Tuesday 16 July 2024

‘One more’ lonely night: Spain 2 England 1. Euro ‘24 Final

 I've already back-tracked on unflattering comments I made towards Alvaro Morata in these pages, so let me now add Marc Cucurella to that list. From the first game Spain played against Croatia at the European Championships that they have just won so wonderfully, M to the C has performed like the little shaggy-haired irritant who impressed at Brighton rather than the cartoonish figure of fun that Chelsea have shaped him into. He has harried and bitten and invaded the personal space of would-be attackers like my nine year old boy trying to get the plastic ball off me in the corner of the living room. Then, in the 84th minute of the Final against England in Berlin, just when we'd forgotten he could cross the halfway line, he produced the match-winning ball for Oyazarbal (on for Morata).

Of course, it could so easily not have been the match-winning cross, with Declan Rice's header a minute or so later forcing Unai Simon into a save, followed by Marc Guehi’s effort being cleared off the line by Dani Olmo, but that ending wasn't used, and we are left with a Chelsea man's 'assist' cancelling out a Chelsea man's equaliser. It’s not all fairytales in football.

You don't need to be told these details, of course, it's likely that if you’re reading this, you watched, although nothing can ever be ruled out entirely, which is why people gave England a chance of winning, or saw it written in the stars: Yes ok, Spain may have won six games out of six in this tournament, including against the hosts and the World Cup runners up, equalling France's 1984 record to boot, but the Three Lions had done a bicycle kick in the 95th minute to level with Slovakia, beat the Swizz on pens and then rinsed the Dutch who'd finished 3rd out of 4 in their group in minute 90. What part of destiny don't you understand?

There are football lovers and there are those who don't give a shit about that sort of thing, generally known as supporters of the other team, and there's nothing wrong in that; nobody with any credibility is in it for the half and half scarves. That said, it feels fitting that Lamine Yamal and Nico Williams combined to provide the opening goal, and that both should play prominent roles. Yamal probably should have scored on his left foot to make it 2-0, but from infield he played in Morata to miss from close range (not that he's there to score goals, I hatsen to add) and Williams played in Olmo, who scuffed his shot wide just after the first goal.

For all that, when sub Cole Palmer sidefooted in from distance in the 73rd minute, there seemed, for a brief while after, maybe as brief as a minute, that this whole Coming Home scam might be legit. The boy wonder had done it thanks to that most English of things, an accidental plan. When Jude Bellingham lost the ball in his own half and dived in rashly and too late to stop sub Martin Zubimendi (more on him later) marauding through the English midfield, he can't surely have been thinking of the bigger picture, and yet Who Else perhaps could have helped engineer the gap that then appeared due to his own failings as Zubimendi advanced upfield and played an imperfect ball to Oyazarbal that ended with Jordan Pickford rolling the ball into the new space, where Palmer played in Bukayo Saka, who laid it into the box for Who Else to lay it back for the on-running Palmer to pick out the heel of the unfortunate Zubimendi on it's way to the net past Simon?

Qualitee, mate. Proper. Coming home, bruv, I tell ya.    

This England team play in ‘moments’ they said. Southgate has used the Portugal model of 2016 and the French of 2018, essentially stay in the game and bank on a wonder from one of the wonders.  Our boys are too knackered to play as freely as they did during the season, no matter what football blokes say about professional athletes not being allowed to be tired, the money they’re on. A very English mentality. Unfortunately, it’s also very English not to keep the ball very well - even with the players we have now. Moan about Grealish not being picked for the squad all you like, it’s a cultural problem. Portugal were underwhelming champions, it was said, but they could keep the ball and that must give you a better chance. 

