Last week, after I wrote an NBA Finals recap that appeared on this very website, loyal The700Level reader FartBlaster69 asked, “What does this have to do with Philadelphia sports?”
And while our good pal FB Six Niner is right, the post had nothing to do with Philly sports, I like to think that some Philadelphians are actually interested in teams that don’t suck colossal butt.
So if you have a problem with us publishing European soccer content, think about it this way: Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway was designed to emulate the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Paris is the capital of France, the host nation of this summer’s Euros. So, by the Transitive Property, who gives a crap about what we post on this stupid website.
There are tons of things to talk about going into this year’s Euros -- one being that there is a massive USA-Paraguay Copa America match being played at the Linc this Saturday, a match that has absolutely nothing to do with the Euros and would have been a much more appropriate topic to talk about here, but as the old Groucho Marx saying goes, “I would never want to be part of a club that would have Eric Wynalda as a member.” Plus, this is my column and I’ll do what I want.
So let’s break down some of the top storylines going into this summer’s most highly anticipated soccer tournament.
Austria might be really, really good, and yes, that says Austria, a place that still exists and is real.
It’s amazing how little people talk about Austria. And I’m not talking about the football team, I’m talking about the country. You never really hear anyone say, “Margot and I just got back from Vienna, and let me tell you, the schnitzel was fabbbbulous.” Probably because schnitzel is not fabulous, it's mediocre at best, but also because Austria is super lame and boring. That’s not true, Austria is incredible, but the Sound of Music and that whole World War II concentration camp thingie cannot be good for tourism. Plus, the Austrian national team has been irrelevant for decades, and has basically been flying under the radar for as long as there have been radars. Now, for the first time in years, the squad is rife with young, homegrown talent (including one super duper glooperstar), and Fifa’s 10th ranked team is finally getting involved in the global conversation.
For Austria, it all starts with Bayern Munich’s David Alaba. The guy can do everything, so much so that Pep Guardiola recently referred to him as “God.” Not “a really good player.” Or “a major difference-maker.” But “God.” That’s a pretty good compliment. A guy at 7-11 once compared me to Scott Skiles.
Joining God in the midfield is Werder Bremen’s maestro, Zlatko Junuzovic (Austria’s 10 shirt). He’ll be feeding the ball up front to Marc Janko, a 6-foot 5-inch powerhouse and very capable goalscorer who just finished up a bonkers season at FC Basel. And while I realize that “capable” is not the most ringing endorsement for a striker, Jancko is pretty darn decent (also not the most ringing endorsement, but trust me, he’s good). Throw in Stoke City’s mad man, Marko Arnautovic (a blatant lunatic), captain Christian Fuchs (Leicester City!) and a mediocre Group H consisting of Hungary, Iceland and Portugal, and Austria could be poised for a deep run in the tournament.
For the record, I have never once seen Austria play.
Belgium might not be the favourite, but they’re the fan favourite, because they have a bunch of super exciting young players including one guy who open-mouth kissed his girlfriend after scoring in the Champions League Final.
I love everyone on Belgium (and had a great time visiting Brussels a view years ago -- the mussels were fabbbbbbulous!), but no one more than their 21-year-old stud forward, Yannick Carrasco.
The Atlético phenom pretty much torched every Real Madrid defender who tried to check him during last month’s Champions League Final, plus, he has a super hot girlfriend (which is nothing special when it comes to footballers, but still).
Imagine the confidence you have to have in order to make out hardcore with your girlfriend in front of 55 million people? It sort of makes you respect Kim Kardash and Ray-J a little bit more, doesn’t it? I have trouble just having a conversation with my wife in public, let alone jamming my tongue down her throat in front of her stepfather. Although, if someone were to offer us mucho dinero to make a dirty, disgusting sex tape, I would absolutely, 100% consider it / sell them the one we made while vacationing in Bruges.
Along with Carrasco, Belgium is loaded -- I’m talkin’ T.G.I.Friday’s loaded potato skins loaded -- with top international talent. Big boppers include Eden Hazard (Chelsea) and Romelu Lukaku (Everton) in attack, but Belgium also has Kevin De Bruyne (Man City), Divock Origi (Liverpool, blech), Axel Witsel (Zenit St. Petersburg, brrrrr), Radja Nainggolan (Roma), Moussa Dembélé (Spurs, barfffffffff) and Marouane Fellaini (afro) supporting them.
Unfortunately, Belgium’s problems are similar to a 55-year-old Jewish dude’s (in the back), where they will be missing the best centre-back in the game, Vincent Kompany (and yes I just spelled center, “centre”). In his place will be former Arsenal, former Barcelona, former soccer player, Thomas Vermaelen, a guy who hasn’t played competitive football since the Eisenhower administration. Vermaelan will be paired with Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld, and possibly Lukaku’s little brother, Jordan (seriously!) on the wing.
A lot is expected of the young Belgians. But then again, a lot was expected from Kim and Ray J and look what happened there (total snoozefest).
No Netherlands! They failed to qualify for the tourney, which is absolutely ridiculous considering they reached the semis at the last World Cup (a mere two years ago). Iceland, however, WILL be there, filled with their Key and Peele-esque roster of incredible names.
