Midnight in Paris – Part 3

Sunday 19th June

Romania 0 – 1 Albania – Gp A, Lyon

Sadiku 43’

 

Switzerland 0 – 0 France – Gp A, Lille

 

To embellish upon something I wrote earlier, if watching a goalless draw in full twelve hours after it has taken place is foolish, then what is getting up at 3am to do the same? At least it’s live, and there’s no way I could have known.

I hadn’t planned to get up until the last minute; but I should never have started blogging this. I now feel a commitment to seeing this through, and to watching as much of this bloody tournament as I can for the benefit of my reader(s). But, truth be told, I haven’t felt anywhere near as awful as I did when dragging myself up at 3am during the last World Cup. Nor have I really felt the effects later in the day; at least no effects that a strong coffee can’t fix. Maybe I’m somehow healthier than two years ago? Or maybe I’m getting old. Old people get up early, you see, thus making the most of the short time they have left.

At least there are two games on at the same time, as is always the way with the final round of matches. If one game is dull you can just turn over. If both games are dull then… No, that’s unfair. Albania provide a compelling narrative: their first goal and first win in an international tournament. From what I see they do have a go (but the problem with simultaneous kick-offs is the conviction that something better is always happening in the other game, and the constant flicking between the two), while Romania have a go back, but both teams are limited by being, well, a bit shit.

Meanwhile France and Switzerland play out a mutually convenient draw – although to be fair to the hosts they do try to score, hitting woodwork at least three times. France finish first, the Swiss second (is anyone actually looking forward to their second round game?) and Albania are left to sweat in third.

One final benefit of getting up at silly o’clocks is that I can go for a post-game, pre-work swim. In the pool before seven, and it’s already full of old people. Maybe they just don’t sleep at all.

 

Monday 20th June

Russia 0 – 3 Wales – Gp B, Toulouse

Ramsey 11’, Taylor 20’, Bale 67’

 

Slovakia 0 – 0 England – Gp B, St. Etienne

 

Going through it all again: the 2:50am alarm, the goalless draw (3 in 5 games now…) At least there’s Wales putting Russia to the sword and deservedly topping their group. They look genuinely good, compared to decently competitive in their first two group games, though Russia are so bad they provide no real measure. Neither they nor their ‘fans’ will be missed.

England meanwhile huff and puff but can’t unlock the Slovakian door. They qualify in second, but cue lots of nervous introspection from the press. Or, if not nervous introspection then finger pointing at Hodgson, who ‘rang the changes.’ No such soul-searching from the England players: “It’ll click and we’ll give someone a thrashing,” says Gary Cahill. “I’ve had nothing to do in the Group Stages,” says Joe Hart, despite conceding two goals, one of which was Gareth Bale’s free-kick from roughly 97 yards out. Sitting smugly atop my ‘Top Ten Things About Watching England Fail’ list rests one simple word: Schadenfreude. And how fitting it’s German, given the punishment their teams have dished out on England over the decades.

Slovakia finish third but are already definitely through, and they celebrate the most grinding of grinding-outs like they’ve got their hands on the trophy. They’ve shown flashes – well, Hamsik, their one star player has – but, again, can anyone truly be looking forward to one more Slovakia match?

 

Tuesday 21st June

Northern Ireland 0 – 1 Germany – Gp C, Paris

Gomez 30’

 

Ukraine 0 – 1 Poland – Gp C, Marseille

Blaszczykowski 54’

 

The midnight kick-offs are back, briefly, so once again I do my sleeping in split shifts.

Germany’s win over Norniron must be the most convincing 1-0 win in the history of the game. Seriously. It should have been ten. They had twice as many chances as they had in that 7-1 semi-final in Brazil and appeared to take great pleasure in missing them in as many ways as possible. McGovern, the Northern Irish keeper, also played the match of his life, as the saying goes, and the fact that he has just been released from his contract at Hamilton Academicals shows that the Scottish domestic league must be stronger than I ever would have expected.

Meanwhile, whenever I flick over to Poland vs Ukraine nothing appears to be happening, yet the highlights later show it to be a game of vibrancy and incident (although that is, I suppose, the job of a highlights package). Blaszczykowski (whose name sounds to me like that of a grizzled NYPD officer) curls a nice goal from the edge of the area.

So, two goals from two matches that should have produced at least ten, and Northern Ireland are left to sweat…

 

Tuesday 21st June

Croatia 2 – 1 Spain – Gp D, Bordeaux

Kalinic 45’, Perisic 87’

Morata 7’, Ramos m/p 71’

 

Czech Republic 0 – 2 Turkey – Gp D, Lens

Yilmaz 10’, Tufaz 65’

 

But not for long. This set of results sees them through. Huzzah for the Ulster boys! It’s the fact that the Czech’s lose to Turkey that does it – the Turks suddenly coming to life after two games of atrophy. Except it’s probably too little too late.

