Monday, 28 May 2012

Norway 0, England 1

So the Hodgson era got off to a winning start. Such is the low-key nature of our preparations, I'd not even clocked that this warm up match was happening, until the morning of the game itself. It immediately gave me a viewing dilemna - the match or the Eurovision - which is a fixture in my TV calendar. The modern, and brilliant solution of multi-screening (which will doubtless come into its own during the final round of group games), solved my problem; Eurovision on the telly with the England game on the laptop.

Observations from the game:

1. We need Hart to stay fit.
2. We have plenty of options at centre-half; and the Terry thing needn't have been such a big deal (i.e. we could have just left him out of the squad. That said, on recent form he'd have probably put his replica kit on, flown to Poland and pretended in any case.)
3. Hodgson puts out an organised team, though they did have a tendency to sit back rather a lot, which may hurt us against more potent opposition.
4. Young and Downing can both be very effective at international level - and both could be key players.
5. We could really do have done without Rooney being banned
6. Having Gerrard as nominated captain may prevent us playing the best midfield (Lampard looks a better player right now)

All in all a decent result in a pretty meaningless match - but the clean sheet and the win will certainly help the preparations along. Next up, Belgium at Wembley..

Sunday, 20 May 2012


The Tango 12. Classic ball.

Hopefully no nonsense about it being too light, heavy, misshapen, round and whatever other hoo-har there normally is. The main thing is that we see it nestled in the back of a French, Swedish, Ukrainian goal!

Predictions: Group D

And so to Group D, England's group. Of all the groups, this one looks like one we should get through. The group opens up with England vs France and Ukraine vs Sweden and I think those matches will pretty much determine the final group placings.

1. England. Not sure if I'd had a drink when I put together my predications, but England are there at the top of the group; perhaps playing with a bit more freedom and passion after a horribly lacklustre World Cup in 2010

2. France. In qualifying they have really turned things around (much like England) and if they keep that form together should qualify with ease. For England's sake we of course hope that the gallic mist will once again descend and that mutiny in the camp will help us get through, but I expect Laurent Blanc will run a tighter ship than that.

3. Sweden. Complete with Mellberg and other warrior like players I expect Sweden to battle hard have lots of horn-hatted support but ultimately to bow out without having troubled the opposition too much.

4. Ukraine. By all accounts their fans will be too busy beating the bejesus out of anything that moves to enjoy the football. I hope those reports turn out to be scaremongering, as the Euros does have the potential to be an absolute bloodbath. As co-hosts, Ukraine haven't had to qualify - which is just as well as I expect they wouldn't have. I just can't see them doing much.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Predictions: Group C

This one is pretty straight forward for me. Two stand-out teams (in the shape of Spain and Italy), and two underdogs, Croatia and the Republic of Ireland. I'm not really sticking my neck out and predicting anything out of the ordinary, but the group does have the potential for a surprise along the way.

1. Spain. I have to back them to top the group. They will likely do so with around 70%+ of possession in their games. Whilst some might argue that Xavi and Iniesta are not quite the force they were 2 and 4 years ago, they seem, in my mind to have beome more of a unit - and will be mightily hard to beat. I even think Torres will have a big impact as his form has improved as the season has gone on.

2. Italy. Basically the same as England, only better looking. I generally go into tournaments looking forward to seeing them, and expecting them to be good - only to be utterly disappointed. I hear they've made an improvement and play with a little more urgency; and so I expect them to be strong and possibly bag a semi final spot. The risk is that both Ireland and Croatia will be massively targeting them.

3. Croatia. Plenty of flair, but I think not enough about them to progress. There is the upset potential, but I think it is more likely that one of their defenders, loses the plot and sees the team slump to defeat with 10 men.

4. Republic of Ireland. Aha pluck time. Its been 20 years since they last qualified for a major tournament, and they have enough about them to have a real go. Looking forward to seeing Dunne and Keane get their chance to make an impact at this level, and the Irish have enough about them not to be whipping boys. Trap does tend to set them up rather defensively though, and I expect this might see them getting turned over by both Spain and  Italy.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Predictions: Group B

The yang to Group A's yin, this is a titanic group containing three of the five most likely team to win the tournament. It is an absolute belter and is evidence in itself why the Euros are often more fun to watch than a World Cup. 

This one should have goals and needle in equal portions and its just a shame that only 2 of the teams can progress. Here's how I think it will pan out.

1. Holland. They've got a great squad of players, who seem far less inclined to have the mass fallouts that blighted their tournament efforts in the past. They are my favourites to win the whole tournament, marking an evolution (having been runners-up to Spain in the World Cup). They are solid in defence, have a classy midfield and two of the three most prolific strikers in the tournament (Van Persie and Huntelaar). 

2. The Germans are hotly tipped to win the tournament; but I've a sneaking feeling that this time things might not go their way. I think they'll lose out in the group against Holland and then bow out completely in the semi's. 

3. Portugal. Lots riding on Ronaldo, after his ridiculously good season. He'll have his work cut out, but I suppose Portugal could be the fly in the ointment for the others. However I think the lack of overall team discipline will cost them dear, with the Germans and Dutch being not just efficient enough, but actually their equals in terms of flair too.

