Most people remember that fateful day back in March when England crashed out of Euro 2008, leaving devastated fans with nothing but a rainstorm and hours of congestion.
And the news was not much rosier in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales as all three went the same sorry way. Disappointing it may be, but come on everyone! Three months on, the competition has started and it’s about time we got geed up for it, even if that means getting our excitement vicariously from people from countries who actually made it through the qualifiers.
Construction is well known for being a multicultural industry and projects in the UK are teeming with workers from all over Europe. Mace’s Ropemaker Place development in the City of London currently has people from a staggering 57 countries working on site. So, Emily Wright braved the breakfast rush to catch up with seven site workers who are backing their teams every step of the way.
Jasmin Maric, 28, supervisor
Jasmin has divided loyalties. He moved to Germany shortly after the Bosnian war and so can legitimately claim victory if either win. Actually, Germany is presently the 3-1 favourite and Croatia the 14-1 outsider but one of the charms of this tournament is that underdogs regularly trounce overdogs, as Danes, Czechs and Greeks all know well.
Can Croatia do it this year? Jasmin is firmly in two minds, but is going with Germany on the grounds that they are “ready to win” – partly because the members of their team at least recognise each other by sight. Croatia continues its long, proud tradition of supplying mercenaries to the rest of Europe by fielding a squad that play anywhere but their home country. All the same, that didn’t seem to hold them back when kicking England out of the tournament – but then they also kicked Steve McLaren out of the manager’s dugout, so there are probably some mixed feelings there as well. You win some, you lose some.
Emil Bektemirov, 25, lift operator
The Great Patriotic War may be long over, but it seems that old rivalries linger on. Emil says he “does not like German players … I don’t really know why”. On the other hand, he does think Germany will make it to the final where he expects them to play Spain. This is despite the fact that Spain have been expected to do well in every tournament since the invention of the football, and have disappointed their fans every time.
As have Russia, of course. Technically, they have never made it out of the groups in their history, although that only goes back 17 years. Emil will be watching the games at home with his Russian flatmates, fuellled by kebabs and the hope that the resurgence of Russia’s global power now extends to the beautiful game. This year they are up against the Spanish in Group D, which means that Sweden and Greece must be fairly happy with their chances of making it into the knock-out stage.
Plamem Plenkov, 37, labourer
Who does Plamem think will make it all the way in 2008?
“I think maybe Italy because they have a very strong defence and they have Luca Toni.” Thus does time make fools of us all. The Azzuri’s first outing takes the form of a three-goal tonking by the Dutch, the first time for 25 years that they have lost by such a margin. Toni’s contribution was to kick one of Italy’s best chances of the game over the crossbar with the aplomb of a rugby fly-half.
But what about Bulgaria? After its legendary run in the 1994 World Cup, during which Yordan Letchkov briefly made baldness fashionable, little has been heard. Nor will it be this year: Bulgaria is watching this one on TV. As will Plamem, surrounded by his Bulgarian and Maltese mates and lavish helpings of meat, potatoes and Zogorka beer.
Michael Fibor, 30, supervisor
As so many Poles have taken up residence in the UK in the past five years or so the national team is arguably the best supported at the finals. Fortunately, Michael expects to be disappointed with their actual performance: a mixture of disciplined teamwork, tight man-marking and divine intervention might take them as far as the semi-finals, he reckons. I say fortunately because their first outing against Germany resulted in a two-goals-to-nil defeat, both of them scored by Polish-born striker Lukas Podolski, who celebrated his triumph by holding his head in his hands and wailing “what have I done?” Michael expects the team’s 100-1 odds to lengthen considerably.
Kai Hebig, 26, supervisor
Kai is quietly confident. Germany has a “good young team” and will proceed to the final in the efficient manner to which we have become accustomed, where it will meet and overcome Italy in a thrilling 3-2 battle. Kai hasn’t decided who is going to score when, or what colour underwear the fourth official will be sporting, but no doubt he’ll take care of these details in good time.
As might be expected, he has the sleek, well-adjusted manner common to the German football fan, fed as they are on a steady diet of international success. Fed also on a diet of barbecued bratwurst and steak, the traditional accompaniment to football games in the home country, and now in Kai’s home in the Isle of Dogs. The chances seem pretty good that he’ll be enjoying quite a few more of them.
Vasile Lamasanv, 37, carpenter
Well, Romania may have opened its campaign by grinding out a joyless draw with the French, but that is no indication of how the rest of the tournament will go. Or so says Vasile, who is of the firm, nay unshakable, opinion that his boys are going to go all the way this time. Why? Because they have some good young players and a good game plan. Which is? Ah, well that would be telling.
The joke, of course, is that Romania’s Transylvannian heritage means that it is uniquely well placed to thrive in the group of death. Then there is the fact that the manager, Victor Piturca, is given to wearing all black, has the car registration plate 666 and glories in the nickname “Satan”. And it seems his uncle used to live in a tomb. Not that Vasile is tempted by the dark side: he plans to watch his team sustained by nothing more than beer and pizza.