Photo by PoPville flickr user Pablo Raw
Washington, DC Embassies Weigh in on the UEFA Euro 2016 Championship
By Christopher Teed of DC Embassy Events
The UEFA European Championship returns June 10th this year at venues across France. For those not familiar with the soccer tournament, it is hosted every 4 years in between World Cups, and currently features 24 teams who qualified from across Europe. This will be the third time France has hosted the event, hosting the inaugural event in 1960, and again in 1984. Spain, the current champions from 2012, has had the most success in the history of the tournament, winning 3 times, the same amount of titles as Germany. Having won the tournament the last time they hosted in 1984, France is the favorite this year, along with a strong German team.
This is also the first year that the UEFA European Championship has expanded from sixteen to twenty four teams, giving many more fans across Europe the chance to watch their beloved home sides. While there are some perennial favorites in the tournament, this season’s English Premier League champion Leicester City is evidence that anyone can win, however long the odds. We went to the foreign embassy staff here in Washington to get some insight into why they think their team can win the tournament this year.
Ambassador of Austria, HE Wolfgang A. Waldner: “Having competed numerous times in the FIFA world cup, it may come as a surprise that Austria has qualified for a EURO tournament for the first time ever! And what a resounding qualification it has been: With a commanding series of nine wins and one draw, Austria qualified without a single defeat in a very strong group. Furthermore, Austrian players were also hugely successful with their respective clubs: David Alaba won his fourth German Bundesliga title in a row with Bayern Munich, our team captain Christian Fuchs rose to fame with the unexpected English Premier League champion Leicester City, and Marc Janko and Aleksandar Dragovic won their leagues with Swiss FC Basel and Ukrainian Dynamo Kiev. These successes make Austria proud and prove how far we have come in recent years: From the modest FIFA ranking number 94 in 2007, Austria has risen like a Phoenix to the eleventh best team in the world today! Besides, not less than six players in Austria’s starting eleven have an immigrant background: With family roots in Angola, Bosnia, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Serbia or Turkey, all our players grew up and flourished in Austria, serving as a perfect illustration of modern Austria: A multitude of religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds forming one pluralistic society. And this summer, we will grow even closer together with our shared goal: Winning the EURO 2016!”
Economic Information Officer, Embassy of Belgium, Bart Deelen: “Belgium can not only win Euro2016, they should be considered one of the favorites to do so. The current Belgian team is known as Belgium’s Golden Generation. And for good reason: with few exceptions, many of the players are stars with some of Europe’s top teams.
And on average the players have the highest salaries in the various European soccer competitions. Talent alone is not enough, of course. So it matters that Belgium has a well-balanced team, with a mix of experienced players and young talent. With many players that can score goals from different positions but also one of the best goalies worldwide. In addition, coach Marc Wilmots was known for his fighting spirit in his days as a player and he has managed to create some real team spirit on and off the field as well.”
Ambassador of the Republic of Croatia, H.E. Mr. Josip Paro: “CROATIA IS EURO 2016 DARK HORSE – With key players in the form of their lives, playing regularly in top European clubs, we expect to go far at Euro 2016 tournament. We have established ourselves as regulars on the big stage tournaments, and we are branded as a technically gifted nation that plays beautiful football. This generation is not an exception to that. Croatia has a really powerful squad; midfield position is arguably one of the strongest in the world with Real Madrid’s Modrić running the show. Despite the fact that we are a small nation, we have expectations for high achievement, and there is a general feeling that this new golden generation will flourish in France.”
Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of the Czech Republic, Jaroslav Zajicek: “Here is why the Czechs will win: In my country, football brings people to the streets. It is by far our number one sport in terms of popularity, and the players can feel the passionate support. Of course, we have some outstanding individuals like Petr Cech or Tomas Rosicky, but in our case it has always been mainly about the team spirit. I can sense the force is very strong with this team. Jedeeem!”
Ambassador of Germany, Peter Wittig: “1954, 1974, 1990, 2014 – with four World Cup stars on their jerseys, the German National Team is going into the 2016 Euro Cup with much to prove. A win in France this summer would mark the first time Germany has won in back-to-back international tournaments, a record that the returning national team players crave. A bit more than half of this year’s roster will look very familiar to anyone who tuned in two years ago: 14 players from the 2014 World Cup Roster returned to the roster of 23 for the Euro Cup and with names like Manuel Neuer, Mesut Özil, Thomas Müller, and Sami Khedira we certainly have an awesome team that also reflects the diversity of German society. We’ll be playing in Group C this year and eagerly anticipate our first games against Poland, Ukraine, and Northern Ireland. It’s going to be a great tournament and we’d like nothing more than to win it all in France!”
