Euro 2012 begins group play in Ukraine and Poland June 8, and the big tournament is sure to draw worldwide attention to the host countries. As an American who frequently travels to Ukraine, I’ve put together some insights for fans to ponder particular to that country. Whether you are going to Ukraine for any games or just watching from home, these 10 interesting facts for fans will enlighten you.
The vuvuzela meets the zozulica
Remember that constant drone for the 2010 World Cup matches in South Africa? The vuvuzela drew the ire of fans around the world, and is banned in many leagues. If the buzzing horn wasn’t your pleasure, perhaps you’ll like the zozulica. The traditional folk instrument can play melodies, but is still likely to leave a bad taste if used in big numbers. Listen to a sample here.
Ukraine midfielder Anatoliy Tymoschuk has worn the same t-shirt under his playing jersey for 10 years out of superstition. He wears the no. 44, and once tried to buy a flat on the 44th floor of a building. There are quite a few superstitions in Ukraine, but they aren’t the only fans with them.
Some fans of Bayern Munich, who lost the Champions League final to Chelsea, are blaming Tymoschuk. He touched the trophy before the game, unleashing the “curse of the Champions League.”
Concerns over racism are overblown
While there are racist soccer hooligans in the country, don’t expect them to be very visible during Euro 2012. The games should go off without ugly events, with the results being the world is pleasantly surprised and the Ukrainian fans have reasons to be proud. Reports suggesting a big problem are giving in to sensationalism.
It’s not “The” Ukraine
If you want to come off as uninformed, call the country “The” Ukraine. It makes no more sense than saying “The” California or “The” France. Call the country Ukraine, plain and simple.
Kiev is full of history
The Capital city is an amazing place to explore a rich history. It’s where Russian Orthodoxy began, and it’s been at the crossroads of Eastern Europe for hundreds of years. That of course means conflict as much as culture. The city and region suffered mightily first under the thumb of Stalin and later through the ravages of WW II. Kiev and it’s people survive, and are on the cusp of becoming one of Europe’s great emerging cities.
The women’s rights group Femen is targeting Euro 2012 as a platform for protests. They have drawn worldwide attention by protesting with their tops off. The group has been very open about their intentions to launch protests at every opportunity during Euro 2012, and will surely draw cameras when they do.
Transformation of Lviv
Of all the upgrades to infrastructure in Ukraine, the transformation of Lviv is the most dramatic. A new airport, top-line stadium, and high-speed rail are only the most obvious. New hotels, restaurants, and pubs blend in with ancient history.
Will Andriy Shevchenko start?
The 35-year-old is a legend in Ukrainian soccer, and the sport in general. He has put off retirement to play in Euro 2012, and has indicated he wouldn’t mind being a substitute. He has 107 caps and 46 goals for Ukraine, but this will be his first European Championship. The other available forwards are younger and perhaps more able to run the field, but don’t be surprised to see Shevchenko get some starts.
Olympic Stadium, Donbass Arena, Metalist Stadium
The other venues for the tournament are top-notch. The reconstructed Olympic Stadium in Kiev brings history melded with modern amenities. Donbass Arena in Donetsk, built in 2009, is considered one of the best in Europe. The home pitch of FC Shakhtar Donetsk will prove to be an impressive tournament site. Metalist Stadium in Kharkiv has undergone major renovations and is also ready to host.
Unfortunately, Ukrainian politics are a mess. If you are going to the matches or watching at home, expect to see some protests. The most heated will be centered around the jailing of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, who is widely regarded as a political prisoner. Hopefully, international pressure can help lead to her release.