Embarrassing. A word that perfectly sums up every aspect of England’s performance in their 1-2 defeat to Iceland.

Harry Kane is still on set-pieces, and he’s still awful at them. Wayne Rooney can no longer control a football. No one in the entire starting eleven can pass a ball to a player standing five yards away from them.

In fact, the only player who really came away from the match feeling as if they did as well as they could have, was 18 year old Marcus Rashford. And the fact that Roy Hodgson turned to him, a man without a full professional season under his belt, with 2 minutes to go and expecting him to turn things around – that says a lot.

Hodgson however, who, as expected, resigned after the match ended, cannot be the man to blame when his team of professionals can’t pass a ball to each other.

Yes, he clearly hasn’t done well as England manager, and yes, he needs to go, but for the way the team played, he is not the one that deserves to be responsible for the truly awful performance on show.

Still, we do need to congratulate Iceland, who have been, deeply contrasting with England, consistently marvellous throughout the tournament, even if Cristiano Ronaldo does say they have a small mentality.

Whilst being a predominantly defensive side, they have scored in all four of their matches so far, and they showed real character to come from behind, scoring two goals after Wayne Rooney’s penalty put England in  front.

For a nation of around 300,000 people, it is quite some achievement to be doing so well, and it is clear that their improvement in youth development facilities in recent decades has paid dividends.

Still, no matter how well Iceland played, England, quite simply, should have won the match.

As for potential new managers, the choices seem less than inspiring.

Under 21 manager Gareth Southgate is currently favourite, whilst other options consist of the likes of inexperienced Eddie Howe, ageing and foreign Arsene Wenger, and Alan Pardew, who just doesn’t seem like the answer in any way.

The future of England clearly doesn’t look bright, although the players we have are still young, and this tournament will no doubt be a vital experience in their careers.

Unlike Argentina, who look like they’re going to almost completely replace their entire squad after Copa America defeat, the Three Lions are pretty much stuck with the players currently at their disposal.

Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is hard to tell. Obviously, they haven’t performed well at international level so far. On the bright side, for their respective clubs, the likes of Harry Kane and Dele Alli have looked fantastic, so the question is simply how do we convert their club form into national form?

Whether or not the next manager is able to do that could be huge, so we’ll have to wait and see. Will England finally, at long long last, be able to perform at a major tournament? The 2018 World Cup in Russia seems unrealistic, but Euro 2020, where Wembley stadium will host the final, has to be the target.

Ronaldo finally comes good for Portugal

After the conclusion of the Euro 2016 group stage, we can now look forward to a set of intriguing round of 16 fixtures in France.

Whilst being a mainly low scoring group stage, there were some good games, most notably the incredible clash between Hungary and Portugal, where a crazy 90 minutes saw the final score end 3-3.

With Portugal only picking up two points compared to Hungary’s 4 after the first two games, Ronaldo and his team mates had a point to prove, especially the former, as his missed penalty had cost his side in the 0-0 draw with Austria a few days earlier.

And it only got worse for the Portuguese as Zoltan Gera’s impressive half-volley put Hungary 1-0 in front.

However, after battling back to 1-1 at half time through Luis Nani, doubles from both Balazs Dzsudzsak and Cristiano Ronaldo saw a highly entertaining match finish 3-3.

In the other game in group F, minnows Iceland sealed qualification in 2nd place, helped by a 94th minute winner against Austria, the only team to crash out in that group.

That goal set up a tie with England for Iceland, whilst Portugal face Croatia and Hungary face Belgium.

As for Belgium themselves, they recovered from a 0-2 defeat to Italy in their opening match to win their next two matches and come second in their group and even though their defeat highlighted the fact that they are still failing to meet expectations against the more difficult teams, their two wins that followed were encouraging.

Also in their group were the Republic of Ireland and Sweden, and after the Republic of Ireland’s impressive victory over Italy, Sweden and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were sent home, and it now seems that Ibrahimovic will retire from international football, after failing in his last bid for glory.

As for England, whilst not topping the group, 2nd place and qualification is all that really matters, and after playing reasonably well in the three games, the main conclusion we can come to is that England need to be more clinical.

The Three Lions missed a catalogue of chances in the first game against Russia and that ended up costing them the win, whilst they had to wait until stoppage time for Daniel Sturridge to win Enlgand the match against Wales after more good opportunities had been spurned.

In the final game, the 0-0 draw with Slovakia dampened what had previously been a good mood in the England camp, but a round of 16 tie against Iceland isn’t much more than Roy Hodgson could have asked for, so there are plenty of positives to take from the first three games.

