Euro 2012 (the men’s European soccer championship) begins next Friday, and I can’t wait! I dreamt last night about England’s opening match (although it was their first World Cup match in the dream because they were playing China). Steven Gerrard scored in the first minute on a volley from the left side, which was good, but I was angry that Danny Welbeck wasn’t in the team because I am a huge Manchester United fan. Phil Jones was, though.
I love big soccer tournaments: the huge, jam-packed stadiums with perfect green pitches and fans wearing crazy face-paint and hats; the ritual of the national anthems before each match, where you get to see which players sing because they are confident, which ones don’t sing because they are nervous, and which ones don’t sing because they don’t know the words (n.b.: The U.S.A. has one of the worse-sounding anthems, and Latin America has some of the best-sounding, but both of these points are moot for the Euros. “God Save the Queen” is the only one in this tournament that will stand out, as the rest are pretty average.); the fact that there is only one video feed for the entire world, so each set of announcers has to adjust to what the feed is showing, which is especially funny when the feed refuses to include a timely replay of a crucial event, or when it shows one of the coaches making a bizarre facial expression, or when it shows an important play from much earlier in the match, but it isn’t clear immediately to the announcer which play it is.
Although the knockout rounds, and especially the semi-finals and final, are the matches that people will remember most years from now (though the match I remember most vividly from the 1998 World Cup is the first-round encounter between Holland and Belgium, when Patrick Kluivert got sent off), I find myself enjoying the opening round matches more because that is when the most upsets occur, and when there is a feeling of new excitement that gives the matches a fresh, fun vibe. This is missing in the knockout stages when Everything Is On The Line, and the teams tend to play tense as a result, which results in soccer that is of no higher quality than in the first round even though theoretically better teams are playing (note that this is happily often not the case in women’s tournaments–the knockout stages of the 2011 Women’s World Cup, and especially the final, were scintillating). It also normally results in many matches being decided on penalties, which always feels wrong (especially if you’re England!) even though the shootout itself can be exciting.
I’ll have my predictions of which teams will reach the knock-out rounds in the next few days.