Perhaps one of those ‘moments’ was Rodri’s withdrawal at half-time, the player who ‘doesn’t lose’ (unless it’s to Spain’s Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter final and Manchester United in the FA Cup Final) unseen in the tunnel as the players re-emerged for the second half while defensive midfielder Zubimendi waited on the touch line, stripped for action. Initial intel was that it was centre half, Aymeric Laporte, Rodri’s former team mate, who had been subbed, but he was then picked out of the line ups by chief witness Lineker, at which point speculation and excitement in the pitch studio mounted as Rodri remained unsighted. There were shades here of the Ronaldo is-he, isn’t he? drama before the 1998 World Cup Final, not as sensational maybe, but potentially a “psychological blow” for Spain, as Ferdinand remarked. My mind raced to the Rooney documentary re-tracing Euro 2004, Michael Owen describing the mental toll of seeing your most influential player leaving the field - and possibly the tournament - as Wayne Rooney did against Portugal in the quarter final that year.

This, though, was Spain, and though they themselves have their own history with fragility, it turned out that Zubimendi was a better replacement for Ronaldo than, well, Ronaldo and certainly Darius Vassell for Rooney. Williams’ goal came just two minutes after the restart. 

And despite the sub’s unwitting contribution to England’s equaliser, it was the other sub who ensured that Spain became the first country to win four European Championships, which is quite remarkable given the sense of underachievement over so many decades, and remarkable too, that it isn’t Germany. 

As for England, they are the first country to lose successive European Championship finals - a tremendous upturn in achievement considering the pre-Southgate era 2016 humbling by Iceland in France. In two years time, it will be coming home again of course, which will be the ‘centenary’ World Cup played in all the world (FIFA is for everyone except Greta Thumberg) but more importantly marks 60 years of hurt, the 30th birthday of 30 Years of Hurt. And if it doesn’t come home for some unfathomable reason then, then it will be at the next Euros, when it’s actually at home already (along with other British Isles nations - do they all get to qualify?) and it will be 60 years since Sweet Caroline was released.*

Name.On.The.Trophy.

*Fact-check that if you must, but I’d question why somebody would make that up. 



          

Saturday 13 July 2024

Euro 24 Final preview: Matadors vs Bull-dogs

 Wednesday afternoon, the day of the England-Netherlands semi-final, and I hear Three Lions for the first time this whole tournament. Can’t complain about that, some people don’t get through the first week of December without avoiding WHAM’s Last Christmas (which I’d much rather hear.)

My local supermarket broke the spell, and then they played Being Boring by Pet Shop Boys, which made we wonder if there was an England theme going on, a thought not dispelled by the next song being WHAM’s (again) Club Tropicana, which was Gareth Southgate’s contribution to the pop-titles-in-the-interview game that the World Cup squad in 1998 secretly teased the TV media with.

Apparently, they weren’t as boring against the Dutch while I busied myself dropping off and collecting my daughter from Dance and lent a hand to the missus who was packing my eldest son’s bags for his Duke of Edinburgh trip. She then ironed my shirt and trousers for my new job away-day in the morning and made tacos, which we had round the table while the match was on (but not on.) I wasn’t compelled to make  any comments. The previous night, I got to watch Spain-France, and that’s all that mattered. Steve Wilson and Jermaine Jenas agreed in the first half that they could watch that match all night, and already didn’t want it to end. It’s unusual to hear that said during a game involving France, but the Spanish are so good, so watchable, so pleasantly surprising throughout this tournament, that even the presence of a Didier Deschamps team yet to concede in open play (and not score in open play until taking the lead in this match) couldn’t prevent an entertaining spectacle breaking out. 

Contrary to my previous remarks, Lamine Yamal can score, and not only that, he produced an equaliser that brought a guttural response beyond even the outcome of seeing the youngest goalscorer ever in the Euros. The movement reminded me of David Rocastle’s goal for Arsenal at Manchester United in 1991-92, the way Yamal feinted and fooled Rabiot (who was also foolish enough to broadcast his doubts about him before the game) and then bending a vicious curler in off the post. He’s been a delight this summer, a treasure.

