It is a great time to be a fan of sports. Seriously, at this moment there is a massive football tournament going on, an epic NBA final match-up brewing, and London 2012 is a scant 47 days away. So to celebrate all that tasty awesome, I am going to do my first actual sports article. Won’t you join me?
(For those who are confused about my use of football in the above paragraph, I am not referring to American football. I am talking about what the rest of the world calls football and we call soccer. I use the word football because that is what it is, when I go to an MLS game I say soccer because that is what we call it. I do not want to get on a soapbox, I just wanted to explain my rationale for being somewhat confusing.)
Now that my reasoning is explained, let me jump into the tournament about which I am talking. EURO 2012. It is quite possibly the biggest football tourney outside of the FIFA World Cup. Seriously. People, including myself, go nuts for this! If you are finding it hard to get excited, let me put it to you in terms of American football. If the best 16 teams in the NFL were broken up into four groups of four, then played a round robin tournament for a chance to play in a standard-elimination tournament, that would be about what we are looking at. It is fantastic, it is brilliant, it is European football at its height.
The matchup I am looking forward to the most is England vs. France. It is like the Hundred Years War, the Thirty Years War, and basically every medieval conflict rolled into a scant ninety minutes. Seriously it is going to be intense. The French team is a bit young, but geez do they have some serious power. They have been firing on all cylinders leading up to this tourney and have shown exactly zero signs of slowing down. Franck Ribery is the key player for the French. He has laser-precise long and short passes and basically can jump start the French offense. He also acts as a tank to keep the British aggro off the rest of his team. This reminds me a lot of what Dwight Howard did for the Magic when they won the NBA championship in 2009. [Editor’s Note: This is a factually correct metaphor. We know, we’re as shocked as you are.] As he played more aggressively, the defenders covered him more, which left his three-point shooters wide open. It is a fantastic “damned if you do damned if you don’t” situation with which I am sure France will work hard to capitalize. It does not help England’s chances that one of their better players is suspended for this game and another is hurt. That leaves Steven Gerrard to be the hero that England needs. He is a solid scorer but not a great finisher. For England to have a serious chance at this game, Gerrard will have to find the back of the net early and often. My prediction for this game is that, while it will be a blistering match to watch, France’s offensive edge will make up for the lack of a strong defense and give them the win.
Another item of note in the EURO is that the first games of the “death group” have been played. This is basically the four best teams in the tournament, and the group puts them all together in a serious bloodbath! Think of it as the Patriots, Green Bay, Saints, and Giants all in one division where they only played themselves, to use the earlier analogy. The first two games were a couple of one-nil victories: Denmark over the Netherlands and Germany besting the Ronaldo-led Portugal. The Orangemen of Holland were seeing red at the end of that game for sure. As for the other, Ronaldo did not perform as well during the first match, which drew some harsh criticism on the skilled striker. Hopefully he will be able to capitalize on opportunities during the next must-win matches against the rest of the group of death.
Switching gears from a game played with feet to one played exclusively with hands, let’s look at basketball. The teams are set for the NBA Finals, and personally I think it will be a great matchup, with The Oklahoma City Thunder against the Miami Heat. Lets take a look at the Thunder. They had a road to the Finals where they left a trail of recent champions battered and broken in their wake. The Mavericks, Lakers, and Spurs have all won the NBA’s big show in the last five years and OKC left them in the dust, led by Kevin Durant, who is very much the mirror-image of big bad LeBron. Durant is humble and hard-working, but is still very able to turn it on when the going gets tough. His last-second shot to seal a one-point lead in the first game was AMAZING!
While Durant is a rising talent, we cannot forget about King James. He has earned that name a couple of times over this playoff year. He has been putting up big numbers and showing serious skill. However, he did that all last year when the Heat made it to the finals, only for him to choke and put up decidedly mediocre stats. That has caused him to get heaps of criticism that will only be quelled by a great showing this time, culminating with his first ring. Chris Bosh is hurt so that might hurt the Heat a bit, however he was out for game 7 against the Celtics, so then again maybe not.
All in all, I see the Heat turning up the…fire…against the Thunder and winning in six. I would rather the Thunder, but unless they can bring the…sound…I do not see it happening.
I want to finish by saying how excited I am for the Olympics. In 47 days the entire world will be tuning in to watch the best of our respective countries compete for prizes. It is something that I truly love. The idea that for a little over two weeks every two years everyone in the world is sharing the same experience. We all root for our men and women and hope they push that little bit harder than the other guy. It is about as close to world peace as any of us will ever live to see, and that is a beautiful thing.