Tuesday’s soccer news starts with what we may have learned from the Copa America and EURO 2020. Other than penciling in the finalists as the top contenders for the 2022 World Cup, there’s how they got there and the likelihood those tactics can push them further. Then there are the contenders that didn’t get anywhere near as far as anyone thought, the teams that crashed out early enough to call their entire projects into question. Let’s start with the obvious.
Who was the best team in South America and Europe?
It’s a tricky question with neither of the finals crowning a champion that put the game, and with it the tournament, on lock. If we’re choosing between Argentina and Italy as the obvious favorite for the next World Cup, it’s tough to argue for either of them. Add in Brazil and England, and it’s probably Brazil with the motivation to show that this version of the squad can win a final. That’s worth a lot at the highest level. Neymar’s lengthy display of emotion following the loss to Argentina is a broader indication of a group of players that aren’t going to adjust to second-place finishes. That wasn’t the same feeling from either of the EURO 2020 finalists, a game that seemed to hinge on avoiding significant risk. That can take a team all the way to a trophy, but maybe not at World Cup level. In fairness to the teams lifting the trophy, that was the goal over the last few weeks rather than convincing anybody of World Cup bonafides.
Which team was the biggest disappointment?
That one shifts fully to EURO 2020 where two contenders made quarterfinal exits. In retrospect, it’s easier to dismiss France’s penalty loss to Switzerland since that half of the bracket depended on penalties all the way through to Italy winning the final. France went out to Switzerland 5-4 on penalties, the Swiss exited to Spain 3-1 on penalties, Spain lost to Italy 4-2 on penalties, and Italy beat England 3-2 on penalties. Part of the problem with this retcon of France’s EURO 2020 is that all of those other games ended 1-1. France was up 3-1 over Switzerland and couldn’t hold the lead. Meanwhile, the Netherlands losing 2-0 to the Czech Republic was the kind of game that probably should lead to the technical department rethinking the senior national team project. Since that’s what is happening, they take the title for the biggest disappointment. Still deserving of special mention are Portugal, Germany, and Wales.
By which we mean, does anything that happened in either tournament lead into the rapidly approaching European season where most of the stars play? It could conceivably put more pressure on Italian clubs to show that they can compete in the Champions League. That likely means pushing past England all over again, with Premier League clubs threatening to become what we normally associate with La Liga in Europe’s biggest club tournament. In terms of confidence, Denmark’s players have a renewed sense of belief that they’re among the best in Europe. That could influence their club games, especially since they can carry that enthusiasm into preseason camps so quickly. In terms of individual players, Kylian Mbappe doesn’t need extra motivation to push himself with PSG, but he may use France’s exit as even more reason to win now at club level. Then there’s Mbappe’s club teammate Neymar vs his former teammate Lionel Messi. There’s nothing but mutual respect and an obvious friendship pushing them to see if they can replay the Copa America final at club level. Good for the game if that happens this season.
Moving to the soccer news, The Guardian’s review of EURO 2020. The NY Times’ Rory Smith puts the focus on the quick shift from country to club in European soccer. The Ringer’s Brian Phillips with what we saw during EURO 2020. DW explains the Bundesliga allowing fans in stadiums. ESPN’s Ed Dove asks about the plan for an African Super League.
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