Dani Olmo has been exceptional too, “this kid” as Rio Ferdinand called him, showing a significant progression on his impressive run outs in 2021 (can’t comment on ‘22.) He’s only starting because Pedri was kicked out of the tournament by Toni Kroos in the quarter final, but the two touches to put him in for his winning goal against the French again showed his quality.

Spain dropped off a bit in the second half, tried to manage the game, but were lucky that Mbappe, sans mask, blasted over when dribbling into the box. He’d earlier set up Muani for the goal, and was probably responsible for cover right back Jesus Navas, 38 (22 years senior to the team mate stationed on the same flank) going off just after the hour hobbling, but his best work this summer has been the calling out of the far right party that thankfully haven’t made it to power. In fairness, that would have been his greatest contribution should he have won the Golden Boot.

That Golden Boot honour, for the moment, is between Olmo and Harry Kane. While Olmo has three goals and two ‘assists’ - putting him ahead - Kane added to goals against Denmark and Slovakia with a typical Kane penalty against Netherlands. He’d already got his shot away, over the bar, when the challenge came in, permitting him to roll around on the floor looking at the ref. Even his biggest fan, Danny Murphy, said it was “harsh”. A second fortunate pen for England in two Euros semi finals. I didn’t see the award of the one against France that he put over in the quarter-final of ‘22.

Hopefully Morata will be ok, having been bashed in the knee after the French game by a security guard trying to wrestle the latest pitch invader with selfie intentions. I mocked the ex Chelsea man for his big-game goal scoring unreliability in my last post, and though he did actually blast over against Germany at close range, his job has been to create space and distract defenders. As Ally McCoist co-commentated in that game, Morata is a forward at his best “when running away from the ball”. That doesn’t sound complimentary either, but the captain does invaluable work. Spain’s speed of play should be too much for Ingleterra, subject to nothing out of the ordinary happening, like a sending off. There should have been one for Spain against England in ‘96, the yellow card shown to Aberlardo for going through the back of Shearer seconds in to the game not followed with a second when he cynically impeded Steve Mcmanaman minutes later. This happened before the wrongly ruled out Julio Salinas goal and the wave  of attacks and missed chances from the visitors in the second half. 

If the game on Sunday goes to penalties, England fans, unlike in ‘96, will be in anticipatory mode (as much as excitement can actually come through during these moments.) The penalties against the Swiss have been by far the most assured, competent activity by Southgate’s players in Germany. Seemingly nerveless executions by Palmer, Toney, Bellingham, Saka and Alexander-Arnold meant that Akanji’s  fluffed attempt was decisive. His season began (?) with an own goal/deflected mishap in the Community Shield to ensure a shoot-out that his Man City team lost, and has now ended with this. Even Kane didn’t need to get involved in the five out of five, having gone off in extra time after falling over Southgate in the dugout.

Just before the Eng-Swi shoot-out started, Gary Lineker, rebel of the Beeb, said - in contrast to Rio Ferdinand’s unhappy experience of taking a penalty in these situations - that he enjoyed going up to take one as it showed that you’ve “got a pair.” I’m all for Lineker’s calling out of Tory policy/Nazism (when they were in power🤭) but this was the latest comment of his that doesn’t quite seem to fit with the presentation aspect. The previous one had come just the night before, and again from a Ferdinand observation, as Ronaldo was having both legs massaged during the Portugal team huddle just before extra time. 

“Thank goodness he’s not having a third one massaged!” Lineker joked.

Going back a couple of years, ‘Links’ reacted saucily on Match of The Day after Alan Shearer had praised a goalkeeper for “making himself big.”

“Well, we all like to do that, don’t we!”

It’s a bit like the time Lineker interviewed someone - Teddy Sheringham, maybe, or Chris Waddle - on Football Focus after being called “a jellyfish” by Vinnie Jones following criticism of the Wimbledon hard man-turned actor, and the set being interrupted by an animated jellyfish floating along the screen. A bit unexpected and a bit strange. Perhaps Lineker forgets he’s not on the late-night Euros podcast, during which he described England-Denmark  as “shit”. Lucky for him, there was no such product during Euro 88, when it was the tabloids alone advertising Bobby Robson watched instead of Mickey Mouse ones.

