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Euro 2012 Primer

As Euro 2012 kicks off in Poland and Ukraine, here’s a brief introduction to the format and teams in this year’s UEFA European Football Championship.

The 2012 tournament will be held jointly by Poland and Ukraine. It is the last ever staging of the European Championships to feature just 16 teams and UEFA have decided that in 2016, the tournament will be contested by 24 countries!

The UEFA European Football Championship (formerly known as the European Nations Cup) is the international football championship of Europe. Since 1984, the European Championships have been known colloquially as The Euros, with the year appended. So the 1984 event was called Euro 84, the 1988 staging Euro 88, and so on. Since the turn of the millennium, the full year has been used: Euro 2000, Euro 2004, Euro 2008 and, coming soon, Euro 2012.

The final tournament is held every four years, midway through each four-year World Cup cycle. For example, World Cup finals were held in 1998, 2002 and 2006, and 2010 while European Championship finals were held in 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008. The next European Championship is being held in 2012, in Poland and Ukraine.

From its beginnings back in France 56 years previously, when four teams battled it out for the title, the Euros have come a long way.

Every national side in Europe is eligible to enter, providing they are affiliated to UEFA (the Union of European Football Associations), the governing body of football in Europe.

The tournament is organised along the same principles as the World Cup. There is a qualification tournament, contested by every entrant, followed by a finals tournament, featuring 16 finalists.

The hosts are always exempt from qualifying, so for Euro 2012, Poland and Ukraine are in automatically, and there’s only room for 14 additional teams.

Countries are drawn into 1 of 7 seeded qualification groups, with seeding dependent on previous performance in World Cups and European Championships, and the seeds’ FIFA World ranking. Countries play home and away against every other team in their group, with the winners and runners-up of the resulting mini-league qualifying for the finals.

Once at the finals, the 16 teams are seeded, then drawn into 4 groups of 4. After playing each other once, the winners and runners-up of those groups go through to the quarter-finals, each group winner being paired with a runner-up from a different group. From then on in it’s a straight knockout, through the semis to the final.

The Euro 2012 groups shake out like this:

Group A Group B Group C Group D
Poland Netherlands Spain Ukraine
Greece Denmark Italy Sweden
Russia Germany Rep. of Ireland France
Czech Republic Portugal Croatia England
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