Throughout the month of June, the world’s second-biggest soccer tournament, the European Championship, is taking place at sites in Poland and Ukraine. Roger Bennett, ESPN.com writer and co-host of the Men in Blazers podcast, spoke to Bill Littlefield for this week’s Only A Game.
Bennett, an Englishman, was excited to talk about England’s 3-2 comeback win over Sweden on Friday. “They won in a very un-English way,” he said. “We normally wilt when put under immense pressure…but we came back and a nation spilled hot tea on their laps, and the feeling is glorious.”
Germany was the first team to qualify for the quarterfinals, which was a surprise to no one, including Bennett, who called the Germans the second-best team in the tournament. “There’s an old cliche that football is a game where 22 men chase a soccer ball for 90 minutes and then Germany wins. This is a wonderful, fluent, rigorous, robust German team to watch.”
Spain is the favorite to win the European championship again, which would give La Furia Roja an unprecedented third straight major tournament win (with EURO 2008 and World Cup 2010). The Spanish beat Ireland 4-0 on Thursday and are in the driver’s seat to advance out of their group. “The honest truth was that it was only Ireland,” Bennett said. “It was like a triple-A baseball team playing a pro team.”
Off the pitch, there have been instances of racism and riots that have marred the image of several countries. Russian fans cost their federation $150,000 with a recent demonstration, and Polish and Ukrainian fans haven’t acquitted themselves well either.
“This tournament has been absolutely sparkling on the field, but off it, it’s been a borderline disaster,” Bennett said.