Euro 2021: A Tournament Like no Other, For Better or Worse
We’re in uncharted territory, here. No European Championship (or, for that matter, World Cup) has ever been spread over an entire continent before, so this summer’s tournament would already have felt a little strange had it not been delayed for twelve months by circumstances beyond anybody’s control. Euro 2020 as a multi-nation event came about under the UEFA leadership of Gianni Infantino, the same person currently proposing a pan-African Super League and who is considered to have very much said one thing while believing another over its aborted European counterpart.
The idea isn’t completely without merit. The history of international football is littered with the ruins of white elephant stadia built to be used for a couple of matches at major tournaments before being left to rot afterwards after failing to find permanent occupants. No new venues have been built for this tournament (the nearest we came to that was probably the proposed Eurostadium in Brussels, which was plagued by political delays and eventually abandoned in 2018, after a failure to guarantee its completion in time for this tournament), though any environmental benefits from this lack of unnecessary constuction will be at least partially offset by the amount of air travel required to get the thing played in an area as vast as that between Dublin and Baku.
In another way, though, it almost feels appropriate that this of all tournaments should be played under these extremely particular circumstances. It’s a relief that no one country will be saddled with the burden of hosting an entire tournament at this time, only able to part-fill their matches and with the extra-curricular social events that we usually associate with international tournament football all but impossible. Infrastructure costs have been saved, and we have at least been spared the prospect of seeing one country toiling – and potentially putting its own population at some degree of risk – under the current circumstances.
That said, though, tournament football is an opportunity to put one or two nations in the spotlight for few weeks. One of the highlights of a major football tournament is, even for those watching from home, is the feeling that we are all taking part in a festival. International tournaments serve as a celebration of the game, for all its flaws, but this was always likely to be the case a little less for Euro 2020, all the more so once the events of the last sixteen months or so are taken into account. For several different reasons, this particular tournament will feel different to any other that we’ve seen before. Time will tell, whether that’s a good thing or not.
And then, of course, there’s the sheer fatigue. We’re all exhausted, and the lack of mourning at the passing of the 2020/21 season has been noticeable. The constant churn of televised matches, with at least one being played almost every single night, turned the league season from a series of events into a constant hum of white noise. It’s difficult to believe that things haven’t been pretty exhausting for players, as well. The mental pressures under which they have to perform are unlikely to have been helped by the anxious state of the world, and their calendar since domestic seasons were first put on ice more than a year ago has been punishing.
Clubs are likely to watch the next few weeks through the gaps between their fingers. An example of what some people are expecting to be widespread came at The Riverside Stadium on Wednesday night, when Trent Alexander Arnold pulled up with an injury when under no pressure from any opposing players. His injury will keep him out for up to six weeks, which rendered all of the speculation over whether he would make the squad even more redundant than it had done a couple of days earlier, when it was confirmed that yes, he had made the final cut. The risk of injury increases with fatigue, and the possibility of further injury during the tournament certainly seems higher than it normally would.
Yet there is reason to look forward to it all. France start as the clear favourites, but otherwise the field is congested and Portugal, Spain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and England all have realistic chances of a place in the latter stages, while the fatigue brought about by the last eight months may even make the likelihood of surprise results greater. And while the expansion of the tournament to 24 teams for 2016 was not universally popular, it has provided greater opportunity to countries that might have struggled to get into a 16 team competition. Finland and North Macedonia make their debuts in the finals of a major tournament, while Wales and Slovakia both play in their second successive tournaments having never qualified for one before, and Scotland are back in the finals for the first time in a quarter of a century.
Being played at this particular time and in this particularly febrile political atmosphere, it’s highly likely that the whole world and their dog will have their hot takes already baked and steaming, ready to be unleashed upon the world at the drop of a hat. There will probably be booing of players taking the knee before matches. There will be shit, shit, and more shit, and anybody who believes that this even can be a football tournament and nothing else is probably only fooling themselves. But if we can wade through the oceans of people explaining to us how football matches reflect their pre-determined view of the world, then there does promise to be an interesting and fairly open tournament to look to forward to.
Euro 2020 (or 2021 – choose your poison) on 200%
We’ve been covering this sort of thing on 200% since 2006. We’ve done four World Cup finals and this will be our fourth European Championships (alongside four Women’s World Cups and a pile of youth tournaments and World Club Cups), and although it’s been a long and exhausting season, we’ve hauled ourselves out of our slumber. Over the next week, we’ll have some previews, a Euros special As Bad As Things Got for the competing three home nations, our traditional review of the kits and a look at the venues and cities that will be hosting matches. And then, when everything gets started, we’ll have a round-up of the previous day, the morning after. See you there, perhaps?