EURO, an enjoyable epidemic!

A plethora of attacking talent will put their wares up for display and with managers more comfortable with experiments these days, fans can expect different formations and styles of play.

A replica of the EURO trophy in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.   -  AP

It was the best of times. Really, it was the best of times.

The economic liberalisation and the advent of satellite television had been a real boon for us. The opening up of the Indian market by the then Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao and his Finance Minister Manmohan Singh brought in global brands, global television to our household.

The 90s introduced us to a daily dose of Hollywood cinema — a grand departure from the weekly Chitrahar — and western sitcoms, which we were quick to accept as more nuanced and relevant than our joint-family humour/drama of Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi or Humlog.

Thankfully, with them also came the best of global sports and personalities, opening up a whole new world of heroes and hero-worship.

Fortunate enough to be a part of this revolutionary generation and armed with a glass of Pepsi — parents took extreme effort to equally distribute the bubbly from the heavy glass bottles among the cola-thirsty brethren — I watched my first European Championship in 1992 at the grand old age of eight!

I became a regular feature in front of the cardboard box-like Sonodyne television set, late into the night, at my uncle’s official quarters in the industrial town of Sindri, close to Dhanbad in Bihar (now Jharkhand).

The football, in my second brush with the televised version, was eclectic, more competitive and freewheeling than the dour Italia 90. That July 1990, a beaten and trodden Diego Maradona — by the tough tackling West Germany — had left a skinny kid, with no discerning football skills in the football heartland of India, Kolkata, teary-eyed and heartbroken.

Two years down, a Michael Laudrup-inspired Denmark — coming literally off the holiday beaches when Yugoslavia, plunged into civil war, was forced to drop out — dampened the German mean machines, defeating them 2-0 in Gothenburg, Sweden — exacting the perfect revenge, slaying the slayer of Diego.

The Germans, though, came back strongly and were there to ride out a penalty shootout to wrest the Cup at Wembley in 1996.

Fast forward 20 years, and we are now, days away from the 15th European Championship and the Germans, not bloody and machine-like anymore, start as favourites for EURO 2016. >(Our football expert, Sunil Chhetri, readily agrees.)

Following a quarterfinal exit at the France World Cup in 1998, a unified Germany overhauled its footballing structure and also its identity, investing Deutsche Mark 3.2-million for youth development. Stützpunkte (regional centres), totalling 121, were set up to provide two hours of individual, technical coaching for some 4,000 teenagers, 13 to 17-year-olds, once a week. After Die Mannschaft was knocked out from the group stage of EURO 2000 — with the 39-year-old Lothar Matthaus playing as a libero — and EURO 2002 the budget was raised to Euro 14-million and it was ensured that 600,000 kids were watched at least once a year by 1,300 DFB coaches in 366 locations.

The nation was rightly rewarded and >Germany’s entire 2014 World Cup-winning squad was a product of the new system.

Dietrich Weise, part of West Germany’s 1974 World Cup-winning squad, the brain behind this reorganisation, was quoted in Raphael Honigstein’s book, Das Reboot, after the team’s triumph in Brazil: “When I saw the Loew team triumph at the World Cup in the summer of 2014, I thought now and again: ‘Oh man, oh man, oh man. You have had a small part in that, you’ve worked on that.’ The football we are playing today is based on those ideas. At least 10 players who are involved in the national team today we would have never found otherwise. Think of Toni Kroos. He hails from a small place in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. No one would have looked at him.”

Manager Joachim Loew, however, will miss the services of the talented Marco Reus and Ilkay Gundogan (injuries) and the inspirational Bayern captain Philip Lahm, who retired from international football after lifting the World Cup in 2014. The onus, though, still remains firmly on youth, with the average age of the squad 25.9, the second youngest in the tournament.

Belgium (average age: 26.4), No. 2 in the FIFA rankings, is brimming with excellent talent and will look to cruise through Group E, despite the presence of former champion Italy and the ever resolute Sweden. England (the youngest squad in the tournament at 25.8) and host nation, France, too, bring in young and exciting squads, promising a rollicking knockout stage.

The expanded version of the competition — a 24-team event now — has five debutants in Albania, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Slovakia and Wales and Sportstar’s long-standing football columnist >Brian Glanville rightly casts his doubt about the quality of the competition (especially during the group stage) and the complexities involved in the selection of teams for the knockout stage. Four best third-placed teams will join the top two from each group to make the round of 16.

A plethora of attacking talent will put their wares up for display and with managers more comfortable with experiments these days, fans can expect, as our in-house writers concur ( >Group A, >Group B, >Group C, >Group D, >Group E, >Group F), different formations and styles of play.

And little-known teams have the wherewithal to cause gigantic upsets, as the Championship has proved again and again. Only time will tell if France will provide international sport its Leicester City moment or football, as Gary Lineker would have it, remains a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.

>Read: Time for new stars to emerge

Support Sportstar


Dear Reader,

Support our journalism — where text and pictures intermingle so seamlessly — and help us scale up your experience as the world changes around us. Your contribution is vital to our brand of uninfluenced, boots-on-the-ground reportage that’s worth your while. Clickbait sensationalism is not for us, but editorial independence is — we owe it to you.