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Copa America 2016

Why there’s more than just football to this summer’s international tournaments



Football fans will have no shortage of quality football to watch this summer with three tournaments on the way.

The Copa America Centenario kicks us off on June 3rd, followed by Euro 2016 on June 10 and the Olympics on August 3rd. Much like the World Cup two years ago, many of the world’s best players will be on display even though they won’t all face each other. The first two tournaments will likely draw more attention despite an overlap, as the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Lionel Messi and James Rodriguez face off in the Copa while Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Pogba and Robert Lewandowski battle it out in Europe. The Olympics is mainly a tournament for U-23 players but Neymar’s appearance for Brazil highlights the possibility of a few well-known senior players mixing it with a number of talented youngsters.

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With the talent on display, and hopefully a high level of football, these tournaments are sure to draw plenty of attention, something that doesn’t always seem to be the case with international football.

The seemingly continuous qualification process for these tournaments aren’t met with favorable reviews by fans. The main reason being the propensity to break up club football seasons at what is always the worst possible time. When the summer comes around the fans bemoan the end of the club season even if there is at least one tournament on the way. The World Cup, for obvious reasons, is never met with such disdain but the various confederation tournaments seem to receive varying levels of interest at the best of times.

There are a good number of reasons to watch the tournaments this summer, though.

This celebratory Copa America was close to being cancelled when FIFA’s scandal was at its zenith. At least, as ESPN FC reported, that possibility was put forward by one CONMEBOL executive last summer. The Guardian also took a closer look at how former CONCACAF President, Jeffrey Webb, played a part in setting up the tournament. All the problems were ironed out it seems, and here we are with the tournament about to get underway. The Copa provides a chance for CONMEBOL and CONCACAF to focus on football as restructuring and reform begins. It also highlights the ease with which the US can put on a major tournament at short notice, something that might help when a final decision is made on Qatar 2022.

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The sporting side of things is no less interesting. We will wait to see how  hosts, the USA, and CONCACAF in general perform. Chile will get a chance to add a second trophy in quick succession with their much-vaunted generation of players. Most of all, we may, surprisingly, be looking at the best chance for the world’s best footballer to win his one piece of senior international silverware. Lionel Messi will lead an Argentina side that are strong favourites. It is likely Chile will represent South America in next year’s Confederations Cup and the 2018 World Cup in Russia seems a tall task for a side where age will be a factor for key players.

Meanwhile, Euro 2016 may not have faced threat of cancellation but, as the Guardian reports, the possibility of playing behind closed doors surfaced before being ruled out.

As a nation, the French will be hoping that their host team featuring the likes of Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann can help relieve some of the stress as the 1998 World Cup winners did. That they will be facing the defending European champions, Spain, and the defending World Cup winners, Germany, makes for an interesting watch on the pitch. The inclusion and appearance of smaller nations like Iceland and Albania in an expanded tournament provides further intrigue. Like his rival Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo may also be facing his best chance to win an international trophy. If both fail in their attempts before their careers end the Argentinian can at least point to a FIFA U-20 World Cup and Olympic gold medal.

The latter achievement is something one of his club teammates will be looking to match as Neymar headlines the last tournament we’ll see this summer, the 2016 Olympics.

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The Olympics is a tournament for U-23 players and the Brazilian’s participation adds plenty of excitement. He won’t be the only senior player likely to join any of the participating teams but it is important for a few reasons. Brazil will be hosting the Olympics and will look to the football team to provide one of their signature moments in the tournament. The organization of the tournament has come under much criticism not least because of the fear of athletes, fans or officials may encounter the Zika virus. A win for the football team will bring some joy to the Brazilians above all this and, more importantly, help erase the memories of the humiliating 7-1 loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinals. Brazil have never won the tournament and doing so would further enhance their reputation in the world game.

On the Women’s side, the women’s teams will be hoping to build on the high level of interest from the 2015 World Cup. The US Women’s team stands out in this regard as they will want to follow-up their World Cup victory and repeat as Olympic champions. Another title would add further strength to their fight for equal pay, as the team filed a claim against US Soccer earlier this year according to ESPN W.

