To many fans, the European Championship ranks as the top competition.
With only 16 teams instead of 32, many believe the caliber of play at the European Championship exceeds that of the World Cup, which gets diluted by some of the slots apportioned to areas of the globe without strong soccer traditions.
If that sounds arrogant, consider that only one non-European country (Uruguay) has been among the semifinalists at the last two World Cups.
Both tournaments take place every four years, but in alternate even-numbered years. That puts the European Championship, which started in 1960 but became a full-fledged tournament in 1980 when eight teams competed, in the same summer as the Olympics.
For Euro 2012, defending champion Spain _ which also won the 2010 World Cup _ is the favorite, especially with Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta controlling play. But the Netherlands and Germany are also contenders with their own game-changing players, notably the Dutch trio of Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder.
Hooliganism is always an issue at major soccer tournaments; this year’s competition has already been marred by racism concerns and political turmoil in Ukraine.
The 16 teams in the championship _ the two co-hosts and 14 other nations that made it through a two-year qualifying tournament _ have been split into four groups of four. The top two in each group reach the quarterfinals.
The final will be played on July 1 in Kiev.
Here’s a look at the stars, top teams, and a few players who could surprise at Euro 2012.
BEST PLAYERSView Entire Story
By Rand Paul
Obama acts as though we no longer have a Constitution
Independent voices from the TWT Communities
First over-the-counter column approved for fast and effective relief from even your worst media-induced headache.
Contributions to the Communities Sports desk from readers.
Happiness is attainable. Morning to night. I love to teach, deal with folks that have an issue and really wish to tackle it and write.
Benghazi: The anatomy of a scandal
Vietnam Memorial adds four names
Cinco de Mayo on the Mall
NRA kicks off annual convention
California wildfires wreak havoc