Masked soccer: a reality check at Euro, Copa 2024

Masked Soccer
Masked Soccer

As we begin to reach the semifinals at the 2024 Euro and Copa America, let’s take a jaundiced look behind soccer’s mask at the state of our sport.

The Politics of Coaching

Canada is in the semifinals of the Copa America 2024 and that is all you need to know about the coaching the USMNT has suffered under for the past several years. But the USSF will likely come out with either reasons why they were not wrong in putting Gregg Berhalter back in charge and then either find a way to allow him to blow the USA’s 2026 World Cup chances too or choose someone equally inept to parade us into embarrassment in two summers’ time. If we could only unmask the USSF.

Uruguay, sweeping through the Copa, has a still-mobile Luis Suarez sitting on the bench while Portugal, stumbling out of the Euro, started an immobile Cristiano Ronaldo for five consecutive games—which coach is doing his team a disservice? If Ronaldo retires from international duty, and Papa hopes he does, will Roberto Martinez then be able to mold the most offensively gifted national team on the planet into a side that can score in the knockout rounds? Or is he still managing Belgium’s Golden Generation?

We don’t need to talk about the job Gareth Southgate is doing with perhaps the most talented generation of English players ever, do we?

France allegedly win because of their stellar starters, deep bench, the momentum of their continued success, and Didier Deschamps’s ability to never take a risk. But Les Bleus, in Group D, met Austria, Poland, and the Dutch, and managed a +1-goal differential in their two draws and 1-0 win. They needed a Jan Vertonghen own goal in the 85th minute to progress from the Round of 16. Portugal outplayed them and should have won their quarterfinal meeting if not for the higher ineptitude of the coach opposing them. Does it not feel like Deschamps is living a charmed life instead of oozing coaching brilliance?

Here are some telling headlines. “Official U.S. soccer supporters’ groups call for Gregg Berhalter’s ouster as USMNT coach”—Yahoo Sports. Do we need to explain the perspective divide between the entire globe and the USSF?

“Brazil: Endrick to start for suspended Vinicius Jr”—ESPN. You know, Endrick, right, the player Brazilian coach Dorival Junior felt was too young to start at age 17 and needed to be “brought up slowly.” Must be the rapid pace of development that a couple of tournament days provides over, you know, regular life years. Or maybe he noticed that Spain starter Lamine Yamal is only 16 years old.    

Toujour, Dinero Uber Alles

“Euro 2024: Turkey’s Demiral gets 2-game ban for celebration”—ESPN. “Jude Bellingham escapes with a fine after controversial celebration”—Yahoo Sports. Do those two back-to-back quotes not tell you everything about which player is most marketable and how our sport’s rules are really applied?

“Man City, Man Utd cleared to play in Europe alongside sister clubs”—Reuters. It is notable that UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body, whom one would assume is keeping an eye on the 100 counts of financial improprieties at City the Premier League is investigating, could find a way of allowing the rules to be bent just so for, you know, those little Manchester clubs with insignificant television marketing share.

“Scandal Brought Reforms to Soccer. Its Leaders Are Rolling Them Back”—New York Times. “FIFA tried to put a corruption crisis behind by changing its rules and claiming its governance overhaul had the endorsement of the Justice Department. U.S. officials say that was never the case.” Will FIFA ever change?

Read Keir Radnedge’s World Soccer magazine article 74th FIFA Congress,” for a review of what is really happening at FIFA post the scandal. You might come to the conclusion that…well, what were we expecting from that masked FIFA?

The Politics of FIFA Officiating  

ESPN quotes UEFA/FIFA officials, in the article linked to above, explaining why VAR did not call Marc Cucurella’s handball penalty the handball penalty it was. Let’s remove that mask.

EXPERIMENT: Let’s go to the pitch. Let’s stand in a defender’s position, in front of your goal but facing away from it, semi-crouched as you would to be able to launch yourself in any needed direction, and let’s keep our arms at our side, about six inches away, you know, as you would normally do for balance, given your feet are already grounded and you are on a flat surface.

Now, have a buddy kick a ball right at your hand—not your body, have him kick it toward the goal, but at your hand. Does your hand move given it has been struck? Does the ball continue forward or deflect downward and away from the goal? My bet is your hand is moved backward—you know physics—but, unless you have Hulk’s arms—the orb keeps going forward given it was kicked.

Now say you are Marc Cucurella and you need your arm to be eighteen inches away from your body because at a towering 5’8” you need major wingspan for that balance. Then let’s kick that ball toward goal but have it hit his flaccid arm. Oops, the ball stopped moving forward, it deflected down and away from goal, how is that possible? Well, maybe the arm was outward and rigid on purpose, you know, to stop the #$@& ball from progressing toward goal. Now, what would you, and say the other eight billion inhabitants of the planet, you know, everyone on earth other than UEFA/FIFA officials, conclude happened in that play? Please pick up that mask.

Odds and Ends

Here is a curious article “Euro 2024: England draw talk shows ‘entitlement’ – Southgate”—ESPN. Read the piece. The curiosity stems both from Southgate’s take on the easy Euro draw his team obviously obtained and ESPN’s willingness to accept that take as the starting point of an article about, well, England’s easy Euro draw.

Are we really going to let the coach and media get away with telling us anything but the plain truth which is that with a bracket counting Spain, Germany, Portugal, and France on one side and another counting England, Switzerland, Turkey, and the Netherlands on the other, you have a grossly lopsided tourney ahead which heavily favors England’s advance to the final? Maybe we were supposed to overlook that in case, well, in case England fall flat…again.  

TAGS—FIFA, Roberto Martinez, Dorival Junior, Gareth Southgate, UEFA, Copa America 2024, Euro 2024,

Shutterstock photo ID: 1704828985, by Victor Moussa.

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