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England v Iran: A near perfect start

It’s hard not to be excited after England hit six past Iran in their opening game of the 2022 Qatar World Cup. The calls of ‘it’s coming home’ have reappeared around the country after an almost perfect start to their World Cup campaign.

England appeared relaxed and calm in the first half hour of the game, attempting to break down an Iran side that seemed to keep everyone behind the ball and keep England out for as long as possible.
The first significant chance came from a corner, with Harry Maguire hitting the bar after being denied a penalty in the early stages after being dragged down in the box; it went to VAR, but no change from the referee. After 35 minutes, England broke through when a brilliant cross from Luke Shaw was met by Jude Bellingham, who looped it over the goalkeeper to give England their first goal of the tournament and move into the top ten youngest World Cup goal scorers.

Only eight minutes later, England had a second. A header won by Harry Maguire found Bukayo Saka, who finished expertly into the roof of the net. Then only three minutes later, in the first of fourteen minutes of extra time, Harry Kane set up Raheem Sterling to tap in a third in a brilliant first half from England. It took England longer than expected for their next goal, achieved by Bukayo Saka, who cut in on his left foot and fired towards the far corner, leaving the Iranian goalkeeper, Hosseini, helpless.

Shortly after, the first blow for England lost in their own defensive third. Taremi sneaked into the six-yard box and smashed it off the bar’s underside to get one back for Iran. England had looked comfortable defensively, and questions were asked of Maguire, but he seemed to deal very well with the immense pressure. Following the Taremi goal, Maguire was subbed because he was feeling ill, and clearly, there was no need to take the risk.

Just minutes after coming on, Marcus Rashford added to the scoring, he was set free by Harry Kane, and it only took Marcus Rashford three touches to join in on a rampant display from England.
Jack Grealish scored the sixth and final goal for England. Callum Wilson unselfishly slid the ball across for Jack Grealish to finish the scoring for England.

Another somewhat negative for England came in the 103rd minute. John Stones gave away a very soft penalty, which seemed identical to the early Harry Maguire penalty appeal, and Taremi tucked away his second of the afternoon, which was the last kick of the game.

All in all, England seemed very comfortable throughout. Pickford didn’t have much to do, made a very good save one on one, and was defensively solid. The two centre-backs, Maguire and Stones, looked composed on the ball, relaxed. Fullbacks were given the license to go forward.

Trippier and Shaw were both involved in goals. Luke Shaw crossed for Bellingham’s opener, and Trippier delivered the corner, which Saka eventually smashed in. Rice and Bellingham ran the show, breaking up many Iranian counterattacks, with Bellingham getting the opener but controlling the play from the start; everything went through those two, setting the pace and breaking Iranian lines. Saka and Sterling played very well. Sterling was forced to do most of his work out wide, whilst Saka was allowed to cut in on his left foot, linking up with Kane and Mount. Both Saka and Sterling contributed goals in a very positive performance from both.

Mason Mount was quiet and didn’t get much of the ball. When he got it, he picked up pockets of space between Iranian lines and turned very well, injecting pace.

Harry Kane, despite scoring goals, played very well. His link-up play, especially with Sterling and Saka, proved vital to breaking down the defensive block that Iran had set up. It was a very positive performance which Gareth Southgate would be proud and excited of.

As Gareth Southgate looks forward to the next group stage games against the USA and Wales, he will be encouraged by England’s progress from their disappointing Nations League performances. England has gelled and found a style of play that suits the players at their disposal. The wide play with the two high attacking fullbacks, mixed with the ball playing midfielders of Rice and Bellingham, has combined to create a brilliant sense of identity for Gareth Southgate’s lions. After a stalemate between the other two nations in the group, England will look forward to a game against the USA. England will go in the significant favourites, and if they played at the pace and intensity with which they did against Iran, they should make easy work of a weaker nation and cement their placement in the further rounds of the Qatar World Cup.

