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

IS TIM SHERWOOD A BIT OF A KNOB?

Unless you’ve spent the last couple of years smoking crack and chasing penguins on Tristan da Cunhayou’ve probably asked yourself whether Tim Sherwood is a bit of a knob.

With an inexplicable affection for body warmers and a soft spot for volleying water bottles, it’s the kind of behaviour that should put the Aston Villa gaffer at the peak of the Gonad Graph …

… and that’s before we mention his fondness for spouting complete and utter bollocks.

It was during Sherwood’s six-month reign at White Hart Lane that this ostensible haughtiness reared its ugly head, with rumours circulating that he’d regularly snatch Gareth Bale’s crotch and whisper sinister threats of garrotting the Welsh midfielder with his girly headband.

Add in the fact that nothing was ever his fault – from the squad of chumps he inherited from AVB to the respect he so obviously failed to command from certain players – and the 46-year-old began to look like an angry supply teacher who’d knocked back one too many drinks at lunchtime.

But should a blunt manner really relegate Sherwood to the lower leagues of perpetual knobbery?

MOVING AWAY FROM PREDICTABILITY

For any football fan with a sense of humour, Sherwood should be applauded rather than censured, as he’s so often the comedy cure to the same brand of predictable poison the majority of managers spit out week after week.

While Mark Hughes and Steve Bruce drone on and on about a game of two halves and the incompetence of the officials, Sherwood frequently has the media on tenterhooks, waxing lyrical about his dislike of Benfica boss Jorge Jesus or casually chatting about his latest prostate exam.

Aside from being commended for his honesty in the public eye, those who’ve witnessed Sherwood hold court in private say he makes Nigel Farage look like the shy and retiring type, with his barbed opinions about the egos of the modern day footballer often at the top of his list of gripes.

Admittedly, the former Spurs gaffer’s managerial style may not be for everyone, but his knack for turning around the fortunes of underperforming players – Christian Benteke, we’re looking at you, son – and his unparalleled self-belief puts him head and shoulders above the rest.

So … is Tim Sherwood a bit of a knob? Almost certainly, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

‘til next time …

3 SHOCKING SECRETS MANUEL PELLEGRINI DOESN’T WANT YOU TO KNOW

Manuel Pellegrini is a bloodsucking vampire.

When he’s not flapping around the Carrington Training Centre, he’s busy feeding on the life essence of living creatures, doing his best to avoid a stake through the heart and James Milner’s overly garlicky breath.

Life is tough for old Manuel.

After all, being the only vampire gaffer in the country is a lonely existence. While most managers are at home sipping a beer, Pellegrini forlornly irons his cape and wishes for the day when the undead are welcomed into the EPL with open arms.

But Pellegrini’s stint in England’s top tier could be coming to an unfortunate end.

His side’s recent reversal at the hands of van Gaal’s United left the Chilean spitting blood, with the 4-2 defeat a real knockout blow for City’s Champions League hopes, subsequently hammering another nail in Manuel’s coffin.

Putting Pellegrini’s penchant for parasitical pastimes and derby defeats aside for just a minute, however, here are three more things you definitely didn’t know about the beleaguered 61-year-old Manchester City gaffer  …

1. He Won a Chilean Talent Content

It’s hard to believe given his grouchiness in the dugout, but Pellegrini was actually one of his native country’s hottest music stars in the 80s. His life as a singer began on the Chilean talent contest, estrella Del Pop, where he scooped the top prize – and the hearts of pensioners around the country – with his version of Conway Twitty’s I Can See the Want to in Your Eyes.

2. He’s In The Guinness Book of Records

While Pellegrini’s broken a few club records in his long career, it’s his entry in the Guinness Book of Records he’s most proud of. The achievement? World’s Longest Nose Hair. This whopper of a hair came in at a staggering two metres and was proudly plucked by Pellegrini to be made in to a jacket for 12 homeless children in South America.

3. He Spent His Entire Playing Career at One Club

As a player, Pellegrini spent his entire career as a centre back with Universidad de Chile, appearing for the team in over 400 matches in 13 years. While this may seem impressive, rumour has it Manuel was reluctant to leave as the local blood bank was situated opposite the stadium.

While some, none or all of the above may or may not be true, it’ll be interesting to see what becomes of Manchester City’s under fire boss in the days and weeks to come – but whatever happens, Pellegrini’s bloodsucking tendencies will almost certainly rise again.

‘til next time …

SHOW US YOUR BALLS: VAN GAAL GETS SET TO CRACK THE WHIP

Louis van Gaal stands seething in the canteen of the Aon Training Complex.

Rooney is spelling out his name with Alphabetti Spaghetti; Giggsy is applying a handful of Fixodent before tackling a corn on the cob; Mata forks through his misfiring seafood paella.

But it’s Danny Welbeck and Reece James who’re really making van Gaal fume.

They’re plonked in their specially adapted highchairs, cackling wildly as they chuck chicken nuggets at a framed picture of United legends Roy Keane and Dennis Irwin getting Niall Quinn in a headlock.

Without a word, the canny Dutchman strides over, grabs both by the bib and orders them to spend the rest of their lunch hour on the naughty step guarded by Gary Pallister menacingly wielding a catapult.

If there’s one thing you don’t want to do, it’s wind up van Gaal.

IMPISHNESS WON’T BE TOLERATED AT OLD TRAFFORD

Famously, during his time at Bayern Munich, he made his squad eat in the same space every day AND insisted they sit up straight – but poor Luca Toni obviously missed the memo, as van Gaal abruptly removed the big striker from the dining hall for slouching.

Yep, it’s safe to say the Man United gaffer takes this discipline malarkey seriously.

Glimpses of his flammable personality could be seen during the recent pre-season trip to the US, as he whined about the distances his team had to travel. This was no doubt exacerbated by the constant “are we there yet” screams from Welbeck and James at the back of the plane.

However, despite a penchant for blowing up, his pedigree has never been in doubt.

He’s been dubbed the anti-David Moyes, hell-bent on bringing success back to a club still licking its wounds in the wake of its most successful manager – Sir Alex Ferguson – finally spitting out his chewing gum.

Mehmet Scholl has called van Gaal a “genius” and the “best he’s ever seen” on the training ground – and although difficult spells at Bayern and Barca arguably sullied his reputation, it’s clear he’s hungry to build another footballing dynasty in Manchester.

While the current crop of United players will undoubtedly need to adapt, especially in the canteen, van Gaal’s explosive temperament should provide the media with plenty of ammo in his first season in charge of the world’s richest club.

Welcome aboard, Louis, it’s gonna be one hell of a ride …