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Euro 2020 Final Review: The Final Hurdle

So that was Euro 2020. 4 weeks of football filled with highs, lows, cheers, tears, and Peter Walton agreeing with every refereeing decision. The stage was set for two gladiators of European football to battle it out to see who would be crowned European champions. The mighty Azzurri of Italy against the Three Lions of England trying to bring football home, or bring it to Rome. Rome would be the destination football went to with Italy narrowly beating England 3-2 in a penalty shootout. Tricky old penalties yet again becoming England’s undoing and while 55 years of hurt never stopped them dreaming, the wait for glory carries on. For Italy it would be their second Euros title with their previous win coming in 1968 in what has been an unbelievable rebuild and turnaround for the squad in recent years. From failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup to the Roberto Mancini appointment to now champions of Europe again, it’s been quite the turnaround. So without any further ado, let’s get into the review!

Italy vs England

Result: Italy 1-1 England (Italy win 3-2 on penalties)

The match couldn’t have got off to a better start for England. It took only 1 minute and 56 seconds before Luke ‘Shawberto Carlos’ Shaw fired England into the lead with a brilliant half volley. Early goals always give teams confidence and the Three Lions were going to need it if they were going to stand a chance against Italy. England really impressed me in the first half. They looked dangerous every time they attacked and they could’ve been more than 1 up going into half time. Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips controlled the midfield completely with Rice looking solid and managing to keep the shape of the midfield well while Phillips aka the Yorkshire Pirlo created chances and got himself into handy positions. Harry Kane had Giorgio Chiellini completely beat in the aerial battle winning headers and making his presence felt against the Italian captain. Italy didn’t come without their threats in the first half. Tournament breakout star Federico Chiesa was creating chances and getting forward well. Into half time England went with their 1 goal lead and many England fans dared to dream. This was the closest football has been to coming home in 55 years. All those years of heartbreak could be put to end in just 45 minutes.

However they didn’t take one important thing into consideration, the Italian second half. I don’t know what it is but in the second half of games this tournament Italy just look that bit better. The substitutions Mancini made helped turn the tide of the game. Bryan Cristante came on for Nicolo Barella who didn’t have the best game and Dominico Beradi replaced Ciro Immobile who was surprisingly quiet. Following this the onslaught of Italian chances came. Waves after waves of pressure came along with England completely losing shape. They started to tire quite quickly as Jorginho and Marco Veratti completely controlled the ball in midfield. Then in the 67th minute the inevitable happened when Leonardo Bonucci equalised. From here on in it didn’t get too much better for England. I was surprised that Declan Rice was substituted for Jordan Henderson, I thought Rice was doing a good job of trying to keep shape and chased absolutely everything but he did look tired. Neither team could get through in the remaining 20 minutes and it was extra time we went.

Neither team particularly threatened that much in extra time. Italy managed to control the midfield well and they still looked fairly strong in attack even without Chiesa. England had a few chances down at the other end but never really looked like scoring. It was pretty clear that both teams towards the end were playing for penalties with Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford coming on for England towards the end of the second half of extra time, and it would have to be penalties to settle it where the Azzurri would be victorious. Harry Kane and Harry Maguire scored their penalties with Jordan Pickford managing to keep out Andrea Belotti and Jorginho. But misses from Rashford, Sancho, and teenage wonderkid Bukayo Saka meant that penalties from Beradi, Bonucci, and Federico Bernardeschi were enough for the win.

Italy are deserved winners of this tournament. From the first game they have been many people’s favourites and yet again it stays true that if you beat Wales at some point then you’ll probably win the tournament. That last bit is true, look at the 1958 World Cup where Brazil beat Wales 1-0 in the Quarter Finals and Euro 2016 where Portugal won 2-0 in the Semis (that has to count for something, right?). As I’ve said many times before, Mancini has completely turned this team around. From exiting Euro 2016 at the Quarter Finals to not going to the 2018 World Cup full stop this Italian team needed some serious work, and that’s what it got. They’ve played brilliant football all tournament and even at times when they didn’t look so convincing they managed to find a way. Not only do they have depth in every position, the quality of the backup players is outstanding. Players like Bernardeschi, Beradi, and Manuel Locatelli are good enough to get into most national team’s starting XI’s, this shows that they are just that good. The best team at the tournament this Euros and without shadow of a doubt will be many people’s favourites for Qatar in 2022. I hope they can end up getting quite far in the next World Cup, the thought of them playing the likes of Brazil, Argentina, or Uruguay makes me very excited. But let’s not look too far ahead yet, they still need to qualify first.

