Sunday, 10 July 2016

This ends tonight

So who is it to be?

 Flamboyant but potentially frail France?

Painful yet well-paced Portugal?

Presumably the odds, and the general feeling is heavily swayed towards France; but I've a feeling that Portugal might rise to the occasion tonight. Ronaldo has been playing well without massively impacting the games. I think we will see his smile at some point this evening, he might hit a free-kick on target?!

France of course, both profligate (Giroud) and free-scoring (everyone else, and even Giroud on occasions - in the same ways that monkeys with typewriters would one day rewrite Shakespeare) are rightly favourites, but their frailty at the back makes me think that Portugal's power and pace going forward (when they actually commit to an attack) could cause them some trouble.

It's been a decent tournament, with some good highlights (which I will obviously go into in my round-up post); yet for me it has yet to truly catch fire. A hum dinging final will potentially sway my opinion.

As I left things, France were playing Germany in the semi, and after getting roundly panned for the first 45 minutes, they actually came out worthy winners in the end. Griezmann was pretty sensational.

My prediction. 2-1 to Portugal. A french full back to get a red card after Nani feigns death. Ronaldo to pose on the pitch for a selfy with the Portugal manager and an onrushing fan. His wink lost amongst the flapping of moth wings, but there nonetheless.

Go football....

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Vive la France!

So, here we are. One game left, and for me, a whopping amount of games to recap on. Life, work, and the time difference have been strong enemies these past couple of weeks, although the dose of reality hitting my fellow blogger with responsibilities makes me feel somewhat better at losing track.

Like any good tournament tradition, it's been far easier to follow since England's humiliating exit. Enough said about that the better (although I couldn't resist joining the Brexit gag bandwagon,

That said, there was a memorable personal experience as I reached a personal low in attempting a delayed "live" viewing. Destroyed in an instant by one excited American colleague (and sadly for me, unanticipated) instant message to proclaim "what a crazy game, they're 2-1 down after 20 mins, did you know?".   Now, there's so many things wrong with that communication, I don't know where to start. Sure enough, the match was watched later that evening with a mixed sense of dread and inevitability. To compound matters, I had also score-avoided and taped Spain v Italy played earlier that day, for which Ian Darke kindly reminded me as I watched the England game, had seen the Italians triumph. Bugger.

So that's the lowlight covered, here are my highlights/other lowlights:

  • Good: A great run by the Welsh. Helping me to maintain my ladbrokes account by fulfilling my bet on them reaching the semi-finals. Ramsay gave one of the performances of the tournament and Belgium had no answer. 
  • Bad: The yellow card, ruling Ramsay out of the semi, and the really bad - the miserly Portuguese waiting to take advantage. 
  • Good: The worst penalty shootout in living memory. And it involved the Germans! 
  • Bad: The 120 minutes before said shootout. And the fact years of English anguish is solely down to the fact the Germans NEVER miss!
  • Good: A terrific France team coming together at just the right time, to be the tournament team improving with every game. And their star player stepping up in a big way and not disappointing. 
  • Bad: Somehow, Giroud is still on this terrific team. It makes no sense...
  • Very Good:  The semi-final of France and Germany producing the game of the tournament by far. German domination, followed by dodgy German defending (what! see years of English anguish above... where was this in '96!), followed by superb support from the French crowd and their best players rising to the occasion
  • Very Bad: The cluster of how the knockout draw opened up. Can't help feel the games have peaked with that encounter and we're robbed a good final. Hope I'm wrong. 
So that leaves me with a final prediction, so here goes:

- I'm going all in on France glory. A comfortable 2-0 win and the demonstration of invincibility when they are allowed to host a tournament.
- I may miss half of the game by incredulously exclaiming, "Mark Clattenburg got the refereeing job for the final!?" Unreal
- Lots of pouting from CR7
- He went quiet on the scoring front but I'm thinking Payet will register. 
- Pogba's rumoured transfer fee rising exponentially as the game is played out. 
- I will snigger quietly by cheering on Umtiti.....he,he

That is all. Game on. 

