There is no argument that football fans fall in love with international friendlies. The pulse remains at a comfortable rate in the face of 95% of qualifying matches and only those who teeter on the verge of qualification for one or two matches experience regularly true tension. Yet increasingly, international football is providing plenty of the vitamins that club football used to.
For a start, the football is far more even. Without the ridiculous imbalances in finance, tournament football is without consistent overbearing favourites. No matter how strong the traditionally successful nations are, rarely do they have prolonged spells of success in the same way that club football almost invariably does these days.
That is of course partly down to the length of time between major tournaments, but also the far more even nature of the game. Within an international tournament there is still room for several teams to aspire to it being ‘their year’. A quick look at the odds somewhere like Football Betting site Betway will tell you that the top club sides are far more likely to come out victorious in the Champions League than the strongest international teams.
Blessed with a year of two major tournaments, the 2022 Qatar World Cup and the 2022 Women’s Euros, this is already in evidence this year.
Spain’s side were talked about amongst the favourites, but being kneecapped by a series of injuries including that of Ballon d’OR winner Alexia Putellas, slipped off that tier. Their performance in the group stage, a narrow win over Denmark, a more comfortable three points against Finland and a dispiriting defeat to Germany, made them easy pickings in the quarter-final.
Aitana Bonmati's game by numbers vs England:
100% long ball accuracy
100% take-on success
97% pass accuracy
31 passes attempted
30 passes completed
2 duels won
— Squawka (@Squawka) July 20, 2022
Hosts England had devoured their three opponents by an aggregate score of 14-0 and thus made themselves heavy favourites by the quarter-finals.
Yet when the two met, it was anything but straight-forward. Spain played with ambition and belief, subjugating England for large swathes of the match through their bold pressing and technical skill.
In particular, Aitana Bonmati seduced fans with her perfect touches and incredible appreciation of geometry. Her statistics were nearly as perfect, but told nothing of the joy of watching her.
England rallied and showed the grit and determination to break the Spanish resistance, scoring in the closing stages and then again in extra time. Around six million viewers in England were lifted in the space of about 20 minutes.
Even with the Spanish disappointment however, there was a satisfaction available to all. Two teams had exhausted their talents and produced a worthy spectacle.
There was little of the cynicism that accompanies each of the Champions League contenders – neither had a history of questionable funding. International football reduces the desire to destroy the failed stars based on club allegiances and the potential for the collective experience that makes football so riveting increases inversely.
While people may wonder if the quality is not lower in international football these days, major tournaments subsidise themselves so many different aspects of value in comparison to the club game. The matches are tighter, the tension is higher and even though it sounds flowery, far more of the pure experience that fans seek.