Thursday, 30 June 2016

Only 7 games to go

The tournament carries on, but first condolences to all the families who lost people in the attack in Turkey, a colleague of mine said after the Brexit and English defeat, that all it would need to forget about those subjects was another terrorist outrage, it is sad, how prescient he was.

Tonight, we have the first quarter final between Poland and Portugal. What can we say about these two countries apart from the fact that their names both begin with the letters Po. They are from opposite corners of the continent with Portugal being the Western most point of the landmass resting on the Atlantic coast and Poland far to the East on the coast of the Baltic sea. 

They are both proud nations with a long history, something which is not necessarily true about many European countries (the long history bit)
They both went through rather turbulent domestic times not that long ago. Portugal had a bloodless coup in 1974 which led to democracy being restored. 
In Poland, the rise in 1980 in the port of Gdansk (Danzig) of the trade union movement Solidarity,  which although brutally suppressed by the Polish government of General Jaruzelski, played a big part in the fall of Communism, a decade later.

Over the years, they have had some sort of success in big tournaments. Poland finished 3rd in both the 1974 and 1982 world cups. Portugal achieved that feat in 1966 with the legendary Eusebio in their team.
Portugal have also made it to the semi-finals of four Euros and lost in their only appearance in a final when they were upset by Greece in 2004 which was held in Portugal.

Below is a link to the Portugal v N Korea Quarter-Final from the 1966 world cup famous for Eusebio scoring four goals. It is a long clip, but well worth the time, the legendary David Coleman is the commentator. You will see eight goals and for those watching in black and white, Portugal are in the Blue shirts.
One could say that not much has changed for Portugal, always reliant on one star player, pay particular attention to what happens at 2:58 in the video, Eusebio then, Ronaldo today. Let me know what you think.

Eusebio then Ronaldo today

As those who have been following the tournament know, Portugal have just done enough to get this far, and many who follow football are wondering whether they are going to do what Greece did in 2004, reach the final despite playing poorly. 
Any team with Ronaldo in their ranks can not be taken lightly.

As for Poland, they have quietly progressed, almost under the radar. The draw they managed with the Nationalmannschaft
was very commendable and they also have their special weapon in Robert Lewandowski, whose goal scoring abilities we highlighted in an earlier post.

I would like to see Poland go through and I am looking forward to a good game.
Tomorrow I shall preview both Wales against Belgium and Germany against Italy

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

A Requiem ? No, Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life !

For those, expecting to see the clip of the song in the title, you shall have to wait a little longer. I decided to wait a day before composing my review of the debacle that occurred in Nice which wasn't actually very nice if you were an England fan. 

I did not want to be accused of a knee jerk reaction and I am glad I decided thus, as now the Post is titled as it is, instead of something much more morbid such as the initial requiem (mass for the dead for those who don't know the meaning of the word) I had intended to pen.

A clarification before we carry on, I recently turned fifty, and although I left the shores of old Blighty twenty five years ago, I still consider myself first and foremost a long suffering England fan, although perhaps with a slightly different perspective due to my residing abroad.
So where to begin, perhaps with a different Monty Python clip from the one mentioned in the title. 

Parrot Sketch

Why the parrot sketch? Well, we can use it as an analogy. The customer represents the England football fan, naive, gullible, wanting to believe. 
The salesman is the Football Association, and the management of English football, always willing to pull the wool over the eyes of the customer, trying to deflect from reality by continually mentioning the beautiful plumage (read the beautiful game) and how it is pining for the Fjords or in the case of an English footballer the bars of the Costa del Sol. 

The parrot, well that is the English footballer, and to paraphrase, he has been nailed to his perch, and as it says "is tired and shagged out after a long season" although the original Squawk, might be a more apt term.
The modern player spends to much time twittering away, rather than doing what he is paid exorbitant amounts of money to do.
However there is a deeper issue here, which affects of all the involved parties in different ways. It is a cultural thing, and it is the culture of mediocrity, of "well played" of  being "glorious in defeat"
In my preview before the game and if you trawl the web you can see many other far more respected pundits than I, who wrote in a similar vein, that this game was a banana skin, one that England could lose. This is symptomatic of this culture. 

Can anyone imagine the Nationalmannschaft, or their fans for that matter, thinking before a game, Achtung, we are playing Iceland, we have to be watchful. No, of course not, they respect the opposition, but every time the Nationalmannschaft go out to play they expect to steam roll their opponents on their way to a win. Defeat is not even a consideration even when the odds are stacked against them.
It is this mindset that led the Germans to start two world wars.

England do not expect to win, the long suffering fans do not expect them to win, yes there is a lot of bluster and bravado and outward signs of hope but underneath that flimsy veneer,
they are scared, they play with fear.  The English love an underdog at least until it bites them, why ? because it is not English to be too good or successful at anything.

Obviously this is not the first time England has failed to deliver, but in the forty plus years that I have been watching England, the performance against Iceland has to rank as the worst I have ever witnessed. So what now ?

