As Europe gets amped up for this year's 2016 UEFA European Championship in France, thoughts turn to the last European Championships back in 2012. Euro 2012 included some surprising moments, and some less surprising. While many were shocked at the choice of venue, few could claim to be truly flabbergasted at the eventual winners of the tournament. The competition was the 14th UEFA championships, and took place throughout June, and into July of 2012. Let's take a look back at how it all started.
The bid process
The choice of hosts was one of the most contentious subjects of the entire tournament. Five bids were originally considered, with Croatia and Hungary and Poland and Ukraine uniting together to make joint bids and Greece, Italy and Turkey putting their names forward as sole hosts. After some consideration Greece and Turkey were removed from the running, leaving the remaining three to battle it out.
Many believed that Italy was a strong candidate, with a relatively stable economy and a reputation as a successful sports host in the past. However, its reputation was tarnished by match fixing allegations in 2006 among Italy's top professional football leagues. Telephone conversations intercepted by the police suggested that managers were influencing the appointment of certain referees to their own advantage. This, in addition to several incidents of Italian fan violence around the same time meant that officials were forced to look elsewhere for hosts. After several postponed press conferences and some doubts about the new host's readiness, Poland-Ukraine were announced as the joint hosts of Euro 2012.
Whilst preparations were relatively smooth in Poland, the road to completion was far from smooth for Ukraine, which faced financial and timing issues in the run-up to the tournament. On several occasions UEFA officials made their concerns about the venues known to the public and threatened that alternative hosts would be found if Poland and Ukraine did not prove their readiness for the tournament.
In fact, Scotland was mentioned as a potential alternative host several times in the run up to summer 2012. However, while some officials suggested that Poland take the bulk of the matches due to a financial crisis which was compromising Ukraine's progress, eventually Ukraine completed all work in time, including the renovation of a stadium in Kiev, the project which had caused the greatest official concern.
When the 2012 hosts were announced, many speculated that the accommodation, stadiums and general infrastructure of the area would fall short of the expectations of most teams. Soviet era statues still stand all around the cities of both Poland and Ukraine, giving them a somewhat cold, practical feel in sharp contrast with that of Spain 2008 and Portugal 2004. Outside one of the main Ukrainian stadiums in Donetsk, for example, stands a huge statue of a miner and another of a soldier.
UEFA's strict rules necessitated the joint hosts build five new stadia to host the matches, and three existing ones were renovated for the tournament. In addition, Poland and Ukraine updated the infrastructure around each of the stadia. Roads, railways and other forms of public transport were updated in preparation for the arrival of thousands of football fans. Some concerns were also raised over corruption within the Polish football association. Following this, UEFA officials launched an investigation and kept a close eye on the Polish teams.
The tournament ran into further problems following former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's claims of mistreatment whilst in prison for alleged abuse of power and embezzlement. After Tymoshenko went on hunger strike, many heads of state announced a boycott of the games. Tymoshenko was released in March 2010. However, concerns continued to be raised over the political system in Ukraine, and the country's attitude to human rights.
While in 2016 twenty-four teams are set to play for the cup, Poland-Ukraine 2012 was the last tournament in which sixteen finalists competed. Hosts, Poland and Ukraine were automatically included in the final group, with the fourteen remaining teams being: defending champions Spain, Germany, Russia, Italy, France, Netherlands, Greece, England, Denmark, Spain, Sweden, Croatia, Czech Republic, Portugal, and the Republic of Ireland.
The opening ceremony took place at the National Stadium in Warsaw on Friday the 8th of June 2012. The ceremony involved choreographed dances from groups of local children, miles of colourful ribbons and the music of local composer Chopin. Accompanying dancers were dressed up as musical crotchets and treble clefs.
During the performance, the pianist was replaced with a DJ dressed in sparkling gold t-shirt and a pair of comically large headphones. The ceremony was followed by two matches: one nail biting, the other less so. The first match saw Poland tie with Greece 1-1, while in the second match the Czech Republic suffer a devastating defeat at the hands of Russia, scoring just one goal in opposition to Russia's four.