So, Sunday, a repeat of the women’s World Cup Final last summer. It would also be a bit Lineker to say ‘and that was a pretty quiet affair, I seem to recall!’ During the immediate aftermath of the Dutch game, Southgate held one finger up to the England fans - but not in response to the cups of water thrown at him in the group stage. ‘One more’ left, he was saying, a bit like Steve McMahon at Anfield in May 1989🤭, but also perhaps as a tribute to 1998’s World Cup yob-anthem Vindaloo, ‘We’re-gonna-score-one-more-than-you’ (and we also like inauthentic curry that brings you in a sweat but is quality for the banter.)

After the draw against Switzerland, Southgate claimed that his team were “showing the characteristics of teams who win tournaments’, which presumably referred to their ability to equalise. In the semi they went one better, coming from behind (for the third game in succession) to win 2-1 without extra time (for the first time in two games), sub Ollie Watkins, on for Kane, turning and firing past Verbruggen. 

“Teams who win tournaments grow into them!”, boomed Guy Mowbray, who seems to lose his mind when England win knockout games. This theory seems to have been true of the ‘66 World Cup win, when an attritional 0-0 draw with Uruguay was followed by the ‘we want goals’ game against Mexico, where that restless, juvenile section of the crowd had to make do with one, a beauty, scored by Bobby Charlton. France were then felled and the ‘animals’ behaviour of Argentina overcome in the quarter final, setting up a semi with Portugal, Charlton scoring two and Eusebio a late penalty in a 2-1 win. Euro ‘20-21 is perhaps more relevant to today, a “bright first twenty minutes” according to a neighbour against Croatia, a flat 0-0 with Scotland and then a tight 1-0 against Czech Rep (as was) most memorable for ITV commentator Sam Matterface saying that he didn’t know there was a second group stage in the ‘82 World Cup in Spain. The first knockout game was so memorable I can’t remember it, unless this was the Germany 2-0, in which case I can’t remember the quarter final, but do know that Denmark took the lead in the semi with a great free kick, and that England won with the generous penalty, manufactured by Raheem Sterling and ballsed up by Kane, before putting in the rebound. 

Whilst England look ahead to their first Final outside of England, Spain will know they have been the best team, and there is no suggestion that they will wither into regression now. That is, though, in a way, likely, as the Final is often a cagey, static affair, but normally still, the greater momentum and the better story wins out anyway. 

Tuesday 9 July 2024

Mens European Championships 2024: Pre-Quarter-Finals review

Right, that's the small talk down, now let's get on down to business. I have a bit of time to cover these Championships, so let's pretend nothing of any significance has happened these last two weeks in Germany.

Maybe there is no act of deception to play out, actually: Scotland out in the first round again when there was a feeling they might not do that this time. Albania out when, between the 24th second and the 13th minute, we might have had Greece on our hands. England not living up to their latest Golden Generation tag, through to the last 16 (just!) but performances encapsulated by Harry Kane of Leicester City or Leyton Orient. Clive Tyldesley sarcy with a double dash of irritating, Ally McCoist telling his commentator that they have a “fair and valid point”, Romelu Lukaku fluffing it up like an amateur, taking other people’s goals and making them offside; the visible reluctance in Kevin De Bruyne’s eyes to pass to him. Alan Shearer not listening to history, amazed by Italy’s limp 2-0 defeat to the accomplished Swizz in the first knockout round, “to go from there [2021} to now”, as if the Azzuri have never before disappointed in the defence of a title, or indeed even failed to qualify for the tournament immediately after. 

