On Soccer: Expansion Arrives at Euro 2016, and Newcomers Cheer


Northern Ireland after its send-off match in May. The team is one of five making its Euro debut.

Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

PARIS — It is an established rite, a time-honored tradition: Before every major soccer tournament, each participating team hosts a send-off match in which the players get one last runaround, one final standing ovation from a stadium full of devoted fans in a game against a (relatively) hapless opponent.

For years, Northern Ireland was that opponent. Before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and before the 2014 tournament in Brazil, Northern Ireland made transoceanic crossings to be, essentially, an afterthought. One year, it was in Chile; another, in Uruguay.

“I remember in Chile in 2010 looking around at the stadium, seeing 50,000 fans in their seats two hours before kickoff and just being amazed at how happy they looked, how much they were singing, how excited they were,” said Patrick Nelson, the chief executive of Northern Ireland’s soccer federation. “They were going to play in games that mattered. And I remember thinking: How…

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