This column is written as a special for Pittsburgh Soccer Now, by guest contributor Robert Bell.
As a city with a proud sporting heritage, Pittsburgh has always been home to a variety of top-class sporting action. Yet, it is also good at times to look further afield and see what events are coming up in other parts of the country and farther afield.
Next year, 2020, promises to be a spectacular year for soccer, and for sport in general, since the Olympics are happening in Japan. However, even if the Olympic soccer event will be the highlight for American soccer, with the USA, the reigning women’s World Cup champions competing for gold. The men’s team is still able to compete too, with the CONCACAF qualifying tournament happening next March.
However, in Europe, the biggest tournament of the soccer is the Euro 2020. The tournament is only second in international football to the World Cup and it has more importance in European soccer than the Olympic tournament.
Therefore, countries competing in both competitions send to the Olympic tournament their under-23 squad and they leave the main team to play in the Euro Cup.
When will the Euro 2020 take place?
Unlike the previous editions, this time the tournament will happen in 12 different countries, in 12 different cities spread across the continent. This happens to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the competition, which took place for the first time in 1960. At the time, the competition was played with only four teams, with the Soviet Union claiming the first title.
Nowadays, however, there are 24 European nations competing, after the competition was expanded in 2016. The countries that will receive the tournament are Azerbaijan (Baku), Russia (St. Petersburg), Spain (Bilbao), Germany (Munich), Romania (Bucharest), Hungary (Budapest), Denmark (Copenhagen), Italy (Rome), Ireland (Dublin), Scotland (Glasgow), Netherlands (Amsterdam) and England (London).
The first game of the tournament will be on June 12, featuring Italy at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome and the final will be held at Wembley Stadium, in London.
Most of the continent’s big nations have already qualified at the time of writing, including holders Portugal, who in the final of Euro 2016 beat France, with a goal in extra time. The draw of the tournament group stages, which has 6 groups, happened on November 30.
There are a final few places that will be decided in the play-offs that are scheduled to take place in March of next year. A few of the teams to battle it out in this way include: Scotland, Northern Ireland, Bulgaria, and Israel.
What games to look forward?
Even missing four countries in the draw, due to the playoffs that will happen in March, there are already some games to keep us excited for Summer.
Especially if you look at Group F, which includes already the holders Portugal, the current World Cup winners France and Germany. That’s why some people have called this group the ‘group of death’. The last place in group F will be decided between the playoff winners of group A: Iceland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania.
If Romania wins the playoff, they will be allocated in group C, in order to play their games at home, so instead the winner of playoff D (Georgia, Belarus, North Macedonia and Kosovo), will switch places and go instead to group F.
Besides this group, there are others to look forward. In Group A, Italy faces Turkey, Wales and Switzerland. In Group B Denmark faces Belgium, Russia and the debutants Finland.
In Group C there will be a playoff winner joining Ukraine, Austria and the Netherlands. In the Group D, England, Croatia and the Czech Republic will be joined by the playoff winner between Scotland, Israel, Serbia and Norway.
In Group E, Robert Lewandowski and his national team of Poland will have the task to face 3-time Euro winners Spain and Sweden. They will be joined by the winner of the playoff that opposes Republic of Ireland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovakia or Northern Ireland.
There are plenty of reasons to be eager for this competition, that is as exciting as watching the Kentucky Derby horse race. If you are a soccer enthusiast or you are just learning to play and want to improve, do not miss the chance to watch it either at home or in your local pub which will most likely be broadcasting it.