There have been a few surprises for me, though, a 16 year old in the Spanish team for one. And not just a novelty entrant from the bench barely more involved than Theo Walcott in Sven Goran Eriksson's 2006 England squad, but a fully-fledged first team player, braces in the teeth, national equivalent of GCSE's results in, toying with defences like Glenn Helder on his Premier league debut (Steve Chettle is still rocking in a corner.) People say there are no surprises anymore when it comes to international football (Kevin Keegan said it at least, during the World Cup of '98) but to those of us who don't have sport subscription channels, it's like it's 1990. Even the birth of Football Italia in '92 (?) demystified things a bit, but without even the Champions League and other monstrosities sold to the highest bidder, it's the World Cups (apart from those in Qatar; in fact any while Infantino is still in charge of FIFA) and Euros doing the introductions for me. 

Lamine Yamal's inswinging arch of a ball for Nico Williams to head in against Georgia in the last 16 was a thrill to see, as was Williams' feint past the defender and finish for the third. These are two great-to-watch wingers helping make Spain exciting like many said they weren't in 2012 particularly, with their elite-level hypnotism over both opponents and some viewers. Barcelona’s Yamal takes the free kicks too, in fact the only thing he can’t seem to do is score. He’ll be the youngest player ever to score in European Championship history, but his efforts against Croatia, and particularly Georgia, who they hounded in the last twenty minutes and could have scored 8 against, suggests that is a record he might not take. 

Real Sociedad's Williams is accomplished in the goal scoring art, but most delightfully of all he is a dribbler! A renaissance artist. While Yamal bamboozles with tricks on on the right, Williams slides past them on the left. Two young, talented Spaniards of colour, which seems very important. With Rodri and Pedri and Fabian Ruiz behind them, it might not matter that Alvaro Morata is the best they've got up front, playing the Serginho/Lukaku role. That's probably a bit unfair on Morata, but you wouldn't trust him to score a game-winning chance against Germany tomorrow. Or would you? He scored the winner for Atletico Madrid against Real last season.

ITV pundit Gaizka Mendieta has concerns over the defence (naturally, given Marc Cucurella is part of it), which Germany could exploit. Nonetheless, it’s a hotly anticipated last eight tie that is clearly too soon in the making. A year ago, a home tournament was looking like a humbling prospect for Hansi Flick’s team, but now under Julian Nagelsman (in buttoned-up to the top match day shirt) they are on track to become the first host winners since France in ‘84. The team’s progress may be scripted through Kai Havertz, mocked at club level when beginning the season at Arsenal, played at left back for country, but now one of the most dangerous players in Europe, his talent and edge and cunning now applied. Antonio Rudiger is their stand-out defender. The former Chelsea, now Real Madrid man (he's won the Champions League with both) stands out for other reasons to a disturbing growth of new Germany thinking, and as usual he is expected, and does, take the vile abuse and calls for expulsion from the national side on the grounds he is a muslim (like Ozil is) with grace.   

An opening night 5-1 thrashing of Scotland looked impressive, but how much of this was down to the opponents, people said, a question I found difficult to answer watching the late-night highlights through stinging eyes. Bayern’s Jamal Musiala (like Havertz and Rudiger, ex Chelsea) hit his stride against Hungary, before the customary balloon-bursting third game draw for the already qualified. The fizz was evident enough, although it could have gone flat against the Danish in the last 16, Crystal Palace’s Andersen having a header chalked off for a VAR boot-size-dependent special, and then conceding a penalty for the crime of having an arm. Havertz tucked away the pen and Musiala got a second to finish them off in a reverse score line of the ‘92 Final. The Danish manager showed his mobile phone to a tv interviewer afterwards to depict the VAR controversies, as if he didn’t know the game had been on telly.

Like Germany v Argentina in the 2010 World Cup, Germany-Spain is too soon for me. I remember, even as a 9 year old watching only my second international tournament, France ‘84 (albeit - as coverage was limited in England after we failed to qualify - only the Final and one semi-final live; I like to think that I was seeing France-Portugal unfold as it happened, Dad inviting me in from the stairs to be in on one of the most exciting games in history) being amazed that it was the Spanish who’d got through against West Germany in effectively a group stage decider. My understanding of the losers as a world force must have been hard-wired even then (and with successive appearances in the next two World Cup Finals and a semi final and Final showing in the next two Euros, I hadn’t seen anything yet.) 

