Friday, 1 July 2016

Euro 2016 Round of 16



Michael: So, it’s been a nice quiet week in UK-land, nothing of note happening, honest. We’ve only seen the Prime Minister resign (snap shot review – as bad as Lord North), the English and Welsh vote to leave the EU, the Scots in a bit of a quandary about where their future lies (to say nothing of Northern Ireland and poor old Gibraltar), and the ruined careers of at least three formerly leading politicians. I must say that Michael Gove’s knifing in the back of Boris Johnson was a moment of such political manoeuvring even I had to applaud the sheer ruthlessness.

We won’t mention Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party, because that will just depress folk.

I wonder if the imminent Scottish independence will actually transform Scottish football into something competent.


Jon: The weeks been “interesting” in the Chinese sense, but even that would be stretching things...


Michael: A moment of celebration for the fact that Michael’s favourite South American side, Chile, have won the Copa America two years running. What can I say, Alexis Sanchez IS World Class. I’m sure that result went down well in Argentina and caused no long term issues...

 I’m a hipster, I’ve liked Chile since 2008ish.


Gav: Thought you were going to say 1962!


Michael: Technically, I felt sorry for them in 2004, when they crashed out of the Copa America in agonising circumstances. 93rd minute, player strikes the ball, it bounces off the cross bar, right to a Costa Rican who runs up the pitch and scores the fatal goal!


Gav: Ouch. So, basically, they were Croatia?


Michael: Touche!





Gav: I have a friend from Chile.


Michael: If he’s reading, congratulations Chewbacca, yer team did great. Also, cool name.


Gav: I just remembered I used to partly own Ebbsfleet United.


Michael: How did that go?


Gav: Can’t remember.


Michael: I’ll just check Wikipedia. What’s that? Debt-ridden? Relegated? That’s not Gav, that’s...


(rips off mask)

Michael: Peter Ridsdale!


Gav: And I’d have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for you meddling kids!


Michael: The Round of 16 reminded me of the Kinks, so each section opens with a lyric from one of my favourite bands which best sums up my feelings of the performance of each vanquished side.


Jon: This is where you point out Joachim Low is a dedicated follower of fashion.


Switzerland



“He didn't know the night would end up in frustration.
He'd end up blowing all his wages for the week
All for a cuddle and a peck on the cheek.”

Come Dancing


Michael: So in our previews, I wondered if Switzerland would be more attack minded than expected and crash out early, and Jon said they’d be dull and reach the Quarterfinals. I think we got the middle ground here, with a positive but limited and highly profligate Swiss going out in the heartbreak of penalties.


They had lots of initiative, but not so much end product. Seferovic, who played well at the World Cup, was suddenly allergic of shooting, and great chances which fell to his feet were mopped up by grateful defences. Shaqiri, out of sorts at Stoke, was out of sorts for the Swiss, and yet still produced their moment of the tournament, a sensational overhead bicycle kick to equalise against the Poles. Embolo looked excited, but showed he still needed to temper his impatience on the ball, but then he is still young.


If they had been given a penalty against France, they might have lasted longer in the tournament (taking on the Irish, then potentially the Icelanders), but it was not to be, and a game against Poland was not the most arduous on paper. They took on Albania, and performed just as well as was needed to win. After an early goal by Schar, it looked like Switzerland might run wild, but as soon as Albania got over their early shell shock and started to take chances themselves, the Swiss were happy to play at arms length, doing only as much as was necessary. Against Romania, they seemed happy for a draw, until Romania suddenly took the lead with another penalty. Then, they began attacking heavily, and scored, at which point they seemed to be more settled with a draw than pushing for the win. Against the French, they might have won, but a shared inability to score shared the spoils. Against the Poles, they looked second best for long periods of the first half, and despite the wonder Shaqiri goal that took the game to extra time and penalties; there was no real feeling of injustice in the result of the penalties.


Well, that’s my view – the Swiss and UEFA had a different one, of course.


Gav: Switzerland were A+.


Michael: Really?


Gav: If A was for “Average”. Nothing they have done has whelmed me so far, from them.


Michael: And nothing will now, given they are gone.


Gav: Well then. That shows how much of an impact they’ve made.


Michael: I suggest just watching Shaqiri’s goal against Poland for 10 minutes and assuming that’s their entire tournament.


Gav: Yes, well, one man doesn’t make a tournament. Look at Rooney.


Michael: Essentially, they played to par. Sounds about usual.


Jon: You know who to blame for Switzerland’s exit?


Michael: Go on…


Jon: Arsene Wenger.


Michael: *raises eyebrow* I’m not a fan but that’s a stretch…


Jon: Oh come on, it’s obvious… signed Xhaka pre-tournament so once he’s posed with that Arsenal shirt on he’s infected with the Arsenal DNA. Comfortable group stage qualification, out at the first opportunity in the knockouts. And the crucial moment is an Arsenal player buckling under pressure.


Michael:  Ah yes, Arsenalitis, it’s practically fatal.


Jon: But for their tournament as a whole? Beige. Nothing memorable for either good or bad reasons, just an ongoing blandness. Group A looked unappetising and in truth it really was. Romania and Albania barely had any attacking ammunition between them but thy still knew how to make life hard for what were supposed to be the superior teams in the group. And then the Swiss… well they weren’t bad but with the exception of one moment you’d do well to recall they were there or contributed anything. The 1-0 win against Albania was relatively straightforward after a set piece goal and Cana’s red card; the 1-1 against Romania was fun but indicative of two teams without any reliable goalscorers and the 0-0 with France was possibly even less exciting than the scoreline suggests. I thought they were inferior to Poland in the round of 16 but then they justified their presence with *that* goal from Shaquiri, a moment of quality that actually made me forgive the rest of their tournament.


But overall: beige. 


Joao: This was a disappointing Euro for Switzerland (even though they don’t have previous Euro campaigns to raise the expectations too much).


They were only second in their qualifying group, losing twice against England, and also once against Slovenia. I’m seeing now that they needed a 94th minute goal against Slovenia at home to win that match 3-2, that combined with a 0-1 away defeat actually made them lose the head-to-head against the Slovenians too, although that didn’t matter in the end because Switzerland collected more points. Then they only won 1-0 against Albania, even though they played in numerical advantage for most of the game. In the next match they only got one point against Romania (Romania’s only point in Euro 2016). Then they got another draw against France, an improvement compared to two years ago, but they still could have done better, win the match and the group. And now they were eliminated in the last 16 round by Poland.


They have the “excuse” of not losing a single match in Euro 2016, but that’s not exactly true if we include the 10 qualifiers, where they lost thrice. In 14 matches, 8 wins, 3 draws and 3 defeats is ordinary, considering that the 8 wins were against San Marino (twice), Lithuania (twice), Estonia (twice), Slovenia and Albania.


And now, what’s next for them? A 2018 World Cup qualifying group with Portugal, Hungary, Faroe Islands, Latvia and Andorra, where Switzerland should be at least second and then face another second placed team in a playoff, or perhaps they can avoid it by winning the group. Should they keep Vladimir Petkovic? I don’t know, he wasn’t extraordinary, but he wasn’t terrible either.