Looking at Wales, Gareth Bale scored in all three games as they topped the group with six points against the odds, and they’ll be happy to face Northern Ireland in the last 16, where they will definitely be favourites.

Still, Northern Ireland did very well to qualify from a group containing world champions Germany and Robert Lewandowski’s Poland, and their progression to the knockout stage means that all four home nations will be in the last 16 of the tournament.

Germany topped that group with three reasonable performances, whilst Poland, who came runners up, look extremely solid, and if they can get Lewandowski to start scoring, they could be a real force.

Champions Spain meanwhile will be disappointed to finish second in their group after winning their first two games, and as a result, they will have to face Italy in a tough match up, a game that will be a repeat of the 2012 final.

La Roja, who look better than in 2014 but not as good in 2012, will be contenders, but after their defeat to the impressive Croatia, they don’t seem to be quite at the required level.

Last but not least, hosts France came top of their group as late goals secured both of their first two wins against Romania and Albania respectively, but despite the good results, their defence does seem to be an issue they will have to address if they are to win the tournament, but a shutout in the 0-0 draw with Switzerland was encouraging.

So then, as we wave goodbye to Albania, Romania, Turkey, Czech Republic, Russia, Ukraine, Sweden and Austria, we can now focus on the knockout stages, as Ronaldo looks to build on his man of the match performance against Hungary, France look to build on their solid performance in the group and England look to build on their mixed form so far.

You can be sure to witness drama, goals and quality football, but you can’t be sure about who will go all the way at all, so don’t place any bets!

Dimitri Payet lights up the start of the Euros

Touch, glance, bang! Dimitri Payet’s stunning left-footed strike saved France late on in the opening match of Euro 2016, in a game that looked to be heading for a draw, before the West Ham playmaker sent the nation into sheer euphoria with his delightful winning goal.

After a goalless first half in which Payet had looked lively and N’golo Kante of Leicester had been impressive, it was Payet who whipped in an inviting cross for Olivier Giroud to head in early on in the second half.

However, just as the the French looked to be taking control of the game, a foul in the penalty area from Patrice Evra gave Bogdan Stancu a chance from 12 yards, and he made no mistake, levelling the tie.

Then, late on, Romania were left in shock as Payet pulled off a sensational left-footed strike from outside of the area to clinch the win in the tournament’s opening game for the hosts.

Of course, it didn’t all go to plan for Didier Deschamps’s side, but the three points were vital against a Romania side who are often tough to beat, and France can know go into their remaining group games against Albania and Switzerland knowing that they already have a win in the bag.

As for England, they started well against Russia, creating good chances, most notably an opening for Adam Lallana, but the first half finished 0-0, as England were left regretting their missed opportunities.

Still, when the goal finally did come as the game was reaching its latter stage, it was through a free-kick from Eric Dier, where Dier’s shot, a good effort, still prompted questions over Igor Akinveev’s goalkeeping, as he appeared to step to the side over the wall, before Dier proceeded to whip the ball towards the side that Akinveev was originally standing in.

Unfortunately, when it looked like England were just seeing out the last few minutes of stoppage time, Vasili Berezutsky’s looping header broke English hearts in the 92nd minute, and despite England’s impressive performance where Wayne Rooney shone in midfield, they were unable to start the tournament with a win.

After the game, there was much controversy as many people questioned Roy Hodgson over his decision to replace Wayne Ronney with Jack Wilshere, and also his decision to refuse to bring on Jamie Vardy at all, aswell as the fact that Harry Kane, England’s main hope in attack, was on corner duty.

Of course, if he can deliver good balls then it’s always useful to have him on corners, but seeing as he is an impressive poacher who can score a wide range of goals, it seems obvious that he should be in the box in those set-piece situations.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of positives to take from England’s opening game, but the fact that the Three Lions failed to collect three points, makes their tie with Wales this Thursday even more important.

Germany’s match up with Ukraine was a similar game, however after Shkodran Mustafi’s headed opener, rather than a late equaliser from Ukraine, their decision to put so many men forward in the hopes of an equaliser resulted in a sweeping counter-attack from Germany, rounded off by Bastian Schwienstieger as the Germans walked away with a 0-2 win, and, unlike England, three points.

One of the most intriguing fixtures that the group’s produced was the match up between Belgium and Italy, and with Belgium edging the pre match talk as favourites, Italy caused an upset with a 0-2 win with goals from Emanuele Giaccherini and Graziano Pelle, as Belgium once again failed to live up to expectations.

This golden age in Belgian football is not an era that their current crop of talent, along with coach Marc Wilmots, are taking advantage of, and their football seems to lack a flow, as if they are almost a team of individual superstars who can’t play as a team.

