Euro 2016 and The Copa America Centenario – A feast for the football fan

If you’re the type that can’t get enough of the Beautiful Game, this summer is a “feast for the fanatic” for those who want to ingest nothing but football.

We’re only used to seeing this magnitude of summer football once every four years when the 32-team tournament that is famously known as the FIFA World Cup of soccer is played. In an extremely rare occurrence, the UEFA European Football Championship (better known as Euro 2016) and the Copa America tournament (this year’s edition called the Centenario) will share the stage in what will be a spectacle of summer soccer that may even surpass the scope of emotion that the World Cup provides.

Pitch Perfect
The UEFA European Championship and Copa America tournaments usually offset each other during the years between a World Cup, but because this summer is the 100th edition of the Copa America, a special edition to honour this major milestone will be played in the U.S. Occurring simultaneously across the pond, France will host the 15th edition of a tournament that has spanned over 56 years. The Euro Cup is a tournament that many believe showcases better-quality soccer then what a World Cup has to offer. In fact, between both competitions, some of the biggest and best star power will be present, with Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuaín (Argentina), Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez (Mexico), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Gareth Bale (Wales), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden), Luis Suárez (Uruguay), Robert Lewandowski (Poland), Arturo Vidal (Chile), Paul Pogba (France) and Thomas Müller (Germany) all poised to lead their teams against players that they often call teammates during the club season.

Bigger is Better
For the first time since 1996, the European Championship tournament has expanded the number of participating teams. For the last 10 years it has been a 16-team tournament, however from this edition forward, UEFA has opted to expand the tournament to 24 teams and many are applauding the decision. Giving fans more of what they want has been the trend in world football lately and devotees from smaller yet technically skilled European football nations will now have the chance to see their teams in the spotlight. Nations like Albania, Northern Ireland, Iceland and Wales will make their first-ever appearances at the Euros and these underdogs have nothing to lose, which means that upsets will be ripe in the making.

The Copa America has also expanded for the Centenario with the 10 traditional CONMEBOL (South American) nations participating. To add to the spectacle, an additional six teams from CONCACAF (North America, Central America and the Caribbean) will make up the 16-team ceremonial event. Both tournaments are part of FIFA’s official game calendar, which will ensure that the best and most serious sporting prowess will occur. More than two million stadium spectators and millions at home are expected to catch the Euro and Copa America tournaments this summer.

The Teams to Beat
Euro 2016: It’s no coincidence that the defending FIFA World Cup champions also happen to be the most successful team in the history of the European Championship. With four World Cup titles and three European Championships, what hope does any other nation have in knocking off the incredible Germans? After losing two games in the qualifying campaign, Die Mannschaft may have a few chinks in their proverbial armour. One team that didn’t lose a game in qualifying was England.

With an impressive 10-0 run, is this finally the tournament that crowns the nation that invented football with its first-ever European title? The Three Lions have a solid group of veterans with exciting young talent like Harry Kane and Premier League champion Jamie Vardy ready to replicate their outstanding club form on the international scene.

The No. 2-ranked team in the world is Belgium and it, along with Italy, the Republic of Ireland and Sweden, form the potential “Group of Death.” Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne is explosive and there is no reason to believe that he, along with the other Red Devils, will not advance all the way to the finals in France. Speaking of the host nation, it has to be optimistic about its chances, primarily due to superstar Paul Pogba and playing every match in front of a home crowd.

Spain is the defending European champion and has won the last two editions of the Euros. It’s looking to erase the memory of a disappointing World Cup to bounce back into the elite of world football.

Where does this leave Italy? The most interesting story for the Azzurri entering Euro 2016 has been off the pitch with their two best midfielders, Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio, set to miss the tournament due to serious injuries. The fact that manager Antonio Conte has already signed on to coach Chelsea after the Euros while leaving Toronto FC striker Sebastian Giovinco and fellow MLS compatriot Andrea Pirlo off the final roster in France leaves most tifosi feeling blue. The only silver lining is that if the tactically astute Italy can find a way to get some goal production, a Conte-coached team will be incredibly difficult to break down.

Copa America Centenario:
The usual suspects of Argentina and Brazil will always be favoured to lift the Copa America trophy, yet with the reigning and deserved champions from the 2015 edition being Chile, and with surprise teams like Venezuela and Uruguay having made impressive runs in recent editions, many different prognostications are possible.

A is for Attack, along with the nation Argentina, and it’s in this area that La Albiceleste are in abundance. Boasting the most impressive strike force on the planet — Messi, Higuaín, Sergio Agüero, Ángel Di María and possibly Juve’s Paulo Dybala (if Ezequiel Lavezzi can’t make it) — it’s like playing a video game with the best of the best! Eight-time Copa champion Brazil hasn’t focused on its usual offence, but rather on its leaky defence, which has cost the South American nation in the last number of major tournaments. But as the old adage goes, defence wins championships.

The United States is hosting the Copa America Centenario and along with a state-of-the-art stadium, the stars and stripes will be playing for nationalistic pride in the biggest football tournament since World Cup ‘94 to be played on their home soil. This may very well be the end of the line for German legend Jürgen Klinsmann if he doesn’t guide the U.S. team to success this time around.

Other notables include defending champions Chile, with talent in abundance through massive stars such as Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez. Uruguay has proven its pedigree as it has lifted the Copa America 15 times in its history. If Luis Suárez can keep his teeth off the opponents, he might be biting into a gold medallion come the end of the Copa America Centenario.

Enjoy the Feast
No matter which tournament you will be following with greater passion, the months of June and July will be an outstanding feast for the football fan. Follow your team with passion and pride, and surely the multicultural GTA will be filled with the colourful flags of the 40 nations that will make up the participating teams between the 2016 European Football Championship and the 2016 Copa America Centenario.

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Stephen Tallevi

Stephen Tallevi