Southgate will be pleased with how his team performed; however, a hangover from the game is Harry Kane’s injury concern; However, it is hoped that the injury is not too severe and that Harry Kane will be fit to play in the rest of England’s games. Of course, Gareth Southgate also has the return of England veteran Kyle Walker, who will significantly boost England’s back line.

Gareth Southgate will be excited about the possibilities of this squad and how far it can go. It may be too premature and early to jump to the conclusion of ‘it’s coming home’ and England advancing to a World Cup final, but it was an extremely positive start to a long and gruelling path to a World Cup final. There were a lot of questions sent Southgate’s way through the picking of the squad and the initial team, but it seems at the moment that the performance and the result answered those questions, and hopefully, that will last for the entirety of England’s 2022 World Cup campaign.

Euro 2020 Final Preview

I’ll try to be as brief and to the point as I can here, but it’s difficult not to feel nervous/excited about today.

I was alive in 1966, but I have no memory of it – I was two years and six days old and my mum and my grandmother had to take me to the local shops because I think I was probably interrupting my dad and my grandad’s viewing. I say probably, I’ll go with ‘definitely’ 🙂

Since 1985 we’ve played the Italians three times at Wembley and we’ve won none of those encounters. The last time we beat them there was way back in November 1977 in a World Cup qualifier, which was almost irrelevant: we’d already last in Rome the year before, which brings back a memory of about sixty of us schoolkids waiting outside the PE block for one of the teachers to tell us the score. It was a lunchtime kick off in Italy and finished 2-0; yet another England disappointment from the Seventies.

I think I mentioned in the original preview that the hosts haven’t won the Euros since France did it in 1984; Italy won ‘their’ tournament in 1968 but that was when it was semi finals/final only rather than group stages. Regardless of format, that’s still a long time ago, but it’s important to remember that England aren’t the official hosts for this tournament, despite the location of the final.

Italy

In this tournament, the Italians have been somewhat slow starters when it comes to goals, having notched none in the first 15 minutes so far. They have a tendency to wake up immediately before and immediately after half time: 40% of their goals scored with 90 minutes have been between the 31st and 60th minute, including both in the game against Belgium.

Defensively, they have faltered as they’ve played better sides as the tournament has continued: three goals isn’t really a sample size that’s representative enough, but two of those goals have been at the end of each half. That may or may not be significant.

I’ll take my hat off to Roberto Mancini, he certainly seems to have mastered the art of using his five (still seems weird writing that) substitutions in both the tactical and strategic senses. However, it remains to be seen how well his team holds up if they go behind: they haven’t been in that position since Edin Dzeko scored for Bosnia/Herzegovina in Firenze in a Nation’s League game last September.

England

One of the possible advantages we have is that we have started well at the start of both halves: 50% of our goals have come in the first 15 minutes of each half, even though all of those came in one game (Ukraine in the quarter final). We’ve scored two in the last 15 minutes of each half but – and this is a strange thing to say – our defensive prowess is arguably better than it has been for years: we’ve only conceded once in the entire tournament – Martin Damsgaard’s cracking free kick last week. That’s been the only time we’ve gone behind in Euro 2020.

I don’t think there’ll be many surprises in the starting lineup, but considering some of the subs benches we’ve had in the past, we’ve got depth to die for this time round – especially in attacking terms. I’m not sure how long Jack Grealish will get today though 🙂

Conclusion

Four of the last five European Championship finals have been settled by a margin of one goal – the exception was when Spain battered Italy 4-0 nine years ago – but only two of those games went beyond 90 minutes. The 2000 final was settled by a Golden Goal by David Trezeguet and Portugal won the last series in extra time. However, only *one* of those last finals featured a goal by both teams, which I think may change this evening as we’re as capable of unlocking their defence as they are with hours.

I’m going to leave it there as I need to fill the fridge with beer and the BBC coverage is about to start. There will be an update after the game.

It just might not make sense.

Update: same shit, different tournament. Next game: World Cup qualifier in Budapest on September 2nd.

Euro 2020 Semi Final Preview

So here we are then. Three years after reaching the semi final of a World Cup for the first time since 1966, we’re in the semi finals of the Euros for the first time since 1996.

