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Soccer

Consider The Power Of “Just Happy To Be Here”

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Of all the possibilities in 2021’s Euro 2020, the thing that was most likely to happen was that the people who run UEFA, the organizing group of blazered bastards, would figure a way to screw with it, which they did when they blackjacked the Danish team into playing minutes after their best player Christian Eriksen coded on the field. But we’re not here for that because the suits are omnipresent in every big sporting event and they’re never leaving no matter how many times you tell them that once the TV deals have been made they really don’t need to attend at all.

But as the first round of the group stage ends ends today with Hungary and Portugal followed by France and Germany, we must take stock nonetheless, especially those of us why have no inherent rooting interest in any result, due either to favorite team, favorite player, national origin, or just the thrill of adenoidal growling men singing some form of their national anthem as though the words were attached to a kidney stone they were trying to expel. Someone has to win this thing, and that means seven anthems delivered by strangulated hernia. If your interest can transcend that, you may be too involved.

That is why the teams you should be rooting for are the two first-timers, Finland and North Macedonia. They have that happy-to-be-here glow, they have no particular recent history of intense national hostility toward their neighbors, they know they’re not staying in this tournament long, and … well, since almost none of your friends are either Finnish or Macedonian, the great likelihood is that you won’t be bothered by some dunce tossing beers and yelling incoherently through their games at players whose names they do not know. That is an immediate payoff right there.

Finland’s role in this tournament is a bit complicated by the Eriksen matter, given that they were playing Denmark at the time of his collapse and after the interval to save his life, the Finns went on to beat the Danes 1-0 on a Joel Pohjanpalo goal. Like the Danes, they were clearly affected and their postgame celebration after winning their first game in their first major international tournament was quite muted. They had the inherent good sense not to aggressively enjoy something that came at such a cost, and it is to their credit that they no more wanted to play the second half than did the Danes. Their first big moment thus came with a huge side of depressing even though Eriksen survived the event and is now resting uncomfortably in a hospital, because nobody ever rests comfortably in one.

In addition, Finland now play on Wednesday against Russia, a gaggle of footballing disappointments whom even the ESPN commentators seem to regard with distaste for their playing style, which doesn’t ever rise to the level of being called style. Plus, they’re the Russians, the people whose government helped give you Donald Trump, and while the players didn’t do that, their coach, Stanislav Cherchesov, is supposed to be a favorite of Vladimir Putin, and in a competition that has national anthems, the politics don’t come too far afterward. So if you must, go Finns.

As for North Macedonia, they haven’t been a country long enough to get in a scrap with anyone, even though they did have a prolonged argument with the Greeks about whether they could call their country Macedonia (they lost after 28 years of non-violent but very Balkan bickering). They’ve never been in any major tournament so they have the happy-to-be-here-at-all thing down pat, and their best-ever player, Goran Pandev, is older than his country and looks every day of his 37 years, 20 of which have been spent as a player of international quality. As is only fair, he scored the side’s only goal in a 3-1 loss to Austria Sunday, so the North Macedonians’ glory was essentially a half-hour of a 1-1 tie.

They play on Thursday opposite Ukraine, which lost to the Netherlands and whose biggest pre-tournament moment involved getting into a flap with the blazers over its kit featuring the shape of the map that includes Crimea, which Russia annexed several years ago, and the slogan “Glory To The Heroes,” which has been construed as a military slogan and therefore against UEFA’s rules against the nationalism it gleefully uses to promote the tournament.

Against all that, go Macedonia. North Macedonia, that is.

You may ask why we don’t include Denmark here for the obvious reason, and we counter by saying, “Go ahead. We don’t care that much.” But for us, Finland and North Macedonia have no record of egregiously annoying anyone with guns in the last thousand years or so, give or take a few messy side conflicts during WW2, (and if you know of anything, please do follow Defector guidelines and keep it to yourselves), and you only get to do a first-time anything once. They won’t win the tournament, so there’s no silly getting one’s hopes up, and at least until tomorrow they’re still just getting used to sitting at the grownups table and can’t do anything obnoxious or hateful … we think.