Football fever is upon us once again as the clock winds down to the kick off of the UEFA Euro Cup 2012 competition.
On June 8, Europe's elite will be showcased in Poland and the Ukraine as 16 teams try to outdo the other in this continental showpiece.
The teams are drawn in 4 groups. The two teams in each group qualify foe the quarter finals. Co-hosts Poland are in Group A along with Greece, Russia and the Czech Republic.
Group A is a tricky affair with the Greeks being formidable opponents on a good day and the Czech Republic counting on the experience of leaders Peter Cech and Tomas Rosicky to forge their way to the quarterfinals. The Poles have every chance as well of making it to the quarter-finals from this group.
Group 'B' has been aptly named the 'group of death'. Continental powerhouses Netherlands, Germany and Portugal are grouped together with Denmark in a simmering cauldron of talent and ambition.
All the games in this group possess the ability of being European classics but the form book favours the Dutch to top the group. The Dutch will pray that Robin Van Persie did not leave his shooting boots at the Emirates as Dirk Kuyt, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneider are also being counted upon to create and score goals.
Three-time winners, Germany have a rich pedigree with a great track record in the continental showpiece in addition to the potential of making it into the knockout stages and beyond. The Germans also have a formidable squad to pick from. Mesut Ozil, Thomas Mueller, Mario Gomez, Manuel Neuer and Bastian Scweinsteiger are some of the household names in the German team.
Portugal also have an array of talent with Christiano Ronaldo, one of the two best players in the world, as their star player and Nani, Raul Meireles and Helder Postiga also part of a formidable outfit.
Though the group is tight one would expect the Germans and the Dutch to make it through.
Group C is another group that on paper seems difficult to predict. Italy, defending Champions Spain, Republic of Ireland and Croatia are in this group.
Spain mesmerized the world in 2008 with their beautiful flowing football. Their 1-0 win over Germany in the final courtesy of a sublime finish by Fernando Torres deservedly earned them the trophy.
It would be expected that with a squad consisting of David Silva, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Fernando Llorente and Andres Iniesta the Spanish would go far in the tournament but times have changed since 2008 when the 'tiki taka' system of football they deployed was a novelty.
Teams have now adapted to that system of play and have come up with ways of constricting the passing football that the Spanish enjoy playing. They still however remain potent challengers for the main trophy.
Italy and Croatia are also expected to battle for a position in the quarter finals with most pundits tipping Italy along with Spain to take the two available slots in Group C.
Finally, Group D consists of Ukraine, Sweden, France and England
France are odds on favourites to reach the quarter finals from the group along with England in my estimation being the other contenders for a quarter final berth.
The French have assembled an exciting team. Frank Ribery, Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema should trouble any defence in the tournament.
On their part the English would want to make 2012 the turning point in their fortunes. The English have always qualified for major tournaments but have repeatedly failed to cross the finishing line. Their best performance to date in the Euro Cup was 3rd place in the 1996 Championship.
In the indefatigable Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young, Theo Walcott, Danny Wellbeck and others the English Coach Roy Hodgson has cobbled together a team that he hopes will challenge for the title.
England will sorely miss the services of Wayne Rooney who will miss the first two games of the competition due to a red card at the tail end of the qualifiers. Andy Carroll or Danny Wellbeck will deputize in Rooney's absence.
If England does win the competition the entire team will become instant folk heroes. Despite their failure to win a major trophy for decades the English are still a force to reckon with. It is also note worthy that they have risen to sixth in the World Rankings after good back-to-back results.
As has been shown in the World stage football has evolved to the level that nowadays there are hardly any firm favourites for a trophy. One remembers the moment of disbelief as the un-fancied Greeks lifted Euro 2004 after beating the hosts Portugal. South Korea and Turkey also performed beyond expectations when they reached the World Cup semi-finals in 2002.
In more recent times Chelsea demonstrated this by beating more fancied teams like Barcelona and Bayern Munchen en-route to lifting the Champions League trophy.Ultimately, the team that is most consistent and that has the most passion will ultimately be crowned European Champions.
Whichever team carries the day the Euro Cup promises to be a cliff hanger in terms of suspense, fast paced action and dramatic results. New heroes will be born and old foes will lock horns. One hopes that ultimately the footballing world will be treated to a beautiful spectacle.