Diego Forlan: Forget Euro 2016 and Copa America, story is Uruguay’s Leicester City – Plaza Colonia

Our columnist's Penarol out to deny Colonia 'doing a Leicester City' in the Uruguayan Primera Division, while hosts France kick off Euro 2016 against Romania in Saint-Denis on Friday.
The European Championship kicks off in France on Friday, June 10, 2016. Clive Mason / Getty Images
The European Championship kicks off in France on Friday, June 10, 2016. Clive Mason / Getty Images

Diego Forlan writes a weekly column for The National, appearing each Friday. The former Manchester United, Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid striker has been the top scorer in Europe twice and won the Golden Boot at the 2010 World Cup. Forlan’s column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.

It’s all football at the moment. The Uruguayan league is coming to a close. Plaza Colonia, who my Penarol team will play on Sunday, are the champions of the second half of the season. Penarol won the first half.

Plaza Colonia’s story has been compared to Leicester City winning the Premier League, a smaller club taking on the giants and winning. Colonia is a beautiful town of only 26,000 people, just across the River Plate from Buenos Aires. I should congratulate them on a great season. But, of course, I hope we beat them on Sunday in the play-off semi-final. A win will see Colonia move into the final against the overall table leader to decide who is crowned 2015-16 title winners.

Everyone is also watching Copa America. There have been a couple of disappointing matches and one or two good games so far, with Brazil against Haiti and Mexico against Uruguay being the standouts, but I expect the best games are yet to come.

From Saturday, people will also be watching Euro 2016 in France. There is a lot of football on offer, but the games don’t clash. Games from Europe will be in the afternoon in South America, with the Copa America matches in the evening.

See also:

• Copa America: Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho leads Brazilian charge while Peru and Ecuador draw – in pictures

• Diego Forlan: For once, Uruguay will be one of the favourites at Copa America, not the underdogs

• Team Talk podcast: France to win, Spain to flop, England reach the final – predicting Euro 2016 - Ep 26

• Where to watch: Euro 2016 matches in Abu Dhabi and Dubai

• The National’s Euro 2016 predictions: Winners, flops, top scorer and player of the tournament

I can’t see beyond Germany, France, Spain, Italy or Portugal winning the European tournament. Part of me wants to say England, but while England has some great players, they consistently disappoint in tournaments.

I was surprised at how ordinary they were in Brazil two years ago, at the World Cup. The English Premier League is probably the most competitive in the world, with some of the best players, and maybe that detracts from the national team. The big clubs are the focus, their rivalries really strong. I’m sure most fans care more about their clubs than their country and the players feel that. When I spoke to Manchester United fans in Manchester they weren’t so concerned about how England did. The country doesn’t seem to unite when its national side plays.

Germany are the world champions, a little bit ahead of the others. They perform consistently in tournaments; they are always in the semi-finals. They will have a huge following of support in France. They can be a little boring for some, but many of their players are better for playing under Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich. Who can beat them?

Well, France could. They are at home. That can add pressure and be a negative if things don’t go well, but when things do go well, as they did in France ’98, the team can feel that the nation is behind them.

Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann are the best players, two world-class talents who have had great seasons and who are being linked with the biggest clubs. It was a big call to drop Karim Benzema, one of the best forwards in the world. I hope Didier Deschamps doesn’t regret that.

Spain are not as good as they once were, but then that would be impossible because they were the best team in the world between 2008 and 2012. I would have loved a big game between Spain and our Uruguay team that reached the semi-finals in the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 and won the 2011 Copa America.

Spain have the best midfielders and had the best defence in qualifying. Their issue is scoring. It looks like Alvaro Morata will start up front for Spain. He is a very good player who has the qualities for top-level football, but he’s not been the standout star for Juventus, like Fernando Torres was at Liverpool, Raul at Real Madrid or David Villa at Valencia and Barcelona. Morata doesn’t start every week, he wasn’t anywhere near as prolific as Gonzalo Higuain in Serie A. If you’re going into a tournament on fire then the confidence from that can convert into goals. I felt in wonderful shape going into the 2010 World Cup.

I think Spain were shocked by what happened in Brazil and I think they will be very hard to beat. What other country can leave players out of the quality of Isco or Juan Mata?

Portugal have Cristiano Ronaldo, who can change any game. If he plays well then Portugal can do the same. They have impressed in tournaments with Ronaldo on the pitch. Been unlucky, too, going out to Spain on penalties in Euro 2012. They have a healthy mix of experience and very good young players and Portugal, like Uruguay, is a country which produces good footballers. They could surprise because some of their older players know it will be their last chance to win a trophy.

Italy are tournament masters, too. They can be too defensive and get criticised for their style, but that doesn’t seem to bother them when they reach another semi-final.

If I had to choose one surprise team then it could be Belgium, who continue to improve. They needed a little bit more in Brazil in 2014, but they are now two years farther down the line and more experienced.

I can’t see any other surprises in store. Gareth Bale and Zlatan Ibrahimovic may be world-class players for Wales and Sweden, respectively, but they alone can’t lift their sides to compete with some of the best teams in the world over a full tournament. They are key men who can make a difference, but a trophy-winning side needs more top-class players.

I will watch as many games as possible, given that I will be taking in part in the climax of the Uruguyan Primera Division. It’s an exciting and busy June.


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Published: June 9, 2016 04:00 AM


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