By the way, when was the last time that Switzerland advanced from a KO stage in a final tournament? 1938! They defeated Germany, and then were eliminated in the quarter finals by Hungary. Then there’s some controversy about what was that thing that they played against Italy in 1954, before being eliminated by Austria in the quarter finals. I’d consider it part of the group stages though. After that, eliminations in the last 16 against Spain in 1994, Ukraine in 2006, Argentina in 2014 and now Poland here…


When teams like Croatia or England may be depressed that they can’t do it since 1998 and 2006 respectively, they can always look at Switzerland and cheer up.


What Went Wrong – Goal scoring.
What Went Right – Undefeated.
Their moment – Shaqiri’s goal, of course.



Expert Views



“Haris Seferovic had a frustrating time throughout, showing good positional sense and footwork to get into scoring positions, only to be foiled by a mixture of bad luck -- he smacked a shot against the crossbar against Poland -- poor finishing and good goalkeeping. He finished the tournament without a goal. Nineteen-year-old Breel Embolo, who replaced Seferovic in the starting lineup against France and came on as a substitute in three other matches, was physically stronger but failed to get into scoring positions. Admir Mehmedi scored a cracking goal against Romania but otherwise too many moves broke down at his feet. Eren Derdiyok was given a try against Poland and squandered two good chances to give them an extra-time win.” Brian Homewood, Uninspired Swiss meet expectations of knockout rounds at Euro 2016, ESPN 28 June 2016



“I'm very sad for [Granit Xhaka], but it's not just about him. Switzerland lost and I'm sad about that. The players gave everything and showed what they can do on the pitch. But unfortunately we made mistakes and paid for that. And then it was the lottery of penalties – if you miss one, it can be crucial. We were too nervous at the start, but then we dominated the game. In the second half, we were the side that deserved to score a second goal. I prefer to stay philosophical. We gave everything, but it's always sad to go out of a tournament and always sad to go out on penalties.” Vladimir Petkovic, to Chris Burke, Poland on a high as Swiss bemoan bad luck, UEFA.com 25 June 2016


N Ireland




“I won't take all that they hand me down,
And make out a smile, though I wear a frown,
And I won't take it all lying down,
'Cause once I get started I go to town.”
I’m not like everybody else



Michael: Hey Jon.


Jon: What?


Michael: You know the best thing about Wales winning?


Jon: Go on…


Michael: Will bloody Grigg isn’t on fire anymore! I never have to hear that damn song again!


Jon: I think, having been aflame for a fortnight, he’ll be delighted that he can finally stop burning. Sadly the only thing Grigg ever threatened to burn was the bench, because he never got off it and looked about as likely to get on as Roy Carroll.


Michael: And yet, Hamburg fans are petitioning their club to go and buy him for “club morale”. I hope Grigg has that Wigan DJ on retainer now, with all the help he’s giving to his bank balance.


Jon: The question that needs to be asked here is really what constitutes a good tournament. Northern Ireland lost three of their four games, failed to score aside from that win and rarely looked like doing so. They didn’t even muster a shot against Poland and Manuel Neuer did well to stay awake for 90 minutes.  But it’s what they did in the other two games which defined their tournament. Michael O’Neill was one of the shrewder managers in the tournament; he knew that with his side ill-equipped to compete against Poland and Germany he needed to concentrate on beating Ukraine. He managed that with a tactical flourish; having seen how effective Mario Gomez was against them as a false nine he dropped five players, including goal machine Kyle Lafferty and the result says it paid off. Though given their breakthrough came from a set piece it’s arguable that it was an effective form of attack.  Given only Michael McGovern’s heroics saved them from a hiding against Germany it’s debatable that it was an effective switch; relatively speaking the restoration of Lafferty against Wales made them more potent and effective.


Their loss against Wales came down to one thing that O’Neill could do little about; their lack of creative talent. They defend deep and well and had an effective strategy for containing the opposition’s stars; Lewandowski, Muller and Bale barely had a sniff of goal between them.  Ultimately though the odds are against them if other teams have superior talents; they were undone by Milik, Gomez and ultimately a Bale cross and didn’t have anyone who could help them recover a position.


Michael: I feel like if Northern Ireland weren’t one of our near neighbours, or current home in Jon’s case, this blog would be far more critical to a side who were more concerned with keeping the score down in two of their three group stage games and might have been the least successful side to sneak into the last sixteen, Portugal aside. However, we aren’t, so we aren’t. It was nice to see Northern Ireland avoid humiliation, even if it was threatened at some times with the quality of chances which Poland successfully avoided scoring.


Jon: Ultimately, despite the three losses I suspect O’Neill will be very pleased – in a group with two of the better teams (and who, at time of writing, have both comfortably made the quarter finals) they managed to qualify for the knockout stages and were the better team for long periods against Wales. The difference was ultimately one moment of quality from Bale – perhaps O’Neill erred in not terrifying the Welsh defence with Grigg. Might even have missed a psychological trick given how loudly the supporters would have got behind that move…


Michael: I’m bloody glad they didn’t!


Jon: Ha! Ultimately then I think they performed a little above expectations  - kept the two obviously superior teams in check, comfortably beat Ukraine and performed well within their limitations before making an unfortunate effort.


And, of course, providing the tournament with its most memorable song. Which isn’t bad given both the Manics and Super Furry Animals had a go!


Michael: It was also unfortunate that their great moment of the tournament, a 2-0 win over Ukraine, punctuated by the worst hailstorm I’d seen since rugby practice at Millerston, was distracted by the news of Jo Cox’s murder that afternoon. In fact, the news that she had died, though suspected, was only confirmed as the Irish bombed forward for their second goal. That’s the trouble with football, it’s forever linked to the context of events it took place during.


Joao: I hadn’t big expectations about Wales vs. Northern Ireland. Both teams are a lot more comfortable playing against offensive teams and defending intensively, relying mostly on counter-attacks or set pieces.

I’m not criticizing them for doing it; I actually think that what both accomplished is magnificent.
Northern Ireland reaching the last 16 is outstanding, I want to see Michael O’Neill in those “coach of the year” shortlists; not a guy like Zinedine Zidane that only advanced from four rounds that he was supposed to, not an old fart like Wenger that always seems to be there for some mysterious reasons. Chris Coleman also must be there, for taking Wales to the quarter finals, and perhaps even further! In the quarter finals he may face Belgium, and he already defeated them in the qualifiers, so why not again?

Wales’ goal was scored by McAuley… I think that Northern Ireland shouldn’t blame him, because if he wasn’t there Robson-Kanu right behind him probably would have scored anyway, and on top of that he was the one that scored against Ukraine, allowing Northern Ireland to get this far in the first place.


Northern Ireland had a fantastic Euro 2016 campaign, with seven wins, three draws and four defeats. People can say that these wins were “only” against Hungary, Faroe Islands (twice), Greece (twice), Finland and Ukraine. OK, but they are “only” Northern Ireland too. They aren’t Germany or Spain; they aren’t “supposed” to defeat most of these teams (excluding Faroe Islands). I doubt that they’ll be able to keep this level for much longer. In the 2018 World Cup qualifiers they’ll be in Germany, Czech Republic, Norway, Azerbaijan and San Marino’s group, and I’d say that finishing third will be more than expected, fourth is probably normal, even fifth isn’t that embarrassing, only finishing below San Marino would be. I don’t expect to see Northern Ireland again in Euro 2020, not even with Euro having 24 spots now. I just don’t see them as one of Europe’s top 24 teams, reaching the last 16 this time was brilliant.


