During a normal year, we would be talking primarily about incoming/outgoing transfers and pre-season friendlies. But things haven’t been normal for the last 16 months (and things have been awfully quiet in the transfer market).
We do, however, have the rescheduled Euro 2020 and Copa América tournaments to keep us entertained this summer. Let’s review some of the highlights from across the globe.
At the time of writing, we’ve just concluded the Round of 16 matches of the competition. Italy have probably been the most impressive side in the competition, blowing away opponents in the group stage — 3-0 wins against Turkey and Switzerland and 1-0 against Wales — before showing incredible maturity and resilience to win their nail-biting Round of 16 match against Austria 2-1 after extra-time. They face Belgium in the quarter finals.
Even more remarkably, gli Azzurri broke the record for the longest consecutive period of time without conceding a goal: 1,168 minutes before Austria forward Sasa Kalajdzic ended this incredible record when he scored a headed goal in the 114th minute of the game.
A big shock in the Round of 16 came when the Czech Republic deservedly beat my dearly beloved Dutch side 2-0 thanks to goals from Tomas Holes and
don’t-you-wish-he-passed-that-medical Patrik Schick (this one wasn’t quite as nice as that special goal he scored against Scotland). The turning point in the game came when Juventus center back Matthijs de Ligt was sent off after doing his best Giorgio Chiellini impression his deliberate handball denied Schick a clear goalscoring opportunity.
Elsewhere, Spain continued to be the world champions at possession-based football without scoring goals, at one point registering a stunning 85% ball possession against Sweden. Thankfully, they eventually realized that you don’t get points for setting possession records, but by scoring goals. They duly blew away Slovakia 5-0 and then beat Croatia 5-3 after extra-time in what was a spectacle of football (and defensive errors).
The most incredible, action-packed, and dramatic group of the competition was, without a doubt, Group F. Hungary were the surprise package there; they were unlucky to lose 3-0 against Portugal as the game was scoreless until the final six minutes of the game. They then took the lead against France and forced them to dig deep to rescue a point in their group game. The Robin Gosens-inspired Germany then blew past Portugal in an action-packed 4-2 win.
The real rollercoaster action, however, came on the final matchday. Hungary took the lead not once, but twice against Germany and were on the way to the Round of 16 until Leon Goretzka’s 84th minute equalizer rescued Germany and sent them through to the next round. There they faced and, remarkably and deservedly, lost 2-0 to England.
England faced Ukraine in the quarterfinals after Andriy Shevchenko’s knocked Kulusevski and co. out of the tournament with a dramatic winning goal in stoppage time of extra time (2-1 after extra time).
Another standout game was Switzerland’s stunning comeback and penalty shootout victory against France. This game had it all: a surprise lead by Switzerland, a saved Switzerland penalty, world-class goals (Pogba!), and a barely-believable Swiss comeback in the final 10 minutes of normal time when they were trailing 3-1. The game ended 3-3 after extra time and the Swiss won the shootout 5-4 when Kylian Mbappe was the only one to miss his penalty. Fun fact: zero teams from the Group of Death progressed to the quarter finals.
Although we had to wait until, quite literally, the day before to find out if the event was even going to take place, the Copa América finally kicked off on Sunday, June 13 in Brazil. As expected, the hosts are setting the pace with 10 points from 4 games although they had to dig deep and score two highly controversial goals in their 2-1 comeback victory against Colombia. Casemiro’s goal in minute 90+10 (that’s not a typo) eventually rescued the victory for Tite’s side after Luis Diaz put Colombia in the lead in the 10th minute through a stunning bicycle kick.
The other group was quite the nailbiter. A Dybala-less Argentina grinded out victories against Uruguay and Paraguay, secured a draw against Chile, and blew away Bolivia to finish top of the group with 10 points. Rodrigo Bentancur’s Uruguay struggled through the group but their 1-0 victory over Paraguay on the final matchday was enough to allow them to finish in second place, a point ahead of their opponents.
The quarterfinal matches were as follows: Brazil vs. Chile, Uruguay vs. Colombia, Argentina vs. Ecuador, and Perú vs. Paraguay.
Due to the two international competitions going on at the moment, it’s no surprise that there has been little noteworthy transfer news so far. Here’s a summary of the most notable/legitimate transfer news from June, although a lot of the rumors seem to be quite flimsy:
- Juventus have placed Merih Demiral on the market for €40 million.
- Nobody knows what Cristiano Ronaldo’s future holds, but if he leaves, Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina will likely replace him.
- Barbara Bonansea has renewed her contract with Juventus until at least 2022.
- Joe Montemurro is the new Juventus Women head coach.
- Morata will be a Juventus player for at least one more season.
- The man, the myth, the legend Carlo Pinsoglio has extended his contract through the 2022-23 season.
- Although it’s not directly related to Juventus, Gianluigi Buffon has signed with the club that gave him his first opportunity as a professional footballer: Parma.
- Continuing the mini exodus out of Juventus Women, Aurora Galli is the latest player to leave Juventus after Rita Guarino (yet another ex-Juventus coach to join Inter), Laura Giuliani, and winger Maria Alves also departed.
- A flurry of rumors regarding Juve’s desire to sell Welsh midfielder Ramsey, possibly buy Gabriel Jesus from Manchester City and Corentin Tolisso from Bayern Munchen, loan Gianluca Frabotta to Genoa, and desperately, dearly, hopefully sign Sassuolo midfielder and Azzurri superstar Manuel Locatelli for less than a gazzilion euros.
International tournaments are strange things.
You can play sizzling football in the group stages and be tipped to steamroll over every team and win the entire thing, but then struggle in the knockout stages (Italy) or surprisingly lose and be sent packing (the Netherlands). To me, this shows both the unique nature of football and, specifically, international football.
Because it’s such a low-scoring game, football is a game of moments. You can be terrible for 89 minutes but have a 1 minute spell of magic that wins you the game, but you can also be amazing for the entire game and screw up for a few minutes to (almost) lose the game (see Croatia v Spain). But then there’s also the unique nature of international football and tournaments.
National teams don’t spend that much time together during a season, so there’s not much time for elaborate tactics and systems. Moreover, the 2020-21 season has been utterly excruciating, with games occurring every 3-4 days (perhaps this fatigue is what’s causing the chaotic games and crazy scorelines?)
With respect to international tournaments, I can see why it’s important for teams to hit form “at the right time”. In contrast with club tournaments, knockout stage games at international tournaments are one-legged ties.
This means that a team’s form in the group stage is irrelevant in the knockout stage because at that point all you need, as alluded to earlier, is a solid defense and one or two lucky moments to progress to the next round.
So I’ve learned to not place too much importance on the hype surrounding a team during the group stage. Once you’re in that one-off match in the Round of 16, quarter-, or semi-finals, nobody cares that you obliterated Slovakia 5-0 in a group game or scored 8 goals over 3 group stage games.
Because once you’re in the knockout stage, all that’s needed to decide the clash is exactly that: one fatal knockout hit.