Spain’s 1-0 win in the 2008 Final wasn’t so much of a surprise by the time that match came around. David Villa’s hat trick in a 4-0 win against Sweden in the first game of the tournament in Switzerland and Austria would have been written off as yet another false dawn to anyone who’d been aware of history since 1964 (or, equally, ‘84), while Germany would have been fancied again two years after their return to prominence with a World Cup semi final on home soil. Their hosting of that tournament, rather like now, might have seemed ill-timed, but the rebuild after a dip in fortunes (just the one European championship win and World Cup Final appearance in the last ten years) concluded with a semi-final against Italy, only going a goal behind in the last few minutes of extra time and then conceding another on the break. Still, though, there was an unconvincing nature on their way to the Final in ‘08, particularly at the back with Metzelder and Mertesacker while the talisman Michael Ballack mirrored their unpredictably. Spain meanwhile, under Luis Aragones, began to make people wonder if the decades of underachievement were about to come to an end, notably when they overcame Italy in a quarter final penalty shoot out. They’d lost 3-1 to France in an equivalent game at the World Cup in Germany, but had seemingly cleared a significant barrier by defeating the World Champions. A semi-final against a dynamic Russian team led by Andrew Arshavin appeared to represent a challenging path back to their first Final in 24 years, but an inspired Cesc Fabregas was part of a sound 3-0 win. The Final was won by Fernando Torres’ goal, shrugging off Philip Lahn to score past Jens Lehman. And so began the first of Spain’s three-in-a-row domination. 

In the middle one, Carles Puyol’s header from a corner separated the teams in the 2010 World Cup semi-final in South Africa, while in Poland and Ukraine two years later at the Euros, only Italy prevented a repeat of the Euro 2008 Final, beating Germany 2-1, enabling them to lose 4-0 to Spain in the Final. Just as Spain's straglehold over the rest of the world came to a shuddering halt in Brazil 2014, Germany reasserted their trophy-winning prowess, beating Arentina 1-0 in Rio. A sustained camapign of inclusion, widening the pool for potential future stars and exploiting the advantages of immigration (such as with, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedeira) restored them to their rightful position as Europe and world's best.

Yet, Germany didn't quite take-off in the way that Spain did in their absence at the top of the game. France and Portugal winning the next two tournaments, and rather, both have faced a struggle to get back. Spain's mision to relace Xavi and Iniesta and Busquets and Silva was always going to be marked impossible, while Germany's triumph in Brazil seemed to overwhelm them mentally, the reverse progress/anonymity of their provider and scorer that night, Andre Schurrle and Marion Gotze, emblemic of their deterioration. Group stage exits in Russia '18 and in Qatar '22 followed,  and though there wasa semi-final defeat to France in 2016, they went out to England at Wembley in 2021 underwhelmingly. 

Both now find themselves on an upward curve again as they prepare to meet in Stuttgart, running into form at the right time (Spain lost to Scotland in the qualifiers) under new coaches Nagelsman and Luis De Le Fuente. The latter was caught up in the Luis Rubiales drama after the women's victory in the World Cup in Australia last summer, expressing regret at applauding the disgraced Football Federation president (albeit after Rubiales was suspended), but may now be on track to lead his country to the heights reached by the women's team. 

