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The completion of the first pre-season warm-up fixture leads into the second phase of our preparation for a renewed onslaught on the Premier League. Today the squad, such as it is at present, jetted off to the United States for matches against MLS All-Stars on Friday and Chivas de Guadalajara on Monday.

It is starting to look as though there will be opportunities for some of the younger players to impress in the coming weeks. Not on the plane were those who lasted longest in the European Championship, namely Laurent Koscielny, Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, and Olivier Giroud. Arsene revealed in Lens that Gabriel (tonsillitis) would miss the trip, and that Alexis Sanchez’ ankle injury was not too bad but he would not travel. Today we learned that Per Mertesacker has picked up a knee injury and was also left behind.

The extent of the BFG’s injury has not been disclosed leading to some wild speculation on Social Media sites. I’ll wait for Arsene’s confirmation of three weeks before he announces that the player has suffered a set-back in a month’s time. Arsene will have to ponder whether to trust two of the three young defenders (Calum Chambers, Rob Holding, or Krystian Bielik) or if he should switch either Nacho Monreal or Mathieu Debuchy into the centre.

Ahead of them it will be interesting to see who lines up alongside new boy Granit Xhaka. The obvious candidates are Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Mohamed Elneny and Francis Coquelin. The midfield is the one area where Arsenal have real strength in depth. The emergence of Alex Iwobi, and the looming return of Ramsey and Ozil will give the manager a real headache. Some real quality may not make even the bench a month from now. (Insert proviso here re all of them remaining fit.)

Assuming we don’t attract a top-notch striker by Friday (I know, don’t say it again!) then Chuba Akpom has another opportunity to show if he should be retained rather than sent out on loan. The two matches may be no more than an opportunity for the more experienced players to get a little bit of match-fitness, but the young striker will surely take any time on the pitch as seriously as any matches he has played in his career to date.

And then, to misquote Rodgers and Hammerstein, how do you solve a problem like our Theo? If, and that’s a big if, there is anything in the Mahrez to Arsenal stories I can’t help but think out loud that it might be of benefit for all involved for Theo to be a part of any deal. That isn’t intended to offend his many admirers on here and elsewhere, but he hasn’t shown any sign of developing into the alternative central striker to Giroud, and would likely be second-in-line at best for the wide right berth should Mahrez materialise. He would walk into a Leicester side sans the Frenchman and it would offer a real opportunity to force himself back into contention for the England squad. For now he will probably share the striking duties with Akpom in the next two matches, and notch the hat-trick that will cause another rethink!

Doubtless we will be subjected to a social media charm offensive as the squad gets involved with public relations work across the pond. I look forward to seeing snaps of Gunnersaurus in the company of various oversized fluffy chums in the coming days.

Cheers for now.

Arsenal’s pre-season preparation stepped up a gear with the first team’s opening friendly of the season in Lens. With many players still absent it was very much a squad eleven on view and an opportunity for some of the youngsters to impress alongside experienced heads such as Matthieu Debuchy, Per Mertesacker,  and Nacho Monreal.

The match started brightly and as early as the third minute Alex Iwobi cut the ball back to Chuba Akpom, who unfortunately shot straight at Douchez in the Lens goal. The hosts responded immediately but Zoubir lifted his effort over the bar.

Autret brought a first save out of Emi Martinez, and then dragged an effort wide when he outsprinted Per Mertesacker. Lens are a week away from the start of their Ligue 2 campaign and so looked a little ahead of Arsenal in their match-fitness.

Midway through the half Jeff Reine-Adelaide created an opportunity for himself but fired wide of the far post against his former club, then a minute later was denied at the cost of a corner which Ba cleared under pressure from Mertesacker.

The game sprung to life in the 37th minute when Calum Chambers poor defensive header put Zoubir clean through, and although Martinez was equal to his effort the ball found a way to the unmarked Autret who netted at the far post. The scoreline at half-time was established.

Lens 1-0 Arsenal

Matt Macey came on for the impressive Martinez at the start of the second-half, as well as Kieran Gibbs for Monreal, Krystian Bielik for Debuchy, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Akpom, Serge Gnabry for Reine-Adelaide, and Joel Campbell for Mohammed Elneny.

As the hour neared Chambers, switched to the right side of the back four, got forward and supplied a decent cross that just evaded Walcott and Campbell as the Gunners sought an equaliser. Lens had other ideas though and Macey was called on to make an excellent save from a fierce long-range effort by Bourigeaud.