Gav: They did well! Sacrificed themselves for the British cause. By having Wales v N Ireland it meant we’d have one British team in the Quarterfinals. I nearly wrote “at least one”, but who would I be kidding?


Michael: They played well. Which seems strange to say for a side who won one game from for.


Gav: Yes, they did, but that’s the Davis influence.


Michael: Losing a lot?


Gav: Playing well but losing is Southampton speciality!


Michael: They must have been worried though, with a teammate on fire on the bench for three weeks straight.


Gav: Sounds scary!



What Went Wrong – No finishing product
What Went Right – Hardy defence which was able to restrict chances and helped them qualify for the next round on Goal difference.
Their moment – McGinn’s goal after a hailstorm, in the 97th minute, against Ukraine, to seal their first ever finals victory.




Experts View




“The memories of this oddly irrepressible trip will live on. They’ll always have Lyon. Michael O’Neill’s team can look back on one of the finest in Northern Irish football history, to stand with the glories of the 1980s and the World Cup team of 1958. In Paris the fans in green will celebrate into the evening, just as they were dancing – in the familiar drunk-dad style – before kick-off on the pavements of south-west Paris. For now though, after drinking just a little more beer, it really is time to go home. It must be said Northern Ireland’s contribution to the unbound gaiety of France 2016 has been confined in the main to what happens off the pitch. There has been a minimalism to their football, as there was in this match. Only four teams have scored fewer goals. In the group stage no team managed fewer shots, completed fewer passes, took fewer corners, or had the ball so little of the time. No surprise there. This is a team who have overachieved, a collection of players from mid-table Premier League clubs, the Championship and other places south. They have been expertly managed by O’Neill, a canny, ever-adaptable master of wringing the most from his component parts, and another at this tournament to offer a refreshing counterpoint to the cult of the superstar coach.” Barney Ronay, Northern Ireland are homeward bound but their fans are leaving on a high, The Guardian 25 June 2016



Croatia


“First class and economy, we all played the game
For selfish profit and gain.
So together we'll all go insane on this looney balloon.”


Michael: Ah Croatia, every time people start to gain faith, you crush it, like those wishing a John Cena heel turn. Here we had Croatia finally get out of a group stage once more, and beat Spain with a fabulous performance, only to go all stage fright against a mediocre Portugal and crash out in a dull chess match.


That Portugal game, called “rubbish” by James Richardson, “worst since THAT 2006 game” by Gallifrey Base users, and “not that great” by yours truly, did have one fan though.


Joao: I’ll start by saying that this was the best Euro 2016 match, and I doubt that any match today will change it. I would be very disappointed if Croatia allowed Portugal to have 20+ goal attempts, and Ronaldo to have 10+ goal attempts, like the previous three opponents all did. They haven’t disappointed me, players like Subasic, Srna, Corluka, Vida, Strinic, etc. are much better than the Icelandic or Austrian or Hungarians, so Portugal had few chances this time. Not only they had few chances, they also lost in stats like ball possession, corner kicks, etc. Well, they won the only thing that really matters, goals scored.

I would also be very disappointed if Portugal defended terribly, like they did against Hungary.
Friday I said that I’d change the entire defense except Pepe, Fernando Santos’ changes were a little bit different because I would have changed Rui Patrício and the defensive midfielder William too, and “my” second central defender would have been Bruno Alves and not Fonte. In his defense, Fonte was outstanding yesterday, his only flaw was a missed tackle where he left Nikola Kalinic in a promising situation, but he missed it anyway so in the end it had no serious consequence. Now I think that he should be the starter in the next match. Cédric and Raphael Guerreiro were also impressive in the flanks, Vieirinha may get another chance but up front this time, as one of the forwards.


Michael: I like chess matches as much as the next person, and I thought that game was a bit dull. But still, that’s the beauty of sport. Although defining beauty as a game in which Ronaldo does feck all but gets to celebrate like he’s the greatest thing since the Treaty of Kadesh is a stretch too far.


Jon: We’re at the point where it’s getting awkward to decide how teams performed; whereas it’s generally fairly easy in group stages to look at which teams have underperformed horribly (Russia, Ukraine, Austria) and which have been plucky and gallant (Albania) it’s much harder to say this when it comes to the knockout rounds where the luck of the draw and fortune on the day can play such a large part.


Michael: Tell me about it. After their win over Spain, there was even talk of the Croatians winning the entire tournament. Those of us with an eye on hoodoos recalled that Portugal tend to do well against Croatia. Those of us with an eye on hoodoos, and a love of all things Italian, were glad that Croatia didn’t face Italy for the same reasons!


Jon: Croatia began with a deceptively close 1-0 win over Turkey, a spectacular Modric goal not reflecting their dominance thanks to managing to hit the crossbar three times. For 70 minutes they were equally great to watch against the Czech Republic but somehow contrived to concede a last second penalty in blowing the most comfortable of two goal leads. And then they came out on top against the Spanish in one of the tournament’s best games; and this is where the whims of fate come in. If Sergio Ramos scored his penalty Spain would have gone through top of the group and into the weaker half of the knockout draw. Croatia would’ve been looking at the Italians and Germans as a route to the final Instead they were looking at playing Iceland before a last minute winner for them against a desperate Austrian side who’d pushed everyone forward meant they were lumbered with the threat they fear the second most; Portugal. A side they’ve never beaten.


When it comes to writing the assessment of Portugal I will wax lyrical about just why they’re one of my all-time least favourite international sides.


Gav: Hey, when you boo the team that has Fonte, you’re basically booing Saints!


Michael: At least we got to see them for four games this time.


Jon: But let’s credit them; we discussed before the tournament how Croatia’s midfield was one of the best units in world football and Portugal found a way to neutralise them completely and produce a game many leaned pundits were considering a rival to the tedium of THAT 2006 game. Unfortunately Ronaldo produced one of the game’s rare moments of quality to set up a winner and Croatia were left with an even deeper neurosis about their bogey side. The manner of their exit might be seen as meek but then it’s hard to go down punching when your opponent’s put you in a straitjacket. Perhaps you can say it exposed that Mandzukic, for all his quality, doesn’t fit this side and actually renders it less potent but that would be to do down the collective stifling efforts of the Portuguese defence and midfield. 


On the upside, we can at least say that they managed to avoid an exit at the hands of their biggest threat; the Croatian ultras. The incident with flares being thrown on to the pitch was obviously a worrying one but it’s hard to argue that with ticketing arrangements the Croatian FA hadn’t done everything within their power to prevent such arrangements. UEFA’s relatively lenient stance on the matter should tell you everything about stadium security and UEFA’s own procedures being at fault rather than the HNS. If an FA doesn’t choose the ground, doesn’t sell the tickets and cooperates to the best of its ability to ensure ultras don’t enter the stadiums why should it bear responsibility when trouble flares up? Happily and sanely, UEFA managed to deal with the issue in a sane way.


