Most American sports fans are quite rightly focused on the NBA Finals right now. But there is another sports story that has a rather remarkable angle, one that many assumed would never happen.
Tomorrow starts Euro 2008, the soccer tournament featuring the best European national teams. Sixteen teams will play thirty-one matches in twenty-two days. This is a big deal for soccer fans, but it happens every four years ... it's nothing new.
Except to American fans. It's not that European Championship matches have never been available in the States, but mostly those showings have been Pay-Per-View. Not this time. Every match will be shown live on one of the ABC/ESPN channels, many in Hi-Def. ABC itself will show a quarter-final match, and the finals.
I'm not going to set up a separate blog ... this ain't the World Cup. But I hope to watch every one of those 31 matches.
If you're thinking of taking in a match or two, this is what you need to know:
Matches take place at 8:50 and 11:30 AM Pacific Time. Check listings to see which channel of ABC/ESPN/ESPN2/ESPN Classic has each match.
The tournament begins with the 16 teams broken into four groups. They play each other, top two teams advance to quarter-finals. All of these tournaments are required to have a "Group of Death" ... in this case, it is Group C, which includes defending World Cup champions Italy, 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 champs France, and 1988 Euro champs the Netherlands, who have made the semi-finals the last two tournaments. And Romania, no slouch, currently ranked #12 in the world. And only two of those four teams can advance. Probably the most anticipated match of the group round is Italy-France, which will take place on Tuesday, June 17.
If you want to catch some of the greatest players in the world ... well, obviously, every match will have one or two ... then you'll want to watch, among others, Germany (all sorts of players, including Michael Ballack, Miroslav Klose, and Mario Gomez), Portugal (Cristiano Ronaldo is the consensus choice for Best Player in the World right now), and Spain (Fernando Torres).
As usual, I'll let my heart dictate my predictions: Spain to win it all. Spain is the great underachiever of world soccer, which means they are my team, even if I wasn't half-Spanish. Despite having some of the greatest players of all time, and one of the greatest domestic leagues of all time, Spain has never gotten beyond the quarter-finals of the World Cup, and haven't made it past the quarters in the Euro Championships since they won it in 1964. Hey, they're due. If you're wondering who the actual favorites are, that would be Germany.
Oh, and if you want to watch England, you'll have to wait four years ... they didn't qualify.