Well that was the day the Euros finally took off, wasn’t it? The early matches determined who England would face in Nice next Monday. It went to the wire. Another European question will occupy hearts and minds tomorrow. This is a football blog, no really! And so many readers are not concerned about which way David Beckham, or Rio Ferdinand, are voting, never mind this old fool.
Back to football, and Hungary and Portugal provided the roller coaster match the tournament needed. Six goals shared and at the final whistle it looked as though England would face Portugal in the last sixteen, albeit for seconds. As the handshakes started the commentator spoke of developments in the Iceland match against Austria. Somebody said something to Christiano Ronaldo and he immediately started exchanging words with team mates I would love to have heard.
Iceland have had an astonishing introduction to tournament finals football. They surprised everyone by qualifying for the first time, and after ninety minutes were looking at completing the group stage unbeaten, level at 1-1 with Austria. Not surprisingly the Austrians were piling on the pressure in the last of the four added minutes when Iceland broke and Traustason swept in a cross from Bjarnason. (Admit it, unless you are Icelandic you just yelled WHOOOO? twice).
The result put Iceland into second place in the group and they now get the chance to humble England. I’m not sure it will be an end to end thriller, but it will be a fascinating clash of styles. England may have preferred opposition with a more open style than that which Iceland have employed thus far. That isn’t a criticism. They have played to their strengths, which they have to do, and it is up to the supposedly better teams to work out how to break them down.
What could create the same feelings as the early kick-offs? The script was written. Ireland would give Italy a fight before the latter would produce yet another late winner. Ireland didn’t read the script, however. They most certainly did give the azzurri a fight, but as the game was drawing to a close Hoolahan was set free. This was surely the moment for a sensational ending? He tamely found the goalkeeper’s hands. That was that, it seemed.
The thwarted substitute produced a wonderful cross from the right, Brady took flight and planted forehead on plastic. This time the gaping goal was found and a million Irish pets recoiled as their owners experienced that moment of frenzy, of release, at the simple act of scoring a goal. If you cannot be at the game social media is quite the place to be at moments like that. For a few precious minutes positivity and humour takes over a place that can be a host for good and bad.
All of which means that the four teams from Britain and the Republic are united in qualifying for the knock-out phase. At least one must go as Wales will meet Northern Ireland on Saturday. The Republic have a meeting with hosts France which will doubtless prompt hours of talk and video of that Titi handball. If the Irish show the same spirit and commitment as tonight then what are the odds against a penalty shoot-out?
And England? The round of sixteen really is in their hands. Iceland will give it all and have nothing to lose, but it is time for Roy to work out his best eleven and stick with them, injuries and suspensions permitting.