The English football fan is like the mythical phoenix, who is reborn from its ashes after its self immolation. My wife who is a wise woman, says that if women remembered what giving birth was like they would all stop after one child. 

After the initial shock and anger has worn off, the average English fan will start to look forward with renewed belief and hope to the World Cup in Russia due to be held in 2018 on the assumption that England qualify.

As for the team itself.  Interestingly enough, the average age of this England squad was the youngest in the tournament. One or two of the older players (Rooney, Hart) will have to go and despite the poor performance, there still is promise for the future (already an example of self delusion perhaps). 

Both the England Rugby and Cricket teams have gone through similar experiences in the past year, both crashing out of world cups with humiliating capitulations against supposed lesser nations or from winning positions due to the culture of fear. 

Both the Rugby and Cricket sides appointed new coaches (ironically both Australian, a nation that has an excess of self confidence) who have led the Cricket side to a T20 world cup final and the Rugby team to a six nations Grand slam victory and a three nil whitewash of Australia in Australia, an unheralded feat. 

The important thing to note is that both coaches made few changes to the teams, but rather have installed a winning mentality. The exact opposite of what we saw from cuddly Roy Hodgson, as he sat, head in hands paralyzed with not knowing what to do, how to turn the situation round, with his every move only making things worse.

This is where Monty Python come in and I need to add no more. I will be back tomorrow to begin the preview of the quarter finals, because it is my duty to carry on for those of you who are still interested.

What have you got to lose ? Nothing

Monday, 27 June 2016

Is Monty Python making a new film ?

No one expects the Italian inquisition! and The Cod War take four! could easily be titles of sketches from the cult comedy show. In fact, they are oblique references to the final two games on offer in the last sixteen, kicking off with Italy v Spain and then followed by England v Iceland.

Italy and Spain are two countries that have a lot in common. They are both very Catholic and all that goes with that. 
They both have a rather murky colonial past, Spain in South America and Italy more recently in Africa, which caused the deaths of many of the indigenous populations of the countries they controlled (often in the name of God)
They both during the twentieth century were run by fascist dictators, Franco and Mussolini respectively with the church turning a blind eye to their excesses. 
They both recently won the World cup in 2006 and 2010 respectively, and are considered to be among the more successful football nations with a combined nine World and European titles between them.
More interesting is that they both had a period where the population lived under the fear of the inquisition. Now most people have heard of the Spanish inquisition due to the clip below, but there was an Italian and a French one as well.

No One Expects.....

But what was the inquisition? It was a method used by various popes to combat the spread of any views the Catholic church didn't like. 
Its victims ranged from in Spain, Jews, or in Italy, Protestants, or even scientists such as Galileo when he dared promote the view of Copernicus that the Earth revolved around the sun which was considered heresy at the time. Refusal to recant or convert would lead to punishments which were usually brutal and often fatal, such as the rack as in the sketch or the more popular burning at the stake.
Apart from perhaps being mildly informative, what has all this got to do with the football on offer today? 
Well, we shall discover who is going to be found out by the problems they will be posed today. Will it be the famed Italian defence who will use the weapons of "fear"  and "ruthless efficiency" to stifle the potent Spanish attack ? Will it be the Spanish red cardinals who will try to use "surprise" and the rack to stretch the said Italian defence? 
The last time they played each other in the Euros, Spain beat Italy 4-0 without a real number nine, a formation which was heresy to some. Enjoy the highlights below

Euro 2012 Final

England then take on Iceland in what could be termed as round four of the Cod War. (truth be told Iceland won the first three, so not a good precedent for the English) 
The cod wars were a series of confrontations between the two countries over fishing rights in the North Atlantic. There were at least two fatalities on the English side and one on the Icelandic side but Iceland ended up with a two hundred mile exclusion zone where only they were allowed to fish.
Unlike some of the conflicts we look back on in this blog, there is no bad feeling left over, unless perhaps you are from somewhere like Grimsby.
The English stooped to low methods to try and recruit children into the navy to save their cod as can be seen in the next clip.

Navy recruiting video ?

Would you trust that man with your children in the light of operation Yew Tree ?

Anyway back to the matter in hand. Iceland have exceeded all expectations in reaching this far. As has already be written previously, this island with its tiny population has never reached such dazzling heights in an international sports competition. 
The most disturbance Iceland ever caused was when the Eyjafjallaj√∂kull volcano erupted in 2010 forcing teams such as Barcelona and Lyon to travel by coach and Liverpool by train and coach instead of air to reach their destinations.

Iceland are not being taken lightly by England, in the winter in England there is a phenomena known as Black Ice, where a car or person skids on ice not easily seen and ends up having a nasty accident.
It was often used as an excuse why we were late for school in the winter.
It probably would be fair to write that most of Europe would love England to slip up here. On the other hand, the English know that a victory  would set them up for a quarter final clash with Les Bleus (the Frogs).
England have not performed to their potential yet, but are still there, will another under par performance be enough ?
All will be revealed tomorrow.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

It's a Knock out day two, Will the Irish Joker strike?.

