Norway’s Brede Hangeland thinks England are running on empty after a long season. Gary Lineker had a moan about the tactics on twitter. But an Ashley Young goal nine minutes into the game gave England a 1-0 win over Norway in Oslo on Saturday night. Lost in all the comments about how the second half was dull was the fact that Norway havenâ€™t lost at home since June 2010 and have beaten both France and Portugal in Oslo since then. Isn’t winning while not playing particularly well something that we’ve always respected other countries for?
The other issue is that the outbreak of pessimism seems to be hiding another agenda: if England over perform this summer then all the pundits can slap each other on the back and spout nonsense about how they secretly felt that ‘the lads’ would do well all along. I’m sure a few people are convinced that England can repeat the unexpected triumph of the Danes in 1992, but the last time I looked there weren’t any civil wars in Europe we could exploit.
From my point of view, it was hardly an ideal start for Roy Hodgson. I was visiting my sister in law in a ‘nearby country’ and although we watched the first half live, we couldn’t watch the second half until we’d watched the Eurovision Song Contest, which featured a musical recreation of the England team from the mid 1970s by Englebert Humperdinck: on paper it probably seemed as if it was a good idea, but it was off key, not as good as many European rivals and ultimately a bit embarrassing. By the time we watched the recording of the second half of the game I’d had three pints of cider and knew what the final score was.
Moving on and the details of the final squad were handed in earlier today with two alterations from the original list. Jack Butland replaces John Ruddy who
is getting married broke his finger and Phil Jagielka replaces Gareth Barry who picked up a groin injury in Oslo on Saturday night. While he was playing football, I hasten to add – I know he’s a Man Citteh player but I don’t think he’s visited any strip clubs recently.
Incidentally, Jagielka’s biography on Wikipedia is as interesting as it is confusing: his father was born in Zagreb, but later on it says that he has Polish and Scottish ancestry. In a parallel universe he’d be playing for the Republic of Ireland.
Last week we received a copy of the Foreign Office guidelines for travel to the Ukraine and without putting too finer point on it, the message was basically donâ€™t travel if youâ€™re black, Asian or obviously gay. I havenâ€™t seen last nightâ€™s â€˜Panoramaâ€™ about the racism in Poland and the Ukraine, but having some experience of watching football in Eastern Europe I can see how the issue could easily be sensationalised.Â However, to claim that ‘Nazi symbols…can be seen at any any game in England’ as Ukrainian foreign minister Oleh Voloshyn has is a load of ****ocks and sounds like a statement from a man who clearly has been rattled.
On a lighter note, I also have some experience of watching football in the middle of a group of Polish fans â€“ at a beach football tournament in Spain a few years ago. About ten minutes before Polandâ€™s games were due to kick off, a group of about fifty or more Poles appeared from nowhere: decked out in replica shirts, waving flags and singing songs they kept going throughout the entire game before disappearing immediately afterwards â€“ although some of them must have been on holiday, I think others mustâ€™ve been working in bars and hotels. That leads me on to a story about ordering drinks in Spanish only to find out that the barman was Bulgarianâ€¦but thatâ€™s got nothing to do with football.
Iâ€™ll be back on Friday with a preview of the game against the Belgians. Enjoy the weather while you can, in a couple of weeks many of us will be parked in front of the telly all day.