With a quarter of an hour remaining Walcott, put in by the Ox, saw his effort deflected for another unproductive corner.  Arsenal made their final substitutions with Chris Willock and and Gedion Zelalem replacing Iwobi and Walcott, and almost immediately Campbell drew a save out of Douchez.

Within minutes the Gunners did strike back at last. Gnabry played the Ox in and a sublime chip dropped inside the far post to level matters.

Lens 1-1 Arsenal

Events elsewhere put this pre-season opener into perspective. Nineteen Gunners have some match practice under their belt and one or two look further ahead with their preparations than others. It was good to see us respond in the second-half, but more telling friendlies lie ahead.

Meanwhile our thoughts are with all those affected by the goings on in Germany. Stay safe.

A perfect start to the holiday at Lord’s yesterday has left me fighting the laws of gravity for much of today. That has given me an opportunity to catch up on the news, if one can call it that, as far as Arsenal are concerned. Regulars will know I don’t enjoy transfer speculation but there seems to be a couple of interesting angles being reported.

You would have to be living on Mars to avoid the stories linking Arsenal with Gonzalo Higuain, undoubtedly a proven goalscorer, but an expensive 29 year old. I’m somewhat sceptical although Kiss Kiss radio station in Naples (it isn’t Napoli’s official club station) has said he is Arsenal bound. They quote a figure of fifty million euros plus Olivier Giroud and reported further that Arsenal were also looking to sell Laurent Koscielny to help fund the deal.

They haven’t really done their homework. We do not need to sell before we buy, and certainly not a player who has developed into one of the best defenders in European football. Added to that what is the point in using Giroud as bait in the deal? It would leave us in the situation we are in today with only one centre forward and no back-up should he get injured or fatigued. We are looking for competition up front, not an exchange.

More believable is that last year’s PFA Player of the Season, Riyad Mahrez, has turned down a new deal at Leicester and is available at around thirty million pounds. We are rumoured to be in the chase for his signature. That is more likely than us being at an advanced stage of negotiations with Higuain although Mahrez is obviously not the central striker we need. He was however a prolific scorer and provider of goals for the surprise champions last season and his capture would probably hasten the departure of Theo Walcott.

There is a large Barcelona-shaped cloud on the horizon, unfortunately. The Catalans are also said to be interested which usually ends only one way. Let’s hope Mahrez has a hitherto unrecorded hatred of all things Barca, or would prefer to come to a club where he could end up making more appearances in the coming seasons.

That the club is actively pursuing attacking options was never in doubt, but it would be hugely advantageous to seal a deal with the important pre-season imminent.

Talking of pre-season, the under 21’s played their first pre-season fixture at Boreham Wood today (Saturday) and were on the wrong end of a 3-0 thumping. That’s a good one to get out the way before the real season kicks in.

Right, I am about to head for the Cornish sun for a week of R&R so by the time I get back I expect us to have a new striker, goalscoring winger, and a central defender in place. Yes, I think I really need this break.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

The smoke has cleared after the conclusion of Euro2106 and at last it feels as though the football season is officially over, even though the non-tournament players at most clubs now have reported back for training for 2016/17.

Let’s allow ourselves a little time to relax and recharge the batteries, and what better way for the English at least to do that than by recalling the events of fifty years ago. At this point I expect my Scots chums may be clicking on the close tab button, but if one of you would like to pen a piece for next summer celebrating your World Championship anniversary please do!

Being fortunate enough to have experienced 1966 I was delighted to see that the Football Association had licensed Vision Sports Publishing, in association with the National Football Museum, to produce a wonderful memento in the form of a coffee-table style book titled 1966 The 50th Anniversary.

Published today (Monday), the book brought back some wonderful memories of the first World Cup I followed from start to finish. It captures the build up, the preparations, the tournament proper and all of the venues, nations, and key players of the biggest sporting event to be held in England since the 1948 Olympics. Then, of course, the celebrations as a nation enjoyed the joy of a first tournament triumph.

Woven in among the words are the photographs which are so evocative, that capture in both black and white, and colour, not just the football but everything that surrounded that World Cup. Want to know what the programmes looked like? Have you seen the World Cup Willie souvenirs? Have you seen Pickles, the dog that found the Jules Rimet trophy after it was stolen from the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster? What do you think the official World Cup beer was? What happened on the peripheral of the tournament helps to recreate the atmosphere in which the tournament was played.