As for England, you can be damn proud. From the team and manager to the majority of fans, you’ve held yourselves in good light. This is a team that is likeable for the first time in however long. A team that stands up for what they believe in. Showing solidarity with black people all around the world and the Black Lives Matter movement by taking the knee before games as well as wearing the rainbow armband in support of the LGBTQIA+ community. Gareth Southgate has been central to this, defending his positions of solidarity and his players when questioned by politicians, aspects of the media, and even small minorities of idiots who have there nerve to call themselves England “fans” despite booing the team when taking the knee. They didn’t win Euro 2020, but Southgate brought football home again for England. English fans now have a national team that they can be proud of and can relate to no matter their background. A team that represents people regardless of their gender, sexuality, or race and a team that stands in solidarity with the English public’s struggles. Some might try and hijack their success and use it to fuel division and their own idea of nationalism i.e. Boris Johnson and Priti Patel jumping on the bandwagon despite criticising them for taking the knee and saying fans had the right to boo it, but this isn’t what this England team represents. It represents a better and more united future. The support that has been shown for Rashford, Sancho, and Saka since they missed their penalties in the shootout has been incredible. Good hearted fans are holding racist thugs accountable online whenever they’ve used slurs against the three of them leading to one losing their job for posting a racist tweet and another 50 year old man arrested for similar. In a world of hate we need to mirror with love and compassion and that has been shown in the last few days since the final. Love will always overcome, and hate will never win.

This was a tournament like no other. With how unstable the last 16 months have been around the world the Euros brought a bit of normality back. It lifted spirits after what’s been an incredibly tragic period in our lives and shows that there is definitely light at the end of what has been an incredibly long tunnel. It was the last bit of football that was played in the UK before the start of the new season in August, and with any luck the stadiums will be full once again because my god it’s been far too long.

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Euro 2020 Last 16 Review: Oceans Rise, (Football) Empires Fall

What a round of fixtures that was. Exciting games, goals galore, and a few shock results. At times it felt like this tournament was a bit of a slow burner and was going to pick up as it went on, and pick up it did. As my dream team took a bit of a battering, this round saw some of the most exciting and best quality games of the tournament so far. Fans of teams are already starting to plan their route to the final (some more than others) in brackets where it really can be anybody’s tournament. There are golden generations, powerhouses, sleeping giants that are waking up, and some dark horses who all believe they’ll be in with a shot at the grand prize that is Euro 2020. This will end up being a pretty long post because well it has to be it has to be, there were 8 games and 8 reviews is quite a lot. So without any further ado, let’s get into it!

Denmark vs Wales

Result: Wales 0-4 Denmark

I’m fine, I’m totally fine. I just don’t want to talk about it, okay? This was a tough one to take as a Welsh fan. Having reached such highs in the group stage and managing to get through to the last 16 finishing second in a very tough group, the Welsh public were starting to dare to dream again like we did in Euro 2016. Denmark were always going to be tough but on the day they were a different level of class. The opening 25 minutes were positive for Wales, Gareth Bale had a couple of decent opportunities while Dan James and Aaron Ramsey looked sharp. However, much like the Switzerland game, Wales stopped and let Denmark attack. This would be Wales’s downfall as it led to 2 goals for Kasper Dolberg and goals from Joakim Mᴂhle and Martin Braithwaite in a convincing win for the Danish. Denmark looked dangerous every time they came forward and their lethal finishing saw them through comfortably. I’m not going to sit back and blame the referee because he wasn’t the sole reason Wales lost, but Daniel Siebert did have a bit of a stinker. Wales can hold their heads high, they had to play 4 away games with next to no fans, travel over 5,000 miles in a short period of time all the while Ryan Giggs is facing trial for coercive or controlling behaviour, causing actual bodily harm, and assault by beating. All of these factors were going to take their toll on the players eventually but they pushed on when there was doubt and made a nation proud. Chris Gunter hit the nail on the head when he said the tournament format was an absolute joke but we as the Welsh need to keep our heads held high. With all things considered, I think it’s been quite a good tournament for Wales. Rob Page’s red army march on (hopefully to Qatar in 2022 for the World Cup) and I wish Denmark the best of luck for the Quarter Finals. Now I just need to do the small task of convincing Gareth Bale to sign for Cardiff City, come on Gazza! Mae’n amser dod adref (that means it’s time to come home for those who don’t speak Welsh).

