No need to feel melancholy that the Champions League has brought the football season to a ‘close’. Watching online and as meaningful as any club game you’d care to name, the CONIFA Sportsbet.io European Football Cup 2019 kicks off in Artsakh on Sunday for a week of non-stop international action.
Here’s a little cheat sheet on the favourites, the underdogs and the potential upsets of the tournament.
Padania: They had to be. The team from northern Italy won the last two CONIFA Euros in 2015 and 2017, they got to the semi-finals of the World Football Cup in London last summer and they’re just really good. Not just favourites; overwhelmingly so.
Szekely Land: Szilard Magyari is the standout man from last summer’s World Football Cup semi-finalists, but they’ve also got strength in depth. They looked like good bets to win last summer and, if they can get through their group, could meet Padania in the final.
South Ossetia: Their last appearance in a CONIFA competition came back at the 2017 Euros, where they dropped out of the tournament at the end of the group stage; also losing their placement game. Their 2017 record read: Played 4, Lost 4, Scored 2, Conceded 16. This time, it’s revenge.
Chameria: I have no idea about Chameria. Nor do you. Nor do most teams here. They only joined CONIFA last year and have played very, very few games. It’s a situation like FIFA teams used to have in the 1950s, facing teams they had no information about – and it makes Chameria a really fun prospect to defy the odds a little.
Upsets That Could Just Happen
Artsakh Win the Whole Thing. You don’t have to be an avid football fan to know that home advantage matters, and Artsakh’s home advantage is astonishing. Stepanakert, the capital, is covered in adverts for the tournament. 12,000+ people are expected to cram into the 5,000-seater stadium for the opening ceremony. This place is all in on this tournament, and that kind of support helped Abkhazia defy the odds at the Worlds in 2016.
Combine that with a decent team and the marginally easier of the two groups, and...well. Watch out.
Sapmi Beat Abkhazia. The North remembers; and Sapmi are pretty northern. Their first game – against the hosts in their capital to kick off the tournament – will be a nightmare to win. But maybe a little complacency sneaks into Abkhazia’s game for the next day, and maybe Sapmi (with a 15-year-old and a couple of pros in their team) do the business.
Padania Don’t Win. What happens when you win a tournament twice in a row? Every other team circles the game against you in their calendars. Padania are the massive favourite to take the CONIFA Sportsbet.io European Football Cup 2019 home this month, but anything can happen in knockout football.