UEFA EURO 2016: NPSL EDITION (PART II)
Today’s start of the Euros was met with a lot of excitement all across Europe and around the world, especially here in the U.S. Many NPSL players are looking forward to see how their home countries will fare in this prestigious event. They are, after all, fans and supporters like the rest of us.
The Great Zlatan
This year’s Euros could very well be the last major tournament for the one and only Zlatan Ibrahimovic, quite possibly the greatest player to ever hail from Sweden. Dayton Dynamo forward Marc Hansson has high expectations for both Ibra and Sweden, especially since both missed out on the last World Cup.
“We should expect him to score so pretty cool goals, playing to his full potential, making sure Sweden goes where we deserve to go.”
Where does Hansson expect Sweden to finish? He has no reservations about his prediction.
“To the finals. We’re going to hold the cup at the end of the day.”
He doesn’t expect the journey to be an easy one thanks to Italy, Ireland, and Belgium all being in Group E.
“Italy are our biggest competitors. They are the one everyone wants to beat. For them it has to be a lot of pressure knowing that everyone wants to beat you. Belgium is a good team, a young team. The fact that they are playing so well and they play very exciting soccer. It will be a great game. I think they will surprise us all as they did in the World Cup.”
It has to be intimidating to face the experience of Italy and the youth and exuberance of Belgium, but Sweden have an exciting style of play.
“We’re very direct when it comes to where we want the ball,” Hansson continued. “They usually try to find Ibrahimovic up front for him to hold up the ball and attack on the sides. We have really fast outside mids so they can whip balls into the box for our forwards and center mids. Our team is pretty big as well; we have some really tall players.”
Hansson knows the international game well, having played for KVC Westerlo in Belgium as well as Hostivice and FC Brno in the Czech Rebublic.
More than Ronaldo?
Hardy Pinto, striker for the Electric City Shock, is very much looking forward to seeing Portugal perform in the Euros. He is expecting a lot from them and it’s not all about Cristiano Ronaldo.
“Portugal has a strong team a mix of young players and experience, a well-balanced team. We had good qualifiers and a good preparation for the Euros. I believe we have the squad to go all the way.”
The Portuguese style of play is certainly attractive and exciting. Pinto says it has been about “passing, keeping the ball with finesse and skill, and making the opposition run.” While he admits they have missed a big target man up top for many years, Portugal certainly makes up for that with great attackers like Ronaldo, Nani, Ricardo Quaresma, and João Moutinho. And their defense is greatly improved and well-balanced.
Pinto sees Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, and Spain as Portugal’s biggest competition for the hardware. He knows it’s going to be a great event and great competition from start to finish.
“The Euros is a big event, one of the biggest sporting event in the world. You get to see football of the highest quality and the best players in the world. You get to see new talent. There’s always a team you weren’t expecting to turn up. So it is packed with everything.”
It’s no wonder that the Euros are experiencing record interest in the U.S. and Pinto sees it as an opportunity to grow the game, something we are all interested in.
England or Bust
“English fans always have high expectations for the team that usually underperforms in the big tournaments,” CD Aguiluchos USA forward Simon Rawnsley commented. “Saying that we have had a good qualifying campaign and kept a decent run of results going in friendlies. Even if the performances haven’t always been convincing, it has given Hodgson a chance to try different players.”
That doesn’t sound like a resounding endorsement from the 2015 NPSL Golden Boot winner, but it’s a feeling that is held by many fans of England around the globe. They aren’t entirely sure how their home country will perform this summer. Rawnsley is hoping for the best, hopefully a trip to the semifinals, but getting out of the group stage is a bare minimum.
“We apparently have on average the youngest squad at the Euros. This could be a negative for us due to a lack of big tournament experience or it could bring energy and enthusiasm to the team. We’ve become more solid at the back and hopefully we don’t concede much. We have weapons going forward and I think Kane might score the most and overshadow Rooney.”
The Bradford, England native thinks the game with Wales is going to be one to remember. He also expects Belgium to be among the final four and Germany to win it all.
Simply put, no one (including Rawnsley) seems to be picking England to win it all, but the same was said about Leicester City and we all know what happened there. At least England doesn’t face 5000-to-1 odds for claiming hardware at the Euros.