The FIFA World Cup is often described as ‘The Greatest Show on Earth.’ With the whole world going crazy for a month or so due to the tournament, it can easily be said that it is the most prestigious competition when the game is concerned.
However, the recently ended UEFA Euro 2020 has revived the age-old question of whether Euro beats the World Cup in terms of intensity and quality. The Euro 2020 has produced some of the most nerve-racking matches from the very onset of the competition. But does it really beat the World Cup overall in terms of intensity?
“The European Championships is harder than the World Cup, more intense. There are no Cinderellas. In the World Cup, with all respect, you can face Honduras or Saudi Arabia. In the Euros, anyone can beat you.” This is exactly what Xavi Hernandez, the star Spanish and Barcelona midfielder, said in 2012. While not every player would agree with Xavi's statement, it can be easily concluded that there are grains of truth in it.
Europe as a continent has the most elite footballing nations. As a result, a lot of countries face the unfortunate circumstance of not qualifying. For example, the Champions of Euro 2020 Italy missed out on the last World Cup as Spain qualified from their group. But on the other hand, a lot of countries from Asia have it relatively easy due to the absence of footballing powers in their region.
The group stages of the World Cup is generally considered to be an easy ride for the elite footballing nations as the pool generally contains teams from all over the world. But in the European competition, the scene is quite different.
For example in this year's Euro, all of France, Germany and Portugal were in the same group. These countries are former Euro champions. The likelihood of something similar happening in the group stages of the world cup is quite rare, with occasional instances of big Latin American sides being drawn in the same group as the giants of Europe.
But the World Cup seems to have better matches in the knockout stages compared to Euro as there happen to be classic footballing battles between Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and the other big nations from Europe. Other than this, the passion from fans springs up on a different level during the World Cup, which cannot be compared to any sporting event in this world. The World Cup has its fair share of drama and controversy which adds to the intensity and appeal of the very competition.
There are instances of minnows getting over mighty opponents and eventually becoming champions like West Germany beating the Hungarian Magical Magyars and becoming champions or a sub-par Italy side outclassing one of the greatest teams ever assembled in the form of Brazil in 1982 and eventually winning the entire competition.
The legend of Diego Maradona winning the World Cup almost singlehandedly or a 34-year-old Zinedine Zidane toying with a great Brazilian midfield are things that will be remembered by people for a very long time.
The UEFA European Championship has its own share of fairytales in the form of cup wins by Denmark, Greece and to some extent, Portugal. But in the broader picture, these events fail to capture the potency of a single game in the world cup, for example, the 7-1 thrashing of Brazil in the hands of Germany in 2014.
The European Competitions might have games of higher quality at the inception due to Europe being the continent with elite footballing leagues and world-class training facilities, which in turn translate into better footballing education. But to compare the intensity of the FIFA World Cup, arguably the greatest event on earth, with it is still a farfetched idea.
Rassiq Aziz Kabir is a student of economics at the University of Dhaka.