Place: Istanbul |
Drink: German beer |
The tagline for the European Championship football tournament so far could read “Minnows Bite Sharks!” And, with two weeks to go in this month-long extravaganza in France, there may be even more blood in the water.
If you’ve been watching, then you’re well aware how the likes of Iceland, Ireland, and Wales have been making a splash in pools usually reserved for much larger footballing fish. Meanwhile, two of the biggest goals have been scored by Iceland’s Angor Ingvi Traustason and Poland’s Jakub Blaszczykowksi – not exactly household names or even ones easily pronounced!
Part of the reason for this puzzling parity undoubtedly lies in the fact that players from the perennial powerhouses – such as defending champs Spain, World Cup champs Germany, and hosts France – play on club teams like Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Paris Saint-Germain that face far more demanding schedules than those plying their trades at say FH Hafnarfjordur (Iceland) or Cliftonville FC (Northern Ireland). Fresher legs aside, I think teamwork, tactics, and tackling pressure some of these so-called “minnows” have never faced before has played a large part in their success.
When the tournament began, I picked my favorites. My head said Germany – fine-tuned like their automobiles, I think this team still hasn’t kicked into top gear yet. My heart said Iceland – with nearly 10 percent of its population of just 330,000 turning up to cheer in near-maniacal fashion, what’s not to like? And my heritage said England – from whence hails the Wolcott clan. (Although, with Welsh, Scottish, French, and German blood also running through my veins, I’m really quite a Euro mutt, which could explain my attraction to this tournament.)
All three teams remain alive, but on Monday night my heart comes face-to-face with my heritage. The way the minnows have been carving up the sharks, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Iceland upset England and send this tiny nation into utter euphoria. After Iceland’s last victory four days ago – for me, the match of the tournament so far – in which Ingvi Traustason scored the winner against Austria with the game’s last kick, many in his home country suggested changing Iceland’s national day to June 22.
If you haven’t been watching, it’s not too late to get started, with a dozen more matches slated between today and the final on July 10. And, whether you support a minnow or a shark, cheering for your head, heart, or heritage…enjoy!