Sad to say, but what a load of rubbish. The first three knock out games played on Saturday produced some of the poorest, most boring football ever seen in an international tournament. 
Is this proof that expanding the tournament to twenty four teams from sixteen has diluted the quality as many suggested would happen? 
Probably, but it may just be that the fear of losing, paralyses the teams into a numb form of inertia.
In the Portugal against Croatia game, which on paper was supposed to be the most exciting of the three games, there was not a shot on target in one hundred and sixteen minutes of inaction. 
I am struggling to find a sporting analogy which could help explain how low a level of ineptitude this was.
Perhaps for our American cousins this might suffice. It would be like a game of American football,where every single pass by the Quarterback was incomplete. Every running play either ended up in negative yardage or fumbling the ball and every field goal attempt was wide. For those who already think football is boring, this definitely provided ammunition to their point of view. 
The only highlight yesterday was this goal by the Albanian Swiss player Xherdan Shaqiri.

Overhead Kick

Today, hopefully something more appetizing will be served up. We start with France v The Republic of Ireland. This is a game with a bit enmity, due to an incident which took place in the last significant battle of the two, which we shall come to in a moment. 
This is surprising given that historically, the French have always between sympathetic to their Catholic Brethren in Ireland especially in their struggle against the Protestant English. In fact, at the battle of the Boyne in 1690, a seminal moment in Irish history, up to six thousand French troops fought on the Catholic side of King James II against the protestant forces of good King Billy (aka William III or the Prince of Orange)
By the way, they lost and in the North of Ireland, loyalist Orange Men still commemorate this event with provocative parades through Catholic areas. 
But back to the football and the incident I was referring to, which took place in a play off to decide who would qualify to play in the 2010 world cup finals.
Thierry Henry, undoubtedly one of the all time French greats, a very popular player in Britain during his time at Arsenal and now a respected pundit for Sky sports, blatantly used his hand to control the ball in a move which led to a French goal. 


This still rankles with the Irish, who felt that with it being so obvious on the television replays, the game should have been replayed or France kicked out for cheating. Don't worry though, Roy Keane the deputy Irish manager and one of the most mild mannered players the game ever knew, has said revenge won't be a factor. He also believes the cow jumped over the moon.  
Home advantage for the French should help to see them through.

Next up, Germany against Slovakia. In a recent warm up game for this tournament, the Slovaks stunned the Nationalmannschaft by winning 1-3 in Germany. 

Historically the German gradual occupation,  in 1938-39 of Czechoslovakia  was one of the main precursors of the second world war and German reprisals against both Czech and Slovak regions, especially after the assassination of Obergruppenfuhrer Heydrich in 1942 were some of the most brutal seen in a period noted for its inhumanity. So there is no love lost here.

The Nationalmannschaft has not climbed out of first gear yet, but as ever has moved on relentlessly, hopefully for the viewers sake, the sparks that were seen during the game against Northern Ireland will ignite and we will be rewarded with plenty of goal mouth action. Germany to win.

The last game tonight features one of the surprise packages of the tournament so far Hungary, facing Belgium, one of the pre tournament favourites due to their being ranked number two in the world. One has to feel that Belgians will have too much for the Hungarians, but that is what has been said before each game that Hungary played in and they are still there. 
This time however, Hungary will return to the banks of the Danube with their heads held high in recognition of  their achievements at the Euros and Belgium will move onto play Wales in the Quarterfinals.
This leaves us with two matches to preview tomorrow, the clash of the giants in Italy against Spain, and England against Iceland, a more tense game than many may think.
Toodle Pip until tomorrow.

Friday, 24 June 2016

First three knockout games and a small comment re Brexit

Although this is a sports blog, the world of football does not, contrary to what some observers think, exist in a bubble and the decision taken today in Britain to leave the European Union will also have profound implications on the future of specifically European and to a lesser extent world football.
The chances of England winning the Euro are not high, but then most of the pundits thought the vote would go the other way, so imagine the irony if England does go onto win.
The bottom line is no one in Europe or Britain really knows how things are going to change. The English Premier League came out in support of the Remain vote. There are a number of teams who have played matches without a Britain in their eleven. That may have to change. At the moment, there are strict criteria for non-European players to be able acquire a work visa. If these were to apply to Europeans as well. who knows what could happen.
Anyway. interesting times lay ahead, but of more relevance to this blog are the three games to be played tomorrow. On paper at least, of the three days of football that are coming up, the matches tomorrow are probably the least attractive.
I feel I ought to apologise to the Swiss. Last week I advised to skip their game and I would do the same again this time. An early Saturday afternoon kick off shows what UEFA think as well.
Switzerland beat plucky Albania with difficulty. They then scrapped a draw against Romania, and were very lucky not be to hammered by France as they managed another draw. The French player Payet almost scored what would have been the goal of the tournament so far.

