SATURDAY'S BIG STORIES
The Grand Tour Is Nearly Over
With one game to go, it's probably time to start taking stock of Euro 2020, by some distance the weirdest international tournament since… ever? Let's go with ever. The first World Cup was probably quite odd too, for reasons of novelty, but that took place in a single city. And England didn't make the final. Or the boat.
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Even without the ongoing pandemic lending events a terrifying edge, the Warm-Up is inclined to agree with UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin, who has told the BBC that Euro 2020 was an "interesting idea" but "hard to implement". And for any fans of the format — bonjour, Michel — he had some bad news. "I don't think we will do it again."
This is a pity, on one level. The idea was just interesting, it was unusually utopian: in a world without national borders; with cheap, quick, non-polluting public transport; with reasonable ticket prices and readily available time off; without a pandemic… why wouldn't you stitch the whole continent together like this for a special occasion? To give up on the idea is to admit that we do not live in this world, or indeed a world anywhere near it; a necessary surrender but not a pleasant one.
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In a way, it is not correct that some teams have to travel more than 10,000km while others have to only travel 1,000km. It is not fair to fans, who had to be in Rome one day and in Baku over the next few, which is a four and a half hour flight. We had to travel a lot, into countries with different jurisdictions, different currencies, countries in the European Union (EU) and Non-EU, so it was not easy.
That the tournament happened at all is a logistical triumph for UEFA; that, or spectacular bull-headed hubris. Choose according to taste. But the governing body, from Čeferin down, must be secretly relieved that the football has been great, and that the continent's players have risen to the occasion (or been too tired to defend properly. Choose according to taste). Because UEFA, as a body, as an organisation, have spent the tournament stepping on rake after rake.
That ultimatum delivered to Denmark while Christian Eriksen still lay in hospital probably stands as the most grotesque particular moment, a triumph for bureaucracy over humanity. And the ongoing arguments over where rainbow flags can and cannot be displayed represents sports administration at its most farcical. The attempts to draw a line between the personal and the political — rainbow stadiums bad, rainbow adverts good, rainbow armbands bad until everybody complains and then fine — amounts, taken all together, to institutional head-burying cowardice.
Čeferin is happy to draw the line somewhere around the division between a national football team and a national government: "We cannot protest against any governments and we will not be dragged into any political fight." This is a position that only makes sense to a person pretending not to have encountered governments, countries, or sport before.
Hungary, now that the tournament is safely over, have been ordered to play two Nations League games behind closed doors, pay a fine, and display a banner reading #EqualGame. The small car delivering the ball for the final will carry rainbow stripes. Before the game England will sing a song asking God to intercede on behalf of their head of state, to a crowd containing at least one man dressed as a crusader. There will be flags, flags, flags, flags, flags, flags, flags. The politics is already in the football; the football is already in the politics. One day, perhaps, we might end up with some suits that can admit this.
The debate over rainbow flags has almost consumed the Euros
Image credit: Getty Images
All Shall Have Prizes
Having said all that, it's not like UEFA never do anything popular. In 1984 they dropped the third-fourth playoff from the Euros. Off the top of our head, this might be the last recorded instance of an international football tournament getting smaller.
This would be a particularly cruel tournament for an extra game, and not just because UEFA would probably have put it on the moon. Denmark's squad need to go home, have a long rest, spend some time with their loved ones. Some nice long walks, or a spot of fishing. What they don't need is 90 minutes of being tiki-taka'd about by an angry Spaniard and his team of impertinent teenagers.
And yet, as today stretches out long and football-free, we're going to miss it. Third-fourth play-offs make no sporting sense: the players don't want to be there and the question of third against fourth place is largely meaningless. But they are often, perhaps for this very reason, extremely good fun. They sit somewhere between tournament and exhibition, and so fun things happen.
As if to prove our point, the Copa América 3/4 playoff happened last night/this morning, and Colombia won 3-2 with a 94th minute winner. (As if to prove everybody's else point, Renato Tapia picked up an injury in the 24th minute.)
Besides, for anybody following in England, the game would have offered one last chance to slip back into the warm velvety embrace of the tournament's best commentary team. "And a good afternoon to Ally McCoist." "Good afternoon, Clive." Ah well. Enjoy your rest, Denmark and Spain. We won't hold it against you.
28 Years Of Hurt
Speaking of the Copa América, it's final time. It's been nearly 30 years since Argentina won the Copa, a stat which feels remarkable in itself, and gets even wilder when you add in the fact that they've been to four of the last six finals. Three of those have been to penalties! You'd think they'd have won at least one of those by accident.
And Brazil are probably favourites here, too. A stronger first eleven plus home advantage, whatever that's worth in this age of near-empty stadiums. It appears that the Maracanã will be at one-tenth capacity, with just 7,800 fans allowed in. Could be an echoey one.
In any case, here at the Warm-Up we follow the strict orders of Narrative, and that means we're legally obliged to refer to such occasions as Time To See If Lionel Messi Can Win A Big International Pot. This is then followed by the ritual argument over the worth of an Olympic gold medal to footballers. Isn't tradition a wonderful thing?
But hopefully we can all agree that a win for Argentina would do good work in balancing out Messi's Wikipedia page. Scroll down to Honours and there's this massive brick of club trophies, and this endless list of individual honours, and then this thin layer between them: U20 World Cup, 2005; Summer Olympics, 2008; and two Superclásicos de las Américas, 2017 and 2019. As sandwiches go, the bread to filling ratio is completely out of whack.
Messi: trophy-starved apparently
Image credit: Getty Images
IN OTHER NEWS
It's the weekend, it's a Euros rest day, so we're putting cricket in this bit and you can't stop us. Look at this. Look at this.
HAT TIP (I)
Here's Dion Fanning for The Currency, taking a wide-ranging look at the historical relationship between England managers and the English press, and how this all feeds into the question of national self-belief.
At the 2002 World Cup, England went out after Ronaldinho chipped David Seaman with a free-kick when the goalkeeper drifted off his line … One English journalist booed as Seaman walked weeping through the media mixed zone afterwards. Many will point out that other countries had media which was as ferocious as England’s. But they rarely had media so certain of its own power and so convinced that power could be exercised.
HAT TIP (II)
Until yesterday, we had no idea that one of Argentina's largest international fanbases is half a world away in Bangladesh. But then we read this Football Paradise piece from 2017 that delves down into this unusual, rather wonderful phenomenon.
[Maradona] is the sole reason why there is a huge following for Argentina in Bangladesh. His magical skills, wonderful goals and eye for the theatrical just stole hearts of millions in Bangladesh, be that in cities, towns, villages. He became a hero here and people started supporting Argentina since then … the frenzy around him reached to such an extent that people celebrated the 1986 World Cup victory like Eid"
And if you want to join millions of Bangladeshis in staying up late/getting up early for the Copa América final, it will almost certainly be worth it. Probably. Hopefully.
England are in a major final tomorrow, and Andi Thomas — him again — will be here with a hype-filled Warm-Up.
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