Italy vs Austria

Result: Italy 2-1 Austria (a.e.t)

This was a really weird one. I’m convinced Wembley Stadium is cursed where top level international teams don’t play that well there (apart from England). Italy didn’t look that interested, and definitely didn’t look like the Italy of the group stage. Austria looked quite dangerous on the counter and probably should’ve scored a couple themselves. Italy’s lazy play was very nearly punished when Marko Arnautovic thought he headed Austria into the lead in the second half only for it to be ruled offside after a VAR check. VAR has worked quite well this tournament yet in this game it was back to its worst that Premier League fans know. Funny how it was efficient enough all tournament until it was a Premier League referee at the helm, coincidence? I’ll let you be the judge. Italy couldn’t capitalise in the time remaining of the 90 after Arnautovic’s goal was disallowed and it was the first game of the tournament to go to extra time. The next 30 minutes were a million times better than the previous 90. I can only imagine how unhappy Mancini must have been because Italy massively woke up with brilliant goals from Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina being enough for the win. Austria did get one back with Sasa Kalajdzic scoring from a corner but it was too little too late. The Azzurri march into the quarters with what I imagine are many people’s bets following game week 1 still safe for now.

Netherlands vs Czech Republic

Result: Netherlands 0-2 Czech Republic

SOUND THE ALARMS!!!! IT’S GIANTKILLING O’CLOCK!!!!! What a crazy game this was! In the first half the Dutch looked to be in quite comfortable control despite not threatening massively while the Czech players looked quite handy themselves. They were solid defensively and looked like they could be dangerous in attack. It was that kind of game we’ve seen a million times before where the favourite look a bit meh before they end up scoring a few at the end to make themselves look good (case in point, Italy-Austria). I thought it was going this way before a handball from Matthijs de Ligt earned him a red card and the tide started to change. A defender down, you’d think surely an attacker would come off for a centre half so the Netherlands could go back to a back 3. Not the Frank de Boer way though! Instead opting for taking off Doynell Malen for Quincy Promes to boost their attack. Just… why? Unbelievably it didn’t work and the Czechs poured on the pressure with the man advantage before Tomáš (good name) Holeš fired the Czech Republic into the lead. The Netherlands tried to muster up some kind of response but to no avail with my new favourite player, Patrik Schick, scoring in the last 10 minutes to seal the game and causing the first upset of the knockout stages. This Czech team are good, like really good. Their attack is dangerous and can cause damage for any team in the tournament and they have a solid defensive unit. Up next is Denmark which is a game I’m really looking forward to. Expect lots of attacking from both sides in what is bound to be a physical game between two top sides. As for the Netherlands, they need to regroup and go again for the World Cup. They will have been expecting a good tournament following failure to qualify for the Russia World Cup in 2018 which to be honest, they haven’t really had.

