One of my earliest soccer (football, for you Brits) memories living here in the States was walking over to a friend's house to watch "The Euros." I think it was probably the 1996 tournament in England looking back on it, but I can't remember. We had an indoor soccer team in St. Louis growing up and I played the game a bit as a kid, but the 1994 World Cup in the USA made soccer an amazing yet international-only thing in my neighborhood (I wouldn't discover club football until a few years later, no one I knew had a club they supported... at all).
Anyway, fast forward 20 years and I'm an American that's beyond excited for Euro 2016. The Copa America Centenario is going on right now here and the US team made the quarter-finals last night, so that's great, but the quality of our tournament just doesn't compare to the month of football we have ahead of us in France. Thanks to ESPN for bringing it all to my living room across the Atlantic (though I could've done without the final three minutes of the England game last night).
IT'S EURO 2016 TIME!
And yes, one of our young Leeds players is hoping to make a name for himself in this tournament. Today.
Stuart Dallas isn't the top name at Leeds United yet, though he did have some great passages of play late in the season. Lewis Cook and Charlie Taylor are currently the biggest names on the club, but their international careers with the Three Lions aren't quite present-day just yet, and Chris Wood is spending his summer between his sister's wedding and the Oceania Nations Cup.
Dallas isn't the top name at Northern Ireland either. Kyle Lafferty is the biggest name on the Northern Ireland roster, was involved in half the goals during qualifying, and has 17 goals in his 51 caps. Remember him?
But the club is making its return to European football after a 30 year wait, and Kyle's going to need all the help he can get to make this run last.
Northern Ireland loves to score off set pieces, scoring 9 of their 16 goals in qualifying after a whistle. They'll need to score from the run of play too though, especially on Sunday with Poland and Robert Lewandowski on the pitch.
Regardless of the result, I'm personally just hoping Stuart sees the field, as he likely won't start. My allegiances lie with England in this tournament, but it wouldn't hurt to see the Leeds midfielder contribute to his home country's effort, no matter how long it lasts.
Besides, it's been a great summer for him already. Last week, Dallas married his long-time lady Juneve before rushing back to training for his country.
Today I get to marry my bestfriend. @dallas_stuart... See you at the church. ❤️— Juneve Dallas (@juneve1) June 3, 2016
Not bad. Here's hoping Stuart makes it a summer he and the people of Northern Ireland will never forget.
Stuart Dallas' Northern Ireland v Poland
Euro 2016 Group C
Allianz Riviera, Nice, France
Sunday, June 12, 2016
9:00a PT / 12:00p ET / 5:00p BT
Northern Ireland's possible Starting XI
McGovern; Cathcart, Evans, McAuley; Baird, McNair, Ferguson; Norwood, Davis; Lafferty, Ward.
Poland's possible Starting XI
Szczęsny; Piszczek, Glik, Pazdan, Jędrzejczyk; Błaszczykowski, Krychowiak, Mączyński, Kapustka; Milik, Lewandowski
Northern Ireland 5/1
They're all going to be rough matches for the 3rd-longest shots in the tournament, but I think Northern Ireland wins this one anyway and continues their 12 game unbeaten run because I'm an optimist. 2-1. Goals for Lafferty and Grigg.
(I mean, Will Grigg's on fire, right?)