Pete Sixsmith gave a chilly welcome to the start of the tournament but is beginning to warm to it, even the commentary and punditry are challenging his blood pressure …
Four days in and my lack of enthusiasm for Euro 2012 is beginning to change to moderate enjoyment after the first round of games, which have been interesting without either classic or stinker.
The France v England game fell in that middle bit where you think, “Well, that was alright, but I don’t think it was worth the £25/£150/£600 I paid for it.” Some of the criticism, mostly from the King of Self Importance, aka Alan Green, struck me as being a wee bit over the top, while those who rang him describing it as “magnificent” and “inspiring” and “something that made me proud to be English” really need to consult a therapist.
Hodgson had set out to play as MON did on occasions last season. He had the team well organised and defensively they looked strong. Parker and Gerrard gave a passable impression of Colback and Cattermole, while Oxlade-Chamberlain and Milner were not up to the standard of Larsson or McClean. But they were praised in the nationals, while we were decried as dull and boring when we adopted similar tactics against superior opposition.
Not that France were brilliant. Cabaye showed what an unpleasant player he is with a succession of niggly fouls that he got away with, while the so called “Best Player In Europe” (see Mag forums) was introduced late and ran up blind alleys – as he had done for two thirds of last season.
I did like the full back, Debuchy , while Benzama was quietly impressive. The big midfield man Diarra also did well, although his marking on Lescott for the goal was reminiscent of some of our defending under Bruce.
The match that followed was an intriguing one as Sweden took a lead and then allowed Shevchenko the time and space that he needed to slip in two exquisite headers to win the game in front of a passionate home crowd.
Seb Larsson must have thought he was back at Sunderland as he attempted to find an “enigmatic” centre forward – substitute Ibrahimovic for Bendtner. He did as well as he does for us, with a tremendous work ethic, more promise than fulfilment from his crosses and a 70th minute substitution. Mind, Kiev looked a whole lot warmer than Sunderland ever does.
Of our other players, John O’Shea did ok for Ireland in their defeat against Croatia. However, his distribution was as bad as it is for us and it makes me wonder how he got away with it for so long at Old Trafford.
Westwood and McClean sat on the bench and were not used this time. Westwood must have thought that he could have saved at least two of the Croatian goals as Given creaked and crumbled in the Irish goal. For a man who has won so many medals (a Division One medal with us – irony rules!!), he must be beginning to feel the hand of time pressing on his shoulders.
McClean was ignored as Trapattoni used Walters and Cox as replacements when they started to chase the game. The players they replaced, Doyle and McGeady, both reputed targets for MON, did nothing to either establish or enhance their reputations.
Other things I have liked so far:
* The Russian performance against the Czechs and Kerzhakov’s tribute to Paul Stewart when he missed a capful of chances
* The refusal of the authorities in Donetsk (previously Stalino and Yutzkov) to allow the England Supporters Band in to the stadium. Perhaps those at Wigan, who allow some git to bang a drum for 90 minutes, will follow suit
* The chance to see clips of unfamiliar cities like Lviv, Gdansk and Poznan. They make me wish I was there soaking up the atmosphere and the sunshine
* The quality of some of the passing from the likes of Spain, Italy, Russia and Germany. Craig Gardner and Lee Cattermole take note; when you have the ball, don’t give it away
Things I haven’t liked so far:
* The usual rubbish from the commentariat. Jonathan Pearce is beginning to annoy me almost as much as Clive Tyldsley does
* The Mexican Wave, particularly in Ukraine. Someone tell them it isn’t cool to do it
* Martin Keown – makes Mark Lawrenson sound like Bertrand Russell
* Alan Shearer – that smirk makes me want to attack the TV with a chain saw
The second round of games starts tonight and I am looking forward to the atmosphere in Warsaw where those two erstwhile buddies, Poland and Russia, play each other. Many years ago, when Poland was under the control of Gomulka and the Communist Party, I was in Warsaw and I asked a Pole what he thought of the Russians.
“They are our brothers,” he said. I replied that I liked the concept of Communist solidarity and how friendship between nations was a wonderful thing. “No,” he replied, “they are brothers, not friends. You can choose your friends, but not your brothers.”