It wasn’t all about England as the section on North Korea, among others, reminds. The rank outsiders had captured English hearts, particularly when defeating fancied Italy 1-0 and holding Chile to a 1-1 draw in the group stage at Ayresome Park. In their quarter-final against Eusebio’s Portugal they stunned Goodison Park by taking a staggering 3-0 lead in the opening 25 minutes. The dream was ended by Eusebio’s four goals in 32 minutes (including two penalties), and a late clincher from Augusto.

It wasn’t all sweetness and light. Photographic evidence of the Bulgarian and Portuguese brutality that saw Pele limp out of the tournament at the group stage. The labelling of the Argentines as ‘animals’ by Alf Ramsey after a stormy quarter-final at Wembley. If you were there you’ll understand, but if you weren’t this book really will draw you in and inform you too.

Don’t believe just me. Hat-trick hero Sir Geoff Hurst, in the foreword to the book, wrote…

“Looking at all the pictures, newspaper cuttings and fantastic memorabilia on these pages transports you back in time those magical weeks when the whole country was mesmerised by football’s greatest tournament and the realisation slowly set in that we might actually win it.”

Beautifully packaged in a cloth-covered slipcase with gold foil lettering, a limited edition signed by Sir Geoff Hurst can be obtained from the publisher’s direct, by clicking here. You can also get a discount on the unsigned book in the Amazon link in the sidebar of this blog.

Are you an England supporter, or a football supporter with a liking for the history of the game? This book comes highly recommended.

Les Miserables

So it all boiled down to three questions tonight. Would Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud crown a fine tournament with victory in the Euro2016 Final? Would home advantage be decisive against a team containing no Arsenal players – yet. Finally did the plague of moths in the stadium come from Arsene’s wallet? (Sorry, low-hanging fruit, and all that.) I know you have probably heard that dozens of times now, but remember it was written at twenty to eight!

It was Portugal who had the first clear opportunity, however, when Nani was put clear by a simple long ball down the middle. He rushed his effort though and cleared the bar by some way with just Lloris to beat. A couple of minutes later the lively Griezmann sliced one wide of the near post as France sought a response.

In the tenth minute Pepe slipped as he attempted to bring the ball clear and a quick cross found Griezmann who brought a fine save out of Rui Patricio. The resulting corner saw Giroud head straight at the Portuguese goalkeeper.

Those keen to see Ronaldo end the match in tears almost got their wish after just seventeen minutes. He hadn’t shaken off a knee knock after a challenge with Dimitri Payet but a desperate Portuguese medical team tried strapping his knee together and sent him moving gingerly back into the fray. It would prove to be a temporary repair.

As the midway point of the half Sissoko ran half the length of the pitch and saw a fierce drive deflected for what would prove to be a fruitless corner. Ronaldo again hit the turf and his race was run. Portugal sent on Quaresma for their talisman.

The surprisingly impressive Sissoko found himself on the left hand side of the box and drew another decent save from Rui Patricio with twelve minutes left of the half. Mark Clattenburg then produced his first yellow card of the night when Soares slammed his knee into Payet’s back in a nasty aerial assault, possibly revenge for the Ronaldo incident.

Fonte and Giroud traded headed attempts at opposite ends. The Southampton man comfortably cleared the French crossbar and Giroud at least brought a save, albeit an easy one, from Rui Patricio. That summed up the first-half. Neither side had lifted the crowd.

The opening of the second-half was no more of a spectacle than what had gone before. In an attempt to change things Payet was hauled off to be replaced by Coman as the hour mark approached. Immediately the substitute put Griezmann in for an off-target effort on goal. A couple of minutes later Mario’s cynical hack on Giroud in the French half drew a second yellow from Clattenburg, having a good night to that point.

The 66th minute saw the miss of the match when Coman’s cross found Griezmann in front of goal but he didn’t get over the ball and headed it over the bar. A quarter of an hour of normal time remained when Coman put Giroud through but Rui Patricio produced a wonderful save to deny him. The substitute and Sissoko were definitely having the biggest influence on the match.

Giroud’s miss would sadly be his last as Gignac (Big Mac) was sent on for him, and Portugal sent on Eder for Sanches. Within seconds Nani’s mis-hit cross caused Lloris to panic far more than it should. Sissoko, unrecognisable from the player who has stunk the place out at Newcastle, stung the palms of Rui Patricio as the end of normal time loomed. In the second of three added minutes Big Mac set himself up to be the hero of the night, but typically on this night his scuffed effort bounced back into play off the near post. Into an extra thirty minutes nobody wanted we went.

