IRELAND V SWEDEN ON THE BBC…. DISCUSS

I left work early today to catch the Ireland Euro 2016 game on the BBC today, it’s half-time and I wish I had stayed in work, at least I would have got paid for being bored in there.
At least I can look forward to some decent half-time punditry…. DOH! Shearer and Kilbane. First half highlights took all of thirty seconds, including discussion, and now they have moved on to show highlights from the Spain v Czech Republic game which looked decent and we are now being treated to the highlights from England’s training session today…. still better than listening to Shearer and Kilbane.
Another forty-five minutes of Sweden and Ireland to look forward to now. To be honest Sweden were really poor in the first half and Ireland had the better of it with Derby County’s Hendrick producing the highlight of the half with a great effort coming back off the bar.
Could this be a precursor to a typical Ibrahimović performance should he deign to provide his services to Manchester United in the Premier League next season? Pre-match Zlatan told us this was his city, his stadium and his pitch. Unfortunately for him he won’t be playing against a team who are beaten before they even get on the pitch as most of the Ligue Une teams who turn up to play Paris St. Germaine are. Today he is up against a defence of Coleman, O’Shea, Clarke and Brady who will be more than happy to boot Zlatan up the arse at every given opportunity. This is the type of defending, only at a higher level, that he would be against every week he turns out in the Premier League. It’s my prediction that if he does sign for United next season he won’t score more than ten league goals which would be a bit of a come down for a guy used to scoring thirty plus a season. Anybody fancy taking me up on a wager against him scoring more than ten?
Meanwhile Wes Hoolahan has scored with a tremendous pieces of technical skill with a nice volley and Ireland have started dropping off allowing Sweden the initiative. The already booked Glaswegian James McCarthy could well have been sent off for a second yellow card but survived.
Finally, what can I say about the BBC commentary team for this match, Pearce and Lawrenson. I don’t mind Pearce, he’s a good professional and does a decent job every time he’s got the mic but Lawrenson? he drives me nuts, a complete pain in the arse. Did somebody once tell him he was funny? Surely not. His ‘quips’ are terrible and he just sound like a man stuck in the seventies, I hoped he would have taken the hint when Hansen retired a couple of years ago and joined him on a deck chair on Southport beach of an afternoon instead of annoying me on my television. I tried changing the audio version to radio 5 Live via the red button on to get Alan Green as the commentator….enough said, a man even grumpier than myself, never happy with anything. The joy of the mute button.
Anyhoo, Sweden have equalised and it’s getting quite an exciting, if poor quality finish, anybody could win this now.

Over & Out
Cheeky Punt

UEFA EURO 2016 UNDERWAY

The biggest European Football Championships of all time got underway at the Stade de France last night, and it was actually a decent game with Romania being much better than most pundits expected, I would say that the least they deserved was a draw. Of course the only reason they did not get a point was due to a ‘goal of the tournament’ type strike from man of the match Dimitri Payet. Could he have caught it any better? I don’t think so.
However, I think the winning goal may have papered over the cracks of the French opening performance. Defensively they were poor and should have Gone behind in the opening minutes with Lloris saving at point blank range when Stancu should have scored. There were several other opportunities for the Romanians from corners and free kicks as the French struggled to win headers in their box. I suspect better teams than Romania will punish them if they don’t get it sorted.
The French took the lead through Olivier Giroud’s header and some pretty awful goalkeeping from former Sunderland giant Costel Pantillimon but the Romanians were behind for only eight minutes thanks to some pretty awful defending by veteran defender Patrice Evra. He was caught ball watching as Romania one two’d their way past him on the flank and moments later he sticks out a lazy leg to give away a soft, needless penalty which his team mates never bothered disputing. It took a wonder strike to capture the three points for France and to save Evra’s blushes.
Looking forward to today’s games and the battle of the Albanian brothers one of whom plays for Switzerland. New Arsenal player, Granit Xhaka, will line up foe Switzerland against his brother, Taulant, if he passes a fitness test. Who will the parents be supporting? Will they be allowed to travel from Albania to watch their multi-racial sons kick lumps out of each other? That’s the main reason I will be watching this one.
I’ve covered England in other pieces which leaves Wales against Slovakia today. I think the Welsh will be happy to get a draw today, Slovakia are no-one’s mugs. The Welsh have a few injuries with both Joes, Allen and Ledley struggling and this may expose their strength in depth. The highlight of this encounter could be 30,000 singing the Welsh national anthem, I’m looking forward to that.
The Slovakians will be wary of Bale and Ramsay but I feel set pieces will go a long way to settling this game with both sides being particularly dangerous from free kicks and corners. Watch out for Napoli’s Marek Hamsik on free kick duty for Slovakia.
Over & Out
Cheeky Punt

