England’s miserable exit from Euro 2016 at the hands of Iceland was certainly their worst result in a tournament since the infamous 1950 World Cup defeat to the USA – and arguably even worse than that.
Roy Hodgson’s resignation was swift and inevitable. In his four years in charge Hodgson won only three of the 11 games England played in three major tournaments, and now his decades-long career as a manager is indelibly tainted by that result in Nice.
I watched the game in a Paris restaurant, with many a passer-by pausing to stare at the big screen in disbelief as they glimpsed the latest score. I had just commentated on Italy’s brilliantly-executed win over Spain in the Stade de France, and the contrast between their skilful adherence to a well-crafted game plan and England’s woeful huff-and-puff football was stark. On the international stage England remain where they have been for a long time – way off the pace.
It felt like the end of an era in the Stade de France when Spain were beaten by Italy. After winning the European Championships in 2008 and 2012 and the World Cup in 2010, a wonderful generation of Spanish success is over. They were a magical side, but the sparkle has faded. Decline comes to all great teams in the end – except perhaps Germany!
I’ll be in Lille on Friday to see whether Wales can beat a very talented Belgian side and reach the semi-finals. Belgium and Wales played each other in qualifying for the tournament, and Wales had the upper hand with a 1 – 0 win in Cardiff and a 0 – 0 draw in Brussels.
The Welsh have been fantastic; their win over Russia was one of the best performances I’ve seen at these finals. If Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen play as well again anything can happen – but Belgium have their own superstars in Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku. It promises to be a fantastic occasion.
I’m sure Welsh supporters will be travelling through the Channel Tunnel on one of the direct trains from London to Lille in their thousands, but however many make the journey they’re sure to be heavily outnumbered. Lille is only eight miles from the border with Belgium, so some of their fans could practically walk to the game.
Few players have divided opinion in recent years as much as Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He’s scored some extraordinary goals, including all four in a Swedish win over England in 2012. Once the world’s highest-paid player who scored 50 goals for Paris St Germain last season, the Swede is, however, also remembered for his failure at Barcelona. Ibrahimovic, who once said “When you buy me, you are buying a Ferrari”, is now expected to join Manchester United, but retired from international football after Sweden’s exit from Euro 2016. After seeing him leave the pitch in Nice following defeat to Belgium, I can only say that I’ve seen Ibrahimovic play live many times for Sweden, but have never seen him perform particularly well.
It’s not just footballers who risk injury at the Euros. To support a local fundraiser back in Sussex I’ve been getting a Euro 2016 programme signed by all the ex-footballers I’ve bumped into at the various venues. Spotting the former France and Bayern Munich defender Bixente Lizarazu scurrying down some steps to his TV commentary position I decided to grab my programme and follow, pen in hand – only to take a tumble over a bag belonging to a Hungarian journalist. I crashed down the steps at a startled Lizarazu’s feet, having taken the skin off my left shin. I only hope that when I deliver the programme they don’t say “Bixente Lizara – who?”.