Belgium vs Portugal

Result: Belgium 1-0 Portugal

Not a giant killing but still a big team out. Winners last time round but this time it wasn’t to be as Portugal were knocked out and Belgium went through in what was a little bit of a dud. Portugal threatened quite a lot and enjoyed most of the possession however they didn’t really do anything with it. They had quite a lot of chances but couldn’t break through with Thibaut Courtois having an impressive showing making some decent saves. I was impressed with Belgium’s incredible attack and their seeming ability to make chances out of nothing, which is what more or less happened when Thorgan Hazard fired Belgium into the lead just before half time. In the second half Portugal attacked more with Joao Felix having a few decent opportunities and Ruben Dias having a strong header saved towards the end of the game. I’ve seen a lot of people online slate Bruno Fernandes but he isn’t to blame at all, the Portugal team as a whole haven’t been that good all tournament with the exception of a few players. It wasn’t enough in the end and Cristiano Ronaldo had another one of his trademark strops when the game didn’t go his way. He’s easily one of the best players of all time and by all accounts a really nice guy but my god he’s a sore loser. Belgium will be absolutely desperate to win the tournament. After disappointment in the quarter finals at Euro 2016 and the semis of the World Cup in 2018 there is a real risk that yet another country’s golden generation could end up not winning anything. It’s a tale as old as time and the term “golden generation” is almost a kiss of death in international football but thankfully for Belgium they don’t have Steve McClaren overseeing it, am I right England? Enough with the England jabs I promise (okay maybe 1 or 2 more). All in all, solid performance from Belgium and one worthy enough to send them to the last 8.

Croatia vs Spain

Result: Croatia 3-5 Spain (a.e.t)

So…. wow. If you know anyone who’s starting to flirt a bit with becoming a football fan but isn’t quite there yet and want to show them highlights of a game to get them fully sold, then this is one you have to. I was convinced that Spain aren’t actually that good at football and had a solid patch between 2008-2012 which made them look good, oh how wrong I was. The game started off with a hilarious own goal from Pedri after an Unai Simon howler, it was genuinely the funniest thing I’ve seen all tournament. Spain responded with their fairly predictable tiki taka style play but actually making it work with Pablo Sarabia equalising in the 38th minute. In the second half Spain looked strong and scored twice with goals from Cesar “Dave” Azpilicueta and Feran Torres to more or less seal the game with 10 minutes to go. However Croatia don’t play by your rules with Mislav Orsic and Mario Pasalic deciding to set up unbelievable scenes with both scoring in the last 5 minutes. It would’ve been easy for Spain to lose their head after this but to their credit they remained calm, cool, and collected with Alvaro Morata and Mikel Oyarzabal scoring in extra time. What a game this was. Spain turned up to play and Croatia are absolutely no mugs and weren’t willing to be swept aside. I thought this would end up being a somewhat boring conservative performance from Spain and I’m glad I was wrong. Well done Spain but Croatia can be proud of themselves, this is why we love this sport.

France vs Switzerland

Result: France 3-3 Switzerland (Switzerland win 5-4 on Penalties)

If you know anyone who’s starting to flirt a bit with becoming a football fan but isn’t quite there yet and want to show them highlights of a game to get them fully sold, then this is one you have to. Also, SOUND THE ALARMS!!!! IT’S GIANTKILLING O’CLOCK!!!!! The world champions are out! And you know what, apart from 20 minutes or so in the second half they didn’t impress me at all. They showed with the two goal from Karim Benzema and one from Paul Pogba why they’re world champions with their comeback having been 1-0 down and Switzerland missing a penalty but their bottle went and ended up doing their best Spain tribute act and conceded twice late on. Extra time was a bit meh and we FINALLY got penalties, I was absolutely desperate for them. It seemed like none of the attackers wanted to take penalties and Kylian Mbappe showed why with his effort saved by Yann Sommer at what was essentially sudden death to send France out and the Swiss through. This was always going to be a tough act to follow after the Spain-Croatia game but it lived up to expectations and some. France haven’t looked all that convincing this tournament. Maybe it’s a bit of a World Cup hangover but I honestly thought they’d end up doing better than they did. I had them winning it as did many others and again I was wrong. I just need to stop backing World Cup winning teams in their next major tournament because they never do well, it’s like some kind of football law.

