Copa América And The Euro Cup: It's A Big Weekend For Soccer Fans
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Argentina has done it. Messi has done it. They won the Copa America.
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The sounds from Rio de Janeiro's famed Maracana Stadium after last night's win by Argentina over Brazil in the Copa America, and there's even more soccer later today when England and Italy face off for the European Championship. So let's welcome ESPN's Sebastian Salazar to talk football. Hello.
SEBASTIAN SALAZAR: How are you doing? Very exciting day - what a weekend. It really is perfect for us.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, my. I can't even. I can't even. You've been covering the Copa America championship all month. I'm an Argentina supporter, so I have to say I was happy, but that's got to hurt - beat by their great rival, Brazil, beat by their great rival inside Brazil. So what's your take on last night's match and the performance of Lionel Messi?
SALAZAR: Well, first of all, you're an Argentina fan, so I'm surprised you showed up for work this morning.
SALAZAR: That's pretty impressive on your part. Look; I think it's crazy to say this because he is, for me, the greatest player I've ever seen. And I think a lot of people would say that as well. But it really is a legacy-defining moment. When you're a great player in any sport, you are compared to other greats - sometimes in your own generation, sometimes in other generations. For Messi, the two principal comparisons are Cristiano Ronaldo in this generation and Maradona in his - in the prior generations. And both those players had something that Messi didn't have, an international title with their national teams.
And if there's one thing that you could pick apart on Messi's legacy, it's that he'd never taken Argentina to the mountaintop, either the World Cup or Copa America, which for them is almost just as important. And so for him to deliver it and then, as you say, deliver it in the way that he did - to go into Brazil and beat Brazil, and not just beat Brazil, but beat Neymar, his real good buddy and now rival - for me it's just - it's a massive moment in not just Messi's career, but in the history of soccer because we've been watching this dude dominate the game for almost 15 years.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And waiting for this moment.
SALAZAR: And to see him finally - oh, my gosh. And to see him finally get that moment - I think if you're a football lover, you feel like, OK, that's story is complete.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) Yeah, we've had our arc there. We have to also, though, talk about the Euros - Wembley Stadium, the first major tournament final for England in 55 years. I'm married to a Brit who does not follow footy, and even he's excited. I mean, will the spirit, commitment and pride the queen says the team has be enough?
SALAZAR: Has he been singing "It's Coming Home" (ph) around the house recently?
SALAZAR: You know, that's kind of the refrain that you keep hearing.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Of course.
SALAZAR: And it's a song from actually in the '90s when England hosted the European Championships in 1996 and everyone thought, OK, the sport that we invented, that title that we've been seeking is finally either coming back, if you're talking about the World Cup in 1996, or coming home for the first time. They've never actually won a European championship.
And that's the crazy thing with England. They've got the highest paying league in the world, the most viewed league in the world. They invented the sport. And yet the only time they've ever been on the mountain top, the ball was brown, and there was, like, 10 teams in the World Cup. So this is really kind of in so many ways close to the end of a redemption tale for them as well. If you want to make the comparison to Argentina, I think it's a very, very tough ask. Of course they're at home. They'll be a massive advantage there. But if you want to just talk soccer, the two teams, how they've looked in this tournament, I think there's not a lot of people that would tell you England have been more convincing than Italy. Italy has been the standout of this tournament so far.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, I think that's true. And yet, I mean, there is just so much excitement in England for this, so much appetite to sort of finally, you know, bring it home also because, you know, sports is political. And let's not forget; it's been a tough year in England, and there's been this little thing called Brexit. So, you know, there is a sense that they really want to win it.
SALAZAR: Oh, of course. I mean, the frustration is there, too. If you're an English fan, they'll tell you, any time you get late in a tournament, we're going out on penalties. There's kind of this pessimism, and that seems to have been lifted by this group and this manager, Gareth Southgate. And I think people in England really, truly believe that it is coming home now. And should they get it, if you can imagine the parties in Buenos Aires last night, the parties in London today will be just as much, if not more. It was a 28-year wait in Argentina, 55 in England. Can you imagine?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, my goodness. That's ESPN's Sebastian Salazar. Thank you very much.
(SOUNDBITE OF BADDIEL AND SKINNER AND THE LIGHTNING SEEDS SONG, "THREE LIONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.