A Beginner’s Guide to Following Euro 2012

If you’ve been checking ESPN, CNNSI or other sports related websites, you might have been reading random headlines or sections devoted to Euro 2012. If you don’t know, Euro 2012 is a major soccer tournament. And if you haven’t already figured out by now, it’s a tournament in Europe.

Euro 2012 is one of the largest sporting events in the world. It’s smaller than, say, the World Cup or the Olympics of course. Like the World Cup and the Olympics, it happens only once every four years, coincidentally the same year as the Olympics. People from all over Europe come to watch their country try to win that trophy and claim the title of “Best in Europe”. But the tournament itself attraction to an audience that expands beyond Europe, but mainly because soccer is the most popular sport in the world.

If this is your first time ever hearing about this tournament or you’ve heard about it before, this might be a great year to actual watch it. And for those of us in the United States, we’re in for a real treat, as ESPN will be showing all the games for the tournament. So if you haven’t watched soccer before, this is definitely a great opportunity to watch it. Here’s a guide to how to take it all in.

How does the tournament work?

Before the final stage, the teams had to go through qualifying. The final stage splits the remaining 16 teams into four groups of four via pot seeding, except that the two co-hosts are in the top seed pot, pushing every else down in terms of seeding. From there, there’s a round-robin group stage, played in either Poland or Ukraine. Three games, best two from each group advance to the quarterfinals. It pits a group winner against a group runner-up. The winners advance to the semifinals. And the winners of that advance to the finals. And from there, they crown the winners as “Best of Europe” for the next four years.

It sounds like another World Cup, but only for Europeans.

True, but the difference is the final stage. The pot seeding doesn’t separate the remaining teams based on their regions (like the World Cup). Instead, seeding was based on their continental ranking.  The only exception was the co-hosts Poland and Ukraine being placed in pot one, since you cannot put co-hosts in the same pot. Especially for this year, where 15 of the top 16 teams in Europe qualified for this stage, pot seeding was very dramatic.

The scheduling for the tournament is also very different.

How long is this tournament?

Roughly about three weeks. It’s a little shorter than the World Cup since it doesn’t have a round of 16 in their elimination rounds.

That’s short…

Except for the fact that unlike the World Cup, the amount of rest in between each match-up is roughly four days maximum, not five or six days. Because of this, injuries can be very harsh. Recovery time is also very difficult. If you don’t follow soccer, you’re only allowed a maximum of three subs during the entire course of a game.

Because of this, players can get tired if they play three consecutive games over the course of nine days (soccer is a very physically demanding sport with the running, contact, and aggression on the field). This means bench depth can play a key role in a country’s success in the tournament. Not always, but can.

Why should I watch this?

Every game matters.

We’re very much spoiled with our sports teams when it comes to post-season play. You hear all these stories of “best-of-seven” or “best-of-five” series. If your team loses, you can still win the next one. However, here, losses in the group stage can and usually are detrimental to your chances of advancing. A loss in the the elimination rounds means your team won’t lift the trophy.

The perfect group of death

A group of death means a group that consists of several good teams within one group. The problem is that one or more of those teams won’t advance into the next part of the tournament and face “certain death”. In the case of this tournament, it is group B, with the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, and Denmark. The former three are ranked second, third and fourth in the world according to FIFA, respectively.

Players are playing for their country

For us in the United States, we see players playing for the club teams that they play for. But it’s not often we get to see their national pride. Here, it’s different. Because they’re playing once every four years and for their country, there’s a lot on the line for each player. It’s a trophy that not every will get a chance to lift because of how often the tournament is held, in addition to whether their country wants them on the national squad. So emotions will be on high and the ferocity and desire to win will be there. Because the only thing separating those players and their country is six more matches.

Where can I watch the games?

ESPN is actually showing all the matches for the second consecutive time, which means you can watch them on your TV or online at watchespn.com. Games are going to be earlier in the morning for those that live in the Western United States. Working? That’s okay because the games will be available for replay on watchespn.com.

Who should I root for?

