The Old Continent gears up
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The festivities are well and truly over now. The stadiums have emptied and the fans have nearly all returned home after witnessing Spain earn another FIFA World Cup™ triumph for Europe, the Old Continent having reasserted itself over South America from the quarter-finals onwards. The focus has now shifted to taking stock of South Africa 2010, and behind the scenes clubs are already gearing up for the new domestic season. It will not be long before Europe’s international sides are back in action for friendly matches ahead of the qualifiers for UEFA EURO 2012.

A new cycle begins
Spain wasted no time jetting back to continue their celebrations on home soil, and found hundreds of thousands of people packed into the streets of Madrid to welcome them back and gaze upon the FIFA World Cup Trophy. “You won this cup, but it belongs to everyone in Spain,” said Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero as the party got underway. As for the Netherlands, who were defeated in the showpiece game for the third time in their history, they opted for a parade through Amsterdam on a canal boat, even if their hearts were not truly in it.

Elsewhere, Paul the octopus, the king of match predictions housed in the Sea Life aquatic park in Oberhausen, Germany, has been awarded a replica FIFA World Cup Trophy for correctly choosing the result of every game upon which he was consulted. With six months of his expected lifespan remaining, he is settling down to enjoy his well-earned retirement.

Summer switches
All may have been relatively quiet on the transfer front during the World Cup, but that is beginning to change now that the last ball has been kicked in South Africa. The shrewdest deals of the summer came before the global showcase began, however, with Barcelona picking up five-goal David Villa in May and Manchester United recruiting Javier Hernandez before his pair of strikes for Mexico.

Elsewhere, many of the biggest changes are set to occur in the international arena, and not least in Italy, where Cesare Prandelli is getting to grips with his new post as La Nazionale coach. He has already outlined his initial thoughts on the side he hopes to lead to Poland and Ukraine for UEFA EURO 2012 and looks to favour a gradual transition. As for new France tactician Laurent Blanc, he faces a huge task after Les Bleus came apart at the seams in South Africa, but the former FIFA World Cup winner has no illusions about the magnitude of his mission. Lastly, Fabio Capello has retained his job as England manager and must begin by finding a reliable first-choice goalkeeper.

Clubs back on duty
Keen to put their miserable World Cup behind them, Italian fans have plunged headlong into the alluring world of football rumours, even if the clubs themselves are still awaiting the fixture list of a Serie A season that does not begin until 28 August. No such wait for supporters in the Netherlands, on the other hand, as the new Eredivisie campaign kicks off on 8 August, and that is the same day Ligue 1 gets going again in France. The action commences even earlier in the Czech Republic and Switzerland, on 17 July, while Belgium gets started on 30 July.

An eye-catching encounter between Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg will christen the 2010/11 Bundesliga season on 20 August and English fans frustrated by their national team can also look forward to a sizzling start, with Liverpool hosting Arsenal a day after the Premier League whirs back to life on 14 August. Little time remains, then, for coaches across the continent to get their teams ready to hit the ground running.

Flying the flag overseas
The prestigious UEFA Champions League did not wait for the FIFA World Cup to end before beginning its lengthy march to next year’s final as the likes of Sparta Prague, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Dinamo Zagreb have already contested the opening legs of their second qualifying round ties. The testing third qualifying round is just around the corner too, with a number of heavy hitters scheduled to enter the fray on 27 and 28 July.

Europe’s national team coaches cannot afford to relax either as a long list of friendly games have been penned in for next month, including Italy-Côte d'Ivoire on 10 August and Denmark-Germany, Ukraine-Netherlands, Mexico-Spain, England-Hungary and Republic of Ireland-Argentina the following day. Soon after that, the continent’s hopefuls will begin qualifying for EURO 2012.