reasons, but primarily because international soccer is roughly 10,000 times more compelling than club soccer, which in turn is 10,000 times more compelling than the MLS. There are a lot of reasons why this is the case, but the primary is that unless you devote a lot of time to watching a particular league, there are going to be a lot of teams that you know little to nothing about, and more importantly, do not care about. The Premier League is by most accounts the most compelling and by all accounts the most widely televised league in soccer, yet the Prem is home to a milquetoast majority of teams that lack any kind of identity that I can discern from an ocean away. I count 11 teams out 20 (Wolves, Blackburn, Bolton, QPR, Aston Villa, Wigan, Stoke, Sunderland, Norwich, Swansea and West Brom) that I have little to no opinion on, positively or negatively. Who am I supposed to root for when Sunderland plays Swansea? The whole situation is like if 60% of Major League Baseball was the Brewers, Royals and Rockies.

And that’s why international soccer is so great.  Even if you’ve never heard of a single player on a given team, you’ve already got a rooting interest simply because of the nation they’re representing. And, if you don’t have an opinion on that particular country (Hi Denmark!), then you can simply take what little knowledge you have (I think Hans Christian Andersen is Danish?) and create your own stereotype (Naturally, all Danish people worship Hans Christian Andersen since he is the only famous possibly-Danish human being that I can think of without using Wikipedia) and use that stereotype to form polarized and generally offensive opinions on the team on the field and the millions of people who root for them (yo FUCK the Little Mermaid and fuck Denmark). See? It’s that easy.

While we’re on the topic, potential racism at the tournament has been a huge and troubling story leading up to the Euros, which brings us to our first nation:

Group A

Country: Poland

Known for: Comically absent-minded citizens; being invaded; being invaded because they are a comically absent-minded people.

Best Player: Wojciech Szczesny, goalie, Arsenal.

Why root for them: It’s always fun to root for the host nation. That is, unless…

Why root against them: …they’re horrible, horrible racists. The BBC recently aired a controversial documentary about fans in the two host countries- Poland and Ukraine. The findings were, uh, not good to say the least.  But I mean, the Brits were probably just bitter about being snubbed as hosts and c’mon, it’s friendly, goofy Poland. Plus there’s probably only like 3 non-white people in Poland to begin with- how racist could they possibly be? According to this ESPN article, the documentary “captured the families of African players being baited with a chorus of monkey chants, entire terraces of fans, men, women and children all, offering Nazi salutes en masse, and banks of supporters abusing their opponents with the anti-Semitic slur ‘Death, death to the Jewish whore.’”

Oh. So yeah, I don’t think we really need to continue with more reasons to root against Poland. I hope all those Polish fans drown inside their screen-doored submarine. Freaks.

Country: Czech Republic

Known for: Prague; being confused for Ukraine; failed Bohemian breakfast cereal/rap group Czech’s Mixx;

Best Player: Jaromir Jagr Petr Cech

Why root for them: They win by default since they are the least unlikeable team in a wildly unlikeable Group A. Seriously- Poland, Czech Republic, Greece and Russia- this is the official group of human trafficking and racism. At least 80% of the fans who attend the matches in this group are on some kind of Interpol watch list.

Anyway, the Czech Republic! Gotta love em.  Tomas Rosicky (Arsenal) and Milan Baros (Galatasaray) should lead an attack that will at the very least be exciting on free kicks. Petr Cech is a monster. That honestly could be all it takes to win this group.

Why root against them: Cause I’m nearly positive that Czech Republic is the setting for Taken 2, and you NEVER cross Neeson.  Also, why are you rooting for any of the shitty teams/nations in Group A to begin with?

Country: Greece

Known for: Peaking 3,000 years ago; fucking up the economy of an entire continent because their primary exports are sodomy and yogurt.

Best Player: I have never heard of a single player on Greece’s roster so I’m gonna go with Jesse Katsopolis

Why root for them: Because you are an anarchist? You’re hugely brand-loyal to Oikos? I have no idea. There’s no reason to root for this team.