Guerreiro drew the first yellow of extra time for a foul on, yes, Sissoko, after an offside Pepe had worried the home support with a header that went close. Matuidi got the first French card when Eder went over his arched back. Carvalho’s professional foul drew just a yellow when he flattened Coman.

Portugal threatened when Eder’s header from a corner saw Loris parry nervously away in front of his goal and the third phase of the game drew to a close with a penalty shoot-out just fifteen minutes away.

The inevitable Clattenburg cock-up arrived with twelve minutes remaining. Koscielny was booked when Eder handled the ball on the edge of the French area. I’ll give you a clue, Blind Pew, Laurent is white! The free-kick clattered the French bar and shortly after Eder smashed one in at Lloris’ near post. France were ten minutes from a cruel defeat, but one that would be largely self-inflicted. France were about to bring N’Golo Kante on but too late they changed their mind and Anthony Martial was sent on.

Pogba was next into the book as France battled desperately to salvage something from the wreckage. Both sides were running on empty and a tournament that flattered to deceive drew to something of a disappointing close.

Congratulations should be due to a Portugal who won at the host country, some consolation for when Greece denied them the trophy at home. We now need Kos and Giroud to get a break, recharge their batteries, and come back determined to seek more success at club level.

Au revoir.

A Tale Of Two Countries

It was the night we couldn’t lose. It was the night we couldn’t win. Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud versus Mesut Ozil and reported target Julian Draxler. France hosting Germany in the Euro semi-final.

France started the stronger and as the clock ticked past six minutes an astonishing passage of play, in which Antoine Griezmann was the principal player, ended with Manuel Neuer forced full length for a desperate save. In this mood Griezmann will become a serious target for the biggest clubs and Atletico must be relieved that he signed a contract extension just last month.

Determined not to be overrun the World Cup winners fashioned opportunities of their own. Misfiring Thomas Muller missed a larger than cow’s backside sized target with his banjo of a foot. Then Draxler teed up Emre Can for an effort that Hugo Loris did well to save at his right hand post. Toni Kroos thought he had been clipped by Paul Pogba but the referee waved play on.

The first quarter of the match flew by. An end to end contest continued with a Dimitri Payet free-kick from thirty yards out bringing a diving save from Neuer. An increasingly rare break-out saw Pogba denied in similar fashion. France broke twice in the minutes before half-time and after Griezmann blazed an effort into the side-netting Giroud was put in behind the defence but could not get his effort away before Benedikt Howedes got back for a remarkable block. He was roundly criticised for his lack of pace, but it should be pointed out he is actually handicapped by the number of critics on his back.

The half ended in near chaos when France were awarded a penalty when Sebastien Schweinsteiger was controversially adjudged to have deliberately handled a corner, and Griezmann finished clinically. To add insult to injury an incredulous Schweinsteiger was shown a yellow card, as was Ozil for kicking the ball away. In the BBC studio Thierry Henry confessed “we were more than fortunate”.

Germany weren’t helped on the hour as Jerome Boateng was helped off with what looked like a pinged hamstring, or gone in the fetlock for the benefit of one of the most avid readers of this blog! In a bid to break out of their second-half funk Mario Gotze was sent on for Can. The French response was to send on N’Golo Kante for Payet and almost immediately Griezmann ensured the night was his with a toe-poke to double the hosts advantage.

Josh Kimmich, the young full-back who had made a mistake in the build-up to the second goal, almost made amends with a wonderful strike against the junction of bar and post. Giroud made way for Gignac and received a standing ovation from a French crowd who have warmed to him during this tournament. So they should. He may not have added to his incredible recent international scoring record, but he ran himself into the ground for the cause.

The final whistle confirmed that the hosts would play in their own Final in Paris. They will face Portugal. I had prepared a major piece on the first of the semi-finals. It was too painful to proceed with. Wales and Portugal were evenly matched for the opening half. Shorn of Aaron Ramsey, so important to them, Wales had no way back when Ronaldo turned the match with a superb header and an assist for Nani early in the second-half.