Ambassador of Great Britain, Sir Kim Darroch: “One might assume that the UK teams represented in Euro 2016 may not have the best odds. And indeed, it has been 50 years since a UK team last won a major international tournament. But there is one extremely compelling reason why the British Embassy will be celebrating this summer – we have three times more teams in the running, as England, Northern Ireland and Wales all qualified! And they are ranked 11, 25 and 26 in the world; so perhaps this is our time!”
Ambassador of Italy, Armando Varricchio: “The Azzurri, Italy’s national soccer team, are ready to amaze us. Three facts back my words: group unity, a winning coach (Antonio Conte) and a goalkeeper who is a living legend (Gianluigi “Gigi” Buffon, probably the greatest keeper ever). Four world titles and one European title truly make Italy a team to dread because – as its many trophies testify – their best performances are when the stakes are the highest. The final game in this French European Championship will be played exactly ten years after Italy’s 2006 World Cup victory … against France. Giambattista Vico, an extraordinary philosopher, historian and Italian jurist of early eighteenth century, wrote that history is destined to repeat itself cyclically. Will that be true of soccer too? Of course, it won’t be easy. According to predictions and bettors, Italy has less chance of winning the European Championship than France, Germany, Spain, England and Belgium. Mission Impossible? Go and ask Leicester’s very own Italian coach, Claudio Ranieri. In return, he will give you a wry smile. Forza Azzurri!”
Head of the Northern Ireland’s Bureau in Washington DC, Norman Houston: “We’re absolutely delighted that the Northern Ireland football team are in France having qualified for the European Championship for the very first time. We’re also very pleased that we’ll be accompanied by our neighbours from the Republic of Ireland, Wales, and England. Northern Ireland go into the tournament on a tremendous run of 12 unbeaten games, the longest run of all the sides competing in EURO 2016. In reaching France, we became the first team seeded 5th to finish top of their qualifying group so we believe in defying the odds and we dare to dream! We have fond memories of our team over-achieving in the past especially when we beat hosts Spain 1-0 in the 1982 World Cup and put on a brave challenge against the mighty Brazil in the 1986 World Cup. Often to the bemusement of our opponents our fans, the Green and White Army, still like to sing that “We’re not Brazil, we’re Northern Ireland”, a song that epitomises our rich ironic humour! We offer our warmest congratulations and best wishes to manager Michael O’Neill and all his players – c’mon Northern Ireland!”
Ambassador of Poland, Ryszard Schnepf: “I am convinced that our White Eagles will soar to new heights during the 2016 Euros in France. As you may recall, Poland co-hosted the 2012 Euros, which were a tremendous success on all accounts except one: Poland’s soccer performance. Many fans including myself were left disappointed after Poland failed to advance out of the group stages, but 2016 will be different. Many of our most promising players in 2012 including our current captain Robert Lewandowski have matured into world-class talent. The fact that Lewandowski was the highest goal scorer during the 2016 Euro qualifiers speaks for itself. Throw in some fresh faces such as 22-year-old striker Arkadiusz Milik and Poland’s team looks ready to take on any opponent. 2016 will be Poland’s year – Go Polska!”
Ambassador of Portugal, Domingos Fezas Vital: “Having some of the best players in the world in its ranks – including the best of them – Portugal only has to make sure that the national team plays to their renown individual level. After a good performance in Euro 2012, the ambition of the Portuguese national team has already been set this summer by managers and players: reaching the final with the support of our fans all over the world, including from the vast Portuguese Diaspora all over France.”
Ambassador of Romania, George Maior: “There are no favorites in modern soccer! Maybe Romania’s odds to win the tournament could be better, but we have to remember that the same odds vanished when The United States hosted The World Cup back in 1994. Then, Romania advanced to the quarterfinals, by defeating the mighty Argentina and the whole world admired our national team’s ecstatic game. The 10th of June will be a special day for us, as we will open Euro 2016 against France. I am convinced that we will play a great game, and our fans all over the globe will support the team from the beginning to the end of the tournament. Go Romania! Hai Romania!”
Ambassador of Slovakia, Peter Kmec: “Slovakia performed very well in the qualifiers losing the first place only to incumbent champions Spain. It is our first Euro championship in the history of modern Slovakia. Therefore, the motivation and expectations are very high. Many Slovak fans will come to France to support the national team. Slovakia already surprised at the World Cup in South Africa 2010 where it progressed to the play-off stage with a victory over Italy. Now the team is even more seasoned and very ambitious so the potential for victory is definitely there. The core of the team is composed of players from international leagues, among them Hamsik, Skrtel, Kucka, to name just a few. The first step to success is to perform well in the group stage. Slovakia will be facing Wales, Russia and England. We hope to make it to the play-offs! Slovensko, do toho! (Let’s go Slovakia!)”