Michael: Well, not to stir up too much controversy, but it was blatantly UEFA’s fault. The security at these things, too, has been worrying to say the least.


Joao: This Croatia hype came from their win against Spain… with “subs”. It was with Jedvaj and Vrsaljko playing instead of Vida and Strinic, and Rog instead of Modric, and Pjaca instead of Brozovic, and Nikola Kalinic instead of Mandzukic. Apparently the crowds gave it a lot more importance than Ante Cacic did, because in the following match he returned to the lineup that got a 2-2 against Czech Republic, instead of keeping the one that defeated Spain. Was that a mistake? I don’t know, and perhaps there isn’t a simple answer to it. Perhaps he would have lost anyway regardless of which line-up he used. Now the crowds will criticize him for doing it, but before the match they were probably demanding that guys like Modric and Mandzukic had to return.


Winning against Spain never meant that they’d now become European Champions, and next year win the Confederations Cup, and in 2018 win the World Cup. It was just a win in a group stage match where both teams were already qualified. Holland also won against Spain, in a more important match than this, and where are they now? Croatia is a very good team, one of Europe’s top 10, and one of the World’s top 20. They just had the misfortune of facing so early a better team, one of Europe’s top 5 and the World’s top 10.


The impressive Croatian midfield isn’t stronger than Portugal’s midfield. Renato Sanches was just transferred to Bayern for €35M. Guys like William, João Mário and André Gomes are all €30M players at least; I’d be very surprised to see their teams transferring them for less than that. And even the remaining Portuguese midfielders like Danilo, João Moutinho and Adrien Silva are more than capable or facing Croatia’s or anyone’s midfield. Plus football is 11+3 vs. 11+3, even if Croatia had the better midfield, which they don’t, that would only be part of the equation.


Naturally, as one of Europe’s top 10 teams and because Europe has over 10 World Cup spots, and there isn’t any serious threat in their 2018 World Cup qualifying group, I expect to see them again in the 2018 World Cup. Ever since their independence they always kept a “good level”, it’s more than one good generation. And I think that the next generations should also be very good, their under-21 team is currently leading a group against title holder Sweden and Spain, probably Europe’s greatest football superpower.And their under-20 national team qualified for two of the last three World Cups and may qualify to the next one as well, they are already among Europe’s final 8 and now all they need is to be one of the top 5.I believe that these next generations will keep Croatia at a good level; perhaps the next 10 years will be better than the last 10.


Michael: Croatia’s tournament was split into four parts: the first game which was tentative and won by a moment of accidental genius, the second game in which they were great until the Ultras intervened, the third game when, delighted by the reprieve from UEFA, they played like everyone of us feel they could, and finally the fourth game when they reverted to fear and swiftly crashed out. If only the Croats could play like they did in their third game all the time, they’d be THE team in all of Europe. It seems like every time they threaten to break out of their shells, they get altitude sickness.
I thought Pjaca, from the little we saw of him, looked promising. Mind you, I thought Rebic looked promising in 2014 and whatever happened to him? Perisic is the unsung hero of that midfield in which Modric and Rakitic get so much of the praise. As for Kalinic, he had his best game I can recall for the national team.



What Went Right – The team on the pitch for most of 3 games.
What Went Wrong – Some of their fans.
Their moment – Beating Spain, and making the world believe they could win it all for just a couple of days.



Expert View



“Team of the group stages. Croatia: The perennial tournament dark horses, Croatia may just have gone beyond that status and entered the favourites’ enclosure by topping Group D. Defeating Spain, without the injured Luka Modric, was a real statement of intent from a team who could now go all the way.” Mark Ogden, Independent 23 June 2016


“However, I’m heartbroken for Croatia right now. I can’t think of a side that’s brought more to these European Championships. I’ve enjoyed watching them so much that I haven’t missed any of their games. And why would anyone? They played with a style befitting the host nation, whose language provides the best description of Croatia’s style: Joie de vivre.” Sebastian Hassett, Croatia’s Euro 2016 exit a heartbreaking lesson for all, SBS 27 June 2016



A Gav Diversion



Gav: I just found Penny Crayon online.


Michael: Flipping ‘eck, not heard of that since it was shown. Lots of kids TV gets easily forgotten though, like Albert the 5th Musketeer.


Gav: Yeah, and Round the Bend.


Michael: Round the Twist?


Gav: No, Round the Bend. Some weird satirical ITV comedy. It was presented by a crocodile.


Michael: Didn’t see it. I liked Stoppit and Tidyup, with the late Sir Terry of Wogan.


Gav: Ah yes! Me too! That was my mum’s favourite phrase. What about Finders Keepers? A Neil Buchanan gsame show where you got to wreck rooms looking for prizes.


Michael: I saw that one.


Gav: How2?


Michael: I remember that too. Fred Dinenage showed up in something recently – possibly Pointless Celebrities – but he’s only seventy-three! I thought he’d be at least ninety!


Gav: Only 73? Blimey! He looked seventy-three at the time! There was also this show about a girl who has a dad who is an alien.


Michael: Half Way Across the Galaxy and Turn Left.


Gav: No.


Michael: My Parents are Aliens?


Gav: No.


Michael: Animorphs?


Gav: No, Out of this World. Seems like lots of shows that plot, though. I am suffering from an overdose of wine and nostalgia.


Michael: Be wary of wine – last time I had some, I got engaged.



R Ireland



“Do you remember, Walter, how we said we'd fight the world so we'd be free.
We'd save up all our money and we'd buy a boat and sail away to sea.
But it was not to be.”



Michael: What fools said they’d get thumped?


Jon: *innocent face*


Gav: That was very impressive, Ireland’s performance. Turns out I wanted them to win after all. Their level of energy was very impressive, and that the dude who nearly scored a couple of long shots was awesome. Hendrick. Also a team that spent most of their team trying to kick the ball to Long are OK in my eyes.

Jon: Well, we were wrong, but I don’t think we were too far wrong. A brave Ireland side snaffled a point from a woeful Sweden and were unlucky not to grab all three before being soundly thrashed in exactly the kind of way this blog predicted by Belgium. This left them needing a point against Italy in their last game. Normally this would be a formidable task but it’s on this game your opinion of Ireland’s tournament depends.


Let’s take nothing away from Ireland; the luck of the way the group developed fell their way and they took full advantage. Italy were already qualified, made several changes and – let’s be honest – didn’t look as if they were going flat out in a game that meant little to them. And still a full-strength Ireland scraped a late winner in a reasonably even game. Credit to Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane for instilling that cussedness and the Irish joy at the winner and going through to the knockout stages was one of the great moments of the tournament. Buffon joining in the Irish celebrations was a heartwarming sight but also perhaps indicative of the Italians not being overly concerned about the result. Given their group stage history a Scotland side in the same position would have found a way not to win.


Michael: Grumble, grumble.


