It's soccer madness

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:28 AM ET

The soccer is the attraction.

The atmosphere and the environment is the narcotic, as strong as any drug you can find.

There is something magical -- addictive -- about tournaments such as Euro '08. It's a get-out-of-jail-free card from reality. The ugly of real-life is suspended, if just temporarily.

It's much like holding a heavyweight championship boxing match every night for 23 days.

Is it any wonder tournaments such as Euro '08 and the World Cup are so anticipated by fans and players alike and targeted by soccer countries not only as a means of raising their soccer profiles, but also to unite and focus a country on only one objective.

I was told recently by someone who did not care for the game of soccer that, while in Europe, he had the opportunity if attending a game involving Glasgow Rangers and Celtic. When it was over, he was gobsmacked.

It had little to do with the game itself, although he was impressed with the skill level and the players. He couldn't get over the atmosphere, the energy in the stadium, the colour and anticipation of something happening.

Take that one game and multiply it over 23 days and 31 games. Imagine June 17 in Zurich when Italy and France take to the field. They were in the same qualifying group. They played the 2006 World Cup final, the final of France's Zinedine Zidane losing his head, using it to head-butt Marco Materazzi.

Imagine Croatia and Germany, two nations that have no love of each other. Or Poland and Germany.

How about a quarter-final game that might feature Italy and Spain with Italy's Fabio Cannavaro and Marco Materazzi trying to control Spain's Fernando Torres and David Villa.

Mouthwatering is the word.

Euro '08 has many storylines going in.

Will Spain finally live up to its billing as the most talented team in the tournament and win a major trophy? Will Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo carry his team to a title they came so close to winning at home four years ago? Lightning struck once for Greece in 2004, will lightning defy the odds and strike again for the small nation or is there another soccer minnow ready for a shock result?

But what will be most fascinating are the storylines that major tournaments like this always produce.

The 2006 World Cup produced the Zidane head-butt; an injury-time penalty kick which allowed eventual champion Italy to eliminate the upstart Australian team; and England's Wayne Rooney stomping on Portuguese defender Ricardo Carvalho's "boys," earning him a red card. England eventually lost that quarter-final on penalties.

The 2004 Euro tournament produced Greece as the winner, a team that made it through to the second round only on goal differential. England-France was the group match of the tournament. It included a 90-minute equalizer from the French after David Beckham missed a penalty that would have made the score 2-0. Three minutes into injury time, as the referee was readying to blow the final whistle, England gave up a penalty. Zidane threw up twice before successfully converting the penalty.

There is no England in this European Championship, robbing the tournament of news, incidents and talking points. But it will provide stress relief for the English fan who continues to wait for a national team breakthrough, the first since their 1966 World Cup win.

But there is a plethora of outstanding soccer nations. Eight of FIFA's top-10-ranked nations in the world qualified for this tournament. The only two missing, Brazil and Argentina, aren't eligible. Of the 16 teams in this tournament, 14 are among the world's top 25. The only two who aren't are Switzerland and Austria, the host nations.

Top soccer nations fielding many of the top players in the world playing for one of the most prestigious national soccer championship in the world.


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