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Euro tournament a teaching moment

By Henry Luzzatto

Correspondent

More than 3,000 miles away, soccer’s greatest players face off in the final of the UEFA Euro 2016 tournament. Meanwhile in Suffolk, high school soccer players watch, captivated, hoping to learn from the best.

Coaches at Suffolk’s high schools said their players are watching intently, trying to see how to better their game by watching the pros.

“You can see the skill level and how well they react in different situations,” said Kurt Straub, the head coach for Nansemond River High School’s girls’ soccer team.

Dustin Tordoff, who coaches Nansemond River’s boys’ soccer team, said it is important for young players to watch the professionals.

“It’s great for them to see people playing at that high level,” he said. “You can see all their tricks and the shots they pull off.” Tordoff said his players had to be wary when watching, however, because high school teams play a very different style from that of the professionals.

The final match takes place today, pitting host nation France against Portugal. The Portuguese side, led by legendary forward Cristiano Ronaldo, faces off against a favored French team.

Portugal faced a tough road to the final, winning only one game in regular time, the semifinal versus Wales. The French beat fellow-favorite Germany 2-0 in its semifinal. France features the talents of the tournament’s top scorer, Antoine Griezmann.

Tordoff said he and his team will be watching France because of its exciting style of play.

“I’ve enjoyed watching the French play the last few games,” he said. “They’ve really been awesome.”

Mike Marston, the girls’ head coach at King’s Fork High School, said he hopes his players will learn from the talented teams.

“I want them to watch France’s quick, short passes and off-the-ball movement,” he said. “It’s kind of the way we try to play.”

Though most of the coaches agree that their players should watch the tournament to learn how to play better, Suffolk Christian Academy coach Ryan Heard said there are some negative behaviors to learn from, too.

“There are lots of examples of bad sportsmanship,” he said, “and we can point at that and say ‘hey, don’t be like him.’”

Heard added that the tournaments this summer have given soccer more exposure, introducing more people to the sport.

Tordoff said soccer has been gaining more traction in the last few years, with many of his players watching for fun.

“They all have their favorite players and teams,” he said. “They know the players even better than I do.”

When asked if there was one particular player his student athletes will be paying attention to, Marston said there was only one answer.

“Cristiano Ronaldo,” he said. “All the girls are in love with him. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s a great player.”

The game is shaping up to be a thrilling matchup, with many of Suffolk’s young soccer players making sure to tune in.

The coaches were asked to predict the outcome of the match, and the choice was unanimous: France would emerge victorious.

“They’ve got the home field advantage, and they know how to break down a defense,” Marston said.

But regardless of the winner, there will be something to watch from both teams.

“It’s always helpful to watch these players,” Straub said. “It gives them a chance to see how good they could become.”