Looking at the rest of the home nations, there were contrasting results, as Northern Ireland, suffered a 0-1 defeat to Poland, Republic of Ireland drew 1-1 with Sweden, in a game that they could have won, and a Gareth Bale free-kick inspired Wales to a 2-1 win over Slovakia.

Other games saw holders Spain have to wait until late on for Gerard Pique to head in the winner against Czech Republic, a stunning Luka Modric volley won the game against Turkey for Croatia, brothers Taulant and Granit Xhaxa faced off as Switzerland beat Albania 1-0, and in Group F, a group which, at first glance, seems to be less than interesting, contained many intriguing sub-plots.

First of all, Hungary, who haven’t reached a major finals for 30 years, faced rivals Austria, and with Austria going in as favourites, the tournament’s first upset came as Hungary triumphed 0-2 with two impressive goals, and after that, the tournament’s smallest nation, Iceland, faced off against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, and in another surprise result, Iceland cancelled out Portugal’s opener and held on for a draw in what will be a truly memorable day in their history.

Overall, it’s been an entertaining start to the Euro’s which still hasn’t featured a 0-0 yet, and you can be sure to expect much more entertainment to follow.


Euro 2016 Preview

This summer’s eagerly anticipated Euro 2016 is set to be quite possibly one of the most unpredictable tournaments in the recent history of international football, and with no clear favourite, not only is their room for a big team to step up, a shock could be on the cards.

Many so called ‘small teams’ could surprise a few, whilst many previously successful teams from the past few teams are struggling.

Hosts France have arguably the best squad at the tournament along with Germany and Belgium, and coach Didier Deschamps will be making it a priority to get the most out of his key players.

Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba is the poster boy of the tournament, and the fact that the last two major tournaments hosted by France in 1984 and 1998 saw attacking midfielders from Juventus Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane steal the show respectively means that Pogba, with the tournament on home soil, has immense pressure resting on his 23 year old shoulders.

Off the back of a season when, despite winning the double, Pogba was less productive than in the previous campaign, he still has a point to prove, and should he light up the tournament like his Juve-based predecessors, his career would almost certainly take off, and his ever so slight dip in form would be forgotten instantly.

As for the rest of the team, Deschamps has a balanced squad at his disposal, with trusty Hugo Lloris behind a solid back four, along with the formidable duo of Pogba and Matuidi added to the magic of Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann. Griezmann, who often plays on the right in a France shirt, may have to take a more central role due to the loss of star striker Karim Benzema, which will undoubtedly be a big miss.

Still, there are exciting and pacey players available off the bench in the form of Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial, so there is more than just a plan A for the hosts.

As for the rest of Group A, Albania could well be the whipping-boys of the tournament, whilst Romania, who face France in the first game of the tournament, lack star names, and the big players that they do have have been struggling to perform for their clubs this season, with the likes of Vlad Chiriches and Alexandru Maxim failing to achieve the required level of consistency.

However, they will fancy their chances of taking third spot ahead of Albania, which would mean they would be in with a chance of qualifying for the knockout stage.

Finally, Switzerland, who on paper have many good players and have the potential to do well in this tournament, have often failed to meet expectations, and haven’t played well as a team despite the talent of Xherdan Shaquiri among others.

Group B contains an exciting England side that could be a real competitor to win the tournament, although for once, there won’t be a huge sense of expectation which could potentially work in their favour.

Placed in a favourable group, the Three Lions have a squad of promising young players with the likes of Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford in the ranks, and coach Roy Hodgson has many selection dilemmas, which can be seen as a positive.

One of the main topics in the country recently has been about the starting 11, and Wayne Rooney, despite breaking the country’s all time scoring record in 2015, is certainly not a guaranteed starter.

The options point to playing him in midfield, with Harry Kane as the lone striker, and a partnership of Dele Alli and Rooney could work, with Eric Dier behind them as the holding midfielder protecting the back four.

When asked about England’s supposed lack of wide players in the squad, Hodgson suggested that many of his strikers could do a job out wide, which means we could see Jamie Vardy, Daniel Sturridge or even Marcus Rashford on the wing, but Vardy’s potential would only be fulfilled if he is played as a striker, and in a game where England will look to use their pace and get in behind on the counter attack against the likes of Spain, the Leicester man would be perfect.

England’s opponents in the group are Wales, Slovakia and Russia, and Wales, who many have often labelled as a one man team, are more than just the talent of Gareth Bale.

With a well balanced side containing Ashley Williams in defence, Aaron Ramsey in midfield and Gareth Bale up front, if everything clicks there is real potential, but, despite the fact that they can do a job without Bale, they are extremely reliant upon him, and without him on form, they simply won’t be anywhere near as strong, and any miracles would be out of the question.