England vs Germany

Result: England 2-0 Germany

SOUND THE ALARMS!!!! IT’S GIA-okay so not a giant-killing per se but I wasn’t too sure that it would happen, especially after the first 20 minutes. Kai Havertz was getting himself into useful and potentially dangerous positions and Germany looked solid defensively. England couldn’t create much and were bullied off the ball by the German defence and midfield. Germany looked really dangerous to start but then decided to do their best Wales impression and just stopped. England managed to creep back into it with Bukayo Saka yet again having a very good game. England’s Mr. Reliable, Raheem Sterling, got the first goal with 15 minutes left before Harry Kane got his first goal of the tournament in the 86th minute to wrap up the result for the Three Lions. This was a very good performance from England. I thought Gareth Southgate would revert to the defensive football he’s prone to in big games but he didn’t and England attacked well. They’re at their strongest when attacking and it proved in this game. As well as this though I thought England defended well. Germany’s chances were very limited with their best one coming in the form of the Thomas Müller’s shot that went wide just before Kane’s goal. David Baddiel and Frank Skinner watched on in the stands as their famous song was played around Wembley and there is a genuine feeling among England fans that this is finally the year that football’s coming home.

Sweden vs Ukraine

Result: Sweden 1-2 Ukraine (a.e.t)

My god this took a while but we’re finally at the end. In the last game of the last-16, Ukraine were victorious over fellow team that play in yellow, Sweden. Both teams started well creating a couple of decent chances. It was Ukraine who struck first through Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko who scored an absolute beautiful goal. Sweden nearly scored soon after from a Seb Larsson free kick which caught Ukrainian goalkeeper Georgiy Bushchan off his line and having to make a last ditch save. However Sweden did come back with their star man Emil Forsberg scoring just before half time. Quite a few chances came and went in the second half for both sides with Andriy Yarmolenko and Forsberg both hitting the post but neither team could break through. Extra-time would come next and it wouldn’t come without controversy. Marcus Danielson was sent off after a high challenge via a VAR check. I think it was a fair decision, I’ve not seen Danielson commit such a dangerous challenge since the 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament Final with his high kick on Johnny Lawrence… I’ll show myself out. Ukraine made the man advantage count with Artem Dovbyk choosing the last minute to score his first goal for Ukraine to send them into the quarter finals. I think they’ll be fired up for England in what will be a physical game. I can see them trying to rough England’s attack a bit like Germany did in the first half and try and hit them on the counter. Regardless, well done Ukraine on making the quarters when they were undoubtedly underdogs for this one.

Man, that was a lot of writing and reviewing. As always thanks for reading, I’m off for a lie down. See you next week for the quarter finals!

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Is America’s Game about to get a bit more British?

In just less than 5 weeks’ time the NFL will kick off its centurion season with all 32 teams hoping their roads will lead to Miami for Super Bowl LVI. The current favourites with the bookies are reigning champions the New England Patriots with Belichick’s men hoping to win a record breaking 7th Lombardi Trophy beating their current tied record of 6 (shared with the Pittsburgh Steelers). Other strong contenders consist of last year’s runners up the Los Angeles Rams, the Kansas City Chiefs and the New Orleans Saints but there are plenty of teams who fancy themselves as dark horses and can cause trouble for anybody in the NFL such as the Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears or the Philadelphia Eagles (Go Birds!!). Football is undoubtably America’s game but could it be about to get a bit more British within the next few years? By that I don’t mean half time tea and scone breaks or saluting a picture of Hugh Grant before every game but there have been strong rumours of a potential London franchise and the rumours have only been getting stronger recently. I’m personally dead against a London franchise but I’m going to try and keep this as unbiased as possible. This post will take a look at potential strengths of a London team whilst also acknowledging the obvious problems that would come with it.

First off the good aspects of a London franchise and although I’m against it, there are fairly strong and obvious arguments. More than anything, a London team will bring more British eyes to the sport and get more people interested. Support for the NFL has skyrocketed in recent years and that’s obvious with the annual London Games. A clear example shows in 2016 when over 84,000 fans were in attendance at Wembley to see the Washington Redskins draw 27–27 with the Cincinnati Bengals. To put that in comparison to football for non-NFL fans, that’s probably the equivalent of 84,000 American Premier League fans turning up to see Burnley vs Brighton (statement’s fully open to argument, just my take). The numbers don’t lie, the NFL has a strong British fanbase and a team on their doorstep would only grow support from current non-NFL fans. It could also give UK fans who don’t support a specific team a reason to follow one. With a team closer to home it could make them feel more connected than they would following a team that plays stateside. It could also lead to a surge in British youngsters deciding they’d like to take up the sport and with the opening of an NFL academy in London could lead to more talented British players in the NFL. There are arguments for a London franchise, however it doesn’t mean that there are still a few problems that could arise with it and strong arguments against.