If you’re looking for a high octane offense, Germany and the Netherlands are two of the best teams to watch with this in mind. Very aggressive, very quick on the attack, and very fun to watch.

If you’re looking for a team that plays very methodically and produces some beautiful plays, Spain, Germany, and France are your best bets there.

If you’re looking for a strong team that’s not the top four (Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal), it’s France, who haven’t lost in twenty consecutive matches and a completely reinvigorated spirit with their manager Laurent Blanc.

If you’re looking for a dark horse pick, it’s England or Italy. Both ravaged with injuries, but still have some quality talent.

If you’re looking for a sleeper, it’s Sweden or Russia. They have some good talent that can definitely carry their teams, plus being in somewhat easier groups gives them a chance to make it into the elimination stage.

If you’re looking for a team that’s solid defensively… Well, that might be tough because most of the teams in the competition suffer from some flaws defensively. That’s the other reason to watch this tournament. There will be goals scored and some fantastic ones with some of the best in the world in the tournament.

How do I watch a soccer game?

Remember that this isn’t like basketball or football. Goals will be scored, but not every minute. Each team has their own style, tactics, and methodology for how they play. However, it isn’t as slow as baseball. Games have a running clock, regardless of injury. So 45 minute halves will usually be 45 minutes, unless there’s a long injury break. Patience is key to watching these games. It’s like an American football game. There will be a lot of push and shove, but something will happen and a touchdown will eventually be scored. Soccer is much the same way, except with no timeouts.

Also keep in mind the plays they make are quite difficult to do. Constant movement of the ball and by players is crucial because it keeps defenses on their heels and as a result, it creates spaces. Those spaces equate to players moving into them and if a ball gets passed to them in those open spaces, goals can result from them. There’s also a lot of unpredictability too from players. Occasionally, you’ll see a player shooting an amazing goal from 25-30 yards out or intricate passing play that results in a great goal.

But something to keep in mind is that there are no timeouts. Play keeps going, so if you’re going to take a bathroom break, make it quick because you can potentially miss a goal because of it.

And depending on who you watch, the amount of commentary can be a lot or a little. Usually British announcers will not say a whole lot except who has the ball and when a great play is made or a key stat is brought to them. American announcers will just say whatever and do it often.

Terms to Know

Messi – The best player in the world. Except he can’t play in the tournament because he’s on the Argentinian national team. But if you watch Spain or Ronaldo (with Portugal) play, you’ll hear his name pop up.

Build-up – A team’s passing that leads up to eventual shot at the goal. Usually takes several passes to result in an announcer using the term “build-up”.

Long ball – It’s like a hail mary in American football. Get it down the field and hope one of your players gets it.

“Controlling the midfield” – Games are usually won in the midfield because usually the midfielders are the best players in terms of stamina, passing, and ball movement. If you control the middle third of the field, you’re more likely to win (though not always).

Save – Just like hockey, goalkeepers will make saves to prevent goals from getting scored.

Crosses – Going from the side of the field and kicking it towards the middle of the field, hoping that someone in front of the goal will kick or head the ball in.

Pot seeding – You hear a lot about it in soccer and some other sports and you’ll hear about it a couple of times in this article. The way it works is the participants in the event are ranked and seeded. From there, they’re separated into pots. So the top seeds are placed into one pot, then the next set of seeds are placed into another, and so on. Then for each group, the organizers will select one team from the pot of top seeds, then one from the pot of second seeds and so forth until the group is filled. This procedure is done to adequately randomize groups and also ensure that there isn’t two top seeds in the same group (or two second seeds or whatever). It also creates some interesting dynamics in terms of group play as well like groups of death.

Final thoughts

Again, if you haven’t seen a soccer match before, this is definitely a great opportunity to watch soccer for the first time. The games will be intense and well-fought. The quality of play by teams will also be very good because there are a lot of good teams in the tournament. Remember that it’s difficult to compare one sport to another because each sport is different. You just have to appreciate it from what it is and the opportunities that are given to each team in their attempts to win the game.

And my prediction for the final is France 2, Spain 1. Have fun watching Euro 2012.

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