Payet off the bar

Poland have looked solid, two wins and a creditable scoreless draw with the Nationalmannschaft. They should have too much for the Swiss tomorrow.

The middle game is between N Ireland and Wales,  (the former by the way voted to remain and the latter to leave). This game probably does not interest many people outside of the British Isles, it promises to be a peculiarly British fare. It will probably be played at a very high tempo with the tackles flying in, pretty much what one would expect to see up and down the length of the British Isles during the football season. The game is being played at the Parc des Princes, which is the historic home of French rugby, dare I say it, a suitable venue for this clash.
A very hard game to call, the Welsh have one world class player but the Irish passion is second to none. A draw and penalties here.

We finish off the day with Croatia against Portugal, to be honest it is hard to find much to write about this game between two nations who have not much in common and no shared history. Croatia have looked one of the best teams in the tournament so far and although Ronaldo has finally ended his drought in front of goal for Portugal. I pick Croatia to win this game.

On Sunday, we will preview the next trhee games including appearances by the Host nation and also the Nationalmannschaft.

Until then Ciao

Thursday, 23 June 2016

A Summary so far

So the first stage is complete and we have a two day break to catch our collective breath. To be honest the tournament will only really come to life now. Three of the games yesterday provided the type of excitement that the neutral football fan wants to see. Yes, I know, there is no such thing as a neutral football fan, for even if your team is not playing, you are almost certain to have a strong dislike for one of the teams that is.
One only has to have heard the Icelandic commentator go absolutely mental as Iceland charge towards the Austrian goal to see the passion that can be released.  A thanks to the various readers who sent me the clip for the rest of you to enjoy

An Icelandic Geyser exploding

Yesterday, the Irish proved that their luck was still good allied to the never say die attitude I alluded to a few posts ago. Ronaldo broke his duck and gave us his "He Man, Master of the Universe" impression as he posed after his goal. The Belgians dealt with the Swedish threat as expected and Austria continued to disappoint.

Euro 2016 said goodbye to eight nations. Russia, Ukraine, The Czech Republic, Albania. Romania, Turkey, Austria and Sweden. 
The common denominator between the first five is that they were countries that were behind the iron curtain. The brand of football they served up was bland, dour and unimaginative as befits the mindset of the said countries.
Turkey is not really European in its way of life (and they did find a lot of space behind the Czechs which as I mentioned they seemed to enjoy). 
Austria and Sweden, well they were both rather poor. 
The Austrians and Swedes were just too slow and here are two possible reasons why. Vienna the Austrian capital is well known for its excellent Strudel, Tortes and various other pastries. Too much cake, will produce the leaden footed performances we saw from the Austrians.

Sweden also looked off the pace, this may be due to an over abundance of wind, and not the type produced by wind turbines. Another kind follower of the blog directed me to a story, where in a recent division two game in the Swedish league, the referee sent off one of the players for farting on the pitch, which the referee deemed offensive and provocative behaviour.
This could explain why the Swedes failed to let rip during their time in France.

No one will be sad not to have to watch these teams again in this Euro.
One thing for sure that will not be missed are some of the fans, especially those of the Russians and the Turks. On the day that Britain is deciding whether to leave or remain in Europe, there is no doubt that the ugly ahead of nationalism was on the March in the streets of France, which reflects a rising tide across Europe
Of the teams left, only Hungary have fans who are also problematic. The violence of the Croatian fans was directed at their own football association rather than other fans. an internecine struggle.
Before anyone comments "what about the English? Yes they may cause trouble but that is alcohol fueled rather than politically motivated. 
On the flip side has been the amazing support shown by both sets of Irish fans. Unlike with the English, it seems the more they drink, the funnier they become.
Search You tube for videos of their fans singing a lullaby to a baby on a train, or the one where they are singing to a different kind of French Babe in the hope she will kiss one of them. 
Then of course there is the Will Griggs phenomena, a chant about a Northern Irish player who hasn't evened played yet.
This has been dubbed over all sorts of clips of video, I bring you just one. 

Your defence is terrified Will Griggs on fire

A mention must be given to Iceland as well. By all accounts it may be a good time to invade Iceland as the whole nation seems to be in France cheering on these new descendants of 
the Vikings rampaging their way across Europe.

As I have mentioned a number of times already the format of the tournament has allowed, a number of teams to set out their stall and aim for a draw. Now that we move to the knockout phase, this will hopefully cease, as the loser goes home. 
The one good thing that we have seen is the number of late goals and this is something we would like to see more of.

What is in store ? Eight matches spread over Saturday, Sunday and Monday. I will post the preview of the first three matches tomorrow.
Until then Dasvidanya.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

First Stage ends tonight Group E, F

There are a number of issues to look at as the final two groups come to an end and brings down the curtain on the first part of the tournament. 
In the early games, we have the to date disappointing, Portugal against Hungary and Iceland who will face Austria.
This will be followed by Belgium against Sweden along with the battle of two of the holiest nations in the competition. Italy verses the Republic of Ireland.