Jon: So from the point of view of our predictions Ireland overachieved by reaching the last 16 and a more than honourable defeat to France; they were only undone by Griezmann’s sharpness. A side of Ireland’s means losing to a couple of moments of magic from a player light years ahead of theirs in terms of ability is no disgrace; a defeat with honour. Ultimately I suppose it has to go down as a memorable tournament for the Irish in the lineage of Italia 90 and USA 94. Martin O’Neill is the new Jack Charlton.


What Went Right – Their tenacity.
What Went Wrong – Belgium, and 3 minutes against France.
Their moment – The Italy goal. Though Hoolahan’s screamer against Sweden is up there.



Experts View



“Martin O’Neill’s team have unquenchable spirit and they have repeatedly refused to be cowed by reputations or the odds. There were those who said Ireland would not reach these finals after the qualification defeat in Scotland and the draw against the same team in Dublin. Many more gave them no chance at home against Germany in October but they would beat the world champions 1-0. And how about the 1-0 win against Italy in Lille last Wednesday, which had propelled them to this last-16 showdown? It was arguably the finest tournament result of their history. At the interval here against the host nation, against the title favourites, when they held another 1-0 lead, courtesy of Robbie Brady’s in-off-the-post penalty, the home crowd were sufficiently nervous to boo their team. O’Neill might have wondered whether he and his players were about to top the lot but football is an unforgiving sport and when France scented blood in the second half, they executed the kill. They clicked, belatedly, in an attacking sense and it was quite the demonstration of power, particularly from Griezmann.” David Hytner, Ireland’s unquenchable spirit burns fiercely until the end in lion’s den, The Guardian 26 June 2016



Slovakia


“When you were young you had a vision
Why'd you go and do a thing like that?
And now we see you on the television.”

killers Eyes



Gav: *insert witty comment here*


Michael: Tell me about it. They lost to Wales, they beat Russia (but didn’t everyone? Bar Roy) and then lost to Germany.


Joao:  If their goal was just to be better than neighbours Czech Republic, I guess that’s mission accomplished. If it was more than that, and they wanted to go as far as possible, then perhaps they should have won their opening match against Wales, in order to play this round against Northern Ireland instead of Germany, and probably reach the last eight instead of being out. Germany vs. Italy or Spain will be the first serious test to the World Champions; so far they hadn’t a serious test ever since they won the World Cup.


Jon: Clearly Slovakia provided the greatest moment of the tournament by allowing Bale to get the Welsh tournament off to a fast start. Their good manners in allowing Hal Robson-Kanu to scuff a late equaliser only compounded my fondness for them. You also have to say that for a team with Martin Skrtel in defence to keep a clean sheet is an absolute triumph, even if it’s only against Roy Hodgson’s easily confused England.


Their qualification for the knockout stages was obviously helped by Russia’s collapse; nevertheless it was a pleasure to watch Hamsik run the game and conjure a goal which combined guile and great skill. The scoreline flattered Russia as much as their last second draw with England.  The point which secured their progress was helped by what appeared to be a confused England selection which appeared to think that just turning up would be enough for the three points to top the group. Instead Slovakia exposed England’s flaw; that they were essentially a collection of individuals without a coherent game plan to pressurise and break down a well-organised defence. They might well have demonstrated to Iceland the way to frustrate the English.


Someone had to play Germany in the last 16; Slovakia got the short straw and… well, they didn’t precisely stretch the Germans. They rarely tested the German defence and even allowed Boateng his first international goal in 63 games. Ultimately they leave satisfied having achieved around what they expected to in the tournament but bar the quality of Hamsik not leaving much of an impression either.



Michael: I’ve been banned from reading bedtime stories to Sarah. Apparently they get her too excited. Gran suggested I should make my diction more boring. Perhaps I should show her Slovakia matches.



What Went Right – Hamsik, v Russia
What Went Wrong – Wales. Germany.
Their moment – Hamsik’s goal.


Experts




“That was so comprehensive Michael Gove is already trying to make it an academy.” Daniel Harris, The Guardian, 26 June 2016



“Slovakia's best moment came in the second group stage match against Russia, in which Slovakia showed all their strengths in a few minutes: Marek Hamsik's brilliant long-range pass set up Vladimir Weiss for the first goal, and then Napoli's playmaker scored one of the most beautiful goals of the Euro. However, Slovakia uselessly lost important points against Wales when they could have won, if they had not made big mistakes in the defence, especially the one committed by goalkeeper Matus Kozacik on Gareth Bale's free kick. Kozacik improved in the next matches and, in the end, was one of the best Slovak players in France. He was very important in holding England to a 0-0 draw and made several saves against Germany, including Mesut Oezil's penalty. Nobody will be disappointed in Slovakia, though some might wonder if they could have played better against Germany, because that performance certainly was not their peak.” Lukas Vrablik, Slovakia exceeded Euro 2016 expectations despite last 16 exit, ESPN 28 June 2016



Hungary



“And now all the houses
Are rare antiquities.
American tourists flock to see the village green.
They snap their photographs and say "Gawd darn it,
Isn't it a pretty scene?"”

Village Green



Michael: In their last group stage match, against Portugal, Hungary were able to rest players for the next stage because they were already qualified. That is bonkers, and if that doesn’t point to what a great job Storck and his men did, then nothing will.


Jon: That game against Portugal was a good one.


Michael: Shame they couldn’t win, and spare us the horror of Ronaldo winning the Euros.


Jon: Without a question the unexpected joy of the group stages. What was really refreshing about the sides whose appearances at summer tournaments are sporadic at best was that they generally adopted a positive attitude within their limitations. Northern Ireland’s performances against Poland and Germany or Albania’s against Switzerland were the exception rather than the rule. There was a refreshing refusal to be intimidated and these smaller sides generally demonstrated the values of organisation and teamwork that got them through the qualifiers. The ones who demonstrated that best were Wales in Group B and the two supposed minnows in Group F. If you want proof look at our predictions; Hungary were universally in last place and I managed the remarkable prediction of predicting the group the wrong way up.


Obviously Austria let us down in this, showing none of the verve they’d had in qualifying. I also like to think I called Portugal correctly; a negative side based around the hope Ronaldo will produce a moment of genius sneaked sheepishly into the knockout stages in third place with three draws and failed to look anything like their self-proclaimed status as favourites at any point. Iceland’s football may not have been pretty but their verve and resilience was infectious. 


Hungary though… they set about making our predictions look daft from the first game. Mind you, Storck thought before the game that a win for his team would be ‘a miracle’ so they weren’t alone. Not only did they beat Austria by a score that reflected their dominance of the game my *smug mode* player to watch Kleinheisler ran the game, setting up the opener and looking by far the smartest player on the field. Storck described it as a ‘dream… come true’.  The 1-1 draw with Iceland might have been salvaged with a late own goal but it was more than deserved. 


They sealed their place at the top of the group with one of the most entertaining games of the tournament and the sole goalfest of the first fortnight, Three times they took the lead against Portugal and three times they were pegged back with Dzsudzsak adding a couple to a spectacular Gera opener. It’s worth noting that in their other three games Portugal only conceded a single goal which says much for the underestimated Hungarian attack. Getting through the group stage with a win in the Habsburg derby that’ll be remembered for a long time was already an over-achievement on their part and the 4-0 defeat by a Belgian side that’s been in ominous form since losing their opening game was no shame; although they were second best the margin of victory flattered the Belgians with the last three goals coming in the last quarter of an hour with a tired Hungarian side chasing the game and throwing men forward. Instead it’ll be remembered for the joy and excellent football we saw in the group stages; Hungary competing with the big sides again after decades away. 


