Aston Villa have a two-week break from club play as qualification for Euro 2012 begins. For those of you new to European football, or who have always believed that "Euros" indicated money rather than a tournament, here's a quick look at what they are:
The UEFA Football Championship, or Euros, is held every four years and, for national sides, is considered to be second only to the World Cup in terms of prestige. Euro 2012 is to be held in Poland and Ukraine, and all nations other than those two are required to participate in qualification rounds--the fun things we're going through now, a year and a half before the tournament starts. The 51 countries involved in qualifying are drawn into nine groups of five or six each. The winners of each group, along with the runner up with the best record, qualify directly, while the other eight runners up enter into a playoff round. The four sides which score the greatest number of aggregate goals over home and away ties will move on to the tournament. Spain hold the latest title, Euro 2008.
Get used to hearing about Euro 2012, because qualification play will last for over a year. With every team playing ten or twelve games, and needing to schedule them around club football, the matches are pretty staggered. We'll see two matches for each country over the next two weeks before league play resumes.
So who are the Villans who must go play football rather than sun themselves in Spain for the next two weeks?
Richard Dunne--Republic of Ireland
Obviously, anyone not hailing from a European nation wouldn't be getting the nod. Although Norway has yet to announce their squad (far as I can tell), John Carew is unlikely to feature. Emile Heskey and Luke Young have retired from international football. Marc Albrighton and Nathan Delfouneso are in the England U21 squad.
But with Fabio Capello at Villa Park yesterday, perhaps Stewart Downing and Stephen Warnock should contemplate their play while sunning themselves on a beach somewhere (Do these two sun? They seem to glow). Downing was at times invisible yesterday, unless his mistakes were drawing fire, and Warnock, included in the World Cup squad, made at least one silly tackle. You want caps, boys? Play a bit better.
As for Gabriel Agbonlahor, well, Capello's never seemed his biggest fan. But considering yesterday marked Gabby's Premier League debut this season, he's got plenty of time to make an impression on England's boss.
I'm almost positive these are the only four Villans in international duty, but it's a bit difficult to find the squad announcements. Feel free to correct me. Look for short profiles of these teams this week as the countries ready themselves for play on Friday.