I’m afraid I’m going to have to sound a note of caution though. Including the clash in September 1979 – so long ago I was a teenager – there have been seven games between us and the Danes at Wembley. We’ve won five of the seven clashes but lost the most recent clash (last November in the Nations League – a pretty eventful game) but the goal statistics are astonishing: we’ve never scored more than one goal against them at Wembley, all seven matches have finished 1-0. The last team we beat Denmark at Wembley was in March 2014 when Messers Henderson, Sterling and Shaw all played, with Luke Shaw entering the fray as a substitute for Ashley Cole – who never played for England again.

Denmark

All the stats in this section cover their last ten games ie including their 2-0 win over Israel in the World Cup qualifiers in March until the win over the Czechs in the quarter finals.

By now everyone should be aware of what happened to Christian Eriksen in their first game in the Euros and it’ll be argued that losing arguably their best player in such extreme circumstances is what caused the Danes to lose their first two games. However, the nature of their momentum since then seems to indicate that they may not have needed him: that seems like a harsh position to take, but I don’t think anyone apart from the Danes themselves thought they’d do as well as this before the competition started.

However, one aspect of history is very much against them. Since the tournament introduced a group stage in 1980, no team that eventually reached the final began it with two defeats – even the supposedly underprepared Danish team that won Euro 1992 only lost once, a defeat in the group stages by their Swedish hosts. The defeats to Finland and Belgium have been their only losses in the ten game period mentioned above.

Of the five clean sheets the Danes have kept in their last ten outings, only one has come in Euro 2020 – against a toothless and indisciplined Welsh side in the Round of 16. However the Danes have scored in their nine of their last ten games, clearly have scoring potential throughout the team and will arguably be our first real defensive test of the tournament: Kasper Dollberg has scored all of his three goals in the last two games and if we’re to maintain a record of not conceding a goal in this tournament so far we need to recognise the danger.

The Danes may also be our first real offensive test of Euro 2020. In their last ten games they’ve not conceded a first half goal at all, but they appear to be vulnerable at the start of the second half – Finland, Belgium and Denmark all found the back of the net within fifteen minutes of the restart and we’ve already scored three in that period, including two of the four goals in the trashing of Ukraine last weekend.

England

My wife will tell you that I was far from impressed with the first half against Ukraine: simply put, we should have been 2-0 up. However the two quick goals at the start of the second half more or less shut me up for the rest of the game – although I did managed some cider fuelled insights for the last half an hour. What does seem to be happening with England though is that slowish starts are becoming more common: over our last ten games we only scored seven goals in the first half as opposed to 12 in the second. With specific regard to the games in Euro 2020, those figures are two (first half) and six (second half), but if you slice those numbers another way, we’ve scored five times in the first fifteen minutes of either half during the Euros…so we need to be out of the blocks quickly this evening.

So in conclusion…

It’s absolutely impossible for me to be objective about this game, but I will try to do it. Home advantage is going to count for a lot but I think this is going to be a lot closer than Saturday’s game. If England turn in another solid defensive performance then we should be fine, but if it ends goalless after 90 minutes…well let’s not go there shall we?

Update: it’s nearly midnight. We’re in a major final again after 55 years and that was the result of two goals scored by Danish players and a rebound from a penalty that – depending on your affiliation – could be perceived as being a bit harsh. But none of that matters for now does it.

Ukraine, Euro 2020 Quarter Final

The usual hysteria accompanying England in tournaments hasn’t really died down yet.

Yesterday morning Radio 5 interviewed someone who is apparently England’s leading Harry Kane lookalike, which reminded me of the old quip about ‘he’s got a face for radio’ – the chap might well have been the spit of Kane, but how the hell were us listeners supposed to know? That just about sums up the non-sporting media for me.

My approach to this preview is how potential this game has for being an upset. According to the most recent FIFA rankings Ukraine are the second weakest team left in the competition – only the Czechs are lower and that’s something that will definitely change when the next set are released – and have already lost twice in Euro 2020 including after they came back from a two goal deficit against Netherlands. They looked to be heading to penalties at Hampden the other day, but you have to say that the Swedes shot themselves in the foot.

