UEFA EURO 2016: NPSL EDITION (PART I)

“We are actually big fans as well.”

Those are the words of Chattanooga FC midfielder Alejandro Pastor when asked about the upcoming UEFA Euro 2016.  After all we are in the midst of a great summer of soccer, one that includes the Copa America Centenario, the International Champions Cup, and the aforementioned Euros.  Simply put, it is a great time to be a soccer fan.

Many of our players and coaches are indeed fans of the game, people that passionately follow the sport all over the world.

The Red Fury

Pastor, who is from Southeast Spain, said there is a lot of excitement in CFC’s locker room with regards to the European tournament.

“I have two Spanish teammates and we talk about it a lot because the truth is I love talking about it.  Just like anyone else I love soccer. The truth is we hope they win obviously because we have a good team.”

He is not entirely sure of Spain’s chances at the tourney as La Furia Roja struggled at the 2014 World Cup.  They obviously have great, world-class players like Andrés Iniesta, David Silva, or Sergio Ramos, but Pastor says they are missing a top striker.  Paco Alcácer (Valencia) and Alvaro Morata (Juventus) are quality forwards, but he believes that each are a bit too young and raw for the international scene.

Spain is obviously loaded at the goalkeeper position with both Iker Casillas and David de Gea.  The question of who starts between the posts for Spain at the Euros is a tough one, but it is a topic that has garnered great discussion among journalists and pundits alike.  Pastor has a simple explanation.

“If I’m speaking with my heart I want Casillas to play. If I’m being honest I think it should be De Gea.”

Moving from players to opponents, the Elche, Spain native thinks that Turkey represents a very formidable challenge for the Spanish side.

“They have a young team, but they’re always a tough team.  The Czech Republic hasn’t had a good team in a while so I think Turkey will be more difficult than the Czech Republic, but with Spain you never know. Easy teams can often make things difficult for us.”

Regardless of the outcome, Pastor and his Chattanooga teammates are all looking forward to the start of the Euros later this week.  They must juggle actually playing with watching and enjoying great soccer.

“We have a lot of Europeans on the team so we’re already planning out where we’re going to see the teams. It will be nice. The best thing about sharing a locker room with so many different people is that we all love soccer, so we always have a good time.”

Austria’s Wunderteam

Austria’s golden age of football has to be the 1930s, a period that saw Austria put together a team that is among the best in world football history.  But what is expected of Austria in 2016?

According to Tulsa Athletics defender Stefan Wutte, expectations are high.

“This is one of the best Austrian teams to date. They are currently in the top 10 in the FIFA world rankings. They tied their first qualifying game against Sweden and then went on to win their next nine.”

Simply put, Wutte sees them as a favorite to get out of the group stage and advance to the knockout rounds.

The team is loaded with talent, professionals that play in the top leagues across Europe.  We’re talking about the English Premier League, German Bundesliga, Swiss Super League, Austrian Bundesliga, and Ukrainian Premier League.

The Klagenfurt, Austria native says that David Alaba, Christian Fuchs, Marko Arnautovic, Marc Janko, and Zlatko Junuzovic are all players to watch in the tourney, an event that brings the best of Europe together.

“With many players playing in a mix of the top leagues in Europe the team has the confidence and the skill to play a technical game and keep possession to outplay their opponents,” Wutte continued.  “But they are vulnerable to teams that can effectively play the counter attack. Since they try to play technical football and outplay their opponents, any slip ups that occur can be punished by an effective team playing on the counter.”

Wutte sees Portugal as Austria’s biggest completion in Group F thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo, but he thinks Germany, Austria’s main rival, would be an even stronger opponent down the road if both advance in the tourney.

Germany: Favorites to Win?

Speaking of Germany, AFC Ann Arbor goalkeeper Fabian Veit doesn’t see his home country as a favorite to win it all.

“The squad from France has a lot of quality and honestly I believe they are the favorites.  They have the best chance since they have the home crowd.  I believe that France is set up very well for the upcoming Euros.”

According to Veit, Germany actually faces a number of challenges in the Euros despite being the defending World Cup champions.

“There is quite of a lot of injured players or players who are not fully fit.  It’s going to be tough for Germany even with an incredible squad.”

Germany faces a group that includes Ukraine, Poland, and Northern Ireland.

“I think every opponent is very difficult,” Veit added. “Everyone is 100% motivated.  I think that Northern Ireland could be quite challenging. They are very strong and physical.  Teams like Ukraine are also very dangerous in the Euros.  The German National Team shouldn’t underestimate any of their opponents.”

Veit will be watching the tournament closely from the U.S. as he has the remainder of the NPSL season to attend to as well as preparing for his college season at the University of Charleston.

“I wish I was home.  I would try to go with my friends to experience the atmosphere.  Such a huge tournament will attract many Germans to go to France.”

The Dielheim, Germany native has two favorite players on the German squad, Manuel Neuer and Marco Reus.

Neuer may be the best goalkeeper on the planet and Veit enjoys the “sweeper keeper” style that is employed by the Bayern Munich standout. Reus has a lot to prove for his country after missing the 2014 World Cup due to injury and Veit believes he will play a major role if he stays healthy.

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