Twelve successive days of quality football. Brilliant – if you like football. The female side of my family have been tolerant about the evening TV monopoly – for which I am very grateful!
Looking back at my predictions (Sportsthoughts 27) , I’ve got five of my eight fancies into the quarter finals: England, France, Germany, Spain and Italy. No Russia, Poland or… the Netherlands. How did Holland blow it? All about that first game. They had endless chances against Denmark, failed to take them and let Denmark in for the win. It was always uphill from there in the Group Of Death – and Holland’s notorious ability to descend into a conflict of personalities seems to have kicked in again. As for Russia, they looked brilliant in the first game against the Czech Republic, but then they went to sleep. Kicking themselves, I imagine.
People feared for Italy, with match fixing allegations emerging again. But I always fancied them to go through. They have the tournament know-how. Spain haven’t truly ignited yet, even though they cruised to a 4-0 victory against Ireland. But they look strong and ready to step up a gear. Germany have looked really strong. Maybe tournament favourites right now; but with the tight margins between teams you never know. They have Greece in the quarters, which should be easy, but will it be? Hugely political clash too – the reluctant lenders against the potential defaulters. Two countries whose political futures are inextricably linked at the moment.
France were favourites in the England group. The draw with England was fairly predictable, but we didn’t expect them to lose to Sweden in the last game. They did, 2-0. So they face Spain in the quarters. Probably the end for them. Portugal got out of the Group of Death, with Ronaldo waking up in the last game, against Holland. And scoring both Portuguese goals. It’s not out of the question that he could win the tournament for Portugal, single-handed. He is the only player capable of this. The risk for Portugal is that he plays with that philosophy and doesn’t join up with the the others.
And then to England. Through with two wins and a draw. By all accounts, a great vibe in the squad. My guess is that this would be because (a) wins make people happy, (b) Roy Hodgson is playing to a formula (4-4-2) that the team feel comfortable with, (c) Roy has made them feel loved, (d) Roy speaks English so the team can understand him. Roy has kept expectations low, though they are now rising. So of course we are now going to win the whole thing! Well, maybe not. Italy are beatable, but in no way pushovers. If we do get past them, then it’s probably Germany in the semis. That feels like the end of the road, but you never know. Confidence builds with every win.
Where is that confidence rooted? I think it is Roy Hodgson setting up the team to play to English strengths. We like 4-4-2. We can do 4-3-3 too, but playing the ball wide and then crossing in to the target man is our kind of football. It may not be Spanish tiki-taka, but it works. It is an equally legitimate way of playing the game. My favourite moment of the tournament so far is unquestionably Andy Carroll’s magnificent headed goal against Sweden. First, Stevie Gerrard’s whipped in cross from the right was absolute perfection. Hard, fast, bending. Defender’s nightmare. Then Andy Carroll rose in the air, strained those neck muscles and powered in the perfect header. The cross and the header were moments of the highest skill – as good as a Xavi-Iniesta-Silva short passing carve up.
And Danny Wellbeck’s twist and back heel flick, from Theo Walcott’s brilliant run and cut back, wasn’t bad either. Dani Alves and Messi would have been proud doing the same for Barcelona.
It’s great that we now feel good about the England team again. The route to the final will be incredibly hard, but progress is not out of the question. I’m so pleased to see an England team that believes in itself again. Roy Hodgson deserves massive credit for that. Even if we go out to Italy, that statement remains true.
C’mon the Eng-er-land!