Julie Foudy has a bit of dilemma when it comes to the Euro 2008 final: She picked one side to win, but her heart is leaning the other way.
Before the tournament from Switzerland/Austria kicked off, the ESPN soccer analyst picked Germany to win its fourth UEFA European Football championship this go round. But in a June 25 interview on the Euro 2008 set at the sports giant’s headquarters in Bristol, Conn., Foudy expressed her affinity for coach Luis Aragones’ side.
“I like Spain’s attacking and aggressive style. [Strikers] Villa [who had scored four goals, but was injured in the semifinal against Russia and is now expected to miss the final] and [Fernando] Torres are exciting,” she said. “My pre-tourney pick was Germany, but they’ve struggled. I’d like Spain to win; I’ll be pulling for them.”
Assessing the tournament as a whole, Foudy said Euro 2008 has been a very interesting competition with so many late goals.
“The Turks were the biggest surprise. Three or four of their games came right down to the end,” said Foudy.
While colleague Tommy Smythe, who also picked Germany to emerge on top before the event kicked off, said after the 3-2 contest -- that in a results-oriented world -- fans would forget the thrills provided by the Turks throughout the tournament and during its semifinal loss.
Foudy disagreed, launching an on-air counter attack. “I think a couple of people are going to remember Turkey,” she said during the post-game segment.
Casting her gaze elsewhere, Foudy thought France was probably the most disappointing team.
“I though we would see something from the younger players, from [midfielder Franck] Ribery and [forward Karim] Benzema and [another striker Bafetimbi] Gomis,” she said. “They were in a position to step up and they didn’t.”
As for Italy, which beat France in the final of World Cup 2006, their quarterfinal finish wasn’t necessarily a let down in Foudy’s view -- given how they played.
“Overall, it was struggle for the Italians,” she said. “They got through because of [goalkeeper Gianluigi] Buffon.”
Ironically, Buffon came up short in the penalty kicks to Spain, whose keeper Iker Casillas shined in stopping two shots. Italian coach Robert Donadoni was dismissed just days after the Azurri was ousted.
What happened to the Netherlands? The Dutch emerged from Group C, the so-called group of death, with a Euro 2008-best nine goals, only to die themselves against Russia in their quarterfinal confrontation.
“The Russians were athletic and well-organized against the Dutch,” she said, noting it’s often tough to maintain the standard they had exhibited in group play. “Soccer has so many ups and downs. [The Dutch] were on top, but it was hard to match that early level.”
Turning her attention to the women’s game, Foudy believes the U.S. national team -- the side she once captained to World Cup and Olympics glory -- is in fine form heading into the Beijing. The team has captured the Algarve, Four Nations and Peace Queen tournaments in 2008, albeit Brazil’s Marta didn’t participate in the latter.
“No doubt, Marta's clearly the best in the world and the [the 2007 World Cup champion] Germans are tough, too,” she said. “The U.S. has had some issues [with Hope Solo’s inflammatory comments following former coach Greg Ryan’s decision to start Briana Scurry in her stead in the 2007 World Cup semifinal debacle against the Brazilians], but I think they’re highly motivated. The U.S. has an excellent chance” to bring home the goal.
Drawing from her own experiences on the pitch, Foudy said those U.S. teams often turned in their best results “a year after losses,” she said, alluding to the Americans winning the Olympics in 1996 and 2004, after World Cup defeats in 1995 and 2003.
Victory in Beijing would be beneficial, but is not an imperative for the success of Women’s Pro Soccer, the new women’s circuit that is scheduled to kick off next April
“Winning the Olympics would certainly help, but the business plan is better than with [WUSA, which folded in 2003 after three seasons]. This is more organic. It will grow through grassroots efforts,” she said. “It’s not going to burn through $50 million like we did during the first year [of the cable-centric WUSA].
Although she won’t be playing --her former national teammates Brandi Chastain and Kristine Lilly might -- Foudy will be keeping a close watch on the proceedings, particularly now that her husband, Ian Sawyers, has been named general manager of the New York/New Jersey franchise.
“We’re going to be moving to the East Coast. I have a lot of things going on with ESPN and soccer camps, but veterans like myself and Mia [Hamm] will do what we can to support the league,” she said.