Thursday, January 19, 2006

More on Calcio

So yesterday I was talking about how the Italian soccer leagues work. As you may recall, I mentioned that the team with the most points wins the Scudetto but that there is still incentive to finishing near the top even if you don't win it all. Today I will explain why...

In Europe, every country has a professional soccer league. The biggest (and richest) ones are in England, Italy, Spain and Germany although France and the Netherlands aren't far behind. In each league, there is usually two or three dominant teams that finish at the top every year. So several years ago, UEFA (European soccer's ruling body) decided to have the winner of each league play in a tournament to determine the best team in Europe. Today we call it the Champions League. Originally only the top team from the previous season of each European league was allowed to compete. However, a few years ago UEFA realized they could increase viewership and make more monet on the Champions League by increasing the pool of teams. So what they did was this: in the biggest leagues (England, Italy, etc), the top TWO teams automatically qualified and the number 3 and 4 teams also qualified but have to win an initial preliminary playoff to go through.

So now, instead of teams trying to win their league, you sometimes have teams just trying to finish in the top 4 just to get into the Champions League. For example, if you're one of the smaller teams in Italy such as Parma or Chievo, you know that you have no chance to win the Scudetto because you can't compete with teams like Juventus and AC Milan. But if you can sneak into the top 4, you can still make it to the Chamions League, which brings in a lot of money for the teams that make it.

It's hard for a lot of American sports fans to comprehend this system for one simple reason. The professional leagues in the US are pretty much the only show in town so there's no competition. If you win the Superbowl for example, you are pretty much the best team by default. Who else is there to play? Even in baseball - how many other professional leagues are there in the world? Japan and...? But in European soccer, the team that wins the Scudetto can say they are the best team in Italy, but there are at least a dozen other teams that can claim to be as good or better. So a tournament to determine who the best of the best is is a must.

They have a similar tournament in South America where the league winners of each country play each other to determine who the best in South America is. It's called the Copa Libertadores. You're probably wondering if they have a "World" tournament - they do, sort of. The winner of Europe and the winner of South America play one match to determine the best team in the world. The match is always played in Tokyo and it's called the Toyota Cup. It's been pretty evenly matched over the years with neither continent dominating.

Next time we will continue to look at different aspects of European soccer...

3 comments:

LorelieLong said...

Hope this doesn't come off as creepy but did you go to the commissary last night? I thought I saw you but I wasn't totally sure....

Rik said...

LL - Yep, that was probably me, we did the grocery shopping last night. BTW, I'd just finished my workout at the gym, that's why I was in sweats...

You shoulda said hi!

LorelieLong said...

ah, but I wasn't sure it was you. What if I'd said Hi and the person had been like "blog? what's a blog?" lol