Why Euro 2024 will be the popular choice over Copa America this year

Lionel Messi’s title-defence in the US can be a saving grace for the Americas showpiece beginning on 21 June

Lionel Messi celebrates Argentina's 2021 Copa America triumph (photo: @Burtytweets/X)
Lionel Messi celebrates Argentina's 2021 Copa America triumph (photo: @Burtytweets/X)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

There are many more sleepless nights (and early mornings) ahead for the football fans over the next three weeks. On Tuesday night, they stayed up to watch Cristiano Ronaldo engage in his last dance as Portugal rallied to put it past the Czech Republic 2-1 in Euro 2024, while his biggest rival Lionel Messi will lead Argentina’s title defence in Copa America against Canada in the wee hours of Friday, 20 June.

No doubt, it doesn’t get any bigger than this since the Euro and the Copa started coinciding ever since the pandemic pushed both the marquee events to be held in 2021 and then again this year after a three-year cycle. It’s too much on the plate for a football fan alright, not to speak of the potential commercial opportunities missed if they had been held in alternate years like in the past – but no one is complaining.

The problem, however, lies elsewhere. The simultaneous staging of the two continental showpieces have – truth be told – devalued the Copa to a great deal in the eyes of the neutral fan for a number of reasons. While Euro, where the field has been increased to 24 teams from 16 since 2016, has virtually become a brand which resembles the World Cup without Argentina and Brazil – Copa has become a two-horse race and are left to fight it’s own battle despite a history of over 100 years.

What is it that makes the Euros stand head and shoulders above the Copa in the context of recent times? Before moving to the economics of the sport which is now so Europe-centric, one must doff a hat to the level playing field that Euro is where there are virtually no easy games. A few examples of the ongoing competition in Germany will illustrate the point – Slovakia, ranked 48th in the world, stunned third ranked Belgium 1-0 the other day while Georgia, playing in their first major tournament, looked much more impressive than the scoreline of their 3-1 defeat to Turkey suggests.   

No wonder, there is a school of thought which feels that it’s tougher to win the Euros than the World Cup. Here’s what Kylian Mbappe, emerging as a talismanic figure in French football, said ahead of their opening game against Austria:  ‘’For me, Euros are more complicated than a World Cup, even if there is more pressure at the World Cup. All the teams, they know each other, we play against each other all the time. Tactically, it is very similar.’’

As someone who won a World Cup at the age of 19 and came tantalisingly close to winning back-to-back crowns in that memorable final in Doha four years later, Mbappe has also seen France flounder and exit in the last 16 stage to Switzerland in the last Euro. Add to this is the fact it’s the money muscle of European club football – namely Premiership, La Liga, Italian Serie A, French Ligue 1 and Bundesliga – which is keeping the wheels of the sport slick and well-oiled at the global level.

Compare this to Copa America, which has essentially become a battle between the two traditional powerhouses: Argentina and Brazil.  History will show the Albiceleste and Uruguay winning it the maximum number of times (15) while Brazil comes next with six crowns. There is a sharp drop thereafter with Chile, Paraguay and Peru claiming it twice each while Colombia and Bolivia have won it once each.

The element of predictability of the competition, not speaking of the time zones which makes it untenable for the football fans in the other hemisphere to enjoy the action on TV, often tends to put off the viewer. While the opportunity to watch Lionel Messi in what could be potentially his last multi-nation event in Argentina colours (unless he makes it to the 2026 World Cup at 39 years) in the US will still lend a certain USP to this edition, but the guardians of the game will do well to devise a way of reverting back to separate windows for the Euro and Copa, respectively.

Till then, be ready to cherry pick your matches and enjoy.

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