We don’t have to compete against other blogs in newsagents, supermarkets and convenience stores, so I’ve not been up all night thinking of a terrible pun about the return of The Messiah.
There are only ten teams left in the tournament: tonight we’ll find out the last of the quarter finalists but as long as England don’t lose we’ll be through to face Spain or Italy at the weekend.
First of all, the game last Friday was the first time for a while that I’ve seen England play in a game that reminded me of domestic football for a long time. On the one hand, that’s a good thing: after a very ropey opening to the second half and having realised what could be at stake, the team dug deep and managed to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 victory. So far so good: after having had a few ciders at the house of a friend, I walked home feeling very pleased that I’d seen such a spirited fight back.
However, the reality of the situation hit home as I walked past the local stadium. For those of you that don’t know, I am a season ticket holder at an nPower Championship club who haven’t been doing particularly well over the last couple of seasons: and that’s where the reality hit me. What we saw last Friday was a Football League game. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: the league system in England is almost unique these days and I’m reasonably certain that the Championship is still one of the best supported competitions in Europe. Andy Carroll’s goal was a classic English centre forward’s header that Dixie Dean, Ted Drake or Tommy Lawton would’ve been proud of.
That being said, the Championship is a second tier competition. At times on Friday, England were extremely poor – the old cliche about ‘poor first touch’ was much in evidence once again – against a team that is amongst the top 20 in the world without having ever really done anything at international level for almost two decades. Of the six teams that have qualified for the quarter finals, only the Czechs are ranked lower by FIFA than the Swedes but only Spain and Germany are ranked higher than us. We’re good…but we’re not that good.
On to tonight’s game. Today’s slightly worrying fact is that England have never beaten the hosts of a European Championship tournament: the last three games saw defeats to Italy (1968) and Sweden (1992) as well as a 2-2 draw with Portugal in 2004 before being beaten on penalties after extra time. The situation is made slightly easier by not having to beat Ukraine to qualify for the knockout rounds: the only other time we’ve played against the Ukrainians away from England was the 1-0 defeat in the World Cup qualifiers when Robert Green was sent off.
A draw would be good enough, but we have our less than secret weapon available for tonight’s game. Wayne Rooney returns, although it’s never a good idea to change a winning team, as both my wife and my mother have pointed out over the last couple of days. I wouldn’t want to do Roy Hodgson’s job so I’m going to keep away from having an opinion, but let’s just say that I can see the arguments for and against changing the starting eleven to incorporate Rooney. If selecting him means a major change of tactics – and I don’t think it does – then there’s a case to be made for him to start on the bench.
Overall, so far the tournament has been a good one with the Dutch being a major disappointment whilst the Germans look the pick of the bunch – and before you start wondering, I have put my money where my mouth is. I’m not going to wax lyrical about the Spanish: they were kept in check by the Italians and Croatians but had a field day against an Irish side who were described as a ‘pub team’ by a friend of mine who has Irish ancestry and as a typical British team by commentators in both Belgium and Hungary. The biggest surprise is that Russia were knocked out – although to be fair they didn’t have to go far to get home – and how ridiculously fussy UEFA have been about non-issues like German fans throwing screwed up bits of paper and Nicholas Bendtner’s sponsored underpants.
The most predictable aspect of the tournament: Clive Tyldesley and Mark Lawrenson – although I must admit that ITV’s coverage has been far more entertaining with the tableaux of Polish street life going on behind them. So far we’ve had a balloon seller smoking a fag, a man with a ferret on a lead and some drunken Polish teenagers being cleared out of the square by the riot squad. As far as I know, there aren’t any charity muggers operating there…yet.