The UEFA European Football (Soccer) Championship kicks-offs tonight…but those who claim that this tournament is tougher to win than the World Cup should be reminded of two obvious absentees from the festivities in Poland and Ukraine, who, as it happens (related to an earlier post of mine in 2010), face each other in a friendly tomorrow at New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford (home of the two New York NFL teams) – Argentina and Brazil. The two South American giants have played each other 92 times and the head-to-head could not be closer, as each has won on 34 occasions.
The seemingly odd location of this match is not so unusual in the modern context of the global business model of the sport. Brazil especially were the pioneers of playing internationals in odd locations – since 1994, they have played more ‘A’ international friendlies in neutral venues (36) than they have on home soil (35), though far less than away fixtures (62). Brazil is a very powerful brand, and that the Brazilian Federation, Confederação Brasileira de Futebol (CBF), has been perfectly willing in the past to forgo home advantage, and use this brand power to drive very lucrative deals with opposition federations, is well accepted. While fans in Brazil might prefer to see the Seleção play locally more often, I’ve never heard about many protestations about this status quo.
However, this may increasingly become an issue in the next 1-2 years as Brazil prepares to host the 2014 World Cup. For any host team, preparation on home soil is essential. As an example from the past, USA played an amazing 88 ‘A’ internationals from 1991 to the start of the 1994 World Cup – 73 of these were friendlies, 54 of which were at home. By contrast, since their final 2010 World Cup Qualifier in October 2009, Brazil have played a total of 25 friendlies of which only three were at home (one of these was with a merely domestic-based line-up). Furthermore, automatic qualification negates the nine competitive matches at home they would have under normal circumstances, and with Copa América completed a year ago, Brazil now only has a collection of friendlies to look forward to until the 2013 Confederations Cup. Perhaps this is an acute illustration of the tension between optimal preparation and the CBF’s financial incentives?
UPDATE: Argentina defeated Brazil in a 4-3 thriller, thanks to a Lionel Messi hat-trick, in front of an all-time New-Jersey record attendance (81,994) for soccer – probably more than if the game were even held in Brazil.