It’s not the first time we’ve reached the quarter finals in the Euros, but the problem for us is that we haven’t got past them since 1996. We actually lost to both Portugal and Italy on penalties on the same date eight years apart but with all due respect I don’t think the current Ukraine team can be compared to either of the teams that beat us: both Portugal and Italy ended up as beaten finalists in Euro 2004 and Euro 2012 respectively.

As for Ukraine, this is very much uncharted territory. They reached the World Cup quarter finals in 2006 but have never got this far in a European Championship tournament. Ukraine have only beaten us once (in October 2009 – you may remember the furore about the game being pay per view and Robert Green being sent off) although our last victory against them was in a group game in Euro 2012 when Ukraine were co-hosts and Mario Devic had a perfectly good equaliser ruled out in the days before VAR would have given it:

Back to the present now and it’s worth pointing out that Ukraine have only won three of their last ten games over 90 minutes, having only kept clean sheets against Northern Ireland and Cyprus at home – they were actually losing at home to Bahrain in a pre-tournament friendly at the end of May. They seem to be very vulnerable in the first 15 minutes of the second half, having conceded 66% of their goals in last ten games in that period.

However, they’ve only failed to score once in those last ten games (against Austria in Bucharest in the group stage 12 days ago) and although Andriy Yarmolenko and Oleksander Zinchenko will be familiar to English fans, unless you follow Belgian football Roman Yaremchuck of Gent won’t be. Yet.

Conclusion

I think this may be an opportunity to send a genuine message to the rest of the competition in the same way that Italy did last night. The atmosphere will be less febrile in Rome than it has been at Wembley and that’s arguably a better setting for a calm, professional performance in Rome – especially as Ukraine will go for broke. I know I’m biased but I can’t see anything other than an England win.

Update: 4-0, not bad…on to Wednesday.

Germany Preview Part 2: Kane Unable?

I had hoped to have this part up on Monday evening, but then two classic games of football broke out 🙂

Considering that the Czechs beat the Dutch on Sunday and Croatia put three past Spain in a valiant losing effort yesterday, I think we can be pleased with having beaten both of them without conceding a goal. I know group stage games are usually more about jockeying for position than anything else – unless of course you’re Scottish, when earning a point and scoring precisely one goal is seen as a national triumph – but nonetheless our results in Group D don’t look half as shabby as the pundits would have had you believe a couple of weeks ago.

The big problem I can see for England this evening is that although we’ve gone nine games without losing and have kept eight clean sheets whilst doing so, we haven’t scored more than one goal against the opposition since battering San Marino in March. Harry Kane hasn’t scored in any of the last five and hasn’t scored for England from open play since notching against Albania in March.

I wonder if it’s time for Gareth Southgate to consider other options upfront, because the downside of another game in which Kane fails to make an impression might mean yet another defeat by Germany. It’s not like we’ve never been in this situation before. I mentioned to a friend during the game against the Czechs that Alf Ramsey had to make changes when Jimmy Greaves was injured before the 1966 Quarter Final against Argentina; considering that Dominic Calvert-Lewin have scored as many goals as Kane in the last ten I wonder if the Everton striker deserves a chance in a big game in the same way Geoff Hurst did when he replaced Greaves. However, replacing Kane would mean choosing another captain: Jordan Henderson would be the obvious choice.

Additionally, Kane is the only player to have appeared in eight of the last ten games but he’s only completed three of those matches. For someone who expressed a desire to leave Spurs, he’s not done a particularly good job of advertising himself to other clubs: I wonder if this is one of the stories that develops after the tournament finishes – possibly along the line of he’s been playing with an injury since February, needs off season surgery etc. It’s all very well being loyal to players who aren’t having a great run of form, but that can often have a detrimental effect on other team members: Southgate gets paid a fair whack for this job and needs to be able to take difficult decisions.