The chance for a summer filled with good football is one reason these tournaments are worth the watch. The underlying social and sporting aspects make it even more worth the while. Club football may take up the majority of a fan’s year but, as these summer tournaments show, international football matters just as much if not more.

Featured image: Some rights reserved by Thomas Couto

Copa America 2016

A Tainted Legacy; The story of Lionel Messi’s last international final



There was something different about this final. Something raw. Something stark and unforgiving. Messi and Argentina were on the losing end of the final of a major tournament for the third time in three years, but today they were the victim.

Last year the Chileans captured the imagination of the world. A nation ravaged by natural disasters, its team century long sufferers at the hands of South America’s footballing elite, filled stadiums with infectious hope and passion. Miners donned the famed red strip, of them the thirty three survivors of the Copiapo Mining accident, and with them Chile stepped into the light.

They had been trapped too long in the asphyxiating darkness of footballing austerity, the long shadows cast by their illustrious eastern rivals seemed cruel. Messi was the villain. As Alexis Sanchez chipped home the winning penalty of the Copa America final in Santiago, the whole world smiled. Chile had defeated Argentina; grit and passion had wrestled glory from the hands of privilege.

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This year the world felt crushing disappointment. The frustration of failure spilled out of Messi’s eyes, tears of anguish andremorse. The Copa America Centenario was meant to be his coronation. He was in the land of opportunity, playing in a cathedral dedicated to sporting excellence if not the beautiful game. What better place to crown a legendary career but New York, the city where stardust shines brightest, where only the great may succeed.

But Messi failed. His greatness juxtaposed so acutely by the tragedy of a missed penalty, one which soared into a small section of raucous, red-clad supporters. The rest of the stadium was a sea of blue, all hoping to catch a whiff of rare genius. While Messi’s legacy transcends boarders, provokes awe in people so far removed from the ethos of footballing purity, it remains tainted. If last year’s Copa America was a tribute to the collective passion of sport, this year’s was poised to be a cold nod to the power of individuality. It was held in a country who deify the brilliant individual, who understand the star-power of football if not its nuance and poetry. But on the most fitting of stages, Messi collapsed.

Despite the result, the final was one that highlighted the genius of Messi’s game. Two first half red cards injected fluidity into a cagey affair. The departures of Chile’s Marcelo Diaz and Argentina’s Marcos Rojo, causing Mascherano to fill in at center-back and Funes Mori to be pushed out to left-back, provided room in the midfield for Messi to drop deep and receive the ball. His direct running provided the only threat for Argentina, with both Higuain and Di Maria largely ineffectual.

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The game came to life in the second half with the small field doing much more justice to teams of ten. Vidal and Aranguiz controlled the midfield for Chile, and Sanchez’s clever runs caused problems for a laboring Mercado. However, the game’s brightest spark remained Messi. His dribbling wrought havoc on the Chilean defense, forcing them into numerous cynical fouls. As the clocked ticked toward ninety minutes Messi burst into the Chile box, only to blaze a shot well over Claudio Bravo’s crossbar.

Extra-time provided few chances, bar a looping Aguero header brilliantly saved by Bravo, and penalties provided an opportunity to separate two sides who worked tirelessly to nullify each other’s threats if not to take the initiative for themselves. A penalty miss by Vidal provided Messi with the perfect opportunity to exercise the demons of years past, but his woes from the spot for club and country continued as his effort sailed over the bar. Five assured penalties followed before Biglia’s tame effort was saved by Bravo, giving Francisco Silva the opportunity to hand Chile their second Copa in two years.

As Silva’s effort found the bottom-right corner of Romero’s net and Chile’s players wheeled off in celebration, the crowed let out a collective murmur of disappointment. They had come to see greatness. With every touch of the ball, Messi shrouded himself in wisps of mysticism, of expectation and awe. No one cared he hadn’t scored. They came to see him play, to see footballing poetry personified, to see him win. But he lost, and a piece of his mystique disappeared into the warm New York air.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Nicolas Skopinski.

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