Are You Ready for Some Futbol?
It's the sport that unites the world—so how are Americans still in the dark about soccer (er, futbol)? Illuminate your Olympic experience by getting to know these 5 must-watch teams.
For most of its soccer history, Spain was known as the team that almost could. They were big on talent, but short on titles. That all changed in 2008 when they were crowned European champions. And when they took the World Cup in 2010, they finally shed their underdog status and proved to the world that they had not only polished their rough edges, but made them razor sharp. Watching them play is like watching a matador—they are always in control, stalking opponents slowly and methodically until an opportunity arises for an incisive attack. Their style is much slower and patient than other teams, but that’s what makes them so dangerous. Although lacking in superstars, the team has several young players that cut their teeth in the Spanish league, which is arguably the best in the world. Keep an eye out for midfielder Oscar de Marcos and forward Isco, two attack-minded players coming off stunning seasons.
This small West African nation commands big respect on the field, thanks in no small part to the playmaking talent of striker Ibrahima Balde. That said, they’re also a team lacking players with experience in big European leagues (e.g., England, Spain, Germany, and Italy). Most are still playing in weaker African leagues and will not be used to the speed and complexity of attacks from more experienced opponents like Uruguay and Great Britain. But if ever there was an underdog to watch, it’s Senegal.
The Swiss are a nation on the rise in world soccer with some talented youngsters just starting to come of age, including Kerim Frei, Pajtim Kasami, and Admir Mehmedi. Look for the Swiss to press the counterattack, getting the ball to their attacking players as quickly as possible after winning control of the ball. Despite having some talented midfielders, they have no standout veterans strikers that can be relied upon to score goals. If one of the younger players steps up, however, the Swiss could prove a difficult challenge for any opponent.
It's always Brazil isn't it? Although a traditional power in South American soccer, the Samba Kings have never won an Olympic gold. The fact that archrival Argentina did so in 2008, however, is sure to fuel their fire this summer. Known for their incredible individual flair, every player on the field is capable of creating magic and performing under pressure. Indeed, not only do their countrymen expect them to win every time, they're expected to do so with style and panache, and can face public backlash for being too 'defensive'. With top players like forwards Neymar and Hulk, Brazil has the talent to not only dominate the field, but also thrill the stands. Always the favorite among neutrals (those without a home team in the tournament), their games promise to be the most thrilling (and watched) of the Olympics.
They may lack the name recognition of Spain or Brazil, but Uruguay is the current reigning champion of South America, having won that continent’s primary international soccer tournament, the Copa America, in 2011. And while they haven't played in the Olympics since 1928, they did win gold both that year and in 1924. That sort of history may not count for much this summer, but they do have several top players, including striker Edinson Cavani and forward Luis Suarez. Those two alone would be handful given their solid history of scoring goals in top European leagues (Italy and England respectively). But add attacking players like Abel Hernandez and Gaston Ramirez to the mix, both of which have a good scoring record in Italy, and you have the potential for gold. Indeed, Uruguay will be exciting to watch every time they start moving the ball forward. Expect to see goals. Lots of them.
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