Pete’s Futbol Experiement: Watching the 2012 European Soccer Championships

I’ve never been a soccer fan. I played youth ball when I was a little kid, but beyond that I never gained much interest in the sport. In fact, I’ve come to criticize a lot about it – from the cheesy flopping to the annoying vuvuzelas to the injuries that seem to happen every two minutes.

But I can’t argue against the popularity of soccer abroad. There still isn’t much of a market for it here in the States, but it seems like the rest of the world is perpetually compelled by the sport. So, in the spirit of keeping an open mind and having nothing else to do during the day, I’ve decided to watch as many Euro matches as I can and give my own personal commentary.

I’m trying to understand the draw to this sport. I really do want to give it a chance, so that means I’ll have to watch it enough to know what’s going on in front of me. It may not prove to be all that much fun – I doubt I’ll come out of this experience as a soccer fan – but if nothing else, I’m broadening my horizons and learning another sport. In the quest to be a true sports writer someday, it certainly couldn’t hurt to know a bit about the world’s most popular game.

To help me get a little more into these matches, I’ve entered a pool with some folks that I’ve played fantasy football with. Some of them are die hard soccer fans and they follow the Premier League closely during the season. It might seem like I’m in over my head when it comes to picking winners against these guys, but I have a little trick up my sleeve.

It just so happens that I live with a pair of huge soccer fans — Conor and Rakesh. Since we live on Montrose Avenue, I’m going to refer to them as the Montrose Super Fans. Conor is from Dublin, Ireland and has lived with us for about a year now. He’s a staunch supporter of the Liverpool Premier team. Rakesh is from Chennai, India and he supports Arsenal.

Both of these guys know what they’re talking about when it comes to soccer. They get up early on the weekends and watch matches, commonly waking me up. But instead of annoying me during the Euros, they’re helping me to first place in the pool and also helping me understand the sport and culture I know so little about. Last night, we had a group discussion about who will escape their groups and who will eventually win the Euro Cup.

The following are the basics that I took away from the discussion. I asked only for a brief breakdown of the two teams my roommates believed would emerge from each group. I want winners and I don’t want to get my head fogged up with the details of the supposedly weaker teams. Based on their explanations, I’m trying to compare the teams and groups to American sports teams that I am familiar with. I may be correct in these comparisons, or I may be way off. It’s not science, just opinion based on a small amount of information. This is my breakdown of the Euro 2012 field.

 GROUP A

CZECH REPUBLIC

GREECE

POLAND

RUSSIA

When discussing this group, the words “weak” and “wild card group” came up quite a bit. So I easily deemed this the weakest group of the tournament. It contains Poland, one of the host nations. As one would guess, host nations usually do well in tournaments like this. The local support helps their team on the pitch. But apparently, Poland is a pretty weak host nation. The Super Fans did pick the Polish to advance out of the group, but only because the group itself is extremely weak and it’s basically a crap shoot.

TOP TWO TEAMS TO ADVANCE

1. Russia– They are the favorites to advance from the group. The Super Fans tell me that they consistently deliver in major tournaments. There are no outright stars on this team, but the team itself is organized and they work well as a cohesive unit. There are no huge stars, but they’re good enough to get out of a bad group. I’m comparing this team to the Phoenix Coyotes. No huge stars, but good cohesive play that helped them advance in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.

2. Poland– Like I mentioned before, the Super Fans picked Poland to advance because they are a host nation and host nations usually over perform. With the help of their home crowd, Poland is hoping to intimidate their opponents enough to earn the right to advance past the group stage. I don’t know how much home field advantage plays into soccer, but I’m going to compare this team to the Seattle Seahawks. Not a great team overall, but Quest Field certainly is a loud and difficult stadium to play in.

 GROUP B

DENMARK

GERMANY

NETHERLANDS

PORTUGAL

This group generated the most lively conversation out of any of them. This was described to me as the “Dream Group.” Apparently, every team in this group is pretty good. Ultimately, Denmark gets screwed because they have a good club, but everyone else is better. It’s difficult to look past Germany and Holland.

 TOP TWO TEAMS TO ADVANCE

1. Germany– They are a hot team right now. They’re a well-oiled machine and they have star power. The Germans are considered the second-best team in this tournament by the Super Fans. They have young stars that are maturing from the 2010 World Cup. Their players play for outstanding Premier teams. They should be fun to watch. I’m comparing them to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

2. Holland– This is another hot team. They made the last World Cup final but lost to Spain. They have a pair of super stars and they play a sound, technical game. This team plays by the book and is damn good at it. I’m comparing them to the Detroit Redwings.

GROUP C

CROATIA

IRELAND

ITALY

SPAIN

This group is arguable the second strongest in the tournament. They should challenge the best group and their group winner should lay claim to runner-up for the tournament. This group contains the previous World Cup winners, Spain. And according to the Super Fans, the Spaniards are the favorites to advance as the best team from the group. Aside from Spain, the second team to advance from this group is tough to call, it’ll be a struggle.

 TOP TWO TEAMS TO ADVANCE

1. Spain– The Super Fans say that Spain “plays soccer the way it is supposed to be played.” They teach lessons on the field. They have the best goalie and the best centermen in the group and maybe in the entire tournament. This team has both style and substance and they are the favorites for the tournament. Everyone else will have to go through Spain to win the cup because they have the stars of the Spanish Premier Division backing them up. I’m going to compare the Spanish team to the Miami Heat.

2. Ireland– Super Fan Conor may be hurting me with this pick by being a homer, but I figured I’d give it to him. The Irish have an average team,  but they play with heart and passion. They are tough to break down. They play a defensive-style game and they are good at winning tight matches. They reach deep down for their efforts and have a terrific coach behind the bench. I’m going to compare them to the San Antonio Spurs, good coach, they get the job done but are boring to watch.

GROUP D

ENGLAND

FRANCE

SWEDEN

UKRAINE

This is the second weakest group in the tournament. There are a lot of questions regarding these teams, so it’ll be tough to tell who emerges. One note that is worth mentioning: The Super Fans disagreed on the second team to advance in this group. Rakesh picked England and Conor picked Sweden. I picked Sweden ultimately because Conor’s argument was more convincing. According to Conor, England is over-hyped and has underachieved.

TOP TWO TEAMS TO ADVANCE

1. France– This team gets results.  They are reemerging after a miserable in World Cup. That team didn’t gel because of their coach. But things are a little different now. This talent will gel and come together better. They have a good mix of younger and veteran players. The French may even have an outside shot at the finals. I’m comparing this team to the Los Angeles Kings (but don’t expect France to dominate like the Kings have.)

2. Sweden– This is the controversial pick in the apartment, but I feel good taking Sweden. They might not be a better team than England, but there is less pressure on them to perform compared to the English. According to Conor, “England promises more than they should.” I’m comparing this team to the Nashville Predators — a good, solid team that people like, but not expected to escape a tough division.

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About Pete Dombrosky
Pete is a graduate of Penn State University and a life-long Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates fan. He covered men's hockey, golf, tennis, swimming and the enterprise beat as a reporter at the Daily Collegian, Penn State's award-winning, independent student-operated paper. He currently serves as the Assistant Managing Editor for Thrillist Media Group (www.thrillist.com).

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