Meanwhile, the Croatia-Spain game is a new contender for game of the tournament (from an admittedly narrow pool of contenders) but I miss it due to the need for sleep. The sooner someone finds a cure for sleep the better! Usually I love sleep, and am very good at it, but every two years since moving to Hong Kong, around about June-time, it’s proven quite the hindrance.

Both sides could have settled for a point that would have seen them glide into the knockouts but Croatia have impressed thus far and don’t let off here. Perisic, Modric and Rakitic are looking a very enticing proposition and I’m calling it right here that I think they’ll make the final! This win puts them in the ‘easy’ half of the knockout draw (with duffers like Wales, Switzerland and Poland), although they do get away with their keeper Subasic saving Ramos’s penalty by charging it down, Light Brigade style, on the edge of his six-yard box. Spain drop to second and a tie with Italy, which seems very unfair on the Italians who not only qualified after their second game but have already won their group!

 

Wednesday 22nd June

Hungary 3 – 3 Portugal – Gp F, Lyon

Gera 19’, Dzsudzsak 47’, 55’

Nani 42’, Ronaldo 50’, 62’

 

Iceland 2 – 1 Austria – Gp F, St. Denis

Bodvarsson 18’, Traustason 90+4’

Dragovic m/p 37’, Schopf 60’

 

See what happens when teams have something to play for! Goals and incident galore! The 24 team format is shown up by the fact that too many teams knew they’d have multiple chances to get the points they required over three games and so took it very easy. Suddenly it all comes down to the final 90 minutes and they spring into action like they’ve just realised where they are.

Hungary appear to be trolling C. Ronaldo and Portugal by scoring not one but two heavily deflected goals, both minutes after the Portuguese had equalised. After the third goal Ronaldo throws a delightful little feet-stamping, fist-clenching tantrum, but he does go on to rescue his team, to become the first player ever to score in 4 Euros, and to cement his position as a legend of the game.

Austria too finally wake up and spurn several good chances to get the win that would have taken them through, only for Iceland to shoot off up the other end and score what is literally the textbook definition of a ‘breakaway goal’ with the last kick of the game. Austria have been rubbish, considering that many people in the know had them down as potential trouble-makers. They won’t be missed.

I remember at some point around ten years ago, Scotland drew with Iceland in a qualifier (World Cup or Euro I don’t know, as by now they all blend into a never-ending slideshow of miserable underachievement) and there was general outrage as to how far Scotland had slumped in order to draw with such minnows. Ah, I remember now that it was during the Bertie Vogts days, and can narrow it down to within a year around 2002-2003. Anyway, if someone had told us that before Scotland could reach the finals of another tournament Iceland would do so AND they would reach the knockout stages of said tournament – something that Scotland have never, ever done – oh how we would have chuckled.

 

Wednesday 22nd June

Italy 0 – 1 Republic of Ireland – Gp E, Lille

Brady 85’

 

Sweden 0 – 1 Belgium – Gp E, Nice

Nainggolan 84’

 

Ireland need to beat Italy to go through and they only bloody well go and do it! To be fair, Italy know that they’re through and that Spain lie tightly curled in wait, so they rest pretty much everyone. Ireland leave it late but get there in the end through Brady’s valiant header.

Belgium do what they need to do against one of the rubbishest teams of the tournament but I don’t see either game and have little else to add here. I even fall asleep when trying to watch the highlights of these games. Twice. Which either shows just how sleep deprived I’ve become or just how unmemorable these two matches were.

I now make that 68 group stage goals, of which 19 have come with ten minutes or less to play. But the average number of goals is as low as it’s ever have been at a European Championships. Various commentators claim that it’ll open up in the knockout stages, but it’s their job to present a desirable product (except Mark Lawrenson, who for years has taken an almost erotic level of pleasure in pointing out just how terrible one match of football can be) and we all know it won’t happen.

We have, though, been saved so far by the fact that the goals have been of an above average quality and that so many of them have come late on – there have only been two games that were over long before the final whistle. And the success of various minnows, as well as the established order (because, let’s face it, as much as we pretend otherwise, we don’t want to see an Ireland Vs Switzerland final, do we?) means that Euro 2016 can’t be written off as a flop just yet. Which means my late nights and early rises haven’t been completely in vain, and I now have two nights in which to catch up on two weeks of sleep.

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