As surprising as this might be to Europeans who, whether they want it or not, are surrounded by and completely engulfed in football fever right now, most Americans have no idea there is a soccer tournament almost as important as the World Cup (which even most Americans are very familiar with) taking place in Austria and Switzerland right now.
Quick insight for the Americans: The Union of the European Football Associations (UEFA) holds a European-wide soccer tournament every four years, coinciding in the off years with the World Cup (which was last played in 2006). After qualifying, 16 teams/countries are grouped in sets of four and play a tournament which lasts about three weeks and started on June 7. The host country rotates every four years. Austria and Switzerland teamed up this year to host.
It’s impossible to be breathing anywhere in Europe and not know about the Euro tournament. So, as with most things that I can define as uniquely European or Swedish experiences, I have decided to embrace it and follow it and have a good time with it and have, so far, been rewarded with some very interesting and at times, dare I even say, “exciting” football.
Sweden won their first game, lost a heartbreaker in the second, but still look promising to advance to the next round of 8 teams. Other favorites so far look like Portugal, Croatia and Spain, but no one has been as impressive as the Dutch who, with their precision passing, ball control and bright orange uniforms, have simply embarrassed both Italy and France, who just happened to be the finalists in the most recent World Cup.
I’ll just say that anyone who has an appreciation for the art and science of sports and athletics can find it in them to be mesmerized by soccer. As I’ve said before, we Americans just don’t really give it a chance, except every four years as long as we’re alive in the World Cup. A well-orchestrated goal really is a beautiful thing. But, I still don’t like the fake injuries, acting and virtual crying that takes place (some teams more than others, I do acknowledge) and seems to be an accepted part of the game.
However, the excitement and interest for me lies in the overall spectacle itself. I appreciate the events or moments that bring the whole continent of Europe, with all its differences and past conflicts, together under one banner. While the EU is a fascinating and challenging experiment in this with the things that really matter, events like Euro and even the Eurovision Song Contest (so sorry to put those two things in the same sentence, soccer fans) do this on a temporary basis and it’s very rewarding to watch for an outsider.
Meanwhile in the United States, one of the most historic and celebrated rivalries in all of American sports is happening again in the NBA Finals between the beloved Los Angeles Lakers and the hated Boston Celtics. Since it’s played from 3:00 – 5:30 in the morning Sweden time, soccer is astonishingly taking up more of my thoughts than this cherished rivalry. More surprising words have perhaps never been blogged on Linköpinglivin’. I’ve been here too long….
It remains to be seen just how much soccer stays with me upon my return to the U.S., but for now I have just one thing to say: “Heja Sverige!”