After yesterday’s low-key outings across groups A and B, today was the time to set the record straight. To get excitement back in the competition, the drama and rivalries returning to great effect in all of the three matches. It was a day that delivered on most of its promises, with six top teams doing battle for the possibility of qualification for the next round, as well as survival in their groups.
We all know which match kicked the day off, the game which needs no introduction, England vs Wales in Lens at 2PM. Surprisingly enough, I actually got to watch the majority of the game, at school, on the way home and at home, only missing out on the period between 20 and 55 minutes. Even from the national anthems, England appeared to have the edge over their noisy neighbours, and that mood carried on through the opening periods of the game. England pressured high and quick, threatening the Welsh defence quite a few times, notably in the case of Raheem Sterling’s awful miss from point blank range after about 10 minutes.
After England began to slow down, the Welsh pushed for the ascendancy, although with chances few and far between they had to wait for the right one. Three minutes before half time, Gareth Bale’s 35-yard free kick was that chance. It was a set piece that nobody should ever score, basically central and a long way away from goal, but if you’d put money on anyone scoring one like it, Bale would be first pick for many. Admittedly, Joe Hart should’ve done much better with it, especially considering his unbelievable positioning, so far right of the goal that he would never be able to make up the ground required if the ball went all the way to the left. But that’s what it did, and Wales went 1-0 up. Then it was time for a comeback. Roy Hodgson, so often maligned for his tactical conservatism, was prepared to risk this match, so therefore threw on Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge. These substitutions effectively won the game for him. The combination between three rapid frontmen in Sturridge, Vardy and Adam Lallana worked perfectly, immediately putting England into the driving seat by unnerving the Welsh defenders, who hadn’t been used to such pressure and skill before in the tournament. Ten minutes later, England got the goal that they desired and worked for, Vardy finishing from close range from Ashley Williams’ pressurised backwards header, the perfect goal for the Three Lions. It looked offside at the time, but the Welsh captain’s header evaded all of our eagle eyes, with England deserving their goal.
Then came the wait for another goal. I always thought England would get another, and they had plenty of chances to score, but the Welsh defended brilliantly and limited clear cut chances to the bare minimum. When the board for added time came up with 3 minutes on it, that was the moment I actually gave up hope of a winner. What a fool I was to do that. Half of the way into the time, there finally came an opportunity. Daniel Sturridge picked the ball up on the outside of the box, wiggled his way around a defender, offloaded it to Vardy, who slipped it back under a lot of pressure, which only left Sturridge with the finish to provide. How he got that ball past both the onrushing defender and Wayne Hennessey, who looked shocked to even see the ball near him, with it bouncing off his knee and into the net, was pretty incredible in itself. That sent us all into delirium. I shouted at the top of my voice, ran around the house and had adrenaline pumping all through my body after that ball went in the net. The finish was no-nonsense, exactly the kind of late goal that England deserved, the type which silenced their critics, such as Gareth Bale. The English lions were back up and roaring, proving we really are passionate about this summer’s football, and pulling us back up to the top of the group, which is what we need to consolidate against Slovakia on Monday.
Following that up (a hard task indeed) was Ukraine vs Northern Ireland in Lyon, where the weather bossed proceedings throughout the match. The first half wasn’t much of a spectacle, with a below-par Ukraine side holding on to enough possession to prevent Northern Ireland from getting too close to any goal scoring chances, rendering it a non-event. The second half, however, was much better for the partisan fans across the continent, with Gareth McAuley’s humungous leap giving him enough leverage to loop a header destined for goal past Andriy Pyatov for the perfect start five minutes in. From then on, all Northern Ireland had to do was hold on to the lead, which they did with the aid of a disruptive hailstorm and some solid defensive play. After they entered added time, the game had slowed down so much that Ukraine were never likely to score, with the substitutes of Northern Ireland providing the energy to link up for a final goal, the cherry on top of a fine and highly respectable performance. Josh Magennis did the hard work by rounding the defender and sliding across a ball to Stuart Dallas in the centre, whose powerful shot was simply palmed by the goalkeeper into the path of Niall McGinn, who emphatically put the ball away in the back of the net. It capped off an outstanding performance by a Northern Irish side unexpected to even get this far, possibly sealing a 3rd place spot and a round of 16 place, which would be a crazy result for them, which they would gratefully take.
