International focus shifts to Euro

GEORGE GROSS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:06 AM ET

For most North American sports fans, the focus of interest is on the Stanley Cup, Super Bowl, World Series or NBA championship.

The rest of the world gets most of its kicks out of watching the soccer World Cup with the European Championship regarded as second in importance.

This year, it is Euro 2008 that will capture the imagination of European soccer fans with the intriguing fact that the 31-game tournament will be played in two countries --Austria and Switzerland -- and in eight different venues: Basel, Bern, Geneva and Zurich in Switzerland, Vienna, Klagenfurt, Salzburg and Innsbruck in Austria.

A total of 16 teams will take part in the competition, namely Austria and Switzerland as host countries and Poland, Portugal, Italy, France, Greece, Turkey, the Czech Republic, Germany, Croatia, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Romania and the Netherlands as qualifiers.

Germany has taken part in the tournament on nine occasions, Russia eight times, Spain and the Netherlands, each seven times, while the Czech Republic, Italy and France each participated six times. Poland and Austria will make their debuts this year.

The teams are divided into four groups with Switzerland, Czech Republic, Portugal and Turkey in Group A; Austria, Croatia, Germany and Poland in Group B; Netherlands, Italy, Romania and France in Group C and Greece, the defending Euro champions, Sweden, Spain and Russia in Group D.

The final of the tournament will be played on June 29 at the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna, named after a former Austrian all-star defender.

The tournament winner will receive 7.5 million Euros from the Union of European Football Association -- that is more than $11 million -- while the runner-up will have to be satisfied with 4.5 million Euros.

Incidentally, the teams will play with the newly created 14-panel adidas ball dubbed Europass.

To predict the winner of Euro 2008 would take a real soccer insider. One so called insider whispered in my ear that Germany, Russia and Italy are considered the favourites.

OPENING GAMBIT

Kevin Keegan, former manager of the England national team and manager of three English clubs, is making his second appearance this year as manager of Newcastle United.

The once-gifted soccer star, who has been referred to in some corners as England's best-ever forward, began his second tour at the helm of Newcastle by signing 17-year-old Tamas Kadar of Hungary to a 41/2-year contract for $2 million.

The youngster told the English media: "My dream has come true. Now I have to fight to grab a place on the first team."

UNINVITED GUESTSSSSSS

It created quite a stir last week at the Nigeria Football Association building in Lagos when officials found seven snakes in hiding places.

According to reports, three of the snakes had infested the Glass House for some time and four were carried out in the wake of a fumigation exercise.

FREE KICKS

Brazilian striker and former Inter Milan star Adriano took a shot at the Italian media after his return to Brazil and his new club Sao Paolo.

After scoring two goals in his Sao Paolo debut, Adriano told the Brazilian press: "Don't call me imperatore, as they did in Italy. Leave that to the Italians. They are not used to saying good things about me" ... Money cannot buy everything, as Real Madrid, one of the world's richest clubs found out recently. It apparently offered -- unsuccessfully -- $100 million for the services of Portuguese winger Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored 22 goals in 25 matches this season ... Congratulations to Dwayne De Rosario of Scarborough, who was selected male player of the year in Canada and to Christine Sinclair of Burnaby B.C., the female player of the year. Both Sinclair and DeRosario were voted in for the third time in succession.


Videos

Photos