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Day: June 11, 2012

Euro 2012: England 1-1 France

For thirty-five minutes in Donetsk earlier this evening, England confounded our expectations. We knew that tonights performance was unlikely to be the prettiest in the world and that manager Roy Hodgson had only had two friendly matches to attempt to fine-tune the practical – if somewhat reductionist – plan that he had in store for this competition. What we didn’t know, however, was how this system would react to playing against a team that could be considered amongst the best in this competition and, as with the riskiest of tactical experiments, we wouldn’t know whether this was likely to be successful until it was some way towards being too late to do very much about it. Such is football. Such is life. Somehow or other, though, this policy of safety first looked for a while as if it might just work. The “two banks of four” – a phrase whose value has been plummeting in Euro 2012 I-Spy books over the last couple of weeks – held firm, and a French side that was playing as if it might possibly rather be relaxing on a beach somewhere couldn’t find a route through. At the other end of the pitch, meanwhile, England broke and nearly scored when a through-ball from Ashley Young released a slightly startled-looking James Milner through on goal. Milner did approximately half of the hard work in...

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The Calm Before The England Storm

If this summers European Championships have felt a little unusual so far, with the rain and the old school hooliganism and all – Fighting stewards inside a ground! How quaint! – then perhaps the most uncharacteristic aspect of it all has been the lack of hype surrounding the England team. As time has passed, there has come to be a quiet mist of resignation hang over this squad, a sense that we already know that this summer is to be like so many before it and will end in defeat, only this time around the scores have been phoned through in advance. Indeed, the lack of hype surrounding the England team has been so great that this in itself is becoming a cause for criticism. “Enough with the false modesty!”, some cry, angry at the sudden and somewhat unexpected disappearance of one of the key justifications for hating England as much as many do. This evening in Donetsk, England will take to the pitch against France without, for once, the hopes and dreams of a nation sitting too heavily on their shoulders. The tone of press coverage surrounding the team has ranged from quietly mournful to almost gleeful at the prospect of their imminent disappointment, and the peace and quiet that this has brought has been quite refreshing. Yesterday, ITV Sport sent an intrepid reporter to the England supporters...

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Euro 2012: Croatia 3-1 Republic Of Ireland

If only Robbie Keane’s singing voice had been the low point of the evening. The lyricism of the Irish language is not exactly enhanced by the Dublin accent. When you add Keane’s atonality – and the dirge which is Amhran na Bhfiann, Ireland’s national anthem – you are in a form of hell. And there Ireland’s followers stayed. In parts, Ireland weren’t that bad. But in the parts either side of half-time, they were. Croatia’s passing was slick in the build-up to their third goal. And Nikica Jelavic’s finish for their second was the classiest act of the night. However, if Spain press the ball against the Croats as poorly as Ireland did, their manager Vincente Del Bosque might have to give his marquisate back. Ireland conceded only nine goals in twelve qualifying games, three at Italia ’90 and only two at Euro ’88. So three in forty-eight minutes might have been worth a “bet in play, naaah (now)” with that doyen of gambling adverts Ray Winstone. Mario Mandzukic’s third-minute opener was a slow-motion nightmare. You wait expectantly for a defender or goalkeeper to get there…and you wait…. Mandzukic only stretched to head the ball somewhere towards the target in the hope that a colleague might get there too. But there was no need. In Moscow, when Ireland held Russia 0-0 (a result which looked fabulous on Friday after...

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