As a casual fan of soccer, I have a lot to complain about. Most of my gripes are the typical grievances of an American sports fan. Not enough scoring, too much diving, time-wasting tactics by teams that have the lead, penalty shootouts that arbitrarily decide the winner, own goals, et cetera.
At the same time, I acknowledge that there is a reason that it is the world’s most popular sport. I have friends stateside who are diehard fans and can give me many more reasons why soccer is a great sport than I can give why it is lacking. And I’d be the first to admit that the main reason I don’t like it more is that I don’t understand it as well as true fans.
Euro 2020 has been entertaining, even for casual fans like myself. It’s already set a tournament record for goals. It has had its share of upsets, but ultimately the cream of the crop has risen to the top to the delight of the television networks and most fans. Now, we have a classic England-Italy final on Sunday. My cynicism gives me the feeling that it will likely be anticlimactic, a low scoring affair decided by a penalty shootout. Until then, we can hope for an exciting culmination to Euro 2020.
Regardless, the elephant in the room needs to be addressed since the issue is barely being touched by stakeholders in the media unwilling to question the legitimacy of the tournament. I’m referring to the fact that England has been afforded home field advantage for almost the entire tournament. Including Sunday’s final, the blokes will have played six of their seven games at Wembley Stadium in London.
To be fair. Wembley was chosen to be the site of the semifinals and finals when plans for the tournament were conceived in 2012. That England is playing at home in the final isn’t much different from Tampa Bay having a “home” game in last year’s Super Bowl. But how the Brits were granted the right to play at home throughout the Group stage in addition to a round of 16 game is inexplicable.
A little background: usually the tournament is hosted by one country, but UEFA decided to allow several countries to host Group stage games in celebration of the tournament’s 60th anniversary. Belgium was tagged to be one of the host countries, but in 2017 UEFA scratched those plans when Belgian officials admitted that they could not guarantee that a stadium being built in Brussels would be ready in time. So a replacement had to be chosen. Wales and Sweden were both considered, but ultimately England was chosen — despite the fact that it was already hosting three other games including the semifinals and final. Why? It surely comes down to politics and money like most things do.
“The concept of taking UEFA Euro 2020 to 13 different countries was devised to allow smaller countries, like Wales, to have a unique opportunity of being involved in staging a major tournament. Wales has never staged a Euro or World Cup final and this was its one and only chance of doing so.”Statement by the Football Association of Wales
Coronavirus travel restrictions have prohibited fans from traveling to cheer on their teams. But crowd support is only one aspect of advantage. While England enjoys the comforts of home for all but one matchup, other teams are tasked with traveling long distances. “Tomorrow will be the fourth time that we will change time zones. It is not great in terms of preparation,” said Swiss coach Vladimir Petković after the Group stage. Wales fullback Chris Gunter has called the tournament’s set up a “joke.”
Home Pitch Advantage?
Just as perplexing as the format of Euro 2020 is why England is getting to host a round of 16 game. Four other host countries made the final 16, but none of them got to host a game in the knockout stages. Why is England the exception? There’s simply no legitimate reason, with so many alternative venues, why a team should be allowed to host a game in the knockout stages when no other team is afforded the same advantage.
Meanwhile, instead of thanking their lucky stars, the many of the “fans” in England have behaved like hooligans. In fact, UEFA has opened an investigation into charges of boorish behavior, such as booing the Danish national anthem, and intentionally interfering with game play with the use of a laser pen. Classy.
England is favored over Italy in the final, almost certainly because it holds home field advantage. Here’s hoping the Blues kick the butts of the blokes.
By: Peter Mooney CruelFan.com