The decision to expand the competition to 24 teams may have led to a relative decline in the quality of football and excitement but Hungary were one of those sides who justified it. Portugal and Switzerland promise an awkward route to Russia in 2018 but with this style and having matched the Portuguese here their chances of at least a playoff look promising.


Michael: They were a complete and utter joy, and one of the best witnesses for the defence in why the expansion of the Euros was such a good idea. From their shock win over Austria to their 3-3 with Portugal, and still trying to get back into the game with Belgium late on, Hungary brought intensity, excitement and sheer la joie du jeu to the Euros.


What Went Right – The group stages.
What Went Wrong – The last 14 minutes against Belgium.
Their moment – Szalai’s goal against Austria.




Expert View




“Qualifying for the event – their first European Championship in over 40 years – was an achievement in itself, but the fact that the players ended up topping their group and reaching the knock out round went far beyond most expectations. Zoltán Gera, one of the players was delighted by the reception:“We are happy to be home again, although we would have stayed a little longer if it was possible, but it turned out this way, and we are very happy about a welcome like this and we hope that this is just the beginning.” Hungary’s supporters have had lots to cheer about during their spell in the tournament in France including the team being part of arguably one of the best matches so far – their draw with Portugal. Sadly they went out to Belgium in the next round.” Hungary’s football team returns as heroes, Euro News 28 June 2016




Spain



“You can see all the stars as you walk down Hollywood Boulevard,
Some that you recognise, some that you've hardly even heard of.
People who worked and suffered and struggled for fame,
Some who succeeded and some who suffered in vain.”

Celluloid Heroes



Jon: For sheer spectacle most fans in future will probably point to the 5-1 hammering by van Gaal’s Netherlands as the end of Spain’s golden era. But it wasn’t, it was just the shockwave; the pebble that begins the avalanche. Instead we’re talking of a Spanish side that went home after being second best to an Italian side missing several players through injury in the first knockout game; a return to the norm after a three tournament long blip.


 But are we just talking about this as the flipside of the Croatian exit? If Ramos scored his penalty or Perisic didn’t score in the last minute of the last group game Spain would have gone into the easier half of the draw and given their performances in the tournament the likelihood is that they’d have progressed to the final. In that case the narrative could’ve been quite different; either a last gasp of greatness or the glory era not quite being done. Their first two performances of the tournament certainly didn’t indicate any fundamental problems; perhaps the opening win over the Czech Republic indicated a problem with converting superiority into goals but then the 3-0 win over the Turks indicated otherwise. 


Even a first defeat at a Euro tournament for twelve years didn’t seem to augur particularly ill; you could put it down to carelessness at worst. There were no faults we didn’t know about, they were precisely the Spanish side we expected; as good as anyone in the history of the game at keeping the ball but with their system meaning no striker looked particularly fitting of the system. It’s strange to say of a side that won three tournaments in a row that there was always a glaring weakness but there it is. Whoever they used as a main man up front - Torres, Costa or Nolito – they always looked grafted on, the brutal, functional part of a side often looking built for aesthetic perfection as much as winning games.


But then their knockout defeat is suggestive that waiting to write the obituaries for the Spanish would simply have been a delay. The defeat to Italy was arguably even more comprehensive than that against the Netherlands in Brazil. David De Gea may have been caught out by a quick free kick which he didn’t seem ready for but in every other respect he was easily the man of the match for Spain as their midfield was overrun by the energetic high pressing game typical of Conte’s sides. Busquets was marked out of the game so Spain couldn’t get the ball to Iniesta in positions which would enable him to pick Italy apart whilst Eder and Pelle caused havoc. Pelle isn’t a superstar striker…


Gav: Oi!


Jon: …except to Gav but his workrate made this entire gameplan work.  After 2014 and the weakening of the team by retirements there’s a blueprint for beating the Spanish gameplan. It was tough to contain all three of Alonso, Xavi and Iniesta; far easier to contain just one of them as seen here. In that respect it’s the end of the ‘tiki taka’ era; not in that it’s now a tactic to be retired forever but that it’s now an option. In the way cataneccio, the English 4-4-2 or ‘total football’ are options. What comes next? I don’t know; we’re in an era where the dominant ways of playing are those resulting from the possession game being countered. It seems likely that this is the last we see of a lot of this Spanish side in tournament football and it’s a shame that one of the game’s greatest sides slides away with a traumatic World Cup and a sound beating in the knockout stages. But that tends to be the way of football; glory rarely passes without pain. It’s time to find out whether Spanish football’s next generation are the matadors of the past decade or the Don Quixotes tilting futilely but gloriously at windmills of the decades before that.


Michael: We all know what to expect from Spain now. Trouble is, so does the rest of Europe. This is how the Czech Republic, once the hipster darlings of Europe for their attacking mentality, and led by an attack-minded manager, elected to try and stifle out the Spanish. They encouraged Spain to try and break them down, and were five minutes away from it being worth a point. The Turks tried to take the game to Spain, and swiftly proved why so few people try that any more, as the Spanish forwards enjoyed how open the game became and won 3-0. That was where Morata looked his best, but there’s the feeling he will come good for Spain in future tournaments. Nolito was good in patches, and also scored against Turkey, but Aduriz didn’t get much time to show his talents.


However, can we make the case that Turkey actually showed the way to beat Spain? Croatia and Italy took similar paths, but were far better sides, and crucially, far better at defending.


Jon: A bit of a stretch there.


Michael: What isn’t a stretch, however, is to enjoy the Italian victory over Spain for what it was, one of the great international performances. And if that doesn't give credit to Spain, that it took such a performance to dethrone them, then I don't know what will.


What Went Right – The game against Turkey.
What Went Wrong – Croatia, then Italy.
Their moment – Morata’s goals.


Expert view





“"I think we have to undertake a big reflection, in terms of style and level," the 29-year-old said. "We don't have the level that we had a couple of years ago." The Barcelona centre-back added: "We are a team that can win matches because of our name and our past, but we are not the best team. We are not in a position to win tournaments right now. "It's not only about the level of the players. Despite trying to play the same way as we have done in recent years, we weren't as effective. "This exit could help us to go into future competitions knowing that we are no longer favourites to win." Gerard Pique, to the BBC.




England




all the stories that've been told, 
of Kings and days of old, 
but there's no England now"
Living on a Thin Line




Gav, 22nd June 2016, 18.54: Yeah, there’s no way England can beat Iceland.


Michael: Trust England to go and ruin the football half of the “no chance of an early Brexit” gag. 


Who was their manager, Jeremy Corbyn?


Jon: Remember what you said on Monday morning?


Michael: No?


Michael, Monday morning This round of 16’s been quite dull you know, everything going according to seeding…


Gav: Did you know that 1 in every 150, 000 Icelanders has now scored against England? I feel really sorry for Iceland.


Michael: Isn’t that always the way with Cupsets? Focus more on the team upset than the team who won?


