Euro 2012 kicks off on Friday. The 31 game tournament which takes place every four years brings the top countries in Europe together. It is the second biggest soccer tournament behind the World Cup. Poland and Ukraine are joint hosts, the first time a major soccer tournament has been hosted in Eastern Europe since the fall of Communism. Spain are the reigning champions. The Spanish will be attempting to become the first nation to win the Euro consecutively with a World Cup triumph squeezed in between. Poland takes on Greece in the opening game (9am PST) followed by Russia versus Czech Republic (11.45am PST).
After weeks of anticipation, speculation and debate, Euro 2012 finally gets under way on Friday when co-hosts Poland take on Greece in Warsaw.
The tournament sees 16 of Europe’s best footballing countries compete for the Henri Delaunay Trophy, with the final taking place in Kiev on 1 July.
The home nations are represented by England – who begin against France on 11 June – while Republic of Ireland are also in action.
Football fans will see 31 games over the next three weeks, as Spain look to defend the title they won in Vienna four years ago.
Eight stadiums across Poland and Ukraine are being used for the tournament, from the smallest in Lviv which holds just under 35,000 fans, to the colossal 70,000-seater Olympic Stadium in Kiev which hosts the final.
BBC Sport’s pundits have backed Germany to win this time around, with only former captain Alan Shearer backing England to make the last four.
As well as France, Roy Hodgson’s England will come up against Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine in Group D, while Giovanni Trapattoni’s Republic of Ireland are in a tough group consisting of Croatia, Italy and defending European and world champions Spain.
Other fancied teams this time around are the Netherlands – who are in the ‘group of death’ alongside the Germans, Portugal and Denmark – while Russia could spring a surprise from Group A.
England – who failed to qualify for the last tournament in Austria and Switzerland four years ago – have never won the European Championship, with their best result in recent memory a semi-final defeat by Germany at Wembley in 1996.
Their build-up to the tournament this time has been hampered by the loss of several first-team players to injury and suspension.
Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney will miss the first two matches of the tournament after he was sent off against Montenegro last year, while Frank Lampard,Gary Cahill and Gareth Barry all picked up injuries in the last few weeks.
As well as players missing out on the trip, the usual hordes of England fans may be absentafter thousands of tickets were returned to Uefa.
The Football Association was given around 7,500 tickets for the games against France and Ukraine, and 9,000 for the Sweden fixture.
But only 3,000 tickets were sold through England’s official membership group for each of the group games.
It is believed that the current economic climate, coupled with the high costs of travel and accommodation, have put many off, while former England defender Sol Campbell warned fans to stay away last month after a Panorama programme highlighted incidents of racism in Ukraine.
Television coverage of the tournament is shared with ITV, with the tournament’s opener between Poland and Greece live on BBC One and BBC One HD from 16:15 BST on Friday, 8 June.
Check more stories and team fixtures an Euro 2012 titbits from GOAL.COM….http://www.goal.com/en/news/2898/euro-2012