The season for most of Europe’s domestic leagues are over, and it’s time now for the glamour of the summer tournament season. What’s more, the United States’ national team is involved in this year’s Copa America Centenario, the one-hundredth anniversary of the legendary tournament alongside the best teams from the Americas.
The USMNT is currently in the middle of the group stage at Copa America, sitting second in Group A after a 2-0 loss to Colombia and a 4-0 win over Costa Rica. If the Americans fail to progress out of their group, questions may be asked of coach Jurgen Klinsmann after previous disappointing showings in World Cup qualifying and 2015’s Gold Cup fourth place finish.
In France, the European Championships begin on Friday. For many, this is the second-best soccer tournament in the world, behind the World Cup. This year’s expanded field should create some drama, as the usual 16 team format has been scrapped for 24 teams in the 15th edition of the tournament.
With the US in a must-win situation and the Euros starting this weekend, here’s what you’ll want to watch the next couple days:
Friday, June 10
France vs. Romania, 3:00 p.m., ESPN2, WatchESPN
The hosts are amongst the favorites to win the tournament despite leaving Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema out of the team for a scandal involving blackmail and another French player. Longtime coach Didier Deschamps has Premier League standouts Dmitri Payet and N’Golo Kante available in midfield, as well as Juventus star Paul Pogba. Up front, Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud has been woeful on English soil, but has five goals in his last four matches for France. Finally for the French, Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann is one of the fastest-rising talents in the game today.
Their Romanian opposition look to snatch a draw in their opening game, as anything other than defeat will be a major upset. If they’re going to snatch a point against the hosts, 36-year-old striker Lucian Sanmartean will likely have to produce some magic up front against a defense without Real Madrid center back Raphael Varane.
Saturday, June 11
USA vs. Paraguay, 7:00 p.m., Fox Sports 1, FOX Sports Go
Barring craziness in the Costa Rica vs. Colombia match later in the night, the US basically must avoid defeat against Paraguay in Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field. Paraguay has a scoreless draw with Costa Rica and a 2-1 loss to Colombia to show for after two games. Coach Ramon Diaz and his staff will be looking to come away with the win to send the hosts of Copa America home early.
Whatever was not working against Colombia seemed to be fixed for the US against Costa Rica, as Clint Dempsey and company were dominant in a 4-0 win. If Dempsey and young striker Bobby Wood can make a difference up front, this team could find the right balance that it has lacked since being knocked out of the World Cup in 2014. The defense finally looks a bit more solid thanks to Hertha Berlin and defender John Brooks, who is still just 23 years old. Lastly for the Americans, Michael Bradley is finally back to playing his natural role in the center of midfield instead of being forced further forward in Brazil two years ago, when he received major criticism during the World Cup.
Wales vs. Slovakia, 12:00 p.m., ESPN, WatchESPN
The last time Wales made it to the final stage of a major tournament was in 1958, so there’s cause for celebration no matter the outcome of their tournament. 2016’s group is one of Wales’ best squads of all time, and may exceed expectations in France. Real Madrid star Gareth Bale is obviously the focal point in attack, but Swansea City center back Ashley Williams can hold down a defense at the highest level.
Slovakia has had an average showing at the World Cup/European Championship level over the last few years, and this looks to be a typical Slovakian team – tough to break down and disciplined in both attack and defense. The playmaker is Napoli midfielder Marek Hamsik, but Greek league winger Robert Mak could also be a vital influence going forward.
England vs. Russia, 3:00 p.m., ESPN, WatchESPN
The Three Lions will look to get past the quarterfinal stage for the first time since 1996, and the youth of this team will definitely be the talking point. Eleven of the 23 players on the team are 25 or younger, and manager Roy Hodgson can even bring on 18-year-old Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford if he needs goals. However, the attack is the strong point of this team, as Tottenham’s Harry Kane (25 league goals) and Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy (24) had excellent club seasons. The defense will be tested, as Chelsea’s Gary Cahill had a poor season. Manchester United’s Chris Smalling and Everton’s John Stones are also question marks after consistency issues throughout their seasons.
Russia will be without a couple of their major players, but should not have trouble with finishing second in a group with two much weaker opponents. That said, a loss to England would create an uphill battle for a Russian team that lacks the star power of recent tournaments. Dynamo Moscow’s Aleksandr Kokorin or Krasnodar’s Pavel Mamaev will be tasked with the goal scoring duties for a team that can sometimes struggle to get out of easy groups.
Sunday, June 12
Brazil vs. Peru, 8:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports Go
So far, it’s been no Neymar, no problem for the Brazilians. A 7-1 rout of Haiti has been the dominant performance of the tournament, and the 2014 World Cup hosts may have finally shaken off the legendary 7-1 semifinal defeat to Germany that had sent them into a funk. Peru are better than Haiti, but not by much. Watch this one if you enjoy goalscoring.
Germany vs. Ukraine, 3:00 p.m., ESPN, WatchESPN
The next favorites to win the tournament, Germany, is looking to pull off the world champions/European champions feat that was most recently completed by Spain in 2012. Bayern Munich’s Thomas Muller is the favorite for top scorer in the tournament, and the world champions will look to start their tournament off with a bang against a Ukraine side that will not end up rolling over.
Ukraine will end up fighting it out with Poland for the second place spot in Group C, and definitely has the firepower to progress from the group stages. Dinamo Moscow’s winger Andriy Yarmolenko has received plenty of interest from Premier League teams, as well as Sevilla’s Yevhen Konoplyanka. Those two will look to hit the Germans on the counterattack and snatch a point from a difficult opening match.