Gav: Pisses me off that any top team Southampton beat they were shit rather than Southampton outclassing them.


Michael: No matter what the football result, Gav will find a Southampton parable.


Jon: The European Championships have been running since 1960 and in their present form of a centralised final tournament since 1980. In all that time the English national side has only managed to win one knockout game. And that was on penalties on home soil against a Spanish side vastly superior on the day. Greece and Denmark, nations which England would consider themselves superior to, each beat that sorry tally in one tournament. Choose your starting point of 56 or 36 years as you wish but that seems to point to a deep failing that goes beyond blaming any single player or manager.  Under the pressure of knockout football there’s some failing in the English mentality; an acceptance of fate perhaps or an inability to think clearly under pressure or deal with the vagaries of fortune and refereeing. 


It’s there in the longstanding bitterness over Maradona’s Hand of God, in the red cards for Beckham and Rooney provoked by Simeone and the winking Ronaldo and in Lampard’s goal which wasn’t. It’s there in the neurotic attitude to penalty shootouts which has been such a huge psychological flaw since the Euro 96 semi-final. When opportunities come in knockout football there seems to be a reluctance to step forward and risk ridicule even if the rewards could be incredible. Is that down to the howling tabloid mentality which demands scapegoats or something innate in the national character?  I don’t know. The fact remains that since their quarter-final in Leon in 1970 England have buckled under pressure; arguably only against Cameroon in Italia 90 did they come through a test. Instead the national footballing narrative became one of glorious failure but over the last decade or so even the glorious element has dropped out. This decade there’s been a thrashing by a rising German side, a 120 minute defensive rearguard action against Italy and the meek group stage exit of 2014. In all those exits there was little question of hard luck; England were second best in every single one of the crucial games.


In the circumstances then perhaps we shouldn’t have been overly surprised at what happened in Nice; history suggests a malaise deeper than any manager and player we might scapegoat. It was something that was on the cards from the moment Iceland refused to accept the role England had preordained and instead of politely knowing their place had the audacity to quickly recover from the shock of an early goal and take the lead before twenty minutes had been played. In the face of an opponent who could match their physicality and athleticism England quickly ran out of ideas and fell confusedly to pieces, unable to complete simple passes or genuinely threaten an equaliser. There was no folk memory of English resilience in a crisis to draw on – indeed you might see it as reflective of the wider national crisis of Brexit - and their aimless, leaderless state leading to their stumbling out of the tournament was simultaneously heartbreaking and embarrassing to behold. The dying of the light was feared and eventually accepted with slumped shoulders and thousand yard stares. Raging against it is not the done thing old boy, we’re English don’t you know.


The narrative of the Premier League being full of foreigners is, particularly in the current climate, an extremely tempting one. It’s also not hugely convincing. Serie A flourished in the 1990s and the national team were a couple of penalty shoot-outs from a World Cup final on home soil and a World Cup win on another continent. The Spanish national team won three straight tournaments with all its iconic players (Messi and Ronaldo in particular) being drawn from abroad. At best these foreign players spread ideas and ways of thinking and thereby ensure the national game doesn’t stagnate (for an example of that, have a look at how long it took for English football to recover in European terms after the Heysel ban).  And those who use the Premier League excuse don’t really answer the question: how would simply giving some players a free pass into bigger sides improve the national team? If they’re good and determined enough wouldn’t they be making a breakthrough anyway?  Or do England lose young players to the ether because the odds of playing for your favourite team are stacked further against you than ever and the power of dreaming is lost?


So past roots and causes, how was the tournament? The narrative of group stages is always indeterminate; they’re merely a path to the knockout stages so for anyone who navigates their way through them we’re dealing with an incomplete narrative. You can only look back on them in light of what happens afterwards; for memories or to damn a meekly exiting team with signs we should all have seen. In truth the group stages mainly told a tale of unexciting competence. At first the Russia game was hailed as a sign of progress; despite the draw England were by far the better team and failed to convert their initiative into chances and goals. And when a series of poor substitutions allowed Russia to push up and come back into the game they were harshly punished in the last minute. Against Wales there seemed no plan when 1-0 down at halftime, Wales were eventually undone by every member of England’s forward talent being deployed. Muscle used rather than persuasion. And against Slovakia a well organised defence again frustrated England. They were never really in any danger of an early exit but hardly made easy work of the group either. Finishing second didn’t look to be too much of a problem with Iceland to face but then that ignored that Iceland had overcome the Dutch home and away in qualifying and made it to the knockouts with the same record as England.


Really, the lesson from England’s tournament is one that we’ve talked about here that’s dogged supposedly lesser sides; the likes of Albania and Romania. Despite arguably one of the finest collection of forwards in the tournament they constantly struggled to create chances – not one of their four goals came from a well-worked move.  They accumulated two set piece goals (Dier’s free kick and Rooney’s penalty) and relied on the sharpness of Vardy and Sturridge when fortune presented them with chances against Wales – Vardy’s goal itself was created by header by Wales captain Ashley Williams falling to him when he was otherwise a yard offside. This might actually be the fundamental problem; by weight of population, history and long term world ranking positions England should consider itself a world power in football and be unashamed of that. At its most jingoistic it sometimes does. But it often treats itself like a small nation, an underdog when it’s nothing of the kind. 


England’s population of 53.01 million (according to the 2011 census) ranks 27th in the world; ahead of Spain and not far behind France and Italy. Of the traditional footballing giants only Brazil, Germany, France and Italy have a greater population but still there’s the narrative embodied in the opening commentary samples of Three Lions of doom, gloom, and national decline. England too often talk themselves down and here was no exception. What changes the mentality of players who’ve been so successful with their clubs when they pull on a white (or red) shirt?



Michael: Harry Kane. Everyone thought he’d be the 1998 Undertaker’s brother Kane, but he turned out to be the 2016 Kane instead.


Gav: My main complaint about England’s performance was Rooney. Forcing people to play different roles because of your talisman being out of his traditional role seemed stupid.


Michael: It felt like the game had passed Rooney by. I’d have taken Defoe over Rooney myself.


Gav: Hodgson’s gone, I hope Rooney is next.


Michael: Rooney as manager? Nah, it’ll never work.


Jon: So is there anyone to point the finger at beyond a confluence of problems? So far I’ve essentially been trying to avoid my own instinctive finger pointing from our preview but it feels unavoidable.  Roy Hodgson is a fundamentally conservative coach based on rigid formations – his success abroad was based on exporting the English game of athleticism and set pieces rather than absorbing and adapting other philosophies. This meant that chances against them from open play were minimised – only Iceland’s winner wasn’t the result of a set piece. But it also left a gaping creative void – whilst Lallana helped create chances with his hustling in the final third there was no-one truly inventive to create chances with shrewd passing. The idea was perhaps for Rooney to switch play but accommodating him almost inevitably slowed play down, particularly when those long passes tended to be floated and allow defences to set themselves up. His exhortation late in the first half against Iceland to speed up passing caused some ironic laughter in the Arnold household.


Gav: Hodgson sleepwalked the qualifiers but I don’t think he had the right ideas for the tournament.

 The better team won.


