Euro and Copa 2024 in tepid synch

Deflated futbol
Deflated futbol

Have you seen the deflated futbol on display as entertainment at this year’s Copa America and Euro? Do you have a suspicion that the sinking feeling you are experiencing is the result of global sport’s skewed priorities—favoring money for sport and club administrators over athletic performances on the pitch—which is ultimately producing limp entertainment?

Overscheduling that leads to tired players

Have you noticed how many errant passes the best players on the planet have made over the past couple of weeks? Did you see how many easily controllable passes were lost out of bounds by the receivers? How about this, count how many games took place where top teams lost to underdogs who didn’t necessarily outplay but instead ran their betters off the pitch. It is becoming obvious who the overused players are, and they are mostly on the top teams.

Subjective FIFA officiating

Let’s talk about the FIFA referees being used at both tourneys and ask: why yellows are being given to any player who argues with a ref at the Euro but not at the Copa? Or let’s talk about how horrendously rough and unsportsmanlike the Copa has been allowed to get. The average game had nearly two dozen called fouls which everyone knows means there were likely three dozen (50% more) with the unsanctioned ones. There were 67 yellows and 6 reds handed out in the 20 matches played so far. That’s four yellows per game and a red every three games. If we applied the non-calls percentage above to the cards, we would have someone being sent off every other game.

Also, why were a quarter of the teams competing coming in late after halftime in the Copa? Why is the rule that they get warned the first time but only fined the second—it’s like telling a player who has just done a yellow card foul that he’s done a yellow card foul but not giving him the yellow card. What is the penalty to the offending team if they do this in nonconsecutive matches? Do they get two warnings if they do it the first game out and then in the final? Or does the second transgression’s penalty get tacked on to the next Copa, and you know, they must kick off from their penalty spot?

Do we want to get into why some games get eleven stoppage time minutes and others only two? What determines the difference, say, other than giving the team with the higher marketing profile the “chance” to win? Why was Theo Hernandez allowed to run his opponent ten yards down the field—while the ball was nowhere in contention—until he pushed that opponent off the pitch and over the goal line, and a foul wasn’t even called? Oh, Hernandez plays for tourney favorite France. Oh-ok.

Resulting matches

Do you remember the number of exciting games we enjoyed at WC 2018 and WC 2022 and then remember the ones in Euro 2020 (2021) and Copa 2020? How many games do you feel were genuinely exciting so far in the two competitions this year? Do the players seem as enthused and hungry in the USA and Germany in 2024 as they did in Brazil 2021 and at the eleven European host nations of Euro 2021?

Could there be a more frustrating game than the Belgium-France Round of 16 match in Dusseldorf? Neither team wanted to win the match. Neither team scored and the match was decided by a Jan Vertonghen own goal in the 85th minute. The poor announcers were more excited about the match in the second half’s three minutes of stoppage time than they were in the entire previous 90 minutes! That was the end of the golden Belgian generation? At least the Croatians made a go of it before their golden generation got eliminated. If France were pre-tourney favorites, they have yet to show us why.

Then came the Portugal (ranked #6 by FIFA)—vs—Slovenia (ranked #57 by FIFA) match—can you tell me Portugal played like they were facing an opponent who was 51 slots lower? The Slovenes were fresher after the first extra-time period than the Portuguese. It will be interesting to see the Portugal-France quarterfinal. But for now, try and find a highlight reel for the French or Portugal Round of 16 matches that lasts longer than two minutes—if you succeed, know you’re being hoodwinked.

How about England’s “grand” win over lowly Slovakia? You know, the match where Slovakia pulls ahead at the 25th-minute only to have half a year added in stoppage time to the second half, allowing Jude Bellingham to draw even at the 90+5 and then have Harry Kane finally score a goal—off a pinball play that allowed him to head in from two inches out a minute into extra time. Has Southgate ever maximized his charges potential? For 95 minutes it sure didn’t seem like it. Another true champion coming through.

How about Brazil’s 4-1 win over Paraguay?. We had Brazilian keeper, Allison, making some nice saves, Paqueta missing a penalty, Vinicius Jr. scoring a nicely worked team goal, Savio scoring from close in after a keeper save and a ricochet off a Paraguayan defender, a half dozen first-half fights that never resulted in a red card, a defender mistake two feet from his own goal and Vinny pouncing to nudge it in, one other nice goal—Alderete’s long-range bomb for Paraguay, and Paqueta closing the scoring by converting his second penalty, and an 83rd minute red card for Paraguay. This was perhaps the best game of the Copa—a paragraph worth of action, more fights than good plays, and only two truly good goals.

So far, in the Copa, aside from Brazil’s game above, Uruguay and Colombia played two good games each and, in the Euro, Austria, Croatia, Albania, Poland, Romania, and Switzerland, had nine decent games in aggregate—14 “good” games from 62 combined matches—22% of the games.

There have been 137 goals scored between the tournaments, and of them, 17 have been stoppage time goals and 10 have been own goals. Nearly 20% of all goals scored have been caused by random officiating or tired legs. Does that not tell you something?

Conclusion

The two issues that haunt our sport have the same root cause. First, we have FIFA’s top-to-bottom purposeful ineptitude (to which we can add the greed of all their nations’ clubs) in over-scheduling and providing mostly awful officiating, and these actions are condoned for the sake of… money. Then we have the second bugaboo, the alleged enhanced entertainment value provided to fans—those same parties would argue—that is being obtained by applying the Rules of The Game so ambiguously and by having so many more games played per player, per year, for…oh yes, more FIFA and club money.

If sport is primarily entertainment, do you feel particularly well entertained this summer? As a fan, I am always entertained by futbol, but I also know when I’m getting fillet mignon and when it’s hamburger. So far, it’s been 78% bun companion.

If sport is primarily a business, can you tell who is profiting from it? If sport is athletic performance, do you feel the athletes at the 2024 Copa America and Euro have been supported and empowered to provide us with their best athletic efforts? Or does it seem to you that we are experiencing the ill effects of our sport’s priorities gone awry?

TAGS—FIFA, Sports Business, Sports Entertainment, Money in Sport,

Shutterstock photo ID: 1053297161, by Javier Crespo.

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