The kicky footy is back, and this time it’s on ESPN and ABC all month long. It’s the UEFA Euro 2021 Finals, which is some of the best soccer in the world in a month-long festival of fantastic football featuring some of the best players in the world.
And the best part? There’s three or four matches most days for the first two weeks, and they start at 8:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., and 2:30 pm ET most days on ESPN, ESPN, ABC, and ESPN+. Think March Madness-levels of not working off at offices, but for nine days instead of just the First Round Thursday or Friday. It’s beyond lit.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Euro 2021 (2020? 2021? Euro 202One??) Finals, which is a sporting spectacle unlike any other.
The Euro 2020/2021 Finals: What is this thing?
It’s the championship of national football for 55 nations in Europe. These teams played qualifiers from March 2019 to November 2020, and 24 of them will appear in this event. The tournament will be conducted in 12 countries for the first time, and thus there were no automatic host teams and everyone had to qualify.
This is the first time we’ve seen a continental-wide setup for this tournament. In 2024 the event will move back to the traditional one-or-two-nation hosting model as Germany will hold all matches, and will avoid qualifying as the host country. No biggie, they’d make it anyway.
This is the second tournament that will have 24 teams instead of 16 thanks to a cash grab by a man named Michel Platini that took all the drama out of the qualifying process. Platini is now banned from soccer by the FIFA Ethics Committee until 2023 for his role in moving the World Cup to the petro slave state of Qatar, and that’s kind of international soccer in a nutshell.
So is it Euro 2020 or Euro 2021?
It’s officially being called Euro 2020, but it’s being played in 2021. Google will be ok with either if you’re searching, but the trophy will say Euro 2020. Also this isn’t the worst time to have an unscheduled tournament, because the entire soccer calendar is being disrupted by the World Cup being played in November and December of next year anyway.
Yes, they really put the World Cup in a country with a 106-degree average temperature in June, used indentured servants to build brand new stadiums that you can walk between because the country is that tiny, and messed with the sporting calendar of the planet to do it. If blatant corruption is your thing, you really should be a soccer fan.
So what are we playing for?
The championship of Europe, by far the most competitive continent in world football. Any team that wins this thing likely comes out as a favorite to win the World Cup in 2022. When this was a 16-team event, it was actually a tougher tournament to win than the World Cup as there are so many great soccer countries in Europe not all of them could qualify. And you’d still rather play the third-best team in Concacaf than the 17th-best team in Europe most years.
Greece winning it in 2004 remains one of the great sporting upsets of all-time, as the 150-1 underdogs took down the title in an absolute shocker. Spain’s Golden Generation picked up back-to-back trophies in 2008 & 2012, and potentially the best player in the world and Mr. Steal Your Girl Cristiano Ronaldo finally secured a winner’s medal for Portugal in the Euro 2016 championship.
So how’s this tournament work?
Six groups of four teams each, and each team will play three matches against the other group members in a round-robin format. The top two teams in each group and the four-best third-place teams advance to the “knockout rounds.” That is 16 teams in a bracket, just like an NCAA March Madness quadrant, and it’s win or go home.
There’s no extra time or penalty kicks in the group games, but the knockout rounds will play 30 extra minutes after a 90-minute match if it’s tied. If it’s tied after extra time (AET for the box score nerds), we’ll go to a penalty kick shootout. If that happens, England will lose in heartbreaking fashion because past is prologue.
Also for this tournament teams will be allowed five substitutes instead of three because of a temporary rule put in thanks to COVID-19. It rewards depth and likely helps the bigger countries. Also usually international tournaments have 23-man rosters, but for this one they’ve gone to 26. (Dear IFAB: Get this rule out of here as soon as the world is vaccinated please. There’s too much specialization in soccer already, and this is like the designated hitter on steroids).
Awesome. Can I bet on it?
The only event in the world with more betting options is the Super Bowl. At DraftKings Sportsbook, you can get action down on everything from who will win each group to how many corner kicks will be in each match. It’s a bettor’s dream, and that’s before we get to the in-game wagering choices.
While the NFL drives the wagering handle in the United States, this tournament will dwarf it in terms of dollars across the planet.
So who’s favored?
France won the last World Cup, and that’s why they’re the chalk here. They’ve got preposterous scoring depth in Kylian Mbappé (PSG), Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona), and Olivier Giroud (Chelsea, the Euro club champions). You want no part of Les Bleus, and they play gorgeous soccer. They’re the best team in the world right now.
England are the second choice, and that has ended badly for the Queen and her subjects every single time. They’ve never won this thing, have only made the semifinals twice, and tend to get blasted out of this event in heartbreaking fashion. Need more evidence? Also the guy who missed that one is now the team manager. We’d put the rest of their misery here, but the internet runs out of room eventually.
Also England and Scotland were drawn into Group D, and will play on June 18th. If you didn’t see Braveheart, let’s just say there’s a bit of a rivalry here. It will be can’t miss theatre both on the pitch and in the stands. This level of turnt in football rarely happens.
Betting England tends to be like betting on Tiger Woods: Everyone does it, which means there’s never any value. But Harry Kane (leaving Tottenham Hotspur) will star for them at striker, and there are some legit studs in the side such as Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund) and Jordan Henderson (Liverpool).
Want a sleeper? The Netherlands always bring the best fans, and they’ve got a quality squad too. Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona) is very good and Memphis Depay (Lyon) is somehow not American. They’ve got an easy group as well with Austria, Ukraine ... and North Macedonia.
Wait, North Macedonia??
Yup! One of the great stories in sports this year, the former Yugoslavian republic of two million people made the tournament. They knocked off Georgia 1–0 on the road in a playoff, and though it was a playoff game and Georgia lost, we checked and Kirby Smart was not coaching.
So what else do I need to know?
Some guidelines for watching major football tournaments:
- Top up your wagering accounts, you don’t want to get caught short in extra time when you’re SURE that midfielder is finally going to hit a striker making a diagonal run far post.
- Learn what VAR is. There’s exactly a 50% chance you’ll love it, and a 50% you’ll hate it when this is all over. Loving and hating VAR is as much a part of soccer now as scarves and singing.
- You very well might have a friend from Europe that’s going to live and die with what happens over the next month. Watch some matches with them, or head to a bar where people from a country that’s playing will gather. This is an event to be experienced, not just watched.
- Bring tissues if that friend or bar is rooting for England.