The people in charge are finally doing something right.
Tuesday marked the beginning of this season's edition of the UEFA Champions League. The first leg of the final qualifying round kicked off this week in preparation for the group stages that begin next month.
For the better part of the past decade, ESPN has housed exclusive rights to American audiences, broadcasting one fixture from each day's lineup. And each match day—like clockwork—one could guarantee an English team would be featured.
There could be a late group stage game between two teams fighting for a berth in the knockout stages, and ESPN would show a Manchester United or Liverpool game with no relevance, just because they were British.
Those days are finally gone. Americans can thank Fox Soccer Channel for a new day in viewing the world’s premier club competition. FSC plans to show over 100 fixtures this season, including airing every qualifying match.
For soccer enthusiasts in America, it simply doesn’t get any better than this. Never before have American audiences had the privilege of so much European soccer and so many stages of Champions League.
There is something wonderful about the qualifying process; something that separates world football from American sports. Small clubs from European nations in the proverbial soccer peripherals are aptly rewarded for domestic league triumph. These home and away fixtures are their Super Bowl—with victory comes a berth in the group stages.
Only in world football can big teams like Lyon, Arsenal, Stuttgart, and Olympiakos play two legs against minnows like Sheriff Tiraspol from Moldova, Politehnica Timisoara of Romania, or Maccabi Haifa of Israel.
For every five minnows that lose, one trips up their favored opponent and makes it to the Promised Land. And this year, it looks to be Maccabi Haifa, who takes a 2-1 lead against Austrian champions SV Salzburg home to Israel.
These fixtures tend to be tense affairs with everything on the line.
Big clubs are expected to win, and the underdogs come out with nothing to lose. The pace is high and sometimes—like the Fiorentina vs. Sporting Lisbon 2-2 draw on Tuesday in Portugal or Panathinaikos vs. Atletico Madrid in Greece on Wednesday where the visitors won 3-2—we get a gem with end-to-end action throughout.
A spot in the coveted group stages is a tasty proposition, especially for an underdog. With it comes not only the financial rewards associated with playing in the most prestigious club competition in the world, but adding six fixtures in front of a world-wide audience gives young players and small clubs exposure to the top leagues in Western Europe.
For many teenage talents, like Alexander Erokhin and Alexandr Suvorov of Sheriff, Matias Suarez of Anderlecht, and even Miralem Pjanic, the playmaking midfielder for Lyon, the opportunity to feature in Champions League is virtually a tryout for the continent's biggest clubs.
This is just the beginning.
If FSC shows every single leg of the final qualifiers, then their group stage broadcasts promise to entertain as well. Coupled with the fact that ESPN will be showing select Premier League and La Liga matches throughout the season, America will be inundated with a healthy dose of the best the world's game has to offer.
An American’s jubilation over these developments may be inflated in the eyes of Europeans, but never has the sport been so widely available in this country.
Give us a break, and let us partake in what you have enjoyed for so long.
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