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Real life and CR7

Real life has gotten in the way for the past few days. Not to the extent of actually missing the football (though it was touch and go last night, as I lay on the floor of my sub-1 year old baby's room, watching on my iPhone in between bouts of screaming. Him not me.)  - but to the extent of not being able to post on this blog. I've hit a massive milestone with work, launching a website which has been a labour of love for the past year, and then resigning (the same day). Job done and all that.

As I left things before I was fully expecting Portugal to book a semi-final place. Since then they have not only done so - but followed it up by booking a final place too. Ronaldo is gradually coming to life, his bullet header setting the tone last night (though his failed free kick count now stands at 42 in a row).

The surprise of course is that they didn't triumph in the semi against Belgium. Wales did an Iceland and brushed Belgium aside in the QFs. Whilst very exciting and romantic, it did of course deny us a classic semi-final - because Wales's demise, like Iceland before them, was pretty much inevitable. Without Ramsay, they had little drive in midfield, and Portugal actually look a classy outfit, when they release the shackles.

Tonight we see hosts France (who of course taught Iceland a lesson and were so dominant that even Giroud looked good) against Germany. It could be a classic, though I fear a cagey encounter might prevail. We should all support France as that would bring a potentially exciting final. Portugal v Germany has 120 minutes of nil nil, then penalties written all over it.

Post Brexit Blues

The fall out from recent European events continues to shake the UK. A new survey conducted today found a selection of 21-30 year old males regretted their recent decisions on exiting the E.U.:

"I just don't think the facts and ramifications were fully spelled out for me" said J. Hart of Manchester. "Had I known then, what I know now, I would have not gone with my floppy left hand to stop the ball. But Danny had bailed me out in the group stages and 'Arry assured me he was feeling in the zone, and would bag a hat full in the second half, "

Mr Hart was not alone in his anguish and regret. "Yeah, I did tell Joe that, H. Kane, 22, said ruefully. "I just got carried away with it all I suppose. All the chatter about England being the greatest country and all that, I thought we were invincible and there was nothing we couldn't achieve, you know, no matter how many long throws we didn't bother defending. Now, looking back, I realize the powers that be were feeding so much misinformation into the process, that instead of focusing on the key issues, I was left thinking I was great at taking corners".

It's a consistent theme and message that is heard over and over again amongst this age group, many of which feel let down by the older generation, who acted strongly to ensure that the UK jumped off the European boat quicker than a Boris Johnson leadership campaign. "Do I feel like the old folk screwed us? You're damn right I do", said R. Sterling, 19. "Thanks to their poor decision making and lack of compassion for the significant challenges facing the younger generation, such as how to bejewel my new sink, I'm now facing an uncertain future thanks to them. Before the summer, I had career choices and aspirations. They've all gone now, as everyone realises I'm a bit shit. Of course, people say, 'why don't you actually try to beat a man and actually keep the ball under control?'. And to that I say, nah... blame the old people."

The older generation obviously don't take such sentiment lightly. "Well, I just think it's short-sighted...all of this criticism saying this and that, there is no plan, there is no plan as to how we move forward", bemoaned R. Hodgson, 68. "And to that I say, what was the fucking plan while we were in Europe?? For heaven's sake, I brought 5 strikers and played most of them as wingers. I included Jordan Henderson in an international squad. Come on...! So yeah, there was no plan before, and there is no plan now. So nothing has really changed. Hodgson wandered off into the night, muttering, "it's not really my problem to solve anyway is it mate?" . Rumours he looks set for a future on the political arena have not yet been substantiated.

Yet amongst this backdrop of regret and despair, some remain unrepentant. And it's the key issue of immigration that is the driving force. "No regrets. No regrets at all mate." says G. Cahill, 30. "My mate, JT, is always educating me on foreign affairs - he seems to really have a good handle on that kind of stuff. And basically yeah, no foreigners please. As long we keep things English, it's all good mate. It's laughable, but if we do that, I've actually got a chance of keeping my day job. Now you open things up to a three legged donkey from Lithuania, and well... I'm probably on the bench with JT". 