Yo, for real, people from Iceland have incredible, incredible names.
Check it out: Hordur Magnússon, Hjörtur Hermannsson, Ragnar Sigurdsson. These are actual names of actual people. Sverrir Ingi Ingason, Birkir Sævarsson. I am not making this up. Haukur Heidar Hauksson, Emil Hallfredsson, Gylfi Sigurdsson. Seriously. Arnór Ingvi Traustason, Birkir Bjarnason. I can keep going. Rúnar Már Sigurjónsson, Kolbeinn Sigthórsson. I don’t even know what some of these letters are. Jón Dadi Bödvarsso (Jon Dadi!) and Alfred Finnbogason (he’s my favorite). And they all look alike too. What a country.
England is garbage.
Maybe this will be the year that Americans finally realize that the Three Lions are more comedians than contenders. The Brits have known that their squad is trash for years, but because the Premier League is so well marketed in America, it seems as if we’ve had a hard time accepting that these guys suck total butt. The truth is, even though Roy Hodgson has cleaned house of the old fogies, James Milner is still a donkey.
France! We should probably talk about France!
You want drama? Les Bleus will give you some drama.
In the last six years, the French national team has led a revolt during the World Cup, had their two best players accused of sleeping with an underage prostitute (both players were cleared of the charges by the way), had one of those players attempt to blackmail a different player in some sort of ridiculous sex tape scandal, and had 14 soccer balls miraculous disappear inside of Mathieu Flamini’s nostrils.
The positives: those dark days seem to be behind them and Bacary Sagna has finally cut his hair. Also, France is led by possibly the most talented (and adorable) squad in the world, with attackers Antoine Griezmann (Atlético Madrid), Anthony Martial (Man U) and Kingsley Koman (Juventus), midfielders Paul Pogba (Juventus), Dimitri Payet (the deadball specialist from West Ham) and everybody’s favorite junkyard dog, N'Golo Kanté (Leicester City). Then there’s a host of other big time talents on the bench and in the back: midfielders Blaise Matuidi (PSG) and Morgan Schneiderlin (Man U), defenders Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Patrice Evra (Roma) and Bacary Sagna (Man City), and no chance of Mathieu Flamini barrelling into anyone’s kneecaps and tearing their anterior cruciate ligaments straight off their bones.
The negatives: Karim Benzema is OUT (he’s the guy who tried to blackmail his teammate with a sex tape) so they’re going to play Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud up top, but he doesn’t suck nearly as hard as everyone thinks he does (or does he?!). Also, the combined age of their two wing backs (Sagna and Evra) is 69 (actually, it’s 68, but whatever). Plus, no miniature Franck Ribery or Mathieu Valbeuna running around like jackrabbits this year (which is just sad).
Yeah yeah yeah, Germany and Spain, blah blah blah.
You know these guys, and it’s the same old story with both of them.
Spain has 47 incredible midfielders, a combination of veterans and youngsters in the back, and zero people named Fernando Torres. Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso are also gone, recently retired from international football. Santi Cazorla and Juan Mata were omitted from the squad for some stupid, ridiculous reason (probably because Spain has 45 other players who do the exact same thing as them). And like I said, no strikers with any highlights in their hair whatsoever.
Germany has ALMOST their entire 2014 World Cup-winning squad in tact, except now they’ve added Julian Draxler to the mix, who is probably the greatest player who has ever lived. Captain Philipp (one L, three Ps) Lahm is gone though, he retired from international football so he can spend more time with his milkmaid wife, but Germany will probably still win it all because they’re absolutely awesome. Unless the terrorists win, which is entirely possible, and super duper scary, but let’s all pray that it’s a safe tournament where everyone enjoys themselves and doesn’t die.
Anyone else worth talking about? Italy?
Well, sure, this post could be 40,000 words long if you want, but Poland seems kinda cool, especially considering Robert Lewandowski is a friggin’ pimp. Sweden’s got Zlatan, so that’s always something. Of course there’s Portugal with CR7, I mean, they’ve gotta be in the mix, right? I can’t believe I’ve gone this far without talking about Italy, who even if they have Tony Rigatoni playing up front, they’ve still got the entire Juventus defense in the back, plus a goalie who legitimately wears barrettes in his hair. Who am I forgetting? Who am I forgetting? Wales? Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey (if he’s not dead). They’re kinda cool. Croatia’s got Modric, Rakitic, Mandzukic and 15 other ic’s. The Ukraine is weak (JK they’re renegades!). I mean, it’s all incredible, really!
Look, I’m down with Clint Dempsey. I think Mexico and Argentina and Brazil and Chile are all absolutely amazing, but the bottom line is that stadiums have been half-empty for the Copa America and it has lacked a certain je ne sais quoi that the Euros do not.
It’s all good though. I love everything. I love America. I love Slovakia. It’s a great time to be a soccer fan. A great time to be alive. And I can’t believe Enrico let me publish 1,845 words on a topic that has absolutely nothing to do with Carson Wentz.
First game is France vs. Romania, Friday at 3, on ESPN2, although the first bonkers game is Belgium vs. Italy on Monday.
Let’s go Hungary!