Football or “soccer” is the world’s most popular sport. Almost every year there is a major international tournament with the main focal tournament being the FIFA World Cup, but a close second in terms of excitement and scale is the European Championships. Starting in early June, many of the world’s elite teams will compete in France, including half the FIFA ranking’s “top ten” teams. Most of which have, or could potentially win the World Cup tournament, teams such as Spain, Germany, or England. Okay, okay, not England but being English, I can always hope.
Why should you get involved though? Well personally, football has always meant a lot to me. I have screamed in celebration until I lost my voice, been so disappointed that I have cried actual man tears when my beloved country gets handed another exit at the hands of teams like Portugal or Germany. Nothing in the world can affect me in the way that a major soccer tournament does.
So, in the world of dirty politics, unpopular wars and national identity crises, major soccer tournaments are a great source of pride, togetherness and celebration of your nation. A team that goes on to do well can inspire a country – this happened to England in 1996 and did the same for Germany in 2006, with many other nations reporting similar spikes in national pride after tournament successes. But, if your nation isn’t playing – then adopt one, no one will mind!
If I still haven’t convinced you to check out the tournament, then for the casual supporter here are my top 5 things you can expect from this summer’s tournament:
The unpredictability of soccer sets it apart from many other sports where results can be a lot more predictable. Take Denmark’s win of the European Championships in 1992, or Greece’s unbelievable 2004 European Championship victory at 150-1 odds in 2004.
These shocks normally start much earlier in the tournament, it’s regular for at least one big team to crash out in the group stages of the tournament. In the last couple of tournaments, previous favorites such as the Netherlands and Portugal have gone home early. It’s fascinating when it happens; a source of pure Schadenfreude (A German word, for which there is no English equivalent – essentially pleasure in someone else’s pain) provided that it’s not your team on the plane home of course! It is even better if it’s a rival nation, which leads me on to my next point.
There are still huge rivalries in Europe, some are hangovers from earlier wars and ruling nations and others are just because of proximity. Some of these rivalries can still be marred (although not so much these days) by fan violence, or tempers flaring over on the pitch. Some rivalries to look out for are; Germany/Poland, Germany/Russia, Germany/England or Germany/Netherlands. I think you see the pattern here. But other territorial rivalries do exist, such as England Vs Wales, or Northern Ireland Vs Ireland, it’s not that these games get any more points, but it’s a rare opportunity where national pride can be demonstrated and sometimes it spills over – make a note to watch these games!
As sure a thing as the English media hyping England’s chances of winning the tournament immediately after a victory in the first game, is that England will capitulate and be knocked out on penalties. Soccer commentators will say that it is the cruelest way to be knocked out of a tournament. The shock, the tension and the agony, you can trust me, a penalty shoot-out is “must see” viewing, even for the neutral, in fact preferably as a neutral! If your team gets caught up in too many of these, it can drastically reduce your life expectancy. England has been knocked out on penalties in 6 out of the last 12 major tournaments – which means, if it happens just one more time, I may not pull through.
Players such as Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo shone on the international stage before being well known at club level. A good tournament by a young player can give instant worldwide acclaim. It appears that some young, confident players are unfazed by the pressure, have an amazing tournament and then immediately after the finals, get snapped up by a major club such as Real Madrid, or Manchester United. Conversely, you can also guarantee that at least one big name star to do the exact opposite and fail to live up to the hype, have an awful tournament and be vilified by the press in their home countries.
Germany has always been good, but now, they are incredible. They are current world champions with a young team that could be set to dominate for years. I was fortunate enough to watch them win the FIFA World Cup Final in 2014 live with 55’000 Germany fans at a televised public viewing of the game in Frankfurt, Germany. And while the celebrations were jubilant… they were nothing compared to the wild scenes that certainly would have occurred had someone like England won the cup. I am told by many Germans that these muted celebrations were because Germany expected to win the tournament! So when they did, they had only succeeded in fulfilling expectation – I expect that they will win the tournament again this year and so do they I guess!
Football is a great game and when being played at this level, it is certainly worth watching even if you are not generally a football fan. For me the tournament can be quite a rollercoaster especially because my wife is German; in every tournament we play she prays that England does not face Germany, because for the duration of that game we are not friends, we are rivals! I watched England beat Germany in Berlin during a friendly game a few months ago and whilst that was an amazing feeling, beating them in a competitive game, remains the pinnacle.
What are your predictions for the tournament? Comment below!