But even on immigration, the underlying tone of regret and remorse pervades as we circle back with Mr Sterling. "Yeah, I think a lot of us are feeling a bit sheepish now. I didn't quite realise how much we all relied on the E.U.  I thought David Silva was from Bury, and Vincent Kompany was a Burnley lad. Turns out they're foreigners, and they make me look better than I actually am. So you can see the positive impact to the community they provide."

And as the nation continues to digest the historic events of these past few weeks, we spoke with J. Vardy, 29, who offered a succinct footnote to this complicated debate as we posed the question of how does a man in the street truly evaluate the medium and long-term economic toll of what has just happened? - "Huh? No idea what you're talking about mate. But did I tell you my agent negotiated my new contract to be paid in $USD? Chat Shit Get Banged!"

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Down and out

As I left things a few days ago, I was just watching Germany sparking to life with a dominant performance vs Slovakia to reach the Quarter-Finals. Then as expected, Belgium tore into Hungary and booked their own spot.

And so the following day England did there thing against Iceland. I was a picture of confidence, if not arrogance. I shook hands with a colleague, who I thought had stupidly bet me a tenner that Iceland would win. Easy money I thought. Even when we were losing 2-1, I confidently said to the missus that "It's fine. We're the better team, playing better football. We. Will. Win". And then it unravelled.

Where Germany engage their game-face and knuckle down into tournaments, England, irrespective of the exact personnel involved seem to collectively shit themselves. It was such a spectacular self-befouling from all angles:

  • From the studio, where Peter Crouch seemed to be having a live, pre-match breakdown about how England just couldn't cope and never achieved;
  • In the commentary box, where Hoddle seemed to be having another faith-healer moment, gibbering panicky phrase after panicky phrase before contradicting himself and panicking once more 
  • On then bench, where Hodgson seemed to have some sort of mental cataclysm that made him think Wilshire was the answer to the need for "more urgency and pace" (I have never seen a footballer swan about so much and look so slow - and this from a Villa fan who has seen the likes of Kevin Richardson, a 38-year old Robert Pires and Mattieu Berson littering our midfield)
  • On the pitch where Kane thought he was taking conversions, where Sterling thought that crossing a ball was a red card offence and where Hart thought that slathering his gloves with lubricant was a fine idea. What a shambles.
But we soldier on. As I say on all of the major competition blogs, I always enjoy the tournament more once England are out. I do fervently support us; but it just seems easier to relax and enjoy the football. For what it is worth, I think the usual debrief and talk of root and branch reform is tosh. We played well this tournament, better than I can ever remember us playing (save for '96 perhaps) - but we had a bad game and got caught out by a team with real hunger.

Before the England carnage, Italy reminded us of how a team can be more than the sum of its parts - putting in a fabulous display vs Spain and knocking them out.

Tonight I am expecting Ronaldo to help book Portugal's semi final place against Belgium, and playing himself yet further into form. I even think he might strike a free-kick on target...just a hunch.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Round of 16

Another hard-core weekend of sporting delight in the Birch household - starting yesterday with England's stunning efforts in the Rugby series against Australia. That, in truth was probably the best entertainment of the day.

Switzerland vs Poland had the look of a group game at best, and was a battle of 2 poor sides, which astoundingly Poland came out on top of. They looked very poor; yet I suppose are now dreaming of "doing a Greece" [winning a major tournament whilst being widely regarded as utter toilet]. And even then it was only really settled by a penalty miss that will see Jason Puncheon quietly smirking to himself.

Wales and Northern Ireland then played out a League One-esque affair with the own goal settling it. Nothing additional to say about that match.

And in the evening game, the most attractive of the three, there was something of a shock as Portugal ousted widely fancied Croatia. Certainly Portugal have the look of a team growing into the tournament. Ronaldo even relinquished a free-kick, letting one of his team mates instead take the set-piece [albeit under clear instructions not to shoot but to swing it in for Ronaldo's head]. They looked quite slick going forward, and more robust at the back than they had. Luca Modric, whilst looking alarmingly similar to Jay from The Inbetweeners failed to get a proper grip on the match and so that is that for Croatia.