As real football fans know, Christiano Ronaldo is a very skillful footballer who, unless you happen to be a fan of Man United or Real Madrid, nobody likes. Perhaps they are jealous of his undoubted ability, his good looks (both female and male fans), I don't know what it is but he manages to annoy the rest of the world just by breathing. 
During the last game, one of the themes trending on twitter was #RonaldoTears and football fans around the world were united in their amusement at the sight of Ronaldo in a pout.

In his club teams, Ronaldo is usually surrounded by a plethora of other talented players, so if he has an off night, there is someone else who can pick up the slack, but when he plays for Portugal this is not the case. 
I don't use a lot of statistics in this blog, but this one is interesting.  Iceland as a team have only managed twelve shots and Hungary have mustered eighteen, each converting those shots into goals on two occasions.
Ronaldo alone, has had twenty shots on goal including a missed penalty (enjoy the link) without scoring. 
I don't know if the goal disallowed for offside was also included in the stats.

Ronaldo penalty miss

As I wrote yesterday the theme we would be revisiting has a chance to rear its ugly head again. Due to the format, a draw for Portugal will be enough for them to advance. Results last night ensured that Hungary have assured themselves of qualification so there is no pressure on them.

Iceland take on Austria in the other game. As with the Turkey Czech game yesterday, at least we have one team who needs to win. The disappointing Austrians must win to have any chance to go through, remarkably a draw for Iceland would see them continue onwards. In fact if both games are drawn, Iceland could finish above Portugal with both teams carrying on.

On to the last two games of the first round.
The Southern Irish must be hoping that the Northern Irish didn't use all of the fabled Irish luck in their heroic one nil loss to Germany yesterday. 
The Northern Irish goal led a charmed life. It was though there was a line of Faeries who had a weaved a web of magic protection and imbued the goalkeeper with superpower abilities. 
In WWI it was the so called angel of Mons who repelled the German attacks, yesterday it was Micheal McGovern who achieved angelic status. Below is a link to just one of his saves, when Thomas "Panzer" Muller is bearing down on you, the odds on survival are not good.

McGovern repels Muller

The Republic must win to go through, normally they would rely on two things, a blessing from the Pope and the luck of the Irish. Well as I wrote, they have to hope the luck hasn't been used up and as for the pope, we all know where he lives, perhaps a conflict of interest. 
Also as he is the first South American born pontiff, he is directing all his blessings in the direction of his beloved Argentina who have just reached the Copa America final with a four nothing demolition of the United States.
But getting back to the matter in hand, this is Ireland's best opportunity to spring a surprise, the Italians already are through and even know that they will be playing Spain in the next round. They will line up with very much a reserve side, the question is, even given all this, are the Irish good enough? I fear not.

The recent terror attacks that took place in Brussels and Paris, mean that the Belgians have a heightened threat sense in operation. They know they will be under attack from the get go as Sweden like Ireland have to win. 
The Belgians have lists of people of certain ancestry who need to be closely watched and policed. In a similar vein, they know that against Sweden, the main threat will come from one Zlatan Ibrahimovic., the biggest current worry to Belgian security. 
They should, however, have the necessary know how to neutralise this threat in a footballing sense of course and thus stifle Sweden who don't have much else to offer.

Belgium to join Italy in the last 16 and Sweden and Ireland to go home.

Tomorrow, we shall review the tournament so far.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Group C and D final games, a veritable feast in store

Two more groups will reach their denouement today, C and D. We will be starting with a choice of Vorspiese.  

The Nationalmannschaft will try and make a Kartoffelsalat out of some Irish Potatoes. 
As an alternative, Poland's ninety five percent pure spirit will try to wash away their Ukrainian neighbours borscht soup.

The entrees will offer a choice of the some fine Czech Pils lager attempting to drown some Turkish Delight or Spain trying to make a Paella of Croatia.

Before we continue, there maybe a number of readers who are confused that Ireland are playing on consecutive days. The only simple thing where Ireland is concerned are the people themselves, but thankfully a kind reader of this blog pointed me in the direction of a public information film produced to help us mere mortals understand the Byzantine workings of Irish football.

Irish football explained

Of course if you ask an Irishman, he will explain that what we have called Irish football is not the real thing, it is fact what you see in the link below. 
I apologize for the quality of the clip but you will get the idea, pay particular attention to what happens around the two minute point of the clip. 

Real Gaelic football

Did you notice how the one player got clocked and then after standing there in disbelief, absolutely belted his opponent who seemed to be just waiting for it. 
This typifies the spirit of the Irishman, a never say die attitude, an innate lack of understanding that they are beaten, which is what the Northern Irish tonight and the Southern Irish tomorrow will need in bucket loads.

