As always, at this time of year the football fan has so many different tournaments to follow, particularly in Europe. There are the league championships such as La Liga, EPL, Serie A, the Bundesliga, etc.. Additionally each league has its own single elimination tournament(s): Copa del Rey, Coppa Italia, the FA Cup, the Carling Cup, etc. And then there are the pan-European tournaments: the Champions League and its redheaded stepchild cousin the Europa League. Additionally, Europe is undergoing the process of qualification for the 2012 European Championship.
But . . . there are other tournaments going on outside of Europe. International tournaments even. Readers of this blog are probably well aware of the 2011 Asian Cup. The quarterfinals have not started yet, but I promise (threaten?) to give my thoughts after all four quarterfinal matches have ended.
The U-20 South Americans Championship (the “Neymar Tournament”) is going on too. Brazil and Argentina have won their opening two matches both in fairly unspectacular fashion. Neymar however, scored yet another goal in Brazil 3-1 squeaker over Colombia. With five goals in two matches, Neymar has probably already won the tournament’s Golden Boot (or whatever award is given to the top scorer.) The real importance of this tournament is (1) a breeding ground for young talent; and (2) the top two teams get to go to the Olympics–the one tournament Brazil has never won and desperately wants to win.
The Four Nations Tournament (women’s football) begins today in China. This year’s entrants are the US, Sweden, Canada, and China. This is a World Cup year. This is also an incredibly important World Cup given that the fate of the WPS probably hinges on the performance of the USWNT. Today the USWNT plays Sweden, a match that will be repeated in the group stages at the World Cup later this year. The Four Nations is more practice than anything else, a chance for Pia Sundhage to get her World Cup roster right. Canada and Sweden are no doubt also doing the same thing. What about China? Well, the once mighty Chinese Women’s National Team did not even make the World Cup. This year’s AFC entries are Australia, New Zealand, and North Korea (who, it must be said, generally perform better than their male counterparts.) It must be said that although Sweden is ranked 4th according to FIFA, the USWNT’s real rivals are not at the tournament.
The United States is one of the three best teams in the world–arguably the best, although that is only arguable. The other two contenders, Germany and Brazil, are not at the Four Nations. (Also missing is the US’s perennial archenemy Norway, who like China, are no longer the team they once were.) I can’t decide if the absence of Germany and Brazil is a good thing or not.
The Four Nations is more practice than anything–glorified friendlies to ensure that come World Cup time, the squads are right. I will be watching this tournament more closely than I usually do. I am very worried about the future of women’s professional football in the United States. Even if the USWNT wins, I will still be uneasy. Before the 2007 World Cup , the US sported a spectacular record, trouncing Germany repeatedly. Then the US met Brazil and Marta, and the world of women’s football has never been quite the same.
Trust the Germans to do something creepy. You loved Paul the Octopus, I loved Paul the Octopus, we all loved Paul Octopus (unless you were supported the German or Dutch national teams). But really? This? I can’t decide if this is gross, tacky, completely over the top, or just ridiculously funny. Maybe all four?