So you’re new to soccer or getting back into it for the first time in years as summer gears up. "That’s okay. Nobody’s perfect. Welcome to the flock," your token soccer fanatic friend may quip. But it just so happens that you’ve timed your conversion to the game as well as you possibly could have. This summer, after all, gives us the quadrennial Euro — the championship of Europe — the one-off Copa America Centenario — a championship of the entire Western Hemisphere — and the under-appreciated Olympic soccer tournament.
In order to further your indoctrination, we’ve taken the liberty of picking out 10 games to get you started. Yes, it’s true that some soccer games can feel uneventful, with the bulk of the non-action requiring a deep understanding of the sport’s many nuances to appreciate. But these games won’t let you down. Pinky-swear.
France-Romania: June 10
Opening games to major soccer tournaments are always entertaining. France is a favorite, with a ludicrous amount of talent and some of the world’s most exciting players in Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, and Dimitri Payet. This game takes place in the Stade de France, the very venue targeted by three suicide bombers in last year’s terrorist attacks on Paris – although none got in. France is on edge.
United States-Paraguay: June 11
In the Yanks’ long march to global respectability, the Copa gives them a rare chance to test themselves with the sport’s powerhouses outside of the World Cup. They were in trouble after dropping the first game 2-0 to Colombia. But they redeemed their chances with a 4-0 victory over Costa Rica. And now they need a result — a win, or possibly just a tie — against a tough Paraguay team to survive the group stage.
And if the Americans advance…
United States-Brazil June 17
They might very well face Brazil in the quarterfinals. This isn’t your father’s Brazil though. Since the 7-1 collapse in the World Cup semifinals — on their home soil, painfully — the Brazilians have been adrift. And Barcelona superstar Neymar isn’t on this team because he’s being spared for the Olympics. But it’s still Brazil. A team that beat the U.S. 4-1 the last two times they played each other, and 17 times in 18 overall contests.
Belgium-Italy: June 13
Belgium has one of the most entertaining young teams around, with a bevy of fun attackers. Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne give defenders fits with their dribbling, and Romelu Lukaku might be the most complete striker in the sport. None of them are older than 25. Italy, meanwhile, are four-time World Cup champions who plays best when little is expected of them. Little is expected of them. Making this one of the two games to watch in the group stage.
England-Wales: June 16
The other being this one. They’re the same country but they’re playing each other! Because, yes, Great Britain is sort of weird that way. Wales has never reached this tournament before, meaning it’s the first chance to see one of soccer’s biggest stars on the elite international stage. Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale is a balletic manbun. And he faces England, a team whose fans, players, coaches and press delude themselves into thinking they’re going to win every Euro or World Cup — even though they haven’t won either since 1966. But with this young and jazzy team, England really might.
Copa America Centenario final: June 26
Just a year ago, Chile were finally crowned champions of South America, after 99 years of futility in the regular Copa America. They beat Lionel Messi’s Argentina, which hasn’t won anything since 1993 but have now failed in two major finals in a row — after also losing the 2014 World Cup final. Will Messi finally win something big with his country’s senior team and confirm his legacy as the greatest of all time?
Euro final: July 10
Some argue that winning the Euro is actually harder than the World Cup, because there are fewer weak teams in the field. That may have been true before the tournament was expanded from 16 to 24 teams for this edition, but becoming champions of the Old Continent remains a legacy-defining accomplishment. Spain have won it the last two times, but Germany are the reigning world champions.
Brazil-South Africa: August 4
The Olympic soccer tournament deserves more love than it gets. Yes, on the men’s side it’s an under-23 event — with three overage players allowed — but it still produces great games and should get a lot of attention in Rio, one of the spiritual homes of the sport. After the aforementioned trouncing at the hands of Germany, a younger Brazil team will want to begin avenging its World Cup failure in the opener.
United States Women-France: August 6
While the men’s national team continues to figure out how to play with the world’s best, the women are the world’s best. Several veterans — Abby Wambach, Lauren Holiday, Shannon Boxx — retired following the long-awaited third Women’s World Cup title last year, but head coach Jill Ellis has rebuilt around younger and more technical players, who dazzle with their movement and skill. The French always give the Lady Yanks a tough game.
Women’s Olympic final: August 19
There have been five of these finals to date. The U.S. has been in all five of them, won four, and taken three straight. In Rio, they’ll be playing for their fourth straight Olympic gold medal. But these finals are never easy. They have won — and lost — all of them by a single goal. And three went to extra time.
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