The Nationalmannschaft have not impressed so far, they laboured to a 2-0 win over a poor Ukrainian team and managed a 0-0 draw against a Polish team who looked the more likely to score. 
Will there be a reaction today, even if there is, they are in for a fight against a Northern Irish side who know that as long as they don't lose by three goals or more, it should be enough to see them through.
A hard fought win for the Nationalmannschaft accompanied by a Polish demolition of Ukraine is how I see this group turning out.

In group D the most attractive game sees Croatia take on Spain, but yet again, the result unfortunately doesn't really matter, both teams will advance, it is just about from which position in the table. 
In the parallel game, the Czechs must win to advance, any other result and they will be out. The Turks have to win big to leave themselves with a theoretical chance of advancing. This at least means we will have a game where both teams will hopefully be going full throttle to win. 
This should leave lots of gaps for both teams to get in from behind, which would seem to favour the Turks because they like that.
In the end though, I think the Czechs will have too much for the Turks and any result could occur in the other game.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Group B final round, the Dragon takes on the Bear and St George face Slovakia

Before, we look at tonight's games, there are two things to clean up. Firstly, if you took my advice and ignored the football on offer last night, the results went as I predicted, France and Switzerland played out a no score draw, and Albania pulled off a heroic first victory over the very poor Romania.
Secondly, in my England Special post from Friday, (check it out if you haven't yet) I asked which mistake by England's goalkeepers did you, the readers, think was worse. The general consensus was the error by David Seaman, although there was a minority view that Rob Green's was worse. Thanks to all those who commented both on the blog and to me directly.
Today sees the Welsh Dragon, take on the Russian Bear, in a heavyweight clash. The boxing analogy is a good one as imagine a fight between two journeymen boxers, to decide who will become the challenger and that pretty much sums up this match.
Neither team is very good, the Welsh are Gareth Bale and ten others. Two of the three goals the Welsh have scored have come from Bale free kicks, which the goalkeeper should have saved on each occasion. 
We have shown the one against England in the Friday post, here is the one against Slovakia.

Bale v Slovakia (Arabic commentary)

The goalkeeper steps the wrong way for no reason and is then wrong footed, very poor.

As to the Russians, well it is hard to even name one player who ignites the imagination. The Russians were lucky to qualify, they fired their manager halfway through the qualifying rounds and the new manager effect did its thing and they made it to France.
The Russians have only stood out in one area and that is for the off the field behaviour of their fans, with one Russian minister claiming they had brought pride to the Rodina (motherland).

However, and this is a theme we are going to hear a lot of in the next three days, since third place teams can go through, a win for Russia would probably be enough to see them qualify. Wales really only need a draw, but that is a very dangerous strategy to follow, so while it may not be pretty or of the highest quality, a good game is in prospect. 

In the parallel game, St George flying on cloud nine after their come from behind last minute win against the Welsh Dragon will be facing Slovakia, who lost to Wales and beat Russia. 
The only thing riding on this game for St George is where they finish, they are already almost certain to qualify. Given this, the rumour coming out of the English camp is that the affable manager Roy "grandad" Hodgson is going to make six changes to the starting line up so as to assess his options.

A win for England means they will be able to stay in their base at Chantilly, a place famous for its lace making as referred to by the late Big Bopper in his 1959 song Chantilly Lace, in the hope that it will inspire them to weave their intricate patterns all around their opponents.

A draw for Slovakia, may also be enough depending on what happens in the parallel game, so it is a very tight group.
For me the stand out thing about Slovakia, are the faces their star player Hamsik makes when he is happy. It is like he is auditioning for a role in a remake of Planet of the Apes. 
What do you think ?
We have the standard bellow, the beat the chest and bellow and the scratch under the arm special.

Anyway should be a good night of football.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Group A Final Matches

On the menu today, France v Switzerland and Albania v Romania, hardly cordon bleu fare with both matches to be played simultaneously at 19.00 GMT.
This is the type of evening where one could easily decide to skip the football, spend some time with their spouse/partner to earn some brownie points and check on the results in the morning.
However, the lot of your faithful servant is to still try and find something informative to write about these games.

The French have already assured themselves of qualification for the knock out stages with victories in their first two games. To be honest both of these have been achieved with very late goals, the winner against Romania came in the 89th minute and they only managed to take the lead against Albania in the 90th minute before scoring a second.

As I wrote in my preview about France, the pressure on them is immense, but so far they have managed to deliver, albeit by the skin of their teeth . Today there is no pressure, the manager can experiment and try out reserve players to see how they perform.
As for the Swiss, they have almost certainly done enough to qualify, in fact they only need a draw to be certain so I don't predict a very exciting match to take place here.

There is a lot more riding on the second game,  in which Romania face Albania. Both teams need a win, a draw and they are both out, so this means they will both have to change their modus operandi of defensive minded football and this is will be be good for anyone who actually bothers to watch this game.

Let us remember that both these countries spent years under strict corrupt totalitarian rule.It has taken a long time for them to shake off the mindset that this produced of not doing anything to draw attention to oneself. 