That being said, despite obvious experimentation before the tournament, Southgate has been pretty consistent with his team selection during this tournament with ten players having started at least two of the three games. Mason Mount‘s enforced isolation after Billy Gilmour’s positive Covid test after the Scotland match was the reason why Buyako Saka was selected against the Czechs – and Mount is going to find it difficult to get his place back after the teenaged Arsenal midfielder had such a good game. The only other issues I can see are if Harry Maguire keeps his place in defence or not, if Phil Foden starts – that’s not guaranteed – and who Marcus Rashford will replace.

Having such a good defence presents an analytical problem. As we’ve only conceded three goals in the last ten games, it’s almost impossible to present a case for when England are most likely to conceed a goal – although the two goals Belgium scored in the Nations League defeat last November were both before 30 minutes had elapsed. Offensively, it’s far clearer: half of England’s first half goals in the last ten games have been scored between the 16th and 30th minute with 44% of our second half goals being scored in the final fourteen minutes – if you read part one of this preview, you’ll know that’s significant as that’s exactly when Germany are vulnerable.

In context of other six round of 16 games, four were eventually won by the team ranked higher in the most recent FIFA rankings – good news for England, who are currently 77 points ahead of Germany, which is about the same as the difference between us and Croatia in our first game of the tournament. Half of the games in this round so far have gone to extra time with an average of 3.16 goals per game scored in 90 minutes but possibly the most significant factor is that tonight’s game is the only Round of 16 match where one of the participants has home advantage. So far only 50% of games where one side had home advantage have been won by the hosts, but 41% of the remaining matches finished all square.

It’s tough to be objective considering the amount of history between the two countries – football or otherwise – especially when your first memories of supporting England are based the first time we ever lost to West Germany in a home game (1-3, Euro 72 Quarter Final, April 29th 1972 – it was 1-1 with seven minutes left!). However, as I wrote in the first part of this preview, this is not a vintage German team by any measure and this afternoon’s game is a good chance to finally earn a first win over Germany in England since December 1935.

I just hope it doesn’t go to bloody penalties again.

Germany Preview Part 1

Let’s start with a fact that I’ve not seen anywhere else. Yet.

We have never beaten Germany at Wembley since their re-unification in 1991. The record since then includes four defeats in six games and a goal difference of -4, with the Germans scoring in every single encounter we’ve had since the Berlin Wall came down.

In fact, the only time we’ve ever beaten Germany on English soil was in December 1935:

Germany had been beaten semi finalists in the 1934 World Cup but the team that arrived in London almost eighteen months later contained only four players that went on to feature in their suprise 2-0 defeat quarter final by Norway in the Berlin Olympics a few months later. Despite their amateur status, Reinhold Munzenberg, Ludwig Goldbrunner and Ernst Lehner are still widely acknowledged as being German footballing legends. The fourth – midfielder Rudi Gramlich – was eventually honoured as a Vice President by his club Eintracht Frankfurt, but that title was stripped posthumously at the start of 2020 when researchers discovered Gramlich had been a member of the SS and an active Nazi.

To put that result into perspective, Eddie Hapgood, Stanley Matthews, Raich Carter, George Camsell and Cliff Bastin were in the England team; Camsell – who scored twice in a comfortable 3-0 win – still holds the highest goals to games ratio in England goalscoring history: a remarkable 18 goals in nine games between 1929 and 1936. And if you didn’t know Sir Stanley Matthews retired from playing First Division football just after his 50th birthday, you do now.

Back to tomorrow’s game now: how do Germany look at the moment?

The Nationalelf have been less than impressive recently. They’ve only won half of their last ten games keeping only two clean sheets in that sequence and they failed to score against Spain and France as well as losing to North Macedonia. A lot of this inconsistency was down to Joachim Loew’s not knowing what his best team was before the finals began and the defeat to the Macedonians only exacerbated that issue. Only Matthias Ginter and Serge Gnabry have started in those last ten games and in total 32 players have been involved since the game against Ukraine last November. That situation seems to have stabilised for this tournament as ten players have started all three games but even given that the number of subs has now been increased, I still thing using eighteen players in just three games is excessive, considering that’s only produced one win.

