European Championship by day, Copa América by night. That’s how it’ll be from tomorrow, when the ball is rolled off the spot in Paris for the opening Euro 2016 game right up until June 27 – the day of the final in the all-Americas continental competition.
The Copa América always caught me a little off guard – played at irregular times during odd numbered years. The Euros, on the other hand, which started in 1960 has always been played in Olympic years (or leap years). This time though the Copa América is playing outside of its usual program to celebrate the centenary of a confederation older than UEFA (which formed away from FIFA in 1954).
The two faces of world football
This summer, then, is an opportunity to see the two different faces of football – the two primal races of game. It originated here but swiftly found its way over there, taking on a whole new personality. Today, our clubs swap players from all over the world, giving the game an enriching mix. However, every now and again our national sides separate the waters and allow us to see the distinctions that still very much exist.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the pace is generally slower and there’s a lot of foul play, which is refereed condescendingly in my excessive opinion. Even though players are well versed in the importance of keeping discipline, there remains a lot of carelessness.
Europe is set to another rhythm and another style of refereeing. It allows for the best players to shine brighter, even in the ultra-tight tactics of football today where space on the field is increasingly sparse. In South America you need to have a bit of bravado, be able to take a few kicks to the shins, and not be left intimidated. It’s a difficult environment. And owing to that, it’s nothing strange that Neymar has preferred playing in the Olympic Games for Brazil rather than the Copa América.
In these exceptional next few weeks, we’ll be able to contemplate and compare these two faces of football. For me, Europe does it better. That said, I’m not forgetting which side of the planet Di Stéfano, Garrincha, Pelé, Maradona, Ronaldo (the fat one) and Messi all hail from.