Everyone has heard of Ceausescu, and his cult of personality, but not many I suspect of the Albanian dictator of 40 years Enver Xoxha. He was an adherent of the Stalinist school of leadership, absolute terror, regular purges of anyone who might threaten his position and summary mass executions.

Given this, it is not surprising that Albania have managed two shots so far in 180 minutes of football and both Romanian goals have come from penalty kicks that they have been awarded. 
In my preview I picked Albania and one cannot change one's position despite what has taken place so far.
Albania to win this, end up on three points and hope that will be enough to get them through to the next stage.

Friday, 17 June 2016

England Special

Yesterday, during the "local derby" grudge match between England and Wales, there were a number of things of note that occurred, but I am going to focus on one of them and share with you the times through history where this has happened before and then stress the one important difference this time.

I am referring to the horrendous error made by the English goalkeeper Joe Hart, when just before half time which is always a very bad/good time to concede/score a goal from a psychological standpoint depending which side you are on.

Hart misses Bale Free Kick

Obviously Hart and any other sportsperson for that matter is only human and therefore fallible, but unfortunately he only has one job to do and he failed at it miserably. (Growing up, there used to be a cliche when there was a shot taken from a great distance which was as follows "You won't beat (name of keeper) from there")
In fact he didn't have another save to make in the whole game, which makes his error all the more glaring. To give an analogy it was like Scott Norwood missing the winning field goal in a Superbowl between Buffalo and New York back  in the day.
When you play a specialist position. you are rarely remembered for your success because after all you are only doing your job, but the failures, now that is a different story entirely.

Joe Hart has joined a long list of English goalkeepers to have dropped clangers and in the links below we will look at some of the others and I would like you, the readers, to grade which you think was the worst.

1) 1973 Peter Shilton England V Poland at Wembley WC qualifier, this cost England the chance to take part in the 1974 World Cup in Germany. 

Shilton under his body

The history books blame Norman "Bite Yer Legs" Hunter but I am not so sure.

2) 2008 Paul Robinson Croatia V England Euro 2008 qualifier, this was a major part of the reason England didn't qualify for the 2008 version of the Euros.

Robinson Misses his kick

All golfers will tell you to put back your divets.

3) 2002 David Seaman Brazil V England WC , England go home early yet again.

Seaman all at sea in his box

I blame his pony tail

4) 2010 Robert Green England V USA group stages, outcome, England came up against Germany instead of Ghana and ended up going home early yet again.

Green through his fingers

Words fail me. but I am sure you can see the pattern here, England goalkeeping error and bye bye England.
However and I know some people will crucify me for writing this, despite the error made by Hart, England actually managed to win in the last minute of the game, an unheard of occurrence, a seismic shift felt worldwide and who knows where it might lead. Probably still an early exit but you never know.

Having given those five examples of goalkeeping howlers,  I feel a little balance is due and we will end this post with a tribute to one of the greatest goalkeepers of them all

Gordon Banks 1970 WC  Brazil V England. 

Banks V Pele

Banks was later to suffer food poisoning on the eve of England's Quarter Final game against the Nationalmannschaft (who probably supplied the dodgy sausage to knock him out)

Anyway I hope you enjoyed that trip down memory lane, we shall return on Sunday as we begin to preview the final games of the group stages.

Until then Hasta la vista

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Group F Overview ( Por, Ice, Aus, Hun) Group of the Unknowns

We have reached the final group and I admit this is being composed after the first two games in this group were played. However that doesn't really change what I was going to write. You will have to believe me that what transpired was more or less as I expected it to be.
A second admission, I don't know much about Austrian or Hungarian football, I only knew of one player who played for Austria and one for Hungary.
Gera from Hungary (ex WBA) and Fuchs from Leicester (pronounced Lester for those from countries were phonetic spelling is de rigueur). Only  three of the Hungarian squad play in one of the so called big 5 European leagues, even Iceland have more players in those leagues than that. 

I doubt many if any readers will remember or even know that in the 1950's Hungary were among the best teams in the world with Ferenc Puskas leading the way. They were heavy favourites, but lost 3-2 to W Germany in the World Cup final of 1954 (they were probably still scared of German reprisals if they won, the war was still an open wound then). 
One of their most famous performances came against England in 1953 at Wembley, I really recommend you watch the clip below, the world was a very different place but football genius always stands out.

England V Hungary 1953 Wembley Stadium

A lot of jokes have been made around the Austro Hungarian thing, but there is no doubt that while they are laughing in Budapest, those that live on the Austrian banks of the Danube are feeling pretty Blue this morning. In reality Austria occupied Hungary and there is no love lost between the two nations.