4. Denmark. Niclas Bendtner has his chance to show that he really is as good as he say's he is. I like the Danes, but they've got a bit of an uphill struggle here. Whoever they get a result against probably loses out and ends up third, so they'll have a massive part to play, but I expect them to be going home having been given a bit of a lesson to be honest.

Tomorrow..Group C.

Predictions: Group A

I've spent the past week doing a bunch of pre-tournament research to try to understand who's who and which teams are going to fare best. Here's how I think Group A (the tournament's "group of attrition") will unfold.

First thing to say is that there's not a lot of goals in this group. All of the teams involved seems to gradually suck the life out of opposition in order to qualify. If Alex McLeish watches the tournament, this is the group he'll fancy. Turgid, defensive, threat-less football abound - it should be a classic.

1. Russia - I have a feeling that Arshavin will be up for this, following what appears to have been a 4 year rest. The usual combination of aggressive bestubbled defenders and blonde waif like strikers, should bring about a group win, especially when knitted together by the like of Dzagoev. You never know, it might even be a little bit entertaining
2. Greece - I think the Greeks are going to provide their nation with some much needed relief. Whilst there might not be much support for the team (presumably the majority of Greeks can no longer afford the bus ticket, let alone a seat at the matches) - I think they've genuinely got a purpose. It must be pretty shitty at the moment, and there's nothing like the siege mentality to raise a team's game. Style wise, it won't be pretty. Papadopoulos will lead from the back in a defensive minded team, and the overall style won't be much different form when they won in 2004.

3. Poland - Sadly I foresee an exit for the co-hosts. They will run about in an enthusiastic way but prove ultimately to be lacking in the necessary quality. Should be fun listening to the commentary though, there's a lot of long tricky names to remember.

4. Czech Republic - traditionally full of flair, the Czech's are not as attractive and mighty as they once were, and I think they'll take the honour of trailing in the group. Rosicky is the man who could prove me utterly wrong, he has come back into form of late.

Group B to follow soon.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

England Squad announced

Much anticipation today as Roy Hodgson announced the 23 names that are to grace the Polish/Ukranian turf this summer. I'm surprised to see negative feedback about his selections - especially as the criticism is based around a lack of surprises. To me, "surprises" in this context tend to mean that a player who should be there on merit , in fact, misses out - so I am more than happy for the squad to be surprise free.

And I feel it is a strong squad. Keeper wise looks fine. I hope Ruddy acts as first back-up to Hart; as I don't rate Green...but generally we only need the one keeper, barring disaster (n.b. first kiss-of-death soundly delivered).

The defence was always going to be about Terry & Ferdinand. Personally I'd have preferred Hodgson to take neither. I think Ferdinand is now a bit past it; and the risk with picking Terry is that were we to do the unthinkable and win, and then find that Terry is subsequently charged with racial abuse/aggravation, then we'll look like chumps. That said though, the chances of both those things happening is probably so unlikely that Hodgson chose to take the gamble. On footballing merit alone, its probably worth taking him - lets just hope there's no politics or trouser-based escapades from him that ruin the dressing room spirit.

In midfield I think we have a really strong unit. Between Lamps, Gerrard, Barry and Parker we've got the middle pretty solid; and I really rate the ability of Young, Downing, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain to make the necessary impact. All are dangerous, if occasionally patchy...but that's what substitutes are for, so we can switch them around as necessary.

Likewise up front, I like the variety we have. Welbeck is the generalist, Rooney can be suspended and then get suspended, Defoe can poach goals and Caroll can look big and clumsy - exactly the variation to scare teams and keep the tabloids full.

I'm glad also that Hodgson named just the 23 players, rather than a bloated squad that later gets trimmed. Unlike any other national team squads, this list should be free from the usual wilting that occurs.

So - a thumbs up from me. Hodgson has been pretty decisive, has avoided doing anything stupid, and is taking 23 player - none of whom can be considered a gamble; England is in safe hands!

Thursday, 10 May 2012


We may as well get this out in the open early on in this process. I may make occasional reference in this blog to "my sticker album". Your eyes will not be deceiving you. Despite being a grown adult, I am in fact pursuing the hobby of a child.

There's a raft on excuses and explanatory factors that have found me sitting on the lounge floor, tongue slightly askew whilst I try to fix the stickers into their requisite slots:
  • an investment; England might win, and the Panini Euro 2012 album may become a collectors item
  • the album actually contains lots of very useful information about match scheduling/players and the like 
  • my excitement about Euro 2012 coincided with an inexplicable urge this year to "collect something"
  • the sheer hell of it - its so much easier to afford this habit as a full time working grown-up

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Euros

Back in 2010, a friend (Stevey C) and I transformed into square eyed recluses for a month whilst we took in the World Cup. A marathon schedule of games saw us forsaking the modern routine of life, following the tournament kick by kick as it unfolded. We blogged. We despaired at England's abject showing, whilst equally marvelling at Spain's immaculate football.

Two years on; and that big-tournament-lure is back. The alignment of a triumvirate of modern wonders (flexible working, TiVo and viewer-friendly-match-scheduling) mean that all of the games will be accessible to me - and so I prepare to shink into my sofa, offering amateur punditry as the tournament unfolds. Yes - I welcome you (fully 5 weeks in advance of the big kick off) to Bircho's 2012 Euroblabber!