Why root against them: First of all, what the fuck is Greece doing in this tournament? They are the blacked-out uncle who just drove his Expedition through the kitchen and yet is somehow still invited to sit down at the Thanksgiving dinner table. I don’t understand how the rest of Europe is cool with this. But besides the aforementioned suicide bomb they set off on the value of the Euro, let’s see what else there is to root against: Well, they gave the world its greatest philosophers then promptly abandoned every principle ever posited by them; they literally haven’t done anything positive since the business end of the birth of Christ;  My Big Fat Greek Wedding; their team sucks; they tied Georgia in qualifying and finished with the fewest goals of any group winners; and every player on their team sounds like someone just used a random Greek name generator and made them up, although strangely they are coached by Fernando Santos. What the hell are you doing with this team, Fernando? I don’t trust you.

Also, they shocked the world by winning the Euros in 2004, then followed it up by scoring exactly one goal at Euro 2008 and being the only team to not earn a single point. Fuck Greece. YOPLAIT ALL DAY SON.

Country: Russia

Known for: Perennial bad guys; getting Ether’d by Neil Armstrong and Ronald Reagan; consistently blowing it for the last 100 years;  t.A.t.U (I had to use the crappy lyrics version because the official music video had a 15-second ad preceding it. Like, Really? Is that ad really generating any revenue in 2012?)

Best Player: Andrey Arshavin. LOL

Why root for them: If you root for Russia in anything you need to get the fuck out this country.

Why root against them: The reasons are too many to name, but for starters, Russia is in Europe the way Anthony Davis is in college- they’re the first team to be gerrymandered into a tournament. They also overachieved at Euro 2008, which led to the comically bad transfer signings Roman Pavlyuchenko, Yuri Zhirkov and Arshavin. Pavlyuchenko spent most of his time with Tottenham as the fourth-string striker, Zhirkov scored exactly one goal in two years with Chelsea after earning the highest transfer fee in Russian history, and Arshavin has gone from probable-superstar to occasional super-sub, yet he narrowly trails Robin Van Persie for the highest salary on the team. Van Persie had 37 goals in all competitions this year…Arshavin had 2.

Also, Apollo Creed. Never forget.

Group B

Finally some teams that are actually decent. In fact, all 4 of these teams are ranked top-10 in the world by FIFA, and Germany, Netherlands and Portugal could all make a strong case for winning this tournament. Therefore,  Group B is officially the Group…of…DEATH!!!! So that’s fun.

Country: Germany

Known for: Do you really not know what Germany is known for?

Best Player: Mesut Ozil, attacking midfielder, Real Madrid

Why root for them: If you can get past the whole Hitler, Holocaust thing, Germany’s got a lot to like, and they’re probably the strongest contender to unseat Spain as champions of Europe. Unlike the traditional German stereotypes, this team is exciting to watch, young, dynamic and they tolerate Jews for the most part. The offense is led by the playmaking, unselfish Ozil, who is the so-called “straw that stirs the drink” on this team. He’s joined by explosive, young attacking midfielders like Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich) and Mario Gotze (Borussia Dortmund). Mario Lopez Gomez (Bayern Munich) will be the main striker, and Lukas Podolski (FC Koln) will either join him as a second striker or play out on the wing. 33-year-old Miroslav Klose (Lazio) is also on the roster, apparently as a safeguard in the event that Earth hits a black hole which sends us back to 2006.

The team is led by Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), who plays like the prototypical German midfielder and looks like the final result of the Final Solution. I’m not saying he’s part of the Hitler Youth or anything. I’m just saying, if the Hitler Youth were still around, they would look exactly like Bastian Schweinsteiger.  Joining him in the midfield is Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira, who definitely wouldn’t exist if Bastian Schweinsteiger got his way. On defense, you’ve got Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich), who is probably the best fullback in the world. He’s joined by fellow Bayern defenders Jerome Boateng, Per Mertesacker and goalie Manuel Neuer.

As they demonstrated in their 4-0 World Cup win over Argentina, talent is not the issue with this German team. The question will be whether they can play to their ability in high-stakes games against frustrating defenses like Portugal’s or dynamic counter attacks like Netherlands’.

Why root against them: The thought of Germany ruling Europe in anything makes me uncomfortable.

 Country: Netherlands

Known for: LOVING the color orange; Amsterdam; hating Germany; trance music

Best Player: Robin Van Persie, Striker, Arsenal

Why root for them: The Netherlands seems like an awesome country and they’re usually pretty easy to get behind: They’ve got cool jerseys, they spell things in weird and interesting ways, and they play an exciting brand of football. They’ve got RVP (Arsenal) up top, who just finished one of the most remarkable seasons in Premier League History, plus Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Narnia, I think). They’re supported by attacking midfielders Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich) and Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona). Their synergy can produce of the best goals, passes and moves you’ll see all tournament. When they’re clicking, expect fireworks.

