We are spoilt for choice and the variety of tournament football this summer should be celebrated and appreciated, not scoffed at
While the regular football season provides unique weekly drama, there is nothing quite like a summer international tournament to put aside club allegiances and unite the football world.
Of course, in three years’ time, Qatar will host a novelty and widely unwelcome winter edition of the World Cup, but the point remains. After one of the most intense and gruelling club seasons in recent memory, fans could be forgiven for treating this summer — particularly given there are no Men’s World Cup or European Championships — as a breather from the hectic 2018-2019 season. However, football never rests, and the variety of top-level football on offer this summer should be celebrated.
It is difficult to pinpoint what exactly makes tournament football so compelling, but it seems that its main historic attraction is the overall package it provides. It is about the spectacle —fans and teams coming from their respective countries and continents — to create a carnival-type atmosphere in celebration of the beautiful game, often before a ball is even kicked.
With the intensity and high-pressure nature of knockout football squeezed into a much shorter period of time than a full nine-month season, the potential for drama and name-making is inevitable, and quite simply unmatched. However, as part of the summer festivals of fun we are treated to on a yearly basis, the widely-considered “boring” and “unnecessary” internationals that break up the domestic schedule every once in a while are a necessity. This is our reward.
This year in particular the cards have been dealt such that it feels as if there is more tournament football condensed into the post-season period than ever before. Of course, this is not the case, as many of the tournaments being played out are regular fixtures in the calendar. Regardless, can it be a bad thing that as we speak the Under-21 European Championships, Women’s World Cup, Copa America, African Cup of Nations and Concacaf Gold Cup are all being contested? If, as a fan, you are that worn out from last season, then the option for a break is there. If not, and live football on television interests you more than tedious transfer tittle-tattle, then you are spoilt for choice.
There is something about a tournament that answers to the football community’s collective intake of breath; a level of expectation that has become absent from their lives with the climax of the previous season. Already this summer, the stakes are getting ever-higher, with tournament football at its brilliant best.
In Italy and San Marino, the European Under-21 semi-finalists have been confirmed, with surprise package Romania preparing to take on Germany while reigning Champions Spain will hope to better France in order to reach the final once again. The tournament has already lived up to its promise of providing a platform for talented youngsters to make their names and impress on a big stage, with numerous brilliant performances from previously unheard-of names across Europe.
Elsewhere, in France, the Women’s World Cup has come at the perfect time. Global engagement with the tournament has been huge, with performances on the pitch from teams stacked with female superstars such as the USA and France only serving to help the cause. Most noticeably, the standard is always improving and has done since the 2015 edition in Canada, with goalkeeping in particular progressing to a new-level. The World Cup has now been cut to eight teams, all fighting incessantly to simultaneously become World Champions and cement their places as role models for future generations of girls getting into the game.
For those interested in non-European footballing matters, or perhaps seeking the hipster’s tournament of choice, the Copa America in Brazil and the African Cup of Nations being held in Egypt provide two outstanding options. In both tournaments the hosts arrived and remain as favourites to succeed in the coming weeks, while there are stories everywhere you look.
As South America’s premier competition enters its critical stage, the quarter finals loom as large as the shadow cast by Lionel Messi over his teammates, with the question still to be answered: can the game’s greatest ever player finally cement the position by achieving international tournament success with Argentina? His side play Venezuela in the last eight, with a hotly-anticipated clash with their long-time rivals Brazil potentially looming on the semi-final horizon.
Back in Egypt, just as football refuses to halt around the globe, the pressure never subsides from Mohamed Salah’s shoulders. This summer, he is tasked with the expectancy of bringing continental glory to a nation infatuated with his natural ability and increasing iconic stature in the worldwide footballing landscape. Salah’s Egypt, along with other African powerhouses Nigeria, Algeria, Senegal and Ivory Coast, all won their opening games, as the tournament already seems to be anyone’s for the taking. With three debutants in Burundi, Madagascar and Mauritania, there are stories aplenty in the 2019 edition of AFCON.
As July beckons, the summer football festivities will begin to draw to a close, but not without some fun. July 7 sees a triple-header of finals: the culmination of the Women’s World Cup, Copa America and Concacaf Gold Cup tournaments all taking place in one day. After their debut at last year’s World Cup, Panama lead a group of nations striving to build on progress by competing with the likes of Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States for Gold Cup success.
As we now find ourselves in the thick of an intense summer schedule, there are questions left to be answered in various corners of the globe. Will the USA further cement their dominance in the women’s game, or will there be a second consecutive World Cup-winning French team? Will Messi finally drag his teammates over the line or fall agonisingly short again? And can Salah live up to expectation and ensure the Pharaohs reach the top of the African pyramid?
For now, instead of looking back at last season with a heavy heart or getting prematurely excited about the prospect of 2019-2020, it feels like a good time to enjoy the vast amount of football being played out internationally, and to appreciate the ever-presence of the game we love in its most entertaining form. With England’s Under-21s crashing miserably out of the European Championships and following the lead of the senior side, English hopes now rest on the shoulders of the Lionesses. If nothing else, English football fans have a responsibility to support Phil Neville’s side as they have stormed into the quarter-finals, and who knows, it may yet be coming home…