One of the strongest arguments against a London Franchise is just simply, why? Yes there’s a huge following for the NFL in the UK and that’s shown with annual London Games but does that really warrant a franchise to be born? To put it into comparison, let’s take the Barclays Premier League. According to Nielsen (used in a December 2018 Forbes article), 39.3 million Americans followed the Premier League in the 2017/18 season. That is a huge amount of support but would the Premier League ever agree to relocate a team Stateside or even start a new one because of the market? Of course not. Granted it would be a lot more difficult as the NFL has no relegation rule like in English football but you catch my drift. A branch out so ambitious would never happen in another sport despite a strong following from abroad so why treat the NFL any different. Also, I doubt highly any British fans would stop supporting their own adopted teams to start following a London team instead. As previously mentioned, I’m an Eagles fan and despite the fact most seasons are frustrating to say the very least (apart from the masterclass in the 2017 season which won us Super Bowl LII, forever in debt to that squad) there’s no chance I’d ever stop following them for a side closer to home because they’re my team. There would also probably be a bit of confusion surrounding the future of the London games. It’s possible that they would come to an end full stop which would be a big shame but with a London team playing in the capital regularly arguments would rise as to would there really be need for them with an existing UK franchise.

There’s also some tricky logistics surrounding a London team, most notably the cost of it all. The cost to send the rosters over for the London games can cost upwards of $200,000 without shipping equipment and other items. Costs would be huge for teams playing on the road to ship everything to the London and for a UK team to play Stateside. Training facilities could be an issue as there are no NFL level training facilities as of yet in the UK which could be used for an entire regular season meaning a large amount of money would have to be invested in order to build a new training ground. Costs would also be high for travelling fans to follow their team if they ended up playing on the road in London. Whilst a trip to London could be part of the novelty and a pull factor for American fans to see their team play on the road, it would be far from cheap which could put people off. The same is true about fans of a London franchise following them when they’re playing in the States meaning attendance for road games could be quite poor. One of the main questions surrounding a UK team is who would likely end up getting relocated for it to happen. The strongest rumour is that the Jacksonville Jaguars would move in order for the London franchise to happen. Jacksonville’s attendance has been slightly less on average than the TIAA Bank Field’s capacity with a 66,674 average for a 67,164 seater stadium for the 2018 season. Whilst that’s still a good attendance for the stadium’s size, it doesn’t really compare to the record 85,870 fans at Wembley who saw the Jaguars lose to the Eagles in October 2018. Whilst the rumour at the moment is the Jags don’t be surprised if it’s their central Floridian counterparts the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who end up getting relocated. Their average attendance last season was only over 54,000 which is pretty naff for a stadium with the capacity of over 65,000. The owners of the Bucs and the Jags having a pretty strong knowledge of the UK sport market with their other investments (the Jaguars being owned by Fulham owner Shahid Khan and the Glazer family owning the Buccaneers and Manchester United) and with three franchises currently in Florida, don’t be too surprised if the Jaguars or Buccaneers get relocated. Whilst relocation is all too familiar for some fanbases such as the Chargers, Rams and soon the Raiders, it’s unfortunately part of the game making it even more of a kick in the teeth.

It’s fair to say that there won’t be a British franchise in the NFL within the next couple of years. However I personally think it will happen in the not too distant future. It’ll give UK fans a chance to see more live football and would result in more money for the relocated franchise with higher attendances (if it is the Jags or Bucks, I don’t see too much in the Bills rumours). If it does happen it will undoubtably be the most ambitious move in professional top level sport and will change the game forever.