Your correspondent has held steadfast to his goal of watching (more or less) every minute of the 2012 UEFA European Championships, at the expense of a balanced social life, physical fitness goals, and general mental health. Watching three hours of fútbol per day for the better part of a month is grueling, but becomes less so once England is customarily eliminated in the quarterfinals in a penalty shoot-out, as was the case yesterday against the Eye-talians.
It’s partly because there is less soccer to be watched once we reach the latter stages of the tournament, but mostly because I can watch the remainder of the competition as a mere neutral observer, hoping for entertainment rather than praying to Thor and His Hammer for every unlikely result that would guide England to glorious victory in the final.
Of course, to get to the final you must find a way not to lose in the quarterfinal. The boys from In-ger-lund have been unable to manage this since Euro ’96 in England, when playing at the old Wembley Stadium they (rather improbably) beat Spain in a penalty shootout before losing to ze eventual winners, ze Germans, on penalties in the semifinals. England has gone out on spot kicks in major tournaments in 1990, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2006, and now 2012.
Some silver linings:
1.) This was the first scoreless draw of Euro 2012, which is remarkable. This tournament has featured some of the most open and attacking play since Euro 2000 when players such as Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo were at the peaks of their respective abilities, and yesterday was not a bore draw by any means. In fact, in retrospect it seems more probable that the match should have finished 3-3 than 0-0. Mario Balotelli, who is a maladjusted genius and one of the most entertaining people on the planet, should have had a hat trick but was denied by his own profligacy and by the excellent Joe Hart. Wayne Rooney should also have scored three goals, but instead missed two free headers and mis-timed a spectacular overhead kick that would have sealed victory for England with virtually the final action of the 90 minutes.
2.) TeeVee audiences in the USA are growing rapidly. To their credit, the groovy people at ESPN, The Worldwide Leader in Sports™ made a major investment in soccer programming and it’s paying off. Compared to Euro 2008, American audiences are up 200%. Magic Sam and I were packed like sardines into a soccer bar yesterday with at least 300 of our English cousins and more than a few brave fans of the Azzurri. And this was in Denver, which is not exactly a soccer hotbed.
Portland, howevah, is possibly the epicenter of soccer in America. Immediately after England was unceremoniously bounced from the tournament, the Portland Timbers took on their regional rivals the Seattle Sounders in front of a sold-out, rowdy crowd at Jeld-Wen Field, a quirky former minor league baseball park that has been converted into the most intimidating soccer environment in ‘Merica. The noise, flags, and coordinated chanting and singing from 22,000 raging drunk hipsters is truly a sight to behold.
Top-flight fútbol in ‘Merica has come a long way in sixteen years. Whereas it used to be a few thousand people watching shitty soccer at a high school football stadium in Fort Lauderdale (with the yard-lines still painted on the field, which was an atrocity), or on the narrow artificial turf at vast, empty NFL stadiums, Major League Soccer is now a real product.
As American football begins its slow, concussion-induced death spiral and ice hockey retreats into Canada where it belongs, the future of soccer in the States has never been brighter.