Whether you’re a hardcore soccer fan or just casually interested in big games like the World Cup, get ready for a tournament that’s sure to leave you on the edge of your seat. This year’s UEFA European Championship kicked off in France on June 10. Over the next 30 days, soccer lovers will replace everyday phrases like “Have you eaten?” with nonstop, soccer-related banter. It can be dizzying for first-timers to try and keep abreast of all the teams and their rivalries, so here, we break down some of the questions you were too afraid to ask – lest you be booed by your more knowledgeable friends.
Q: Why didn’t soccer superstar Lionel Messi take part in Euro 2016?
A: The UEFA European Championship is a quadrennial men’s soccer competition held by the Union of European Football Associations. As such, only European players representing their national teams can compete. Messi, as an Argentine footballer, has never and will never play a game in the European Championship. But that doesn’t mean Messi gets to take a vacation from the sport. As the captain of Argentina’s national team, he is playing in the Copa America Centenario, a tournament against national teams in North and South America. On June 10, Messi scored a hat trick in just 19 minutes against Panama.
What about players with dual-nationalities? If one of their citizenships is European, they can play in the Euro 2016, but only if they swear off playing for any other national team. Take Messi’s teammate Gonzalo Higuain for example: He was eligible to play for both Argentina and France, and he picked the former.
Q: Why is Cristiano Ronaldo, the star of the Spanish club Real Madrid, playing for Portugal instead of Spain?
A: First of all, league games and games between countries are completely different. It all comes down to citizenship: The Euro 2016 teams have to choose from players who are citizens of the countries they represent. Cristiano Ronaldo is Portuguese and therefore has to play for Portugal. The same goes for the World Cup and the Olympics. By contrast, Ronaldo can play in any country he likes for league tournaments. In fact, he first gained fame as a Manchester United forward in England. In 2009, he transferred to Real Madrid to pursue greater challenges and a higher pay. However, players from Spain, England, Italy and Germany are less likely to choose league teams outside their home countries since these countries have the top leagues worldwide.
Q: I just saw the ball pass the goal line. Why was the goal ruled out?
A: The most common situation is that it was an offside goal. Being “offside” can be confusing for soccer newbies: Basically, it means that a player from the offensive team has positioned himself too close to the goal line. Unless the ball has approached the goal line, there needs to be at least two players between the offensive player and the goal. Otherwise, it’s against the rules for the offensive player to receive the ball and score with it.
Speaking fluent ‘soccer’
If you get a chance to watch a game with die-hard fans, here are some surefire conversation starters.
1. Before the game: Ask your fellow soccer fans which team they think will finally “lift the silverware” –the silver Euro 2016 trophy. The odds seem to favor teams like France, Germany, Spain, England and Italy. Don’t forget to add some insightful commentary to your conversation. You might try, for example: “Although France is a strong team, I think the advantage of being the host is exaggerated.”
2. During the game: When you see players straying from their positions, shout “Push up!” or “Get back!” You may need to do some research in advance, to figure out who the defenders and strikers are and where their positions should be.
3. After the game: It’s time to critique the teams and their performances. You might try this line: “So-and-so missed a goal so easy that I could have scored it.” Share pictures of some vintage players in your WeChat Moments – Andriy Shevchenko, the assistant coach of the Ukraine team, is a good choice – and write a pithy caption, like: “He’s getting old, and I’m no longer young.”