We’re Not Going To Play, We’re Going To Referee

SIXTEEN TEAMS ARE GOING TO COMPETE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP AT EURO 2012, WHICH STARTS ON JUNE 8. TURKEY’S NATIONAL TEAM WON’T BE THERE, BUT OUR REFEREES WILL!

Four years ago I had one of the best times in my life traveling back and forth between Austria and Switzerland. While I was shuttling between trains, planes, cars, hotels and stadiums, the Turkish National Team was riveting world attention with a series of soccer miracles and a string of matches won by the skin of their teeth. Basel in Switzerland, the Czech Republic in Geneva, Croatia in Vienna - we trounced them all with last minute goals. It was Euro 2008, and Fatih Terim and his team had shown extraordinary resilience, going down in history as unforgettable champions. Not making the 2010 World Cup finals, the Turkish National Team won’t be playing in the Euro 2012 championship either. But this time Cüneyt Çakır, Tarık Ongun, Bahattin Duran and Bülent Yıldırım will be representing Turkey as referees in the 14th European Football Championships starting in Warsaw on June 8 and finishing in Kiev the evening of July 1.

CUP HISTORY
Before having a closer look at Euro 2012, let us glance briefly at the history of the cup. Seeing the excitement the World Cup generated in countries all over the globe, UEFA in 1956 decided to create a similar event among the European countries. It all started with a France-Greece match played at Paris’s Parc des Princes on October 1, 1958. Turkey played two matches with Rumania in that first cup. Losing the first 3-0, we won the rematch 2-0 with two goals by Lefter but were eliminated nonetheless.

Euro 96 was the first tournament in which we made it to the finals. Sadly however we lost all three matches - against Croatia, Denmark and Portugal - without scoring any goals.

In Euro 2000 we managed to progress beyond our group but were unable to avoid elimination in the quarter final with Portugal.

FAVORITES GERMANY AND SPAIN
Together with us in Group A in the Euro 2012 eliminations, Germany won all its matches to emerge as one of the strongest cup favorites. Mesut’s form especially is going to decide the fate of the Panzers under trainer Löw. Group B, which includes Germany, is definitely this tournament’s ‘Group of Death’. Also in the group, Holland, Denmark and Portugal are other teams that could do anything at any moment. And Portugal with C. Ronaldo in particular is expected to make a strong showing.

The last European and World champion, Spain is again the universal favorite. It won’t be easy to stop them with stars like Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, Pique, Fabregas, Casillas and Ramos. Del Bosque’s boys’ fiercest opponent is going to be the newly restructured Italian squad. Known for their sound defense, the Italians are going to try to decode Spain’s pass traffic in the first group match.

GREAT FOOTBALL
Group A host Poland is going to be up against the kind of opponents they like. With staunch home support in the stands, it will come as no surprise if they pull ahead of Russia, Greece and the Czech Republic.

In Group D another host country, Ukraine, is going to have tough job. Formidable opponents like England, France and Sweden await the yellow and navy blue team. Meanwhile the match between England and France is already looking like one of the hottest in the tournament.
There is probably no need to mention the incredible demand for flights to and hotels in Poland and Ukraine for the tournament, which starts in Warsaw on June 8. If all goes well, I’m going to have the time of my life at the finals, which I’ve been following since 1996. As Eduardo Galeano says, “I go about the world, hand outstretched, and in the stadiums I plead: ‘A pretty move, for the love of God!’”

THE EURO 2012 ELIMINATIONS IN NUMBERS
7    Mesut Özil is leader of the pack with 7 assists in 10 matches.
12    Holland forward Huntelaar is the top goalie with 12 goals scored.
22    Bosnian Edin Dzeko was caught offside 22 times.
23     C. Ronaldo leads the field with 23 goal attempts.
51    Number of teams that played in the eliminations
244    Number of matches played in the eliminations
639    Number of goals scored in the eliminations

PAST CHAMPIONS
1960     Soviet Union
1964    Spain
1968    Italy
1972    West Germany
1976    Czechoslovakia
1980    West Germany
1984    France
1988    Holland
1992    Denmark
1996    Germany
2000    France
2004    Greece
2008    Spain

DISCOVER LVOV AFTER THE MATCH
Ukraine’s city on UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage list, Lvov means lion in the local dialect. Only about an hour from the Polish border by car, this historic city is like an open air museum of architecture with its Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic style buildings. If your travels bring you to this city, so appealing with its ornate facades, decorative wrought ironwork, elegant sculptures and extensive gardens, we recommend that you see the castles of the Golden Horseshoe region. 

A century-old funicular takes passengers up to Podil, which affords one of the best views of the capital Kiev. The golden domes of the historic churches are the star attractions of this captivating cityscape.

Warsaw’s Chopin Museum is awaiting visitors with an entirely redone interior.  And the 67th International Chopin Festival is taking place at Duszniki-Zdrój August 3 to 11.

Rynok (Market) Square in the heart of old Lvov is surrounded by stylish restaurants. Here, you can try traditional Ukraine dumplings, called ‘pelmeni’.

Donetsk’s Artyemisk region, which is home to the first underground sanatorium, organizes tours to the salt mines. Concerts are held in the galleries, which are 300 meters below the surface and accessible by elevators.

HOW TO GO?
Turkish Airlines has flights in both directions to exactly seven cities in Ukraine: Kiev, Warsaw, Odessa, Lvov, Simferopol, Donetsk, Dnepropetrovsk and Kharkov. For more information:
www.turkishairlines.com