The Irish Times view on the European Championship: best in the field
Unlike Eurovision, the other TV moment that Europeans share, this one is hard to game
There’s something about the Euros, the quadrennial showpiece of continental football, that makes it more engrossing than any other competition in this global sport. Photograph: Anatoly Maltsev/ EPA
The World Cup is bigger. The Champions League is harder to win. But there’s something about the Euros, the quadrennial showpiece of continental football, that makes it more enthralling than any other competition in this global sport. That’s partly due to the games themselves, which, with just 24 teams taking part, feel competitive from the start. But it’s also the sense that, for a continent that shares so few genuinely communal moments and for a sport so often dismissed as a soulless husk, this one matters.
Europe’s domestic leagues tend to be won by the richest clubs. Yet in international football, the continent’s richest northern economies, with one exception (Germany), have never dominated. This is a competition where southerners thrive, and where upsets are common. In living memory it has been won by Denmark, Greece and Portugal, small states punching above their weight. It’s a short competition that rewards good organisation and a strategic long-term approach to player development; that’s one of the reasons why perennial under-achiever England, its squad filled with technically gifted youngsters, is now a contender for the trophy. And it’s why Ireland, where the sport has been run in shambolic fashion, deservedly failed to qualify. Unlike Eurovision, the other TV moment that Europeans share, this one is hard to game.
Euro 2020, which kicked off in Rome last night, was delayed by a year because of the pandemic (the merchandise had already been made, so it kept its original name). Some will naturally greet it as a chance to zone out, to forget about the pain of the past year. But the Euros are a reflection of life on the continent today, not an escape from it. There will be no missing the half-empty stadiums, the capitalistic excesses or the racism that has already marred some of the build-up games. And all of that will co-exist with signs of hope: players using their positions to stand up for equality; societies exhaling after a long trauma; grown men and women crying over transcendent moments of skill and grace.