Five things I’m looking forward to in Euro 2008:
SAMIR NASRI: The kid bobs and weaves and Zizous all over YouTube. I want to see him and Ribery make some musique together. If nothing else, they can feed Henry a bunch of chances that he’ll convert in inverse proportion to the importance of the match in which they occur.
THE ITALIANS: Two summers ago, they snuck out of Berlin with the trophy concealed in the boot of their car, using fake passports. If that was Ocean’s 11, will this be Ocean’s 12—many of the same perpetrators on hand, all the same jokes, all the ham acting, same outcome? Also, I really like it when Luca Toni runs around like an eight-year-old on crystal meth.
THE GREEKS: Not really. Oh, okay—it was sort of charming to see such a rank underdog bag a major trophy, even if they won it f’ugly. The Greek victory in ’04, and all the grudging complaints about it, pointed to international football’s Legitimacy Paradox: any time a nation outside the usual-suspects club finds some success, it seems to undermine rather than validate the integrity of international competition. When SoKo and Turkey made the World Cup semis in ’02, many commentators, rather than hailing the upstarts, used their rise as evidence of the dubiousness of the whole tournament. Then Brazil and Germany restored the proper order of the universe to palpable relief. Likewise, I sense a widespread, if not completely explicit, feeling that Euro 2004 didn’t really count, because the Greeks won it. This leaves me sort of wanting to see them pull a repeat—but I’m sure I’ll get over that the first time I watch them play.
THE RUSSIANS: What, exactly, did Zenit Sankt Peter’s win in the UEFA Cup portend for this long-fallen power? A lot of Zenit men figure in the Russian squad, which, not unlike Italy, draws heavily on the domestic league. The group looks moderate-to-difficult, so we’ll learn pretty fast what this somewhat mysterious gang is made of.
THREE WILDLY ENTERTAINING SPANISH PERFORMANCES, FOLLOWED BY THE INEVITABLE QUARTERFINAL EXIT. That all goes without saying.