Summer of Soccer Fails to Deliver on High Expectations
by Caleb Rhodes on Friday, September 30th, 2016
Hope abounded in the soccer world heading into summer 2016. Three tournaments — the Copa America Centenario, the European Championships, and the Olympics — promised high quality, international soccer headlined by talents such as Lionel Messi of Argentina, Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal, and Neymar of Brazil. The United States even hosted the Copa America. Expectations were high, but none of the tournaments fully delivered on their potential.
The Copa America was meant to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of CONMEBOL, the football federation for South America. However, not long after last year’s Copa America, this tournament felt confused and disjointed. In many ways, it felt less like a celebration of soccer in the Americas and more like an opportunity for Argentina to avenge their World Cup and Copa America losses in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Messi said as much in Sports Illustrated when he commented, “Argentina has not raised a major senior trophy of any kind since 1993, and I think it’s important that we end the streak.” For a while this narrative played out; in their first match of the tournament they defeated 2015 champions Chile before crushing Panama 5-0, Bolivia 3-0, Venezuela 4-1, and the USA 4-0. They played their way to the final, where Chile once again awaited, and victory seemed within reach for Argentina. Then they lost in penalty kicks, after a dull 0-0 draw, characterized by an unforgivable Higuain miss for Argentina. The tournament, meant to raise the profile of soccer in America and give Argentina a long awaited win, ended with a whimper.
The European Championships were even worse. Besides the Cinderella stories of Iceland making it to the quarterfinals and Wales making it to the semifinals, the whole competition lacked punch. Low scoring, defensive displays in the group stage gave way to cagey elimination round matches that lacked quality. Defending 2012 champions Spain followed up their early elimination from the World Cup with a poor showing in this tournament and crashed out at Italy’s hands in the round of 16. Meanwhile, one of the pre-tournament favorites, Belgium, could not overcome an inspired Wales team, led by Gareth Bale, in the quarterfinals. However, the greatest injustice of the tournament was Portugal’s run to the finals. They finished in third place out of four in an easy group that included Hungary, Iceland, and Austria, but benefited from a new rule allowing some of the third place teams to advance. Drawing easier matchups against Switzerland, Poland, and Wales in the knockout stages, Portugal then proceeded to con their way to the final by winning in penalty kicks. Facing host-nation France in the final itself, Cristiano Ronaldo limped off injured before a late goal from substitute Eder sunk a largely dominant France. Portugal’s win was one of the least deserving ever and left a sour memory of a disappointing tournament.
Perhaps the only highlight from the soccer scene this summer was Brazil’s gold medal in men’s soccer at the Rio Olympics. Not only did they win in their home nation, but this gold medal was amazingly Brazil’s first. Although the summer of soccer didn’t measure up, soccer fans can now turn their attention to the return of the European club soccer. Will Leicester retain their Premier League title? Can Madrid win the Champions League again? Only another season of soccer will provide the answers.
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