Slightly slow off the mark, as the tournament started yesterday, but France beat Romania as expected, so nothing’s happened to change my views yet.
So here are my predictions for the tournament. Guaranteed to be wrong!
Winners : Spain
Semi-finalists: Germany and Italy
Quarter finalists: England, Belgium, Switzerland, Wales
Top scorer: Olivier Giroud, and if not him, Dmitri Payet (genius). Both France.
Top scorer aside, these outcomes were derived by a highly scientific guess at the score in each game.
The semi-finalists are as boringly predictable as you could imagine, but I make no apologies. They are the best teams (with Belgium possibly vying with Italy right now) with the best track records. Belgium and Italy are in the same group and I have Belgium coming top, but that puts them on a collision course with Germany in the quarters. Auf wiedersehen!
Italy come up against En-ger-land in the quarters – fans already disgracing themselves in Marseilles, a city which has suffered from English hooliganism in the past. You’d just think they’d have a bit more sensitivity and respect for a country which has enough other security issues to worry about. But, no, not some of our lads. A big je suis desole to any French readers. Italy may not have a much-admired team at the moment, but they know how to progress in top tournaments, like few others. The opposite of England, who rarely play to their potential once serious proceedings start. We have an exciting young team at the moment, with real pace going forward. But central defence is suspect and the midfield untested at this level. And Roy Hodgson is still trying to work out how to play Wayne Rooney without disrupting the balance of the rest of the team. We’re in a kind group, which we should win, though I still approach tonight’s game against Russia with trepidation.
So fingers-crossed – let’s hope they can emulate the magnificent England rugby performance against the Aussies this morning (as opposed to their World Cup form last autumn!).
The other two quarter finalists, Wales and Switzerland, benefit from getting second place in weak-ish groups and then have last 16 games which could go either way. Wales have Iceland, who kept helped keep Holland out of the tournament, but ought to be beatable. And, of course, they have Gareth Bale! The big assumption about second place is that Wales will do better than Russia in Group B, England’s group. And Russia could be anything. I’m assuming that the loss of a couple of their midfield stars to injury is going to hurt them, but we shall see tonight!
Anyway, if Italy progress to the semis, which will require beating Portugal in the last 16 – the biggest clash in that round – they should come up against Spain, who seem to be over their 2014 World Cup wobble. A bit of new blood, but still the class of the last ten years, still playing a brand of possession football that no-one else can manage (or would want to manage). I think Spain will be too good for Italy (remember the last Euro-final?) and make it to Paris for a go at a Euro-hattrick.
Germany and France come together in the other semi. The Germans don’t seem quite the team they were in 2014, but still have class and power and, like, Italy, know how to play tournaments. France have huge potential, with an awesome midfield led by Paul Pogba, star of Juventus, once offloaded by Man Utd (good call there, Fergie! Goes with the one about Gerard Piquet). And there’s even West Ham’s hero Dimitri Payet, who scored a magnificent winner against Romania last night. Could he make all the difference at this relatively late stage of his career? France may be a bit vulnerable at the back, where they have suffered injuries. A team that relies on Koscielny for stability in defence – step forward Arsenal – always have the capacity to fall apart at some point. My son thinks I’m harsh on this point, but I’ve seen it too often in the past to rule it out as a risk.
Home support and an underlying quality might just take France past Germany in the semi-final, leaving a confrontation with Spain in the final, a repeat of the 1984 final, in which the great (but now disgraced) Michel Platini orchestrated a 2-0 French victory. The outcome this time will be very close. Are Spain really back to their best? Have France eliminated the self-destructive tendency? Can Spain weave their spells around France’s dynamic midfield? Can the French defence withstand the probings of Silva, Fabregas, Iniesta, Busquets, Koke, Thiago Alcantara – whoever plays?
I wish I felt confident enough to go for a patriotic punt on England, but fifty years of disappointment makes victory hard to envisage, with a team which shows promise, but isn’t the full works yet. Where are those English centre backs of yore?
Assuming England can’t win, my support is with France. They are an exciting side, and Dmitri Payet is playing for them. (England have ignored all West Eam’s English players, notably Mark Noble). And it will give a much-needed boost to a traumatised country, which I love and admire.
Allez les Bleus!