Monday, June 28, 2010

Now let's test your soccer fanhood

Regardless of whether you like the game of soccer, you have to respect the overall organization and the competition engendered by it's tournament and league structure. There are the national teams that play for continental cups and in perhaps the most widely beloved international athletic competition in the world, the World Cup.
Then there is the club competitions. This is definitely where soccer shows its skill in organizing itself. Well, they do in Europe anyways, because in the States, we have tried to set it up like other sports leagues, and it doesn't quite work out as well. Over in Europe though, it's a complicated weave of thousands of teams, and yet it functions almost seamlessly. Like I said, you have to respect their level of organization.
First you have the relegation and promotion, so the top teams are competing with each other, and there is a legitimate punishment for not putting a competitive team on the pitch. I've covered it many times here, but I still remain impressed that the system remains in place, because in the United States, there is simply too much money invested for this to work. But there is so much money invested in European soccer, and somehow it works over there.
What I am really impressed by, and what inspired this post is their international club team competitions. Imagine, for example, if the winner of the Super Bowl played the winner of Canada's Grey Cup. Well, try to figure that out with the best teams of 54 countries and turning into a year long affair. That's what the Champions League is. I don't care to get into the intricacies of how it is set up, because it's insanely complicated for me to spell out. There are three qualifying rounds, a playoff, a group stage, a knockout phase followed by the championship game. There is a list of all the teams that are involved and where they enter the tournament (it's seeded according to both their team rating and the rating of their league), just to show you that the best teams of the best leagues are all put into this tournament, as well as the champions of lesser leagues. Like I said, very complicated, but if you follow it, you see that it's all very seamless.
Well, the first qualifying round begins tomorrow. Just 4 teams begin in that first round, playing to join 34 other teams. It begins with the first leg of a pairing of FC Santa Coloma in Andorra and Birkirkara from Malta. I obviously won't be digging deep into the Champions League, because I don't understand all the strategy of soccer and we don't receive good coverage of foreign leagues. The fun thing, I think, is just seeing how well such a competition is set up. If only sports in America were as well organized.

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