Germany seem to be at their most effective in attack between 15 minutes and an hour into the game. They’ve scored 68% of their goals in the last the last ten games within this time frame, including all four in their win against Portugal ten days ago. Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Ilkay Gundogan have all scored three goals but so far only Havertz has scored at the Euros and Germany’s leading goalscorer at Euro 2020 is Own Goal with two.

Defensively they are most vulnerable at the start of the first half and especially after a hour has gone: over 40% of the goals they’ve conceded since last November have been in the last fifteen minutes, including Andras Schaefer’s sensational effort for Hungary in the last group game.

I don’t think this is a vintage Germany side at all. It’s Loew’s farewell tour anyway and there was some consternation in the German footballing press when he decided to stay on for this tournament: so far Germany have been outclassed by France, went behind to Portugal before turning in what might be described as a vintage performance against the winners of Euro 2016 and then struggled against a Hungarian side that was only eight minutes away from beating them. However, this makes them unpredictable – a word that cannot usually be used to describe the Germans. It also makes them potentially dangerous than any of the teams we’ve faced so far.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a similar preview for England.

An Englishman, A Scotsman and An Irishman Walk Into A Studio…

Before I get into major issue of this post, I’d like to post some stats.

England have earned precisely four points (or the equivalent) after two games in several competitions in the past:

Winners: 1966 World Cup – including a goalless draw with Uruguay in the opening game that got some less than favourable write ups in the press the following day.

Semi finals: Euro 1996 – including a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in the opening game that got some less than favourable reaction in the press the following day.

Quarter finalists: 1954 and 2002 World Cups, Euro 2012

Round of 16: Euro 2016

*1954 and 1966 World Cups: two points per win. Additionally there were only two group games in 1954.

Basically, when seen in the context of last night’s result against Scotland, every time England have won four points from two games in every major tournament since World War II, we’ve qualified for the next round. But if you were watching ITV last night, you’d have thought England had lost. I can understand Graeme Souness being pleased at how Scotland performed and Roy Keane did his best to be neutral but quite frankly Ian Wright was just saying the first thing that came into his head. I know everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but I can’t be arsed to listen to post match speculation when it’s as knee jerk as that.

After the draw between Croatia and the Czech Republic at Hampden, the only way Scotland could qualify was by beating either England or Croatia. They failed to beat England and – just like against the Czechs on Monday – failed to score. Now Scotland will have to beat Croatia by two clear goals and hope other results go their way, including a decisive one at Wembley next Tuesday, With Austria and Finland having both already won three points and with Spain and Germany playing today. It’s an uphill struggle for them, but that’s really not our problem is it?

As for having only scored one goal so far, it’s not as if that’s unprecedented either: interestingly though, it’s only the fourth time in 24 tournaments that we’ve *not* conceded a goal in the first two games and the first time since the 2006 World Cup finals (Marcus Allbaeck of Sweden ended that particular run in the epic 2-2 draw in the last game).

As things stand after last night’s game, we’d be travelling to Denmark to meet Slovakia on Monday 28th June but as I mentioned the other day, don’t bank on it. I’m far from downbeat about England, largely because I’ve been a football fan for fifty years and we’ve been in far, far worse situations over that period.

But hey, that’s just my opinion.

Update: after Monday night’s result, England are through to the next round. With four points and with a game to spare. The record continues.

Scotland Mini Preview

Having now watched all or part of all of the games so far in Euro 2020, I’m happy with what I’ve seen from England so far.

I’d also watched Croatia‘s last warm up game – a defeat to Belgium – and it was noticeable they had no bite up front in that game so I wasn’t completely surprised by that last weekend. You could argue that Scotland were unlucky to lose to the Czechs on Monday, but both of the goals were caused by naivety that you don’t often see on the international arena.