IT’S UEFA EURO 2016 DECISION TIME FOR ROY

It’s decision time tonight for Roy Hodgson, he won’t have had many more important choices in his long career than the ones he makes tonight. He’s also had plenty of advice from media, fellow managers and former players. It’s not just players but systems as well that he needs to consider. It’s worse than forgetting to do your fantasy Football team and then having to do it at the last minute.
It must be a great advantage to have such system flexibility although some cynics might say its indecision rather than flexibility. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. What shape will Roy commit to? I believe we could see different systems within tonight’s game, largely depending on how the game is going of course.
The way I see it is that Hart, Smalling, Rose, Dier, Alli, Rooney and Kane are guaranteed to start, with Kyle Walker a probable. That leaves a choice between Stones and Cahill at centre back with the nod probably favouring the Chelsea man’s experience.
According to yesterday’s papers Jamie Vardy is going to be left on the bench, this would be a great option for Roy to deploy his pace against a tiring defence in the last twenty minutes if England still need a goal. It also leaves Kane to plough a lone furrow up front, a position he has made his own at Spurs. At Spurs this usually requires Dele Alli at number ten behind Kane and this is where it gets tough for Roy, what does he do with his captain?
This has been the most discussed issue in the lead up to England’s Euro adventure and quite rightly as well. Rooney’s form throughout the season has been patchy at best, including several changes of position at Manchester United. He began the season as a centre forward and ended it as a deep lying midfielder. Pundits and journalists have been calling for the captain to be dropped in favour of Alli at ten, some even questioned his inclusion in the squad, a bit harshly in my opinion. The first sixty minutes of tonight’s game could be the most important in Wayne Rooney’s international career. I think he will start behind Kane at number ten with Alli on one side and Adam Lallana on the other with Dier and Wilshire screening the back four. If England are struggling to break down Russia, the lowest ranked team in England’s group, and Rooney is struggling to make an impact this could give Roy the chance to substitute him and move Alli to his preferred position. If England came to life and won the game would Roy have the courage to drop his captain for the Wales encounter?
It’s going to be interesting.

My England starting team, what’s yours?

Hart
Walker
Cahill
Smalling
Rose
Dier
Wilshire
Alli
Rooney
Lallana
Kane

Over & Out
Cheeky Punt

PAIN & HOPE OF FOLLOWING ENGLAND

We all know the real reason why major football championships are not one year apart but two. It is because it takes that long for the fans to get over the disappointment of the last one.

Eleven months simply wouldn’t be nearly long enough, but the good news is, two years is enough for the scars to heal, and we are always raring to go.

You know when the time to the first kick off is getting close. When you go to your local supermarket the beer is the cheapest it’s been since Christmas and they are stocked up to the ceiling. The main supermarkets Sainsburys  Asda and Morrisons clearly on the side of England to do well, they would be gutted to see them go out at the group stage. Electrical Stores always sell the latest and largest TV’s in huge numbers before a competition. With a new TV you can get £10 cash back for every goal your team scores. I don’t expect extra time penalties are included though. Gone however seem to be the pairs of red and white St George’s flags that we all used to fly on our cars.

At the peak of the flag historian I always used to think what on earth would overseas visitors make of it all, the country has gone completely football crazy. But what a fabulous show of passion and support that used to display.

There are some changes to this year’s Euro 2016 tournament which really should mean that the six seeded teams all qualify. A bold statement perhaps, but the increase of final teams to 24 means we will only lose EIGHT teams in the group stages to make up a Round of 16. The top two teams and the four best 3rd place teams will go forward. I find it hard to believe that France, Germany, England, Belgium, Spain and Portugal won’t manage that. It would also be hard to discount Italy from Group C of course. In previous years there were two of the higher ranked teams in each group and two qualified. That thankfully has all changed.

