If Pete Sixsmith only knew how few people would bother to stray here, he might not have delayed his departure for the Stadium of Light and Bruce Springsteen long enough to rattle off some thoughts on his developing fondness for the Euros. But I am glad he did …
A couple of weeks ago, I felt that my interest in Euro 2012 was akin to that of Samantha Cameron’s interest in the life and times of Featherstone Rovers RLFC. I don’t think that the fragrant Sam Cam is now a season ticket holder at Post Office Road, but my interest in the goings on in Poland and Ukraine are growing by the day.
There have been criticisms of the two host nations. On the field, neither progressed out of the group stage, while off the field there have been pointed observations on the distances between venues, the rudimentary state of public lavvies in Donetsk, the exorbitant prices charged by hoteliers and the relative monotony of the local diets.
Of course, none of these criticisms will apply to London 2012. I am sure that a journey from the rowing at Eton to the athletics at Stratford will take less time than the trip from Krakow to Kiev (but not by much). I am equally sure that visitors will enjoy clean public lavvies if they can find a council that hasn’t closed them all, while London hoteliers wouldn’t dream of extorting money from itinerant tourists. And as for diet, there is McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Dixie Chicken (a little feat finding one of those) and a myriad of other outlets flogging mechanically retrieved meat to the locals and visitors alike.
The stadiums have been very impressive and look like they will be in constant use after the caravan has moved on, unlike the rotting relics in Athens, Beijing and South Africa. They are a long way from the grim, open Stalinist bowls that peppered Eastern Europe in the days before the changes. The stadium at Katowice, which had no cover and was in a natural bowl a la The Valley and Odsal, is but a distant memory for Polish fans.
And the football has been extraordinarily good, which confounds Uefa’s decision to bring in another four teams next time round. Because of the tightness of the groups, there has not been one dead game and I cannot see that changing now that we have moved onto the ko stage. In fact, it should become even more intense.
From the Sunderland point of view, there is now no interest as Sweden and Ireland have gone home. O’Shea and Larsson did as well for their nations as anybody. In fact, O’Shea looked the best Irish defender – which is a bit like saying that Vince Cable is the best Lib Dem; the other contenders aren’t very good at all. Westwood should have played instead of a creaking and groaning Given, while the choice of Cox and/or Long above McClean was difficult to understand.
Seb scored one and set one up and was inches away from blocking Theo Walcott’s equaliser. He showed that he is a very competent player who has a very positive work ethic and who should continue to figure prominently in MON’s team selection in August.
The weakest eight have departed and the strongest eight remain, soon to be whittled down to four. Will England be there? Why not, sayeth this scribe.
As a rule, I couldn’t care less what happens to the England side. Managers like Keegan, Hoddle, the appalling Venables (a dodgier version of Harry Redknapp) and Eriksson have left me cold to the national team. Capello started well but became bogged down and, in my mind, used the Terry situation to extricate himself from a job he disliked, but with the money intact.
The prospect of “Good ol’ ‘Arry and the boys from the southern tabloids taking over must have left many fans feeling that they were even less likely to follow the national side than before; and then along came Roy Hodgson to save the day.
England’s football has not been scintillating but it has been organised. There has been an element of good fortune – Sweden went to sleep for 10 minutes, Ukraine’s disallowed goal – but the resilience and determination, missing under so many big name managers, is there and Hodgson is the man who has installed it.
It may well be that a Balotelli inspired Azzuri sweep England aside on Sunday, or that if we come through that one, the uber disciplined and uber organised Germans triumph in the semi final. Whatever happens, the national side does have something to work on and if Hodgson is left alone by the loud mouths in the press and on the airwaves, he may be able to put together a decent squad for Brazil in two years time.
My tips for the semis are Portugal, Germany, England and Spain, with Germany and Spain playing each other in the final. Iniesta v Ozil, Xavi v Schweinsteiger, Casillas v Neuer; clashes to set the pulses racing and the heart fluttering.
In the meantime, we have Ashburton Grove on the August 18 to look forward to. And maybe even some new faces …