It would be wrong not to acknowledge what the Welsh achieved over the course of this tournament. It would have been wonderful to see them take that final step. It is rumoured that Chris Coleman will announce his resignation tomorrow (Friday) and it is only right that he should be offered an opportunity to establish himself in a high profile club appointment. It would be sad for Welsh football if he did not achieve that. His team have rightly set the expectation level higher for Wales in the coming World Cup qualifying campaign.

Here’s to Sunday, and go on Laurent and Olivier (and ok, you too Bacary). Allez les Bleus.

And Then There Were Four

The weekend is already becoming a distant memory, and not an entirely unpleasant one. As usual at this time of year there was some cricketing goodness as Joe Root and Jos Buttler put an inexperienced Sri Lankan team to the sword again. The visitors tour comes to an end with a 20/20 match in Hampshire on Tuesday evening, which should make for good viewing.

Understanding that not all reading this will be massive cricket aficionados there was also the small matter of the third Euro quarter-final. In case you hadn’t heard (hundreds of times!) beforehand world champions Germany had never beaten Italy in the finals of a major tournament. A close encounter was again expected with both sides looking defensively solid.

Close it most certainly was. In truth the first-half was sleep-inducing. Two teams wary of making a costly mistake all but throttled each other. It all sprang to life just past the hour mark, and it was no surprise (to us Gooners anyway) that Mesut Ozil was the one to break the deadlock, ghosting in at the near post to take Gianluigi Buffon by surprise. It should have been enough but Jerome Boating needlessly and blatantly handled, allowing Leonardo Bonucci to score from the spot.

That meant a penalty shoot-out, dramatic for those watching and a test of character for the chosen penalty takers. Surprisingly Germany, who had only ever missed two penalties in shoot-outs before Saturday, more than doubled that tally in minutes. Thomas Muller saw his effort saved by Buffon, the otherwise outstanding Ozil hit a post, and Bastian Schweinsteiger fired what would have been the match winner wildly over.

Fortunately for the Germans Simone Zaza and Graziano Pelle missed the target, and Manuel Neuer denied both Bonucci and Matteo Darmian. Italy’s hold over Germany was ended when Jonas Hector drilled a low grubber beyond Buffon. Cue a little celebration for this great grandson of a German.

Sunday brought about a change in viewing position. Something rarely sighted so far this year, I think it is called the sun, meant the iPad was transported to the garden table. Yet more cricket, this time the England Ladies convincingly defeated a Pakistan team even more inexperienced than the Sri Lankan men. That was only ever going to be an appetiser for possibly the most eagerly awaited of the quarter-finals, unless of course you are Welsh.

England’s conquerors, Iceland, faced the hosts, France, in their own back yard. Like England the French struck early, and what a delight it was to see Olivier Giroud providing a clinical finish. As against England, Iceland immediately won a throw at the other end and…

…the French headed it clear, and went on to dish out a lesson in controlled attacking football that will not have escaped the attention of the German squad, their opponents in the semi-final. Paul Pogba, Dimitri Payet, and Antoine Griezmann (don’t even think it, he has just renewed his contract at Atletico) put the French out of sight by half-time.

If the Iceland players can seek any solace from the evening it might be that they won the second-half 1-2. Kolbeinn Sigthorsson and Birkir Bjarnason’s goals sandwiching a second for the outstanding Giroud. The striker and his Gunners team-mate, Laurent Koscielny were substituted to keep them fresh for the semi-final and to avoid the needless collection of a second yellow card.

We cannot say farewell to Iceland without mention (no, not of their population!) of their wonderful support. We may not see them again in a major competition for a while and that will be our loss. We wish them well in the future.

Our attentions now turn to Wednesday. Can Wales finally put Portugal (and everybody who has watched them in this tournament) out of their misery and give Aaron Ramsey a Final to look forward to? He is surely unlucky to have picked up what appeared to be the harshest of suspensions, and as such a key player in the Welsh progress so far they will certainly miss him. Let’s hope the eleven that do start have enough determination and enthusiasm to overcome Ronaldo and his disciples.

As ever, have a good one ‘holics.

Friday night draws to a close in this neck of the woods and the mood on social media is much improved from a week ago. I know that not all non-Welsh will have thrown their lot in behind Wales in their Euro quarter-final against Belgium tonight, but it certainly looks as though a large number of those I know did. The resulting celebrations were earned by a wonderful performance by the underdogs.

Eden Hazard and friends came into the match as favourites and in the opening quarter of an hour they showed why. A trio of desperate blocks were required to stop them going ahead but shortly afterwards Radja Nainggolan hit an unbelievable rising drive with power and precision past Wayne Hennessy.