Why root against them: Several reasons. One, Robben is a diving, whining, overrated prick who somehow appears to be double his 28 years of age , so there’s that. More importantly, the Dutch have reigned in their typical free-flowing attack in favor of a hard-nosed back line and two defensive midfielders. The biggest reason to hate them though is Nigel De Jong (Manchester City). De Jong has a penchant for sliding studs up while avoiding the referee’s eye. He viciously broke the ankles of Ben Arfa (Newcastle) and Team USA’s Stu Holden (Bolton) and there was this minor incident in the last World Cup final which, of course, went unpunished.

Also, the Dutch culture is just weird. They get to the point where their enigmatic behavior is endearing and even cool, but then they just take it too far and things get uncomfortable. They’re the cultural version of John Waters.

Country: Portugal

Known for: Speaking Brazilian

Best Player: Cristiano Ronaldo, Forward, Real Madrid

Why root for them: They were unbearable to watch at the World Cup, where they basically played 8 or 9 men back on defense, kicked the ball back and forth in their own half as often as possible and mitigated Ronaldo’s vast skill set. Somehow, that didn’t yield the results they were hoping for so they’ve recently switched to a more attacking approach thanks to the firing of Head Coach Carlos Quieroz. Their new strategy rightfully lets Ronaldo, Nani (Manchester United), Helder Postiga (Real Zaragoza) and Joao Moutinho (Porto) run loose against overmatched defenses. Ronaldo scored just 1 goal for Portugal in the past two years until new head coach Paolo Bento freed him from Quieroz’ defensive manacles. In 13 matches since, Ronaldo has scored 9 goals and Portugal recently destroyed Spain 4-0. Like him or hate him, soccer is much better off when Ronaldo is playing at his best.

Why root against them: They may have ditched their unlikeable style of play, but they still have two of the least likeable players in soccer. If you took A-Rod’s talent, pretentiousness, failure in the spotlight, penchant for hair gel, and overall douchiness, added a dollop of Kobe’s general abhorrence for his teammates and threw in a pinch of Vlade Divac’s flopping talents, you would get Cristiano Ronaldo. There is nothing more satisfying than the fact that Ronaldo, for all his incredible talents, metrosexual appearance and immeasurable ego, is always going to be considered second best to an impish Argentinean whose skills were handed down by the gods but whose looks were handed down by J.R.R. Tolkien. But Ronaldo seems like Clint Dempsey when he’s playing alongside Pepe (Real Madrid), aka Lord of the Dive. Pepe not only dives as bad as anyone in the sport, but he’s also incredibly dirty, which seems hypocritical. You can’t be Charles Oakley AND Manu Ginobili, unless you’re just a horribly mean-spirited and disingenuous human being with zero respect for the sport…which Pepe is. If the Italians mastered the “art” of gamesmanship, Pepe is the first year art student drawing on the Mona Lisa with sidewalk chalk.

Also, Portugal had a rough time even qualifying for the Euros. I realize that they changed their coach mid-way through, but it was still pretty much the same 11 guys out there getting smoked by soccer powerhouses like Malta, Norway and Turkey. Even under Bento, they lost their must-tie-or-win final qualifier to Denmark, and thus needed a playoff win against Bosnia-Herzegovina just to make the tournament. Whenever you’ve found yourself at the same level as Bosnia-Herzegovina, in anything really, you know you’ve done something wrong.

Country: Denmark

Known for: Hans Christian Andersen; pastries; having negligible world significance.

Best Player:  Nicklas Bendtner

Why root for them: Denmark will be seen as much more of an underdog than a Great Dane (see what I did?!!!!) this tournament. If you like rooting for teams whose primary goal is to not get embarrassed, then root for the Mets Denmark. It’s a shame since the Danes were looking like a dark horse to make a run  until they drew the Group of Death and promptly Barbaro’d their way out of the running. Who knows, maybe they’ll shock the world. They border Germany and they’re a stone’s throw from Netherlands so you know what they say-“familiarity breeds contempt”…Well, WE say that. In Denmark I think the saying is, “No we’re not the Ikea people, you’re thinking of Sweden, but we still exist! Hey don’t walk away! Please? We’re lonely and cold.”

Why root against them: Cause FUCK HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN.

Pt 2 coming Monday

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