Given that the top six (or seven) do qualify then the fun really begins. It is very difficult indeed to split the rest. In Group D for instance, Spain are with Czech Republic Turkey and Croatia, now anyone that can predict 2nd 3rd and 4th in that group will do really well. It honestly could be any order, and that kind of scenario is replicated in most of the groups. Quite possible that the team ranked 4th, Croatia in this example, could finish in 3rd or above and qualify.

This new set up also means that the final group games that are always played at the same time will ALL count. There will be no “dead rubber game” which is pretty clever I think.  It is also even more important to top the group, because getting paired in the round of 16 with a 3rd place team has to be on paper at least, the way to go. I add on paper, because although this sounds simple, it won’t be that easy it never is.

England play Russia Wales and Slovakia and really not qualifying given the above information would be an absolute disaster of massive proportions and I doubt if Roy would survive that. I think England fans would take two wins and a draw as being the minimum. The bookies have made England a really very short 1/10 on to qualify out of Group B and also short favourites to win it.

England winning Group B would see them play the 3rd place team in Group A C or D So a completely impossible prediction to make. If England did win the group they would not know who they play in the round of 16 until Group D is completed on 21st June. If they finished runner up, then they would play the runner up in Group F The advantages of winning the group are there, they always are, and that must be the aim.

France are 3/1 favourites as hosts, we don’t have that much form to go on they have won three friendlies recently against Netherlands Russia and Cameroon, but significantly they conceded two goals in all of those games as well. I also quickly add they did beat Scotland 3-0 in a very late fixture just six days before the opening game. After France it’s Germany 4/1 Spain 5/1 and England 8/1. With Belgium 11/1 and Italy a massive 18/1 and Portugal huge at 20/1 Others Wales 66/1 Rep Ireland 100/1 Northern Ireland 250/1

What about our squad of players, well for me my main player has to Wayne Rooney he is the playmaker, captain and has the most experience. He will agree he has been disappointing in previous tournaments, but he has the chance here to take Group B apart. Roy Hodgson has already come out and said Rooney will be the first name on his team sheet, so love him or hate him, he will be starting. The defence has been solid over the past two years if you look at those results, it seems like he will start with Smalling and Cahill with Stones waiting his turn.

Roy’s problems are however in midfield. He has to first make his mind up on the formation. 4-3-3 or the much talked about diamond 4-2-3-1 which will mean Kane will play up front on his own. Dele Alii looks like starting but I do worry about his temper he has to keep that in check, I am not convinced he can. I always seem to pick him on Premier Punt when he gets booked, which was quite often. Some very stupid ones that could have been avoided.

James Milner is a firm favourite of Roy’s and luckily he has had a very good season for Liverpool. If you have been checking the season long Premier Punt scores which are produced by OPTA it is always a fair guide, (in the single game you score points for a completed pass, shots on target and of course assists and goals) you will have seen that he has scored very high all season long. However there are other options Dier could play. Wilshire also, who was controversially been picked to travel when Leicester City’s Danny Drinkwater was not. Roy has a puzzle and it’s not really clear how he is going to fit it all together..

I think to be fair, he has options with the puzzle, and his first piece, the old corner piece will be Rooney, then he has to decide if he is going to build from the top (attack) or bottom (defence) Will Vardy play or not is the question, I think he will, we need to start well, we need to get three points, and we really need to win the group. No draws required, we need to attack and we need to get the fans running up to the supermarkets to buy that beer for the long haul. We have a route to the Semi-Finals and there is no reason at all why we should not at least get there. I am fully recharged, all scars repaired and ready to go, hope you are also, Have a great tournament everyone.

 

The history of previous tournaments over the past 50 years pretty much ensures us that something dramatic will happen in Euro 2016. The table of highs but mostly disappointments with five penalty shoot-out defeats are below.

 

1966 World Cup Winners

1970 in Mexico England Captain Bobby Moore caught up in a blackmail attempt which involved him being wrongly arrested for stealing a bracelet. England lost to Brazil in one of the most dramatic England games ever played.

