Sunday, June 26

Euro 2020 draw puts England’s hopes of a relief festival at risk of failure | England

IInternational tournaments are only tangentially about football, which is probably just as good given how unsophisticated it is often coupled with the best of club play, how slow it can seem. They are about the stories and the mood, the scandal and the drama, and most of all, the sense of shared experience.

Russia 2018 was a very good World Cup and a nice tournament to cover, but seeing England’s victory over Colombia alone on a drab apartment in Samara, surrounded by the clothes of another journalist drying clothes, and watching the scenes of jubilation at home, there was a different difference. feeling of being overlooked by something significant. As Irish columnist Con Houlihan observed on Italia 90: “I missed it … I was in Italy at the time.”

It is also the reason why Italy 90, despite the poverty of much of football, stands as one of the defining World Cups. There was the progress of England and Ireland, but also of Cameroon. There was a bloody road from Argentina to the final, culminating in their opera semi-final victory over the hosts in Naples. There were last appearances for West Germany, Yugoslavia, the USSR and Czechoslovakia, the first appearance of the United States in a World Cup since 1950, Costa Rica dazzling Scotland, Frank Rijkaard spitting on Rudi Völler, Brazil and the water bottles possibly with spikes …

The show could have been so bad that FIFA immediately set out to change the laws to prevent something so cynical from happening again, but it didn’t matter. The narratives were compelling enough to drag a global audience along with them.

This is also why the claim that the overall level of football at Euro 96 was poor is largely irrelevant. That summer is now presented, at least if I was in an English university at the time, as a glorious moment of freedom and hope: an unpopular government was dying, Britain felt culturally important, and the atmosphere at Wembley seemed to suggest a patriotism was possible. cheerful and inclusive. (And that’s despite the fact that an IRA bomb destroyed the Arndale Center in Manchester on the morning of England versus Scotland and the violence after the semi-final loss, in which a Russian student was stabbed in Brighton.)

Kings Cross Station in London is reflected in the European Championship trophy during preparation for the continental tournament.
Kings Cross Station in London is reflected in the European Championship trophy during preparation for the continental tournament. Photograph: Niklas Halle’n / AFP / Getty Images

From a narrative point of view, Euro 2020 has the potential to be one of the most memorable tournaments to ever exist. Each game played represents some kind of symbolic victory over Covid. The pancontinental nature of the tournament has complicated logistics, perhaps to an inexcusable degree during the pandemic, but there is at least a (possibly too romantic) hope that every point in Europe, from Seville to Baku, St. Petersburg to Rome, will be able to unite to celebrate human resilience and the beginning of the end of the crisis.

This year’s FA Cup final had, except last season when no one was admitted, the lowest attendance since 1890, but the fans who were there have never felt more present. Even if Wembley is only half or a quarter full, it will feel like a huge step back towards some kind of normalcy. After months of restrictions, there is a feeling of pent up energy waiting to be released. Whether you’re gathered around a community screen in a park or beer garden, desperate to toss your plastic beer glass into the air, or quietly watching at home, euros have the potential to be a great unifying experience like the one. crisis (hopefully) subsides.

And that’s when reality kicks in. On the one hand, as the Delta variant increases, the numbers seem increasingly worrying. On the other hand, there is the fact that humanity is rarely good at finding common cause, as demonstrated by the knee boo in recent Premier League matches and England’s friendly against Austria.

Then there is real football. Due to the late start, this has been an unusually grueling season. Injuries have robbed the Netherlands and Hungary of their most important player. Kevin De Bruyne may miss out for Belgium. England have doubts about the physical form of a key central defender and a key midfielder.

There is a danger that this will turn into a tournament like the 2002 World Cup, which started in late May due to the Japanese rainy season and was marked by fatigue as a result, a handful of stories: Senegal’s progress , the implosion of France, Roy Keane v Mick McCarthy in Saipan, the redemption of Ronaldo, ultimately not enough to make up for the irregularity of much of football.

And finally, from a parochial point of view, there is England. Many of the signs are positive. They have the experience of reaching the semifinals of the World Cup in Russia three years ago. They have home-court advantage for potentially six of the seven games they would play if they reached the final. They have an enormously talented young team and while there are reasonable doubts in goalkeeping, central defense and central midfield, this still appears to be the deepest and best balanced team that England have led to a major tournament in a long, long time. .

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The problem is the tie. If England lead a group that is far from easy, they will likely play Portugal or Germany in the round of 16, two teams that immediately evoke memories of the tournament’s outings. This may be a (relatively) vulnerable Germany, but England have won just two knockout matches against World Cup or Euro-winning countries since 1966 (and one of them was on penalties). Coming second in the group and the round of 16 is theoretically easier, a likely meeting with Sweden or Poland in Copenhagen, but that route leads to a likely quarter-finals in St. Petersburg against overwhelming favorites France.

Of course, to win tournaments you have to beat the good guys, but there is a serious danger that England’s participation will end before there is any chance of generating the kind of euphoric momentum seen in 1996 and 2018. And while playing any semi-final. or semi-final at Wembley in front of a crowd should be something to celebrate, if England is not there, if there are no home fans, they may not feel that way.

Euro 2020 could be one of the great shared sporting experiences, a symbolic festival of relief; But there is a risk that it will become an anticlimactic annex to what has already been a laborious season.

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