Supposedly Austria were or are dark horses for this tournament, that may or may not be true. But one thing is for sure, one of the main tourist attractions in Vienna are the famous Lipizzaner horses from the Spanish riding school and they are whitish grey. (I don't need any smart asses telling me they are in fact black with grey hair)

The other two teams in this group are Portugal and Iceland. This is the first time Iceland, an island with a population of 300,000 give or take has ever qualified for a major tournament, and nobody gave them much of a chance of doing anything. 
The statistic being bandied about is that 8% of the Icelandic population was to be found in France last night. 

They were of course up against Portugal, they of Christiano Ronaldo fame or CR7 as he is also known, the rather petulant poster boy of world footballer, known for his bendy free kicks, salmon like leaping ability on headers and pouty pose as he stands, hands on hips, waiting to take one of his trademark above mentioned free kicks.
Portugal have a history of flattering to deceive and last night was no exception although, the clip below may help to explain why. The video contains a message to Ronaldo from the character known as the Mountain in the show Game of Thrones. Let me know what you think in the comments section.

Mountain threatens Ronaldo

This group was completely open before the tournament started as Portugal are mentally weak and it is now even more open. A lot of neutrals would love for Portugal to be knocked out and I include myself among them.

Four to Watch

Gunnarsson the Viking

Arnautovic Bad boy

Look at me
Kiraly 40+ and still growing

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Group E (Bel, Ita, Swe, Ire) The closest thing to a group of death ?

I surely must not be the first observer who has noticed the lack of use of the phrase GROUP OF DEATH. This usually is the Headline which surfaces immediately upon the draw for a tournament being made. Group (choose any letter) then cue drum roll is THE GROUP OF DEATH !!!!

I would attribute this to one of the points I made in my intro to the whole tournament. A combination of the increase in teams, the dilution of the quality thereof, and the fact that four of the six third places teams will continue on makes it harder to have a GROUP OF DEATH. 

This is the group that probably would have acquired the moniker, if we were still with only two teams going through and it is still an even battle to see who will be the team to miss out.

Belgium are ranked number one in the world according to the incomprehensible system used by FIFA, the world governing body to determine these things. 

There is no doubt that they are an extremely talented group of individuals but therein lies the problem. Football is a team game and these players have not gelled as a team and as a result I do not see Belgium going all the way. 

Yet again, one could say this reflects the fabric of Belgian society. A country which struggles to maintain a stable government and which has sharp divisions between the Flemish and and the Walloon's, before we even start on the high immigrant population problems that they have.

So Belgium are not a team in the way that Italy are a team, well organised, especially defensively, no major egos and an ethos of giving everything for the team effort. If we were talking about the French, we could say "all for one and one for all", which sums up this Italian squad perfectly.
Another thing is that historically, Italy often plays well in tournaments, they have garnered years of experience in this type of football and use this knowledge to its full extent.

Next up are Sweden, the only of the Scandinavian nations to qualify, another solid well organised team, without much flair, but undoubtedly they have in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, yes I know a very Swedish sounding name, one of the players of whom most is expected in this tournament. 

A reader of the blog informed me that Zlatan has been involved in 74% of Swedish goals scored in the last few years,
my reply to him was, maybe, but not when it mattered not in the money time. If Zlatan fires on all cylinders as he did in the clip below against England, Sweden may do well, if he doesn't, it will be thanks for bringing the gravlax, safe trip home.

Zlatan bangs them in

This leaves us with the Republic of Ireland, another hard working well organised side who being Irish, don't know when they are beaten. 

This group is too hard to predict, expect three out of four to advance, but your guess is as good as mine which three it will be.

Four to watch

Buffon, not a clown

Nainggolan, Why ?

Seamus Coleman love his first name

Zlatan goal m

Monday, 13 June 2016

Group D ( Cro, Czech Rep, Tur, Spa)

The Holders make their bow. Apart from that, this is a rather dull group to preview so we shall keep it short.
Instead I will be writing a special post where I shall pontificate on the fan violence that has taken place so far in France and how it reflects the European reality at the moment. 

Spain were the first team to ever win consecutive European Championships. When they won in 2008 it was the heralding of a new era in World football, as they went on to win the World Cup in 2010 and the Euros again in 2012.
They are still a good team but are definitely on the downward slope, this does not mean they can not do it again but it will be difficult. They should however certainly advance from this group.

We then have the two C's, Croatia and the Czech Republic, two Eastern European sides with a westward leaning in their football. Since Croatia first qualified for either a World Cup or the Euros in 1996 after independence in 1991, they have qualified in 8 out of 10 attempts which is a very impressive feat. 
The Czech republic also has a solid footballing pedigree, although their strong Pils beer is better known and probably better liked.

This leaves us with the Turks, they will not be happy to be called the whipping boys of this group (or perhaps they will)
but they are the least likely to progress to the next stage.  
The Turks, however, like nothing better than when they are up against a wall as was evidenced in qualifying when they squeezed through in the final minute of their final game.

Spain, Croatia and the Czechs to carry on from this group

Four to watch

Cech the East Bloc Tank commander

Koke The Real Thing ?

Modric Puppet on  a string

Tosun the Turkish Bath attendant