Euro 2012 race controversy

Well that didn’t take long. Before a ball’s even been kicked at Euro 2012 we have our first racism controversy.  There was abusive chanting heard at Holland’s open training session in Krakow, with Dutch captain Mark van Bommel making a complaint to UFEA.

“It is a real disgrace especially after getting back from Auschwitz [the Dutch squad had visited the concentration camp on Wednesday] that you are confronted with this,” the 35-year-old told the waiting media after the session.

“We will take it up with UEFA and if it happens at a match we will talk to the referee and ask him to take us off the field.”

UEFA, upholder of European football’s sporting values, acknowledged that there had been abusive chanting, but said it had “no plans” to launch an investigation into the incident. This, despite reiterating its policy of zero tolerance to racism!

Italy striker Mario Balotelli, who threatened to walk off the pitch if he was racially abused during a game, need not worry about that – at this rate, he’s not even going to make it on to the pitch!

Same old story

UEFA’s response was not entirely unexpected and, argues the Guardian’s Richard Williams, was wholly in keeping with their hypocritical attitude to the problem of racism in European football.

Williams notes the inconsistency of a body which talks a good game when it comes to racism, but delivers token fines to those found guilty of practising it.

“This is the body who fined the Spanish FA a mere £45,000 after the black English players Ashley Cole, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Jermaine Jenas and Jermain Defoe had been openly abused during a friendly in Madrid’s Bernabéu stadium in 2004,” he argues, before claiming that the indifference shown by president Michel Platini and his cohorts at UEFA makes them accessories to the crime.

Better news

Happily, there was better news from England’s open training session, which passed off without incident and was mercifully bereft of the racist chanting that tainted the Dutch session.

One can only assume that John Terry sat that one out. Probably still nursing his sore hamstring.

Meanwhile, the UK government has confirmed it will not be attending the tournament to watch England in the group stages.

A statement released by the Foreign Office said: “The Government fully supports England’s participation in Euro 2012. We hope this is a successful tournament for the England team, the fans and the people of Ukraine and Poland.

“No ministers will be attending group games at Euro 2012.

“We are keeping attendance at later stages of the tournament under review in the light of ministers’ busy schedules ahead of the Olympics and widespread concerns about selective justice and the rule of law in Ukraine.”

Hang on. So if England get out of the group stages, those busy schedules might become less busy? Is this a principled boycott or not? I think not.

In the exceedingly unlikely event that England reach the final in Kiev on July 1, you can be guaranteed that every Tom, Dick and Gideon will be sitting snugly  alongside their Ukrainian counterparts in the VIP box, and the furthest thing from their minds will be ‘widespread concerns about selective justice and the rule of law in Ukraine’.

Quote of the day

“I think they should wear steel helmets and make themselves big.”   

Asked how players should deal with Cristiano Ronaldo’s free-kicks, the amusingly-named Germany assistant coach Herr (Hansi) Flick, has a novel suggestion.

Goal of the day

With the tournament yet to get underway there’s an obvious shortage of goals, so we’ve trawled the archives to find a memorable strike from a previous European Championship. It’s 1996, and trailing 2-0 to Croatia, Denmark keeper, Peter Schmeichel has come up for a corner. He has a long chase back but manages to get back just as the ball reaches Davor Suker.

Respect and humility

Today’s entry for Pseuds Corner comes from reigning European and World champions Spain.

Spain are training in the quiet village of Gniewino, but they are surrounded by slogans scattered around their training facilities. Intended to reflect the team’s humble persona, the slogans reinforce the message that Spain’s recent successes mean nothing going into Euro 2012.

”History doesn’t make you champion, humility does” reads one banner. ”History doesn’t stop the rival, concentration does” is there alongside ”History doesn’t score goals, talent does.”  ”United by a dream” adorns each lamp post leading to the Mistral Sport Hotel field where the squad trains each day.

Humility and respect for one’s opponents are admirable qualities, but there comes a point when a sport’s team starts to take itself and its ‘mission’ too seriously. I suspect Spain are fast approaching that point.

Listen to defender Sergio Ramos, not a player one normally associates with calmness and respect, but who now sounds like he’s spent the weeks since the Spanish season finished, holed up in a Zen retreat.

”We’re conscious of the fact that it was inevitable on paper we’d be favorites,” he said. ”The key to our success has been to always start from zero and respect our opponents. Humility has been the base from which we have grown in these recent years.”

If Spain do fail to retain their title, they will find themselves in the unaccustomed position of being able to blame it on having too much respect for their opponents.

Double Dutch

On the subject of Spain, Dutch legend Johan Cruyff believes that their hopes of retaining the title could be fatally jeopardised by the  intensifying rivalry between players from Real Madrid and Barcelona.

“Spain have a very good team, but coach Vicente del Bosque has his hands full with the large wedge that Jose Mourinho drove between the Real Madrid and Barcelona players,” he told De Telegraaf.

I suppose if there’s one nationality that would understand the dangers of a squad disunity it would be the Dutch. And if there’s one person who knows about the dangers of player power undermining squad harmony, it would be the inimitable Cruyff.

Let the party begin!

On the eve of the eagerly-awaited festival of football, comes news of a vicious attack by Polish hooligans on a group of supporters enjoying a drink in the city of Lodz.

Around 50 hooligans attacked the fans as they drank in a pub on Thursday evening. The attackers were described as young men wearing club colours of local team LKS Lodz.

“When they started to hit out, we fled inside,” one Polish victim said. “We barricaded the entrance. Some of us remained outside, and they got the brunt of the attack.

“They were lying motionless on the pavement. I thought they were dead. After a couple of minutes, one of them started to get up, and then the second. I was very relieved.”

The bar owner refused to press charges, apparently our of fear of a retaliatory attack. Before the incident, the visitors were reported talking and chanting in English and Russian. Visitors from both countries would be advised to speak in sign language for the next few weeks.

The new Paul the Octopus

A range of animals from across the world have been trying to predict the results of Euro 2012.

According to a report on the BBC, an elephant in Poland and a sea lion in Bangkok have been consulted and both said hosts Poland will beat Greece in today’s opening match.

They are among a number of creatures attempting to guess the outcome of the tournament, following on from the success of Paul the Octopus, who correctly predicted the outcome of all seven of Germany’s matches during the 2010 World Cup.

Roy the Redeemer

Demonstrating an irreverence the Spanish could possibly learn from, betting company Paddy Power have unveiled a huge Roy Hodgson statue on the white cliffs of Dover.

Based on on Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue the Paddy Power homage really has to be seen to be believed. Art, it may not be, but it’s certainly memorable.

Ken Robertson from Paddy Power said: “Since Christ the Redeemer was constructed in Rio de Janeiro in 1931, Brazil has gone on to become the world’s leading footballing nation.  We’re hoping some of that success can rub off on England in time for their Euro 2012 opener against France on Monday.  Anyway, at the end of the day this is definitely the closest Roy will get to Rio this month!”