Michael: Time for Big Sam then.


Jon: The one truly successful half of football England played was against Wales; but again this seemed the result of tactical anarchy rather than judgement and relying on pressure to create mistakes. It was the philosophy of the bully; advantages of resource overwhelming the lesser team.  It’s effective but crude and hardly indicative of managerial shrewdness. And again, against Slovakia, despite the changes made the problems remained with the team dominating but failing to take advantage. Possession advantage was pointed to as a marker of performance but we’re four years away from Spain’s tiki taka team; ceding possession is a tactic popularised by Mourinho and far from indicating superiority often indicates a tactical manoeuvre by the opposition coach. 


That said, up until the game against Iceland where their failures against an obdurate defence caused minds and bodies to frazzle, this side looked more comfortable in possession than most previous ones. Then there were problems of selection; this side was largely based around a core from a Spurs side which collapsed drastically at season’s end; worn down by a season’s worth of demands of Pochettino’s preferred style. Kyle Walker did just fine but Alli and Kane contributed little; perhaps it would’ve been good management to go with Sturridge, who had fresher legs and good late season form or the youthful energy of Rashford or even the pace of Vardy? England managers should perhaps be more aware than most of the need to husband resources after long and demanding seasons.


Gav: Vardy showed what effort level is required, but he rarely got the ball so most of the effort level was based on him chasing lost causes.


Michael: He mostly showed that effort on the bench.


Gav: Yep. I think Shearer performed best this tournament. Most of his opinions of what Hodgson was doing wrong were spot on.


Michael: Shearer’s very good at that when he’s not being a manager himself.


(everyone laughs)


Jon: Ultimately this tournament will be remembered as devastatingly disappointing; a defeat to a team the players, management and public expected them to beat reasonable comfortably coming at a time of national crisis. Add the slightly condescending attitude and you can perhaps evoke the spectre of another of England’s most traumatic moments. At what now looks like the other end of its EU membership, in 1973, with the three day week in place and the Troubles in Northern Ireland migrating to the mainland Alf Ramsey’s England failed to reach the World Cup by failing to beat Poland at home. Brian Clough famously dismissed the goalkeeper, Jan Tomaszewski, as a ‘clown’, sneering at him for no good reason. England’s confidence that night was misplaced; based on assumption of status rather than knowing their opponent’s strengths and having a coherent plan for beating them. 


Nearly forty-three years later tactics, diet and fitness have cosmetically changed the game but for England nothing‘s fundamentally changed, right down to the thousand yard stares at the final whistle.  As the previous Thursday proved, just over half a country considered the notion of a Great Britain and the magnificence of England something to be proud of and worth voting for ahead of membership of the wider world. But as the fallout and the football then asked: is it really that great? In both global and sporting terms, with leaders abdicating and no-one seemingly ready to step up to deal with immediate and longstanding problems, the future’s uncertain.


Michael: Some people were good though, like Eric Dier.


Gav: Even he was wasted. Most of the time it felt like Rooney was trying to do Dier’s role.



Michael: Because Rooney is undisciplined.


Gav: Yeah, despite trying to take a role that requires discipline. That’s the thing, assuming Rooney is world class, which he isn’t, if he’s not a good enough striker anymore he sure as hell isn’t a good fit for midfield. I don’t understand this need to pander to him for England or Manchester United.


Michael: Must be that FA diktat.


Gav: Do United have a dkitat?


Michael: No, they’re just daft. Mind you, so is The Sun. Even in the Iceland game, they rated Rooney as 8/10.


Gav: I think Nigel Adkins should get the England job.


Michael: Really? To carry on the Southampton tradition at international level?


Gav: Because he’s a great motivator.


Michael: Didn’t he get sacked at Southampton, and Reading, and Leeds? I guess that’s great practice for being an England manager these days.


Gav: He did get sacked, but he’s an excellent motivator.


Michael: He certainly motivated his bank balance...with payoffs!


Gav: I don’t want Pardew to get it. I want a relegation battle for Pardew and him to lose it. So he can say, “I was right, I’m not the right kind of person for relegation battles”.


Michael: Scotland have England in the World Cup qualifiers, so I’m hoping they sign Brian Laws myself.



What Went Right – Rashford. Their only winning goal came with him on the pitch.
What Went Wrong – Scoring, Sterling, Hart, etc.
Their moment – Dier’s free kick against Russia. You could say it went downhill after...


Expert View




“Roy Hodgson is an old friend of mine and I still believe he should have been given the England role way back in 1994, after he had so resourcefully taken his Swiss team humbling Italy all the way to the World Cup finals. But that was a very long time ago and sadly I must concede that he made a monumental hash of this European championship.It was surely evident after the first match against Russia that he was getting things badly wrong. Against an ageing Russian team devoid of its two best players, and with Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge on the bench throughout, his England team for all their pressure could score just once not from open play but from a Eric Dier free kick.” Brian Glanville, Abject pathetic England and the hash made by Roy Hodgson, World Soccer 29 June 2016



“How can it be thought of any differently when the suffering came against a country with a population roughly the size of his home town of Croydon and absolutely no history of tournament football? What heroes Iceland were: brave, organised, superb. They have established themselves as the greatest story of Euro 2016 and it feels almost like a trick of the imagination that it is only four years since they were ranked 133rd in the world. That, however, will not lessen the embarrassment for England, their departing manager and a set of players who chronically under-performed after Wayne Rooney’s early penalty. Iceland played with courage, skill and togetherness and might also fancy their chances against France in Sunday’s quarter-final. England, in stark contrast, dramatically lost their way once their lead had been wiped out and Hodgson resigned because he knew there was absolutely no way his contract would be renewed. England will have another manager for the next World Cup, Hodgson’s reign will be defined by a result comparable to losing to the United States in the 1950 World Cup and the now-familiar inquest will begin again in a country that likes to see itself as football royalty.” Daniel Taylor, England humiliated as Iceland knock them out of Euro 2016, The Guardian 27 June 2016



Michael: Any of the last sixteen exitees you are sad to see go?


Gav: Hungary. Northern Ireland. Republic of Ireland. This won’t be published anywhere, right?


Michael: Hey, if you can’t trust your friendly evil writer, who can you trust? It’s just between me, you, and the thousands of blog readers, honest.


Gav: Phew! Ok, good. Well, actually, I’m not sad to see N Ireland go, as I’d already come to terms with one of Wales or N Ireland being gone.


Michael: Northern Ireland had to go for Wales to survive, and vice versa.


Gav: Exactly. So just Hungary and the Republic of Irish.


Michael: I wonder if the Arnold family have recovered yet. I’m quite sad to see Croatia go, and Hungary.


Gav: I thought Hungary did very well. Unfortunate that Belgium woke up.


Michael: Ever since Wilmots lost the dressing room, they’ve been great. Did you see his face when Hazard’s goal went in? Never seen a man look so gutted his side were 3-0 up in a European finals before.


Gav: Hah, yeah!



Michael: Anyhow, tune in next time for more existentialist Portuguese angst, Welsh angst when Jon has to come to terms with Wales almost certainly going to Belgium later tonight, and the fallout of Germany/Italy. Will the Germans finally beat the Italians?