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.