Ambassador of Spain, Ramon Gil-Casares: “In this year´s UEFA Euro, the Spanish National Team is faced with an important challenge: it is presented with the responsibility of defending its current title while simultaneously demonstrating that its new stars will be capable of maintaining the impressive quality of play that we all so enjoyed four years ago. This past weekend, the final match of the Champions League was played in Milan, featuring two Spanish teams, and two weeks ago, a Spanish team won the Europa League. Likewise, the UEFA Super Cup in 2015 was played between two teams from our League. Spanish soccer is of the highest caliber- we have created our own style and earned international recognition. There is an excess of reasons to believe that we will live up to these expectations, and I fully trust that we will once again win the championship hosted by our neighbor France.”
Ambassador of Sweden, Björn Lyrvall: “Sweden has Zlatan! We have a great Swedish team that does not only play fantastic soccer, but also very beautiful and fun soccer to watch. Soccer is in the Swedes DNA, it is the most popular sport in Sweden and something that you see all ages playing – it is not only about winning, but also about having fun!”
Ambassador of Switzerland, Martin Dahinden, and the Swiss Embassy Team: “Switzerland’s chances in the tournament this year will hinge on two crucial factors, youth and team spirit. Switzerland has the third youngest team in the tournament and some veterans are off the final roster before the tournament. Younger players such as Denis Zakaria, Nico Elvedi and shooting star Breel Embolo – all only 19 years old – will be asked to step up in their place. Secondly, the team’s success depends on coach Vladimir Petkovic’s ability to build a strong unit out of 23 individually talented and diverse players. Why we can win? Because of statistics: Germany hosted the World Cup 2006. 8 years later they became world champions. Switzerland together with Austria hosted the EURO 2008. Now it is 8 years later. So we are 50% predestinated to win the tournament. On a more serious note, Switzerland benefits from being in what some are calling the easiest group, though we will have to face the home team, France. Our team may not win the group but has a great chance to advance as the second team from Group A. Supported by a huge crowd that will travel to our neighbor country; Switzerland will make its way to the final and win the tournament! Hopp Schwiiz!”
Embassy of Turkey: “It’s Not Over Until We Say So! This will be the slogan of the Turkish National Football Team in the Euro 2016. Why, because the Turkish National Team has enduring strength and the motivation to fight until the last minute. With the cultural and historic spirit not to give up even under the most difficult circumstances, the Turkish National Team has the courage and resilience to strike back, even at times when hope seems to be fading away. Turkey started poorly during the qualifying tournaments of both Euro 2008 and Euro 2016, but the continuing uncertainty was finally over when the last games were completed, and it successfully qualified out of the groups. Over the years, the Turkish National Team has been consistently strong and we believe this trend will continue in the Euro 2016. It has several inspirational players such as Arda Turan of F.C. Barcelona. In addition, a new generation of young Turkish players is empowering the team even further. 80 Million Turkish people, among the most enthusiastic football fans in Europe, will be fervently standing behind their national team. And most of all, Fatih Terim, the coach of the team, has proven himself at motivating the players when it is most needed.”
Ambassador of Ukraine, Valeriy Chaly: “Ukraine, a co-host of Euro2012, is carried into this year’s championship with the best wings in Europe. Our national team’s left-winger Yevhen Konoplyanka, who plays for the League of Europe’s Champion Sevilla FC and our right-winger Andriy Yarmolenko of Dynamo Kyiv, who is hunted by the best European clubs will undoubtedly lift the team up in scores, and can even bring us to the main prize. We also look forward to see the striker of Dnipro FC, Roman Zozulya scoring on the French ground. The Ukrainian team is one of the luckiest to have a true legend, one of the world’s best players, and a Golden Ball award winner in 2004, Andriy Shevchenko among the coaching crew. Shevchenko is a great inspiration to all of our team and a role model for many young players in Europe, and the world. The competition will be tough and we will face very strong rivals. But let us not forget that our team will carry up the spirit of a country that really knows the true meaning of a struggle and victory in a name of Ukraine. This championship is very important for the people of Ukraine, who have declared their European choice and continue to defend it on the eastern flank of Europe. And it is a good moment for Europe to demonstrate its solidarity with our country by welcoming people-to-people contacts through this all-European celebration of sport, spirit and tolerance.”
Welsh Government’s Representative in Washington DC, Gareth Morgan: “We’re tremendously excited in Wales that our national team has qualified for Euro 2016. We’ve waited a long time for Wales’ footballers to be able to display their skills on the world stage. We’ve qualified alongside two other teams from the United Kingdom – England and Northern Ireland – and having England in our group adds a bit of extra spice. Our team reflects Welsh values of hard work and supporting each other, and we’re lucky to have arguably the world’s best player in Gareth Bale, alongside players of the quality of Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen and Ashley Williams to name a few. Everyone in Wales and Welsh people all over the world will be firmly behind the team. Pob lwc Cymru – good luck Wales!”