My, my, my though; that final game did not at all live up to expectations by any stretch of the imagination. It seems that the games got progressively worse and low on quality as the day went on, which was a bit of an embarrassment for UEFA, as their schedule encourages the top seeds, and therefore the most entertaining games, in each group to always be played at 8PM. It’s fair to say neither Germany nor Poland really showed us what they are all about, as both team’s reliance on their defensive midfielders (Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira vs Grzegorz Krychowiak and Krzysztof Mączyński) became very apparent in bogging the game down in midfield. Any chances the two sides had were continually, and almost carelessly, thrown away by the likes of Mario Götze, Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Mueller and Arkadiusz Milik, who definitely did not have their shooting boots on today. There were only three shots on target in the whole 90 minutes, all for the Germans, that’s how shocking the finishing was today. Milik’s fluffed attempt at a shot in the second half in which the ball went straight through his legs when around the penalty spot, well placed to score, was representative of the whole game; it could’ve been great, but it was so far off the mark. It won’t be hard to forget this game for sure.
Team of the Day
Well, I may be biased in my opinion here admittedly, but I believe that England were the only side who came close to entertaining for the full 90 minutes, making them my team of the day for both aesthetics and result. Their high tempo, attacking style that comes with the new breed of youngsters Roy Hodgson is applying gets people tuning in like never before, as this side promises something every time it goes forward. They play risky, positive football which if nothing else draws admirers for its variation to the usual England style, conservative and tentative. Roy is finally catering to the modern, much-called for style, and you cannot lament him for that. Let’s celebrate it while it lasts.
Player of the Day
Based on the fact England were the most impressive team today, and that they had the only opponent who actually pushed them with quality, I’d have to go with one of those with the Three Lions on those chest. From a choice of four or five top quality players from the game, (Rooney, Walker, Sturridge, Smalling and Dier) I’d go with the captain of the side. Now, I can definitely accept Ian Rush’s UEFA representative pick of Kyle Walker, as he was a big part of England’s attacking play today, an invaluable asset on the right wing, but I think Rooney just edges him out on continued effort and leadership skills. Walker didn’t have to put to use his defensive skills much at all today, and his deliveries at the other end weren’t all on the money, but that’s taking nothing away from him. I just believe Rooney did more; he was the heartbeat of the side, linking together forwards, defenders and wide players without looking out of place at all in midfield, and later in the match defensive midfield. The fact that Hodgson actually left him on for the full 90 minutes (while he normally takes him off) is testament to how important he was to his side today.
Goal of the Day
I guess it has to be Sturridge’s? I mean Bale’s goal was only the result of Hart’s poor goalkeeping (although it was well taken), Vardy’s was so close he was almost in the goal, McAuley’s was only a header and McGinn’s was a point blank rebound. For sheer importance, I think I’m left with Sturridge, although it wouldn’t win any Puskas awards anytime soon, as it was coolly slotted away and well built-up by the man from whom we saw his ‘ride the wave’ celebration for the first time in what seems like forever. It wasn’t that bad, anyway, was it?
Shock of the Day
Marcus Rashford’s new record (to go with all of his already conquered ones) of becoming the youngest English player to step foot on the pitch at an international tournament ever is a pretty unbelievable one, especially considering where he was just 6 months ago. At just 18 years and 229 days young, Rashford broke Wayne Rooney’s record from Euro 2004 by four days, which is testament to his rise and rise up the ranks of English football, from the under 18 leagues to the Premier League, FA Cup final and now the Euro 2016 squad. His story is unlikely to be emulated ever again, but it is so enjoyable to watch and be a part of as well. Oh yeah, he didn’t play badly today either if you’re asking.
The hail in the second half between Northern Ireland and Ukraine was unbelievable for a French summer, wasn’t it? I recall the torrential flooding at one of the Ukrainian stadiums (was it Kiev?) four years ago in what I think was the Ukraine vs France match, but it didn’t stretch to hail which forced the players off the field! At least the Northern Irish players should’ve been used to it…
I’m Looking Forward to…
Another set of three vital matches to dip into tomorrow, including Italy vs Sweden at 2PM, which looks set to be a cracker but could so easily also be a dreary 0-0 draw considering their similarly defensive styles last time, and Czech Republic vs Croatia, which pits two similar sides both sprinkled with Champions League level talent against each other. Finally, we have Spain vs Turkey, which hopefully might be the first thrashing of the tournament (just for fun’s sake, I have nothing against the Turkish) and could be a big clash in the context of the group, potentially sending one through to the RO16 and one home. There’s plenty to look out for tomorrow.
Author - Will Hugall
Now a BA Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University, I divide my time between my base in Radford and back home in East Sussex while watching as much football as I can!