As things stand currently – Sweden v Slovakia has just finished – we’d probably be playing Slovakia in the next round in Copenhagen on Monday 28th June but it’s fair to say that there’s almost no point in making plans for that as there’s a lot of football to be played in the group stages.

There’ve been a load of stuff written about this game and so I’m going to keep this brief:

We’re 40 places about the Scots in the FIFA rankings; Scotland have never been higher than England in the rankings since the rankings were created in 1992 and the average difference between us is about the same as it’s always been.

We haven’t played our northern neighbours since October 2016 when we won 3-0 and they’ve not beaten us at Wembley since the second leg of the Euro 2000 playoffs, which was also the last competitive game we played against Scotland; Gareth Southgate played in the 1999 game and was manager in the most recent. Scotland won their last away game (against the mighty Luxembourg at the start of this month) but had only won four of their previous ten matches on the road including wins in Cyprus and San Marino. England have only lost one of their last ten games at Wembley: a 1-0 defeat by Denmark in October last year when Harry McGuire and Reece James were both sent off.

Prediction: England to win comfortably by at least two goals. Back later if I’m not too refreshed 🙂

Update: OK it didn’t go as expected, but earning a point and keeping a clean sheet isn’t the worst thing in the world. As for the ITV ‘pundits’…

We’re Back.

Three years, one World Cup semi final and one pandemic later, Euro 2020 is finally underway and a new post is well overdue.

A few weeks ago – when I started planning the resurrection of this blog – I was thinking how nice to have something to look forward to after the last year and a bit we’ve had: one of the main reasons that the Euros could turn out to be a lot of fun basically because it’s a distraction from what’s going on around us in public health terms as well as being an very different way to run a tournament. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the original plan of having multiple hosts was made by Michel Platini, who has gone from international superstar to persona non grata within world football.

As ever, the question is if England are going to win it. The bookies think so, but they always think that and when was the last time you saw a bookie on a bike? We don’t have a particularly good record in the Euros – two losing semi final appearances, the last of which was a quarter of a century ago – and with a recent record that’s not disimilar to two of our group stage opponents, but still better than our northern neighbours, who we meet next Friday.

However, I’d say there are grounds for cautious optimism this time round. The latest FIFA rankings – which won’t be updated until after the tournament – have England in 3rd place in the UEFA table (behind Belgium and France) and 4th in the world. Considering that three of the last five winners of the Euros were in the top five teams in the World before those respective tournaments started, that’s a pretty good standard. The major outlier was Greece (2004) who were roughly at the same level as Hungary are at the moment.

However, the fact that we’re hosting the final – as opposed to being the hosts – is a bit of a problem. In case you needed reminding, we’ve done rather well in tournaments that we’ve hosted, but the Euros haven’t been won by the country that hosted the final since France won in 1984. I think it’s fair to say that home advantage is a bit of a red herring these days – it’s been 23 years since the host won the World Cup – but even so I can’t see England failing to qualify from the group. We did it in both 1966 and 1996 but if we win the group then we hit a considerable hurdle: the prospect of Portugal, Germany or France in the Round of Sixteen.

Admittedly that will be at Wembley, but a more tortuous but possibly easier route to the final might be coming second in the group and giving up home advantage to play in Copenhagen possibly either Sweden or Poland or even trying to be a best third placed team and taking your chances that way. A narrow defeat to Croatia tomorrow wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world as long as four points were earned against the Scots and Czechs, However that’s an incredibly risky strategy to attempt and failure to qualify from the group really isn’t an option, especially with fan expectations being possibly more febrile than usual.

And that would have been the end of this post. I was intending to follow up on Monday with my thoughts on Sunday’s game, but as you all know by now, something potentially catastrophic happened in this evening’s game between Denmark and Finland. I was watching with my wife and we both feared the worst when we saw the close ups – which really shouldn’t have been broadcast – of Christian Eriksen clearly in considerable distress. Fortunately, Eriksen was taken to hospital – where he is now stable and recovering – but once again it’s a reminder that life is precious and football is only a game.

Enjoy tomorrow. I think we’ve all deserved it.