My Piece for The Boot Room on the off-the-pitch importance of these summer tournaments. The Copa, Euro 2016 and Olympics. Hopefully some good football throughout.
Football fans will have no shortage of quality football to watch this summer with three tournaments on the way.
The Copa America Centenario kicks us off on June 3rd, followed by Euro 2016 on June 10 and the Olympics on August 3rd. Much like the World Cup two years ago, many of the world’s best players will be on display even though they won’t all face each other. The first two tournaments will likely draw more attention despite an overlap, as the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Lionel Messi and James Rodriguez face off in the Copa while Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Pogba and Robert Lewandowski battle it out in Europe. The Olympics is mainly a tournament for U-23 players but Neymar’s appearance for Brazil highlights the possibility of a few well-known senior players mixing it with a number of talented youngsters.
With the talent on display, and hopefully a high level of football, these tournaments are sure to draw plenty of attention, something that doesn’t always seem to be the case with international football.
The seemingly continuous qualification process for these tournaments aren’t met with favorable reviews by fans. The main reason being the propensity to break up club football seasons at what is always the worst possible time. When the summer comes around the fans bemoan the end of the club season even if there is at least one tournament on the way. The World Cup, for obvious reasons, is never met with such disdain but the various confederation tournaments seem to receive varying levels of interest at the best of times.
There are a good number of reasons to watch the tournaments this summer, though.
This celebratory Copa America was close to being cancelled when FIFA’s scandal was at its zenith. At least, as ESPN FC reported, that possibility was put forward by one CONMEBOL executive last summer. The Guardian also took a closer look at how former CONCACAF President, Jeffrey Webb, played a part in setting up the tournament. All the problems were ironed out it seems, and here we are with the tournament about to get underway. The Copa provides a chance for CONMEBOL and CONCACAF to focus on football as restructuring and reform begins. It also highlights the ease with which the US can put on a major tournament at short notice, something that might help when a final decision is made on Qatar 2022.
The sporting side of things is no less interesting. We will wait to see how hosts, the USA, and CONCACAF in general perform. Chile will get a chance to add a second trophy in quick succession with their much-vaunted generation of players. Most of all, we may, surprisingly, be looking at the best chance for the world’s best footballer to win his one piece of senior international silverware. Lionel Messi will lead an Argentina side that are strong favourites. It is likely Chile will represent South America in next year’s Confederations Cup and the 2018 World Cup in Russia seems a tall task for a side where age will be a factor for key players.
Meanwhile, Euro 2016 may not have faced threat of cancellation but, as the Guardian reports, the possibility of playing behind closed doors surfaced before being ruled out.
As a nation, the French will be hoping that their host team featuring the likes of Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann can help relieve some of the stress as the 1998 World Cup winners did. That they will be facing the defending European champions, Spain, and the defending World Cup winners, Germany, makes for an interesting watch on the pitch. The inclusion and appearance of smaller nations like Iceland and Albania in an expanded tournament provides further intrigue. Like his rival Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo may also be facing his best chance to win an international trophy. If both fail in their attempts before their careers end the Argentinian can at least point to a FIFA U-20 World Cup and Olympic gold medal.
The latter achievement is something one of his club teammates will be looking to match as Neymar headlines the last tournament we’ll see this summer, the 2016 Olympics.
The Olympics is a tournament for U-23 players and the Brazilian’s participation adds plenty of excitement. He won’t be the only senior player likely to join any of the participating teams but it is important for a few reasons. Brazil will be hosting the Olympics and will look to the football team to provide one of their signature moments in the tournament. The organization of the tournament has come under much criticism not least because of the fear of athletes, fans or officials may encounter the Zika virus. A win for the football team will bring some joy to the Brazilians above all this and, more importantly, help erase the memories of the humiliating 7-1 loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinals. Brazil have never won the tournament and doing so would further enhance their reputation in the world game.
On the Women’s side, the women’s teams will be hoping to build on the high level of interest from the 2015 World Cup. The US Women’s team stands out in this regard as they will want to follow-up their World Cup victory and repeat as Olympic champions. Another title would add further strength to their fight for equal pay, as the team filed a claim against US Soccer earlier this year according to ESPN W.
The chance for a summer filled with good football is one reason these tournaments are worth the watch. The underlying social and sporting aspects make it even more worth the while. Club football may take up the majority of a fan’s year but, as these summer tournaments show, international football matters just as much if not more.