The knockout stage has commenced in the UEFA European Championships while the member leagues are simultaneously in their respective final stretches. Usually, European soccer would hardly merit mention, but with the expanded coverage of English, German, French, Italian and Spanish league games on ESPN2, Fox Soccer and BeIN Sport, it appears that European soccer is fast immersing itself in our sports consciousness. Last week’s match between Manchester United and Real Madrid was one of the most-watched sports events in the world. The game ended in a 1-1 draw, and but for Christiano Ronaldo’s late second period tieing goal, Manchester United would have had a road win and a virtual lock on the home-and-home series. The second and final game between these two iconic teams will be at Manchester United’s Old Trafford on March 5th, which will lead one of them to the quarterfinals.
Manchester United is worth more than any other sports franchise in the world – dwarfing the Yankees and Cowboys – with an current market value of about $3 billion (MANU is a public company listed on the New York Stock Exchange). The UEFA Championships – as a world-stage annual season – absolutely dominates the NFL season. Especially when it comes to the end of April, which will tell the world who will face off in the finals in Europe taking place in Wembley Stadium on May 25h. The final four of the UEFA European Championships is the most watched four games in the European soccer season, and with the current level of competition suggests that this spring’s final games will not disappoint.
In addition to Manchester United and Real Madrid, other big-name teams that are in the hunt are Juventus, Barcelona, Paris St. Germain, Dortmund and Bayern Munich. A big matchup for Germany would be in the quarterfinals if Munich and Dortmund were to meet in an inter-territorial battle to go to the semifinals. The dream matchup would be Barcelona (and world’s widely acknowledged best player, Lionel Messi) vs. Manchester United. Barcelona still has to deal with AC Milan in a home-and-home. Milan appears to be having a tune-up today at home against Parma who is average on the season. AC Milan has expectations after getting Italian national Mario Balotelli on loan from Manchester City for this crucial championship period.
With the type of player movement going on and some fabulous games still on the way, there is no reason not to fit a little elite European soccer into your weekend programming to complement college basketball.