Copa America: Anything Is Possible
70,000 fans will be at NRG Stadium tonight in Houston, ready to support the US Men’s National Team in Mission Impossible: Messi Edition, the sequel in which a ragtag bunch of becoming-more-likeable American soccer players seek to derail the machine that is Argentina in the Copa America semifinal. With the game being on FS1 and the fact that it’s not the World Cup, it won’t draw the more than 16,000,000 viewers who tuned into USA-Belgium two years ago, but I think it will take a run at 4 or even 5 million given the recent numbers the US has pulled in the Copa and the lack of competition from the NBA Finals.
It’s going to be an order of the tallest variety, especially with the losses of Bobby Wood, Jermaine Jones, and Alejandro Bedoya thanks to various and wrongfully awarded yellow and red cards, but the return of DeAndre Yedlin and the continued brilliance of Clint Dempsey will be giving US fans a reason to be hopeful. This is, perhaps, the best that the team has looked under Klinsmann, so here’s hoping. Kickoff is at 9:00 and I’ll be ready, channeling my inner Kevin Garnett.
Euro 2016: An Inevitable Brexit
Over on the Continent, Euro 2016 has been an afterthought to American soccer fans thanks to the US stealing the headlines, not to mention that the tournament’s expansion has certainly watered down the quality of play. I mean, I love tournament play as much as the next guy, but watching Albania and Northern Ireland doesn’t really excite me. Too bad Israel choked away their chance to play in this tournament.
Despite the low quality of play and lack of front-line matchups, though, the Euros have not been without drama, as we were treated to spirited Italy 2:0 victory over Belgium early on and also watched as Iceland gained 2 points from its first 2 games, including a 1:1 draw against mighty Portugal, and is still in the running to make the knockout stages. Italy and Spain, both at 2-0-0 as they approach their final group matches, look like the class of the tournament, and despite England making the Round of 16, I think it’s safe to say that the Brexit from Euro 2016 is more or less guaranteed. From what I’ve seen I’ll put Italy as the odds-on favorite to win.
Two Roads Diverged In Nyon…
…One leads to Cardiff and the 2017 Champions League final and one leads to Stockholm and the 2017 Europa League final. Both will make stops in Israel this summer as UEFA drew its qualification fixtures last week at their Nyon headquarters.
The path to the Champions League will be passing through Be’er Sheva on July 12, as Israeli champions HaPoel Be’er Sheva will host Moldovan champions FC Sheriff Tiraspol in the first leg of their home-and-home fixture.
Europa League action gets going even before that, though, as Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts ND Gorica (Slovenia) on June 30 before their return leg the following week, and Beitar Jerusalem has a date with FC FK Sloboda Tuzla (Bosnia). Maccabi Haifa, by nature of their State Cup win, has a bye to the second qualification round and will play either Nomme Kalju FC (Estonia) or FK Trakai (Lithuania). in mid-July. The qualification process for both Champions and Europa League group play will require the clubs to move through three qualifying rounds (two for Haifa and Be’er Sheva) and then a play-off round in August.