There really is no argument at this point: The European Championship is the most competitive high-level soccer tournament in the world, even more so than the World Cup. When Euro 2012 starts on Friday with Poland-Greece (ESPN, noon ET) and Russia-Czech Republic (ESPN, 2:45 p.m. ET), every team will bring something to the table. The tournament has only 16 national teams (at least until it moves to 24 in four years), and so it's possible to have a first-round group of Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark, four teams in the top 10 of the FIFA world rankings.
In other words, none of the North Koreas, Hondurases and Saudi Arabias that have populated recent World Cups will provide filler at the Euro. What's more, if the electrifying Euro 2008 is an indicator, then the play over the next three weeks will be more entertaining than the World Cup, with open games and fantastic finishes. That's part of the reason ESPN platforms started showing every Euro game live in 2008, even though the U.S. isn't involved. ESPN's decision has been a godsend for soccer fans in the U.S., and the sport has grown here because of it.
The storylines at Euro 2012 are compelling, too. Can Spain become the first team to win two straight Euros and three straight titles that include the Euro and World Cup? Can Germany and the Netherlands, probably the next best two teams in the world, end Spain's stranglehold? Can the co-hosts, Poland and Ukraine, exceed expectations and make a deep run before their nervous fans? Can Italy change the talk from match-fixing scandals and the volatility of forwards Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano to tales of Azzurri perseverance? And might we see a stunning title run from an underdog like Denmark in 1992 or Greece in 2004?
I'll be arriving in Poland on Sunday (due to a family wedding this week) and reporting for SI, SI.com and the Fox Soccer Channel. So hop on board and enjoy the ride. Here's my list of
Enjoy the games!