Did I mention France and Portugal earlier? They meet in the other quarter final tomorrow, a perhaps more historic meeting than Spain-Germany even. '84's semi-final will never be beaten, and though France also won the last four clash in 2000 with the last kick of the game, the rematch was a diluted tribute, Zidane's bent arm in the air celebration following the Silver Goal penalty a homage to Platini's last-gasp winner 16 years before. Portugal gained revenge and some in 2016, berating the hosts in their own country, despite Ronaldo - who didn't play in '84 or 2000 (but its worth checking) going off injured in the first half.  Ronaldo's tears later turned to joy, unlike after the 2004 Final defat to Greece in his own country, while the breakdown in these Euros in Germany came during the break for Extra time after his second half penalty was saved by Solvenia's Jan Oblek, the still outstanding Atletico Madrid goalkeeper.  His desperation to score another goal at this level was painfully clear by the manic expressions before every free kick (which have become a Roberto Carlos tribute act) and the solemn reactions to every missed attempt. 890 club and country goals behind him, including 130 to top the all-time international scoring charts and he still needs one more. He tries to score direct from every set-piece, even from his own six-yard box, apart from corners because he wants to head those in, except he can't because the spring or the timing is off. Goals are addictive - scoring them made me go giddy until I was 36 when I deservedly busted my knee trying to be a tough man all of a sudden. But why is he still out there, missing every ball? An esteemed journalist suggested that the reason he unexpectedly laid on a goal for Bruno Fernandes in the group stage was to become the record assist breaker in the competition. The counter argument is that being the record holder proves that he is aware of orhers. But he’s not assisting the team by being a fixture in it. How much do they need him, really? Does coach Roberto Martinez have any say over this? Will an injury such as in the ‘16 Final - when he was still great - come to their rescue?

On that note, how much do we really need France? A controversial question of course, but not so when talking about international football. They’re like the musical equivalent of that Mary J Blige song Family Affair, which you think’s going to get good any second but just perpetually flatlines. Yes, their record is impressive, 3 finals in 8 years, but they are very much in Didier Deschamps image. When Kylian Mbappe broke his nose in their opening game, no blood was evident, for the whole team is as cold as water (carrying.) I have admired Mbappe's off-pitch work, which with fellow striker Marcus Thuram has been to speak out against the pervading far-right Le Penist party that is genuinely threatening Emmanuel Macron's position.  I'm happy to put Mbappe's outgoing PSG connections to one side to allow his messaging. The majority in the French team is one of players of colour, and the white forward, Antoine Griezmann- World Cup winner and top scorer at Euro 16 - has a father whose family migrated from Germany, while his mother is of Portuguese descent. So perhaps we do need the France team, hopefully to show (or be allowed to show) their full potential. With Mbappe up front and William Saliba at the back, the foundation isn't bad at all.

England v Switzerland is a repeat of their first game in '96, when the home side's tournament began as it would end, an Alan Shearer goal in a one-all draw (before the extra time and penalties etc...) and the 3-0 Wayne Rooney-inspired group game in 2004. The first of those outcomes appears more likely, with the Swizz looking more assured and more of a collective, which is quite staggering given the quality of England's players. I thought a Bellingham-inspired England would give them a convincing case for a tournament triumph here, more so than the Golden Gen bunch, which when you look at them, particularly in that 2004 Euros, seemed to have all the ingredients. It was just held back by the Englishness. And maybe that's still the case now.

Netherlands-Turkey is perhaps the tie of the two unlikeliest winners, but there's top Premier league quality in that Dutch back four (a ready Jurrien Timber might have made if four) behind Brighton's Bert Verbruggen (who I thought was Belgian) and of course they did alright the last time they played a Euros in (West) Germany. The scorer of their semi final pen against the hosts that night is now in the dugout, it’s just a surprise to see that Ronald Koeman has swapped his face for Jon Voight’s, like in Mission Impossible. 

Turkey? Can’t say I have been paying much attention, though they did score two cracking goals in their first game, especially from another young star in the making, Arda Guler, 19 of Real Madrid. Maybe the European champions will learn from the Martin Odegaard situation and stay with him. They will argue that they know what they’re doing, with Bellingham and Kroos (possibly about to play his final ever professional match) and Modric, I suppose. 

Hope you enjoy the quarter finals when they come. 

‘One more’ lonely night: Spain 2 England 1. Euro ‘24 Final

 I've already back-tracked on unflattering comments I made towards Alvaro Morata in these pages, so let me now add Marc Cucurella to tha...