As for Slovakia, they are a hard working team that are solid in defence, and that, combined with the magic of attacking midfielder Marek Hamsik, means that there is a good chance they will be able to pick up enough points to see them through to the knockout stages.

Lastly, Russia are a side lacking quality in the ranks, but manager Leonid Slutsky is a highly rated manager, and with him leading the team, anything is possible.

In group C, world champions Germany are under pressure, as both off-field and on-field problems mean that they have a big task ahead if they want to add to their 2014 triumph.

On the contrary, Northern Ireland aren’t under any pressure, and their ambition, self-discipline and belief could take them far in this tournament, especially with the dangerous Kyle Lafferty in the side.

Michael O’Neill’s team, whilst certainly not being the most talented, are unlikely to go down without a fight, and it would be foolish to back against them.

Looking at Poland, their last Euro’s campaign, where they co-hosted with Ukraine, was disappointing, but this time there is a cause for optimism, as deadly striker Robert Lewandowski’s goals could be enough to see them deep into the tournament.

Not only that, but his partnership with Arkadiusz Milik has blossomed recently, and Grzegorz Krychowiak, who won the Europa League with Sevilla last month, could be key in midfield.

The final side in the group are Ukraine, and the less than exciting side often set up with a ‘don’t lose’ attitude.

Their squad is ageing and they focus very much on defence, but wingers Konoplyanka and Yarmalenko do offer a glimour of hope, although it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them finish bottom of the pile.

In group D, current champions Spain will not only be relying on Iniesta and Busquets to be on top form, but they will be hoping that their chosen striker, whether that be Aritz Aduriz or Alvaro Morata, can score the goals they need.

If that happens, and it is a big if, there is no reason why Spain cannot overcome the disappointment of the 2014 World Cup, although it does seem unlikely.

Also in group D,  Croatia will fancy their chances of having a good tournament, as their squad promises a lot, especially with the creative trio of Ivan Perisic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.

As for Turkey, they are an unpredictable team, and their impressive midfield featuring Arda Turan and Hakan Calhanoglu could see them sneaking into third place or even finishing higher than that.

Whatever happens with Turkey, they will expect to finish above Czech Republic, but despite being a side lacking famous players, their attacking football could cause a few problems, so don’t rule out their chances, even if it would take a near miracle to qualify for the knockout stage.

Now if group D wasn’t the group of death, there is no doubting that group E is the group of death, and Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland will be up against it facing Italy, Belgium and Sweden.

However, with Roy Keane as the assistant coach, they weren’t afraid to qualify for the tournament the hard way, and if they want to get through to the round of 16, they will have to do that the hard way aswell.

The current Sweden side would pose almost no threat if it weren’t for their talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and for him, it is one last chance for international glory.

The opponents will certainly not scare Zlatan, and if he’s in the mood, there is a good chance that he could carry this relatively poor side deep into the tournament, but even with him, it is not likely.

Anotnio Conte’s Italy side are definitely not in the category of the best Italian teams down the years, but they should be steady until they meet a real test.

There are questions as to whether Antonio Conte will have the Chelsea job on his mind, and with their lack of a top striker, it seems as if they will struggle.

The last team in the group are Belgium, who, despite having a squad of top players, have rarely been able to play well together as a team, so their hopes are hinging on whether coach Marc Wilmots can assemble a side that can fit both Hazard and De Bruyne whilst also being a side that flows well and plays as a team rather than individually.

In 2014 there were suggestions that they could have won the World Cup, but they failed to live up to expectations, and their impressive golden age is unlikely to last forever, so the pressure is on.

The last group will see Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, and with much optimism at home, the Portuguese are confident of success.

Still, an ageing defence and the lack of quality to join Ronaldo in attacking positions could be their downfall, but a young and exciting group of midfield stars are emerging with the likes of Joao Mario, Danilo and Renato Sanches, and if they can produce their club form, Portugal could be a formidable side to face.

Moving on to Hungary, they are not afraid to take risks, and there were many risks which paid off in qualifying, so in their first tournament for 30 years, they have everything to prove, and they will be willing to gamble.

Finally, Gylfi Sigurdsson’s Iceland, who despite being a small country have become a stronger side due to an improvement in youth development, partner Austria, who are emerging as one of Europe’s stronger forces with the likes of Marko Arnautovic and David Alaba.

Marcel Koller’s side are fast becoming a team with the potential to do great things, and after the pain of recent years they have the opportunity to finally do well.

So, good luck trying to guess the winners, my pick is France – but for once, don’t rule out England – it’s not impossible…