1973  Failed to qualify when Poland’s goalkeeper daubed as “A Circus Clown with Gloves” by Brian Clough then probably had the most memorable goal keeping game by any keeper, certainly against England. My first trip to Wembley as well age 16.

1978 Failed to qualify and we were forced to watch Scotland in Argentina.

1982 Just lost out in a second group phase in group a of three with West Germany and Spain, we drew both games which wasn’t good enough.

1986 Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal for Argentina

1988 Euros in Germany England beaten by Republic of Ireland and finished bottom of Group 2

1990 Gazza’s Tears after England lost to West Germany in the semi-finals on penalties Chris Waddle missing the vital one.

1992 Euros Finished bottom of the group with Sweden Denmark and France.

1994 Very disappointing not to qualify for USA

1996 Euros Football coming Home Wembley Lost on penalties in the Semi-Finals to Germany

1998 World Cup Beckham sent off against Argentina which changed the game we lost.

2000 Euros Lost to Portugal and Romania and failed to qualify from the Group

2001 Beckham’s last second free kick ensures England beat Greece to qualify for World Cup.

2002 Another dramatic game against Brazil in the quarter final’s which we lost 2-1

2004 Euros Lost in quarter-final to Portugal on penalties

2006 World Cup Lost in quarter- final to Portugal on penalties

2008 Euros Failed to Qualify, Greece won the tournament

2010 World Cup Beaten by Germany 4-1 in the round of 16.

2012  Euros Losing to Italy after a 0-0 marathon on penalties..

2014  World Cup Losing to Italy in the Jungle in Brazil meant we needed to win two out of two, we got just one draw and were on the way home, bitterly disappointed again.

2016 Qualified with 10 wins from 10 games. The hope returns.

 

Optimistic Punt

UEFA EURO 2016 KICK-OFF

Not long now lads, only a few days until the Euro opening ceremony, let’s hope it’s as hilarious as the prelude to the F.A. Cup which was a complete shambles. Once the dancing and pyrotechnics are over we get down to business with the hosts France against Romania. I don’t know about you guys but it seems like an eternity since the Premier league finished, must be nearly three weeks now. Strangely enough I’m actually looking forward to the other Group A game on Saturday afternoon, Albania v Switzerland. I’m sure to the majority of us Albania will be an unknown quantity but I’ve got a hunch that they could progress from this group and let’s face it you will need to be pretty awful not to get to the last sixteen in this tournament…….cheers Michel.

You may not have noticed but apparently England are playing on Saturday night, I thought I heard somebody mention it on Sky Sports News but I could be wrong. Before that though Wales open Group B against Slovakia. I’m backing the draw all day long here. I just heard it confirmed, England are playing on Saturday night, against Russia, thanks Sky Sports. I’m tipping Russia to fail to progress from this group, keep an eye on Slovakia.

Group C starts on Sunday with Germany playing Ukraine in the first of two, in my opinion, groups of death. Unfortunately I see Northern Ireland being the victim in this group. The others are Poland and Ukraine. Having Germany, Poland and Ukraine in the same group is brilliant for the neutral, for those of you of a certain age will be aware of the political history between these nations and should make for some tasty competition. The German game kicks off twenty-four hours after the England game so Sky Sports might have reduced their England coverage enough to keep you updated with the score.

Group D also starts on Sunday with Turkey against Croatia in Paris, if the rain has stopped. Potential winners Spain play the Czech Republic on Monday. I can see two of these teams dropping out of this group if Spain won all their games and the others kept drawing with each other, tight group.

My other group of death is Group E, Sweden, Belgium, Italy and Ireland. Common sense tells us that this lot are too strong for the Irish but if you were playing for them would you fancy going back to that dressing room after a poor performance with Roy Keane waiting for you? I wouldn’t either. I’ve backed Belgium to win the whole thing so that obviously leaves the other three to squabble over the other places.

Last, and in my opinion, least is group F. Portugal, Austria, Hungary and Iceland. What can I say? I fancy Iceland to qualify with Ronaldo, sorry Portugal. Iceland are the smallest nation ever to have qualified for the Euro finals, what an achievement it would be if they could get out that group, let’s face it, they’ll never get a better chance.
Over and Out,
Cheeky PUNT