Kamrani: The Euro Cup is the best drama the Union has to offer

By By Chris Kamrani

By Chris Kamrani

On a daily basis, anywhere from 20 to 40 people have situated themselves in the Union lounge at lunchtime, shouting at a large flat-screen TV. The hoopla doesn’t involve a Barack Obama vs. John McCain cage fight or updated footage of the floods of the midwest.

It’s soccer. It’s futbol. It’s “the world’s game.”

It’s not the MLS that has captivated the attention of so many on campus. It’s not even the World Cup, but it’s certainly close.

The UEFA European Championship of 2008 kicked off three weeks ago and has more than lived up to its billing.

The chairs in and around the Union’s big-screen TV are first-come, first-served as long as you’re willing to watch soccer. Being that it’s the Euro Cup, one would imagine there would be brute German fans screaming “SCHIZER!” every time striker Mario Gomez misses a chance to put the Germans in front. Nor have there been Italians crying for a finishing touch by their soaring forward Luca Toni, and there won’t be for another two years, because the Azzurri have received the boot.

It’s quite a melting pot of fans huddled around the big-screen with a shot at watching some first-class football. Those who huddle and argue and laugh with one another are in fact largely of foreign descent. The beauty of it is that not everyone is merely supporting their country or their team.

You have Japanese, Nigerian, Argentinean, Korean, American, Chinese, Mexican and countless others there huddled together, hoping for a remarkable and, most importantly, a memorable match.

The Euro Cup is, and has been, the most exciting thing in professional sports this year-bar none.

It occurs every four years and is offset by two years from every World Cup-pretty similar to the Summer and Winter Olympic Games. And like the World Cup, the teams must go through rigorous qualifying matches for about two years before punching a ticket to the 16-team festival.

Powerhouses aren’t guaranteed a ticket either. To much surprise, perennial soccer giant England failed to qualify. After tying Israel and losing to the surprising Croatians, one of the most individually talented teams in the world was a firsthand witness to what playing as a team entails.

As the 16 squads make their way to tournament hosts Austria and Switzerland, so do the floods of the diverse enthusiasts. The cities and immense stadiums are painted with the color wheel of fans cheering their countrymen on.

The Euro Cup beats any sporting event we have here in the states. Relate the tournament to college basketball’s March Madness, but a madness that spans the course of four years. Like March Madness, the drama of the Euro Cup is always at a high and cannot be topped.

As the group stage of the tournament came, so came the historic Cinderella stories and first-class football.

Italy and France, the World Cup finalists of 2006, were shattered and outscored 7-1 by the “Clockwork Oranje” better known as the Dutch.

Portugal and their “Joga Bonito” game was also a terror in group play headed by the game’s best player, Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Croatians shocked the Germans. France joined the likes of England by flopping with the games’ top talents. Dutch-born soccer guru Guus Hiddink coached Russia, the youngest squad of the tournament, out of group play, past the high-flying Netherlands and into the semifinals. The miniscule Andrei Arshavin has stolen the spotlight from the likes of Ronaldo to be the face of the tournament after his memorable performance against the Dutch.

Then there are the Turks. The Ottoman Empire lasted almost 700 years, and to say that their historic soccer run is comparable is not blasphemous. Out of the 28 matches in the tournament, there have been four come-from-behind victories. The Turks have accomplished three of those comebacks. A stoppage-time winner against Switzerland. A 2-0 comeback against the Czechs-which took three goals in the final 15 minutes of play, only to see the starting goalkeeper receive a red card in stoppage time and a two-match ban. And while the Turks had used all their subs to muster a historic performance, in went midfielder Tuncay Sanli for two nerve-racking minutes of netminding before victory was sealed.

But the “Crescent Stars” were not done-not by a long shot.

Turkey’s quarterfinal matchup against the Croatians saw the impossible made possible. After the two teams stifled more than 118 minutes of play, back-up keeper Reber Rustu misjudged a ball and came off his line prematurely. Croatia scored in the 119th minute to essentially seal the victory. Even ESPN analyst Tommy Smyth said, “This one’s over.”

With literally seconds to go, Rustu sent a towering free-kick into the Croatia box. Substitute Semih Senturk trapped the ball, turned and rifled a left-footed shot between two converging defenders and into the upper-90. The Turks further proved they don’t know how to quit and went on to win in penalties and set-up a semifinal match with an awakened German side.

The story of the tournament has been the upset. The Russians and the Turks now both face powerhouses in Spain and Germany. It’s a very rare thing to have two underdogs grind it out for the championship, and for those who have written a Spain-Germany final-take heed. Arshavin is lurking and the Turks, who will be missing a whopping nine players from their match against Croatia due to injuries and yellow-card suspensions, might have to use their third-string keeper as a forward.

But rest assured, if you have a few extra minutes in the afternoon, are near the Union and have the desire to see some real, non-“Days-Of-Our-Lives” daytime drama, watch the Euro Cup and enjoy the ride.

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