The outlook was gloomy but credit Wales, once again finding a response in the probing and craft of Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale. On the half hour Ramsey’s perfectly flighted corner found his unmarked skipper and Ashley Williams headed in to spark scenes of pure joy amongst the Welsh faithful. With both sides now settled and going at each other hell for leather it was hard to predict a winner as the half-time whistle blew.

I’m not sure even the most fervent Welsh supporter could have dreamed what the second-half would bring. Picture the scene. Aaron Ramsey works an opening on the right flank and plays a lovely ball into Hal Robson-Kanu. The centre forward, a former Arsenal schoolboy but now unattached as Reading let him go yesterday, produced a Cruyff turn that sent three Belgian defenders the wrong way and calmly side-footed past Thibaut Courtois.

Surely Wales would eventually concede after a brave fight? Well, no. One golden opportunity for the elbowy, stampy Marouane Fellaini aside the Red Dragons defended assuredly. There was one awful moment when Ramsey conceded a soft handball and earned a second yellow card of the tournament which will rule him out of the semi-final. That could be crucial. Ben Davies too will miss the biggest match in Wales history.

The silver lining arrived in the shape of a towering header from the near post to the far by substitute Sam Vokes with five minutes remaining. It sparked scenes of delirium and joy. The Welsh haven’t had any tournament knock-out success before. Their 1958 World Cup quarter-final with a wonderful Brazilian side ended in defeat, not surprisingly, so let them enjoy this performance by their team. Full marks to Chris Coleman (and a mention too for Gary Speed before him) for the great progress they have made with this generation of players.

In the semi-final they will face Portugal. I would like to give you a blow by blow account of their progress at the expense of Poland last night. Suffice it to say I forgot it was on as I sought a suitable West Country holiday hotel and only caught the last few minutes of extra-time and the penalty shoot out. I am reliably informed that I missed nothing. Portugal crept through although so far they have been the disappointment of the tournament, performance-wise.

And so to the weekend, and two more quarter-finals to be decided. The head says Germany and France to progress to the other semi-final, but Italy and Iceland will have different ideas, I’m sure.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

A day later and there is no numbing the effects of England’s abject surrender to Iceland at the Euros. At the outset let me add to the congratulations I offered to Iceland on Twitter at the final whistle. The better team on the night did indeed win, and deservedly so.

England were gifted an opening goal from the penalty spot inside five minutes. It should have been the platform for a comfortable passage to a quarter-final meeting with France, but within a minute the equaliser arrived when an international defence was plunged into chaos by a long throw-in. Less than twenty minutes were on the clock when Joke Hart allowed another tame effort to avoid his clutch, and although we didn’t know it at the time Iceland had just clinched victory against a dispirited and gutless opponent.

Roy Hodgson did the decent thing at the end of the match. His resignation was inevitable but it has to be said the players who had delivered a faultless qualifying campaign were quick to throw him under the bus. It was the players who failed to capitalise on their possessional advantage in the group matches. Three wins became one and then came last night’s tame surrender. Some of the senior players who are rumoured to have pointed the finger at Hodgson should not be retained under the new regime.

Lest we forget Iceland included the Netherlands among their victims in qualifying and remain undefeated at the tournament proper. They are very well organised, disciplined, and full of desire. It would be a surprise if they went on to beat the hosts on Sunday, but don’t rule it out. For sure the Icelanders themselves haven’t.

A similar story had played out earlier in the day as the much-fancied Spaniards were sent packing by the Italian team with no star names but an admirable work ethic. On a bad day for Manchester goalkeepers David De Gea gifted Italy their opening goal just past the half hour mark. He spilled Eder’s free-kick into the path of Giorgio Chellini, the unlikeliest of goalscorers. To be fair De Gea kept his team in contention with a string of saves either side of the goal.

The azzuri wrapped up a deserved triumph in the closing minutes when Southampton’s Graziano Pellè surely guaranteed a bid from Liverpool with a close-range finish. The result earned the Italians a quarter-final date with world champions Germany on Saturday. The Germans have never beaten Italy at the finals of a major tournament. Immovable object, meet irresistible force.

