What’s football without some controversy?
Euro 2012 has gotten off to a great start, and the eight teams for the quarter finals have been decided.
Football fans have some very interesting and feisty encounters to look forward to now. From upsets like Denmark beating Netherlands, and great matches like Portugal versus Denmark, to success stories like Andriy Shevchenko scoring two goals leading to Ukraine’s victory, Euro 2012 has been nothing but amazing so far.
However, there is more to Euro 2012 than just brutal tackles, amazing headers and penalty shots.
Controversies, scandals and upsets are part of the package for this action filled game. Euro 2012 has been no different – after all, what’s football without some controversy?
Let’s start off with the controversies surrounding the tournament even before it actually began.
The host countries, Ukraine and Poland, were hit with racism accusations from all quarters. While BBC World ran a documentary just before the start of the tournament, in which the seriousness and extent of the matter was investigated in the host nations. It featured right-wing supporters from Poland and Ukraine displaying racist and anti-Semitic attitudes. Furthermore, footage of a football match in Ukraine in which Asian supporters were targeted with violence was also shown.
However, the Ukrainian and Polish representatives were swift to deny these allegations, as Volodymyr Khandogiy, Ukraine’s ambassador in the UK, told a CNN representative,
"What was aired, in my personal opinion, was an unbalanced and biased reporting of the situation in Ukraine. I would like to say that we do not, in Ukraine, have a problem of that magnitude as it appears on the screen. Racism and racial ideology is against the law and if those young fans were shouting anything close to Nazi slogans they would have been prosecuted."
But the damage had been done causing many fans to cancel their traveling plans to Poland and Ukraine. The threat of racism and abuse was strong enough to even convince the families of England players, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, not to travel to the tournament. Sol Campbell, a former English defender, was also seen advising fans against traveling to Ukraine.
The scandalous Italian striker who plays for Manchester City, Mario Balotelli, went as far to say,
"If someone throws a banana at me in the street, I will go to jail, because I will kill them."
Oh well, nobody would be surprised even if you ended up in jail for something completely different dear Balotelli.
The tournament is deep in its second week now, and so far there have been monkey chants aimed at Dutch players, Balotelli and the Czech defender, Theodor Gebre Selassie. A number of fans have been arrested for hooliganism and violence, and the players have been giving controversial statements as well.
The feisty encounter between Poland and Russia coincided with Russia Day on June 12th, in Warsaw, the capital of Poland. Given the history between the two nations, this match was bound to be interesting to say the least. The match, even before it started, was in the news for all the wrong reasons, and tensions escalated when Polish and Russian fans clashed in Warsaw before the start of the match. An astonishing 183 arrests were made and the police had to use tear gas to regain control over the situation.
The next controversy took birth in the stadium when the Russian fans unfurled a large and rather disrespectful banner of “THIS IS RUSSIA” during the recitation of their anthem. People as ignorant as I am, would have thought it as something frivolous or even cool to an extent. But the Polish media rightly had a different story to tell in regards to the innuendos the banner held.
There are suggestions that the banner was indicative towards Dmitry Pozharsky; a 17th century military commander who led Russia against a Polish invasion in the early 1600′s. The Polish press has also reported that the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) might fine Russian football association (FA) over the banner.
Well, here’s some advice to the travelling fans; it is fine to wear your country’s kit or colors, even face painting your flag, etc. But something as disrespectful as this banner and that too as a guest in a foreign country, is outright rude and unacceptable.
The match eventually began, and it was a great game to watch for the neutrals like me; there were goals, twists, passion and quality on display for us. A 1-1 draw was probably the fair result, as any other result may have caused further trouble so it seemed.
The Russian fans have been the most troublesome in the tournament so far. After their first game against Czech Republic, UEFA warned and fined Russian FA for their fans’ appalling demeanour. However, it was to no avail, and the Polish police had to arrest Russian fans for hooliganism before their game against Poland and Greece, as well. The Croatian FA has also been fined €80000 previously for their fans’ improper conduct and racist chanting during their game against Italy.
Leaving aside the crazy fans and their clashes, the next shock of the tournaments was the surprising elimination of World Cup 2010 finalist, Netherlands who has lost all three of their matches. Known players like Robin Van Persie, Huntelaar and Van Bommel were dismally out of form.
After their defeat in a match against Germany, sources tell that Wesley Sneijder slammed his team-mates for their below par performance, and told them to put aside their egos and play for the country. Furthermore, Coach Bert van Marwijk was criticised for selecting his son-in-law, Mark Van Bommel, over Van Der Vaart. Although upon Netherlands’ exit, star players Arjen Robben and Van Der Vaart refused to blame their coach, but did leave hints as to the division between the players in the Dutch squad.
Let us not forget the wives and girlfriends (WAGs) of these footballers who have added glamour to the tournament. But the very professional Swedish captain, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was seen criticising the on field performance of his team-mates, and berated them for waving to their wives and girlfriends after Sweden’s shock 2-1 defeat against Ukraine.
The controversies do not just revolve around racist and angry fans. The players also managed to give us some ‘Oh My God’ moments.
Denmark’s striker, Nicklas Bendtner, displayed his ridiculous marketing antics in the match against Portugal, costing him a hefty 100,000 euros as fine. Unfortunately, this is just the beginning of the list. Antonio Cassano’s controversial statement that he hoped there were no “froci” (queers, faggots) in the Italy squad, anguished the gay rights campaigners enough to brand him an “idiot”, while after the team’s disappointing performance at the Euros, the Irish legend, Roy Keane, slammed Irish fans for their mentality and said,
"Irish fans not there just for the singsong."
In a tournament full of drama and goals, there were no real controversial decisions before the final group stage matches. We witnessed the first debateable decision in the game between Ukraine and England. The talk of goal line technology has been going for a long time now, and it was no surprise that Euro 2012 provided us with a goal-line controversy. This time the hosts, Ukraine, were on the recieving end of it, when John Terry cleared Marco Devic's shot away just before crossing the goal line, according to the linesman and referee , but apparently the ball had crossed the line before he cleared it away. Ukraine protested in vain, but the goal was not given. Ukraine would feel hard done as this robbed them of a very good chance of making it to the quarterfinals. But this is football for you, two years ago England were robbed of a goal against Germany at the World cup finals, which eventually led to their elimination from the tournament. Rio Ferdinand tweeted his and many English fans' thoughts, after England's lucky break against Ukraine, on twitter:
"That is karma for what happened to us in South Africa....ball over the line both times!"
Now we have reached the quarterfinals of the Euros 2012 and one can expect more mind games from players and coaches to upset opponent teams and players. Shocking upsets, resulting fall outs and consequences are sure to make headlines in the newspapers in the coming days.
We all can be sure of one thing though – football can never be devoid of the usual tension, excitement, drama and controversy.