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Fancy footwork, butting heads: 5 experts talk UEFA

10 July 2021
Sydney experts comment on 'The Beautiful Game'
On Monday morning, the UEFA Euro 2020 will see soccer heavyweights, England and Italy, go head-to-head with hundreds of millions tuning in. Experts discuss the grand final, sports science and soccer's role in culture and society.

In Europe, crowds like to gather in squares, bars and pubs to watch soccer. Credit: Unsplash

Public displays of overseas UEFA revelry drive home feeling of ‘Fortress Australia’

Dr Steve Georgakis is an expert in sport history and the sociology of sport from the Faculty of Education and Social Work who says the game may reinforce the idea that Australia is being "left behind", as many European crowds will be celebrating in person. 

“The grand final will provide us with a glimpse of what the post-pandemic world sport will look like: vaccinated populations going back to life as usual," said Dr Georgakis.

"While we haven’t been decimated in Australia with deaths, we have now realised that international sport exchanges (something that defines us) will not be happening soon. In locked-down Sydney, two great sporting communities (Italo-Australians and Anglo-Australians) will be at home watching the match, instead of at the pubs and cafes supporting their respective teams. This will clearly reinforce the idea that we are being left behind.

“The final will be a match between “New-Italy” and “Old Italy”. New Italy being the current Italian team playing under coach Roberto Mancini playing an attacking, flamboyant style of football. This compares to the England team, coached by Gareth Southgate, playing a defensive and cautious style of play which epitomised previous Italian national teams.

“Football’s Coming Home” – while English Premier League teams have been dominant in European club competitions in recent years, there was criticism from many quarters that these clubs weren’t owned by English entities or comprised of English players. But after 55 years, they are in the finals of a major football tournament; with a team coached by Englishmen. A win will be a great unifying moment for the English and nothing unifies them more than sporting success.”

Soccer hugely popular in Australia among children and adults

Dr Lindsey Reece is an expert in physical activity from the School of Public Health who says there are myriad health benefits to playing soccer. 

Women and girls comprise 30 percent of soccer players in Australia. Credit: Unsplash

“Soccer is a very popular sport in Australia, with over 1 million adults and just under 700,000 kids under 14 in Australia playing it. Over 70 percent of these players – across both adult and child cohorts – are male," said Dr Reece. 

“Peak participation in the sport occurs in adolescence, with 14 percent of kids aged 0-14 in Sport Australia playing soccer.

"Sport is an essential way of enabling everyone of any age to be physically active, which we know has significant benefits on physical and mental health in the short and longer term."

Do androids dream of winning a World Cup? “Robots” love the beautiful game, too

In 2019, Professor Prokopenko's team played soccer in a two-dimensional virtual soccer stadium known as a SoccerServer. Credit: Professor Mikhail Prokopenko

Professor Mikhail Prokopenko from the Centre for Complex Systems is a renowned expert in pandemic modelling, but few would know he is also a world champion in robot soccer – winning the 2019 RoboCup Simulation 2-D League.

“While Australians are tuning in to the Euro-2020 final game between England and Italy, a different kind of annual soccer championship – RoboCup – pits together autonomous robots and is a perfect substitute for those who prefer crafty coding to fancy footwork.”

Professor Mikhail Prokopenko. Credit: University of Sydney

“The World Cup of robot soccer was established in 1997 as a standard problem for Artificial Intelligence and robotics. Its overarching goal – the Millennium Challenge – is to develop a team of humanoid robots capable of defeating the FIFA World Cup champion team by 2050.

“Two years ago, RoboCup-2019 came to Sydney with a joint University of Sydney-CSIRO team, Fractals2019, winning the 2-D Simulation League in a final against a Japanese team, which went into extra-time and finished 1:0.

Tackling brain injury head-on: changes to "heading” necessary

Heading is a famous soccer move. Credit: Pixabay

Dr Kerry Peek and Dr Jordan Andersen from the Sydney School of Health Sciences have conducted research on the impact of “heading” in soccer (when a player hits a ball with their head). 

While this is an important technique, the researchers believe changes and better training are necessary to prevent head injury. 

“From the 140 goals so far in Euro 2020 (excluding penalty shoot-outs), one in five goals (21 percent) have been scored by a header. England have scored the most headed goals , including three in their quarter-final against Ukraine," said Dr Peek, who is an expert in sports physiotherapy 

“Heading is a critical part of the game. Given the concerns about the long-term impacts of heading on brain health, it is important that we review the way heading is taught, particularly in young, developing players. 

Male youths are more likely to be head bangers

Heading is a popular soccer technique but can cause head and neck injuries. Credit: Pixabay

Their research also found young male players suffered worse head impacts from heading than female players.

“In the quarter-final win over Ukraine, the English team proved that heading is an incredibly important skill. Young players need to learn proper technique to maximise the accuracy and effectiveness of their headers, but also to avoid developing head and neck injuries," said Dr Andersen. 

“In one of our recent articles, we found that young male players had higher magnitudes of head impacts than females when heading the ball from a throw-in. 

“What was fascinating was the clear difference in technique and strategies that we saw: the male players attacked the ball while the female players tended to absorb the ball to direct it to their target. We’ve also seen obvious differences between age group and professional players during our testing. While this isn’t unexpected, better ways to teach proper heading to young players can be developed based on the differences we’re observing. 

“We’re currently using 3-D motion analysis, measurements of muscle activity – also called electromyography or EMG – and wearable devices to better understand how technique compares between females and males, recreational and professional players, and across age groups. Players, coaches and football/soccer associations across the world will be able to use what we’re finding to improve the ways heading is taught.”

Luisa Low

Media and PR Adviser (Engineering & IT)

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