KEIR RADNEDGE in Kyiv
— Holders Spain must deal with Italy, whom they beat on penalties on their way to glory in 2008, if they want to make history as the first nation ever to retain the Henri Delaunay trophy in all its 52 years.
The draw for next June’s finals of the 2012 European Championship slotted Vicente Del Bosque’s champions and world No1 nation into Group C along with Italy (winners in 1968), Croatia and the Irish Republic under veteran Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni. Intriguingly, Trapattoni has never lost to his home country: his record is three matches played, one won, two drawn.
State President Victor Yanukovich welcomed European football on behalf of Ukraine and then handed over to UEFA’s general secretary, Gianni Infantino, to conduct the draw. His introductory comments included a tribute to the Wales manager Gary Speed whose suicide had shocked European football two weeks ago.
Infantino then launched into the draw process in front of a live television show broadcast in more than 150 countries. He was assisted by a star line-up of old winning heroes such as Russia’s Victor Ponedelnik (1960), Spain’s Luis Suarez (1964), Italy’s Gianni Rivera (1968), Germany’s Paul Breitner (1972), Czech Antonin Panenka (1976), Germany’s Horst Hrubesch (1980), France’s Alain Giresse (1984), Holland’s Marco Van Basten (1988), Denmark’s Peter Schmeichel (1992), Germany’s Oliver Bierhoff (1996), France’s Zinedine Zidane (2000), Greece Anton Nikopolidis (2004) and Spain’s Joan Capdevila (2008).
There were also bit-parts for UEFA president Michel Platini, bringing on the trophy, and for Ukraine’s track and field legend, Sergey Bubka, who brought on stage the official tournament matchball.
The highlights of Group A were both Polish with, first, the co-hosts being drawn together with Russia and, secondly, being handed Greece, shock winners in 2004, as their rivals in the Opening Match in the new Warsaw national stadium on Friday, June 8. Completing the mini-league were the Czech Republic.
Group B was the obvious pick as ‘group of death’ with three previous champions in Holland (1988), Denmark (1992), Germany (1972, 1980 and 1996) along with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. Coincidentally, Denmark and Portugal were in the same qualifying group when Morten Olsen’s Danes came out on top, condemning Ronaldo and Co to the play-off route.
England, who had decided in advance to make their base Krakow in Poland, must play all their first-round games in Ukraine after being drawn in Group D along with the co-hosts, Sweden and a reviving France who are no longer the grumpy, disfunctional team who crashed out in the first round of the last World Cup.
That twist of the draw cost Polish federation president Grzegorz Lato the princely sum of 20 euro. That was the bet he had made ahead of the draw with Platini that England would be drawn in Poland’s group.
The full draw
GROUP A: Poland, Greece, Russia, Czech Republic
Group B: Holland, Denmark, Germany, Portugal
GROUP C: Spain, Italy, Rep Ireland, Croatia
GROUP D: Ukraine,Sweden, France, England.