Today's games are significantly more attractive. The early game saw Republic of Ireland taking a dramatic lead against France, only to be pegged back and easily overcome in the end. Griezmann doing the damage with two quick strikes ("Griezed lightening" as the headline tomorrow anyone?). It would have been more than just 2-1 if (a) Giroud wasn't just an awful striker, 1 in 5 chances at best and (b) Gignac wasn't just a carbon copy of Giroud in terms of mobility, ability to finish and so forth.

I'm settled now watching Germany coming to life. It is literally as if someone has just reminded them that this is the knockout phase of a major tournament, and suddenly therefore they become formidable.

Later I am fully expecting Hungary to be torn into complete ribbons bye a Belgium team rampant and eying a virtual bye to the final...

Thursday, 23 June 2016

A day for heroes

What a stunning day of tournament football!

Goals, shocks, drama and finally England caught a break by avoiding Portugal in the round of 16 - which we all know would have been a tetchy affair settled by a moment of Ronaldo magic. For this we have Iceland to thank; with their heroic last minute breakaway and goal which has launched their partisan commentator into audio folklore.

The afternoon sparked into life with both Hungary and Iceland taking the lead in their respective games - putting their opponents Portgual and Austria into real peril. Both games sprang to life as the losing teams fought for their lives. Portugal kept coming back against Hungary, with Ronaldo finally finding his shooting boots and even providing an assist (first time he has passed the ball all tournament). And Austria made a belated effort to contribute to the tournament, and it was as they pushed for a winner that they were caught with the Icelandic breakaway.

And so it is that England now face Iceland next Monday. I will arrogantly suggest that this is as near to a bye as you can get - certainly it is a less dangerous fixture than Portugal would have been.

The evening games didn't disappoint either. Ireland, fresh from their "you've got to make sacrifices...if that means getting a red card, get a red card" pep talk (by Roy Keane), took just 4 second to commit their first leveller foul. They set their stall out, with Jeff Hendrick, the Irish Totti, pulling the strings. Italy of course were probably bribed or coerced into losing or something and had made 8 changes, but it doesn't take away from Irelands stunning effort - joining Wales and Northern Ireland in the last 16. At several points, Martin O'Neill looked like he would literally explode. He can be a very, very cross and sweary man; and looks more and more incongruous in a track suit as he approaches his twilight years.

Belgium won the other game - this was end to end and highly entertaining also. I am mainly mesmerised by the Belgium kit though - what a strong kit that is. Really, genuinely good.
Their prize for them is to be in the 'plate' side of the draw. It's all opened up now, with Germany, Spain, Italy, England and France all in the same side of the draw - and the likes of Croatia, Belgium, Portugal in the other. Belgium, despite such a slow start may yet grow into the tournament and gel in time for the final.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Multi-multi tasking

The final round of group games always provides that unique opportunity to deploy the multi-screen set up. No action is more sure to get a shake of the head from the wife. And so it was, Spain vs Croatia & Turkey vs Czech Republic running in parallel in scenes of perfect football-consumption efficiency.

Inspired by concept of multiple-inputs, I thought I'd try the same approach with the drinks I was having too. I ran with a crisp Australian Chardonnay accompanied by a Becks Blue [Alcohol-free]. The net result - less visits to the fridge, and no need for paracetemol today.

The Czech Republic were a real disappointment, failing to capitalise on the opportunity presented to them by Croatia's late collapse a few days earlier. Any team failing to beat Turkey deserves to go no further in this tournament. Croatia themselves looked sublime. Peresic and Rakitic ran the show in the second half and earned a deserved group win. Spain looked pretty formidable and with Moratta up front, look way more balanced than they have for some time, which is a scary thought, given their 75% major tounrament win record over the past 8 years.

Earlier in the day Northern Ireland proved that this 3rd place malarky is a bit of a farce. If they're going to expand the tournament, I'd rather they went the whole hog, had 32 teams and so could at least do a round of 16 made up of teams who have done well, rather than some stragglers and hangers on. This is an opinion I have held ever since England ensured they didn't finish 3rd!