The other quarter-finals pair Poland and Portugal on Thursday, plus Wales and Belgium on Friday. The Welsh celebrations back in their hotel last night didn’t offend anyone I know, I hope. As the last of the United Kingdom’s (but for how much longer?) representatives they are guaranteed my support for as long as they remain in the tournament. Aaron Ramsey is enjoying a fine run of form and the inconsistent Belgians are by no means a shoe-in to proceed to the last four.

Good luck, Wales.

Well, that was quite a few days, wasn’t it? I had the good fortune to be on the golf course on Friday and so missed the immediate aftermath of the referendum. Politics and sport have never been the best of bedfellows so I will refrain from further mentioning it here, other than to say that we are all up to our necks in it and need to pull together to make this transition as painless as possible.

Glastonbury Lite is reaching a conclusion later. I happen to enjoy listening to Adele and Coldplay, but it is something of a surprise that they were/are headlining this particular festival. Last evening I had three screens on the go watching the acts from Worthy Farm, the Euros, and the Anthony Joshua bill from the O2. The three matches in France provided mixed feelings, and these carried on into today.

Before the football kicked off us Anglos had the morning in front of the screen watching the England rugby union team create history with a third test triumph in Australia. It was gripping entertainment which could have swung either way until Jamie George’s late try. The final score in Sydney was a remarkable 40-44 to the tourists who had never won a series down under before, never mind a clean sweep.

In the first of the round of sixteen fixtures Jakub Blaszczykowski put Poland ahead against Granit Xhaka’s Switzerland six minutes before half-time. Xherdan Shaqiri’s sublime overhead kick from 18 yards gave the Swiss parity and extra-time could not separate the two. In the penalty shoot-out only one man missed from the spot, sadly the Gunners new man, otherwise impressive again in normal play. Hopefully a holiday will ease his disappointment and enable him to put in a solid pre-season with the club.

On to the meeting of Northern Ireland and Wales, and the ditty that will surely be runner up to “Will Grigg is on fire” in the chant of the tournament vote. “We voted remain, we voted remain, we aren’t stupid, we voted remain”. Those witty Irish, eh? Their wit didn’t save them on the pitch against a Wales driven forward by Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale, although it took a late Gareth McCauley own goal to decide the contest. The Irish can be very proud of their performance to that point however, and won many friends on a rare showing at a major tournament.

The final match of the day was, even given the fact I had it on mute, a very dull and uninspiring affair eventually won by Portugal three minutes from the end of extra-time. Croatia bowed out to a Ricardo Quaresma header into an empty net from two yards. Thankfully, although also silent, Chris Eubank jr and Anthony Joshua provided much more watchable entertainment.

So to earlier today. The sport started with a match that would not finish. Sri Lanka batted first against England at Bristol, and the umpires and players deserve credit for them completing their innings despite the showers that fell on Bristol, or Brizzle as we prefer to say in this part of the world. England’s response was limited to just four overs before the showers became more persistent and forced an abandonment.

The football portion of the day started with the Republic of Ireland coming off second best to Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud’s France. The match had started well for the boys in green though, with Robbie Brady converting a second minute penalty after Paul Pogba was adjudged to have brought down Shane Long in the box. The Republic’s rearguard action stayed firm until four crucial minutes around the hour mark. The impressive Antoine Griezmann, who nodded in the equaliser before driving in the winning goal from Giroud’s sublime flick. The partnership prompted much wishful thinking on Twitter but Griezmann has only this month signed an extension with Athletico Madrid. Dream on.

Favourites and current world champions Germany cruised past Slovakia in the second match. Mesut Ozil was in good fettle save for succumbing to the curse that makes Arsenal midfielders miss from the penalty spot. On the day it mattered not. Jerome Boateng gave the Germans an eighth-minute lead with a superb 25-yard strike before Mario Gomez slotted in the second, and rumoured Arsenal target Julian Draxler made it 3-0 with a near-post volley after the break. They are surely the team to beat now?

I’m closing this piece with Belgium a goal to the good against Hungary after twenty minutes in Toulouse. Could it be the Belgians are finally starting to fulfil the potential they undoubtedly have, but seldom display?

A word too for Alexis Sanchez who, if recovered from a knock received in training, will line-up for Chile against Argentina in the Final of the Copa America for the second successive tournament. Here’s hoping Chile can overcome the favourites again.

And so the wait for tomorrow, and England facing the surprise package of the tournament so far, Iceland. I’m predicting nothing. Exiting Europe twice in four days would be excruciating.

I hope you have had a good one, ‘holics.

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