Messi-Neymar and England-Italy: Get ready for a dream football weekend

This is all. This is our reward for the 16 months we watched the world turn upside down.

Sixteen months in which the most reliable of the metronomes that dictates our weekly routine stopped completely for three months, before returning to its march in the strangest way: without the presence of fans, technicians with masks on the benches and echoes in what were once noisy resuscitation tents made of brick and steel. Sixteen months in which we realized that, really, football is the most important thing among the least important in our lives.

We can live without it, of course. We prove it. But we are much richer thanks to him.

And now we will have as a reward two first-level endings, two great games.

Brazil-Argentina this Saturday in the Copa América and Italy-England in the Eurocup. These four teams total 12 World Cups and 24 continental championships. It is Neymar against Lionel messi. It is an Italy that does not play like Italy against an England that does not play like England.

It’s a first-rate football weekend, the farewell before the summer break, in the hopes that when elite football returns in August, it will be much more like what we knew as normalcy.

Make no mistake: this does not mean that the nightmare is over. We have already lost 4 million of our loved ones. Four million sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers, friends, colleagues, and strangers. Only yesterday in the United Kingdom, which hosted the Euro 2020 semi-finals and will also host the final, 32,356 new infections were recorded, despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. To provide context, it would be as if the United States, which has approximately a population five times as large, were to register 160,000 cases, a situation in which the North American country found itself last January.

We do not know what will come. We place our trust in the power of science, the intellect of researchers, and the wisdom of our elected leaders. We hope for the best.

The pandemic may have been mastered, but let’s not forget the other existential threat facing soccer as we know it: the Super League. Less than 12 weeks have passed since 12 clubs announced that they would break the established order to redesign the very structure of football, based on their shortsighted goals and priorities. The rebellion lasted 48 hours, stopped in its tracks by a unified front, which included the fans first and foremost; although the media, UEFA, FIFA, coaches, governments and hundreds of clubs were also incorporated. We call them participants and shareholders. However, they had little impact on the creation of the top-secret project that, if successful, would change football forever.

Although it is true that this threat has not ended. Three of the twelve “founding clubs” (Juventus, Real Madrid and Barcelona) persist with their plans, the website is still active, showing the logos and names of different clubs, including those that have publicly declared their withdrawal from the project. The next battles in the war for control of soccer are yet to come, and they will be fought in the courts, not on the fields.

In the meantime, we can think about this weekend and smile. We will have two major tournament finals, each steeped in history and background.

Messi or Neymar (who were at one time teammates at Barcelona; now rivals, always united in their genius) will win their first renowned international trophy. They will play in the Maracana, where Pelé was a figure, the place where the largest crowd ever gathered to witness a football match: 199,854 people according to FIFA figures, who saw how the Uruguay team broke the hearts of Brazilians in the 1950 World Cup final. A small audience will be allowed in the stands this weekend, around 6,500 people.

Later at Wembley, where England won their first and only international trophy 55 years ago, Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions will try to make history and show that, as their anthem says, football has come home. It is a different England team, built on defensive solidity and tactical discipline; but also about respect, humility and inclusion.

For its part, Italy will try to make up for the humiliation of having been eliminated from the 2018 World Cup in Russia. This Squadra Azzurra is also different. Gone are the deep defense, counterattack and patience waiting for a moment of inspiration from a Roberto Baggio or a Paolo Rossi on the other side of the pitch.

On the contrary, coach Roberto Mancini has formed a squad that plays like Italy was never supposed to play (some would say it could never play like that): a style based on dominating the midfield, demanding the ball and taking risks on both sides of the pitch. land. They already have 33 games without knowing defeat. If this Sunday everything goes according to plan; Italy will not only be European champions, but will be one match away from equaling the historical record held by the Spanish team.

It will be the most important weekend in international football, with the exception of a World Cup. Let’s enjoy it. We have earned it.