Due to the lack of action during the offseason, I usually don’t write monthly recaps during this time of year. This has, however, been one of the most extraordinarily busy summers of football that I’ve experienced since I became obsessed with football (in the early/mid-2000s, roughly). I think there were days in June when there were 4-5 games of football every day.
And I’m not talking about meaningless summer friendlies, either. I’m talking about games from the Copa América, African Cup of Nations, Under-21 European Championships, Women’s World Cup, and other important tournaments. Suffice to say that I was barely able to keep up with all the games, let alone watch every one of them live.
Anyway, I decided to summarize the action from the international tournaments that happened during June, along with a few words on Juve’s summer mercato.
Under-20 World Cup
The first tournament of the summer was the U-20 World Cup in Poland. Italy achieved a very commendable fourth-place finish, losing by 1-0 scorelines to eventual winners Ukraine in the semifinals and Ecuador in the third-place game. Ukraine beat Panama (4-1), Colombia (1-0), and Italy (1-0) in the knockout phase on the way to the final against South Korea, which the Ukrainians won 3-1 after shrugging off a fifth-minute goal by the Koreans.
In fact, Ukraine almost won the tournament with a 100 percent record. The only game they failed to win was the 1-1 draw in the final game of the group phase against my beloved country Nigeria.
Although Ukraine coach Oleksandr Petrakov claimed that it was a victory of the collective and that there were no real stars in the team, an article on the FIFA website shines a spotlight on a few of the team’s standout performers:
“Andriy Lunin: In conceding just four goals at the tournament, the composed goalkeeper showed why Real Madrid had him sign on the dotted line in 2018.
Serhii Buletsa: Winner of the adidas Silver Ball, the influential No10 was involved in practically all of Ukraine’s incisive moves, scoring three times and recording two assists.
Yukhym Konoplia: The impressive right-back demonstrated how useful he was at both ends of the field, putting in fine defensive performances but also striding forward to great effect to set up four goals, including one in the final.
Danylo Sikan: The striker showed how ruthless a finisher he was almost every time he was called upon, hitting the net four times in total.
Vladyslav Supriaha: A substitute for the entire event, he took full advantage of his first start by scoring a clinical brace in the final.”
Women’s World Cup
Arguably the biggest spectacles of the summer has been the Women’s World Cup in France. Of all the years that I’ve followed football, I think this event has attracted the greatest media and public attention ever of any women’s football event. And as a fan of football, this fills me with incredible joy.
We’ve had record TV ratings, audiences, and sponsorships during the summer’s event in France (and, unfortunately, temperatures as well) as the world increasingly accepts and tunes in to the women’s game.
Italy — and its strong Juventus presence — had a commendable run to the quarterfinals, beating China in the round of 16 and topping their group that contained Australia, Brazil, and Jamaica. Unfortunately, the Netherlands was too tough an opponent for Italy in the quarterfinals as the Dutch won that game 2-0.
Standout teams of the tournament so far have been England, the United States (unsurprisingly), and the Netherlands, while the biggest shock of the tournament was arguably Sweden’s 2-1 victory over Germany in the quarterfinals. Moreover, I was very glad to see two African representatives in the round of 16 through Cameroon and Nigeria, though both lost 3-0 against England and Germany, respectively.
The question, of course, is what now? Will this be a flash-in-the-pan event, or will there be a coordinated, thoughtful effort to carry this interest in women’s national team football into women’s club football?
Lastly, a quick word on VAR: In this tournament (along with the U-20 World Cup mentioned earlier), we saw VAR being used to judge if goalkeepers stepped off their line when a penalty kick is being taken. Not only that, but goalkeepers are also booked for this offense and the kick is retaken if it was saved.
The always-brilliant Tim Vickery astutely pointed out the myriad of issues with this use of VAR. What if a goalkeeper is already on a yellow card and this happens during a penalty shootout in a game in the knockout phases? Is the goalkeeper then sent off and we have to wait until the team gets a replacement goalkeeper on before continuing (if the team still has a substitution to use)? And why is VAR not used to check if players encroached into the area before the penalty taker struck the ball?
Thankfully, the powers that be in the Premier League agree with my concerns.
Personally, I truly question whether VAR was made to deliver judgements on such minutia. I mean, was this what we envisioned VAR being used for?
Let’s just say that my overall opinion of VAR is ‘reluctantly accepting’ (incidents like these don’t help, though).
Under-21 European Championships
As I write this, the referee blows the whistle to signal the end of the final of the U-21 European Championships in Italy and San Marino.
Spain beat Germany 2-1 in the final as Nadiem Amiri’s late goal for Germany wasn’t enough to overturn goals by Fabián Ruiz and Daniel Olmo for Spain. The men in red reached the final after coming first in a fascinating group stage battle between them, Italy, Poland, and Belgium.
Remarkably, Spain, Italy, and Poland all ended the group level on 6 points each, but the Spaniards topped it by virtue of a plus-4 goal differential compared to Italy’s plus-3 and Poland’s minus-3 differentials. Since it’s a relatively small tournament, only the group winners and the best second-placed team progressed to the semifinals. Unfortunately, Group C runners-up France took this honor as Les Blues collected 7 points in 3 games, meaning that Moise Kean and Co. crashed out of the tournament in the group stages by the narrowest of margins.
Romania were my surprise team of the tournament. They topped a group containing France, England, and Croatia and were spearheaded by the exciting duo George Puscas (unrelated to that other guy) and Ianis Hagi, son of the legendary footballer Gheorghe Hagi. The latter player is, unsurprisingly, being linked with transfers to various clubs in Europe and elsewhere, while the former was No. 2 scorer of the tournament with 4 goals in 4 games.
Finally, Napoli midfielder Fabián Ruiz was named player of the tournament, while Freiburg striker Luca Waldschmidt scored was the tournament’s top scorer with 7 (of Germany’s 15) goals.
African Cup of Nations
The African Cup of Nations kicked off in (blazing-hot) Egypt on June 21. This year’s edition is a special one for two reasons. First, due to the never-ending whining of Europe’s big clubs, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) voted in July 2017 to change the period in which the tournament is played from its usual January period to the summer. This is the first edition being played in the summer.
Second, since we’re living in the time of tournament-expansion obsession — i.e. the Euro Championships and the World Cup — CAF joined the party by voting to expand the tournament from 16 to 24 teams. Hence, this year is a year of firsts: The first time the tournament contains 24 teams and first time it’s being played in the summer.
As I write this, we’re almost at the end of the group phase and we’ve already had our first shock. Thanks to a defensive gaffe from Leon Balogun and a heavily deflected free-kick, tournament debutants Madagascar beat Nigeria 2-0 in the final game of the group stages. With 2 victories and 1 draw, Madagascar have topped group B, playing in what is their first ever major tournament.
Elsewhere, Egypt cruised through Group A with a perfect 3 wins from 3 games, while Uganda ended on 2nd place with 4 points in the same group. Groups C through F will conclude in the next few days.
The oldest international continental football tournament in the world kicked off in Brazil on June 14. In yet another instance of a change in tournament formats, this is the last edition of the tournament before it switches to being hosted every four years in even-numbered years (meaning that it will coincide with the European Championships).
Hosts Brazil have relatively poor so far this tournament, barring their thrilling 5-0 victory over Peru in the final game of the group stages. Colombia, led by new coach Carlos Quieroz, had a picture-perfect group stage with 3 wins from 3 (including a 2-0 victory over Argentina), but lost to Chile on penalties in the quarterfinals after a 0-0 draw in regular time.
Argentina, a team that has been absolute shambles for the last two years or so, somehow managed to pick themselves up after a dire opening two games against Colombia (2-0 loss) and Paraguay (1-1 draw). They played good football in a must-win final group game against Qatar and then had their best game of the tournament (and in recent times) against Venezuela (both 2-0 victories). Elsewhere, Uruguay was knocked out of the tournament by Peru after a penalty shootout that followed a 0-0 draw.
Bitter rivals Brazil and Argentina faced one another in the semifinals, with the Brazilians advancing. Peru beat defending champion Chile in the other semifinal to surprisingly reach the final. One has to wonder, though, what will happen to Brazil coach Tite if they fail to win this tournament on home soil given last summer’s disappointing early exit in the World Cup.
Another opportunity for me to continue my running joke about/comment on tournament expansion! (There’s probably an inappropriate “phrasing” joke buried somewhere beneath that, but let’s leave that to one side). Yes, the Gold Cup is next in the series of continental tournaments that have been expanded, in this case from 12 to 16 teams. At the time of writing, we’re about two weeks into the tournament and haven’t witnessed too many shocking results.
The U.S., Panama, Jamaica, Curaçao, Haiti, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Canada all progressed to the quarter-finals after their respective group stage games. The biggest surprise of the tournament was Haiti, who topped their group ahead of Costa Rica, Bermuda, and Nicaragua, beat Canada in the quarterfinals before falling to Mexico in the semifinals.
Phew, that was a lot of football to cover in just one month. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about the main show in town: Juventus! That said, not much has happened behind the scenes for the Bianconeri.
Our bright young talent Rodrigo Bentancur extended his contract through 2024, while the Luca Pellegrini-Leonardo Spinazzola swap was confirmed just minutes before I typed this sentence (see how much happens when I’m typing? #illuminati). Spinazzola moved to Roma while Pellegrini (along with €7.5 million) moved to Juve.
There was also some action in the midfield department. Adrien Rabiot has left PSG and signed for Juventus on a free transfer — with the move being confirmed almost at the exact same time as the Pellegrini-Spinazzola swap — while Bologna have signed Riccardo Orsolini outright for €15 million.
Besides those deals, June has seen more talk than action with respect to transfers. Here’s a quick-fire round summary of the biggest rumors so far:
- The talks of a transfer of Ajax wunderkind Matthijs De Ligt continue to fill the European sports’ press (fun fact: he was born, and briefly lived in, my hometown Leiderdorp, the Netherlands).
- Gigi Buffon is supposedly close to a romantic return to Juve after just one year at PSG. (It has since become official now that we’re in July.)
- Roma reportedly rejected a €35 million bid from Juventus for their superstar youngster Nicolo Zaniolo.
- The Pogbackandforth love saga continues because true love costs more than €100 million.
- Hamad Traore of Empoli and Cristian Romero of Genoa are close to joining Juventus.
- An Icardi-Dybala swap might be on the cards.
- Federico Chiesa won’t join Juve.
- Federico Chiesa is close to joining Juve.
- I have no idea what’s going on.
- João Cancelo might be joining Manchester City for a hefty €50 million.
- Oh and of course, we got a new manager.
Let’s hope July provides us with just as much fun!