If you are an England supporter, that is!
The Roman numerals sounded out the message loud and clear – 4-0. England had put in a performance at Rome’s Olimpico Stadium to merit the favourites tag in the Euros. Finally! Or should I say, quarter-finally?
The thing I really liked about Saturday’s display – apart from the win, of course –was that for nearly half the match I was able to watch it without that “where is the banana skin coming from?” feeling of sickness in the pit of my stomach.
Maguire’s goal a short time into the second half allowed me to relax. We, England, could do it, couldn’t we? In all the previous games the England result was in doubt until the end or very close to it. Two 1-0 wins and a 0-0 in the group matches. The team hadn’t really dominated in any game. Even the last 16 game against Germany wasn’t settled until Kane scored the second in the 86th minute. So just four minutes plus added time to relax and enjoy it.
Yes, the match against Ukraine has got the English believing.
Some commentators were raving about the performance of full-back Luke Shaw. Certainly he played a big part in crossing for two of England’s three headed goals and deserves much praise. But did anyone else notice how many times, especially in the first half, he played the ball backwards to club team-mate Harry Maguire? It started to get on my nerves. Very negative! But, given his second-half display, I’ll forgive him.
Special mentions also for two Sunderland-born* players – Pickford, the keeper, and Henderson. Both named Jordan. Must be a north-east thing. The keeper has played out of his skin in all games and has had a big role in England not conceding a goal yet in the tournament. Long may his form continue. Well, at least for the next two games (he said, hoping that there will be two). Henderson got his first goal in an England shirt. He’s only been trying for more than 60 games! Still, a good time to break the duck.
Standing in England’s path to the final are the Danes. Following Christian Erikson’s cardiac incident in Denmark’s first match and the team’s subsequent progress, they are everyone’s “second favourite team”. Indeed, were it not that they are playing England, I would be wishing them all the best. Denmark swept aside the Czech Republic in a match that I missed. I was on the golf course at the time and finished with half an hour to spare before England kicked off. I was so pleased that England had not been lined up to play in the earlier match. It would have been a bad clash. I think the golf would have missed out.
The winners of the England V Denmark game will face either Spain or Italy in the final. Spain scrapped home in a penalty shoot-out against 10-man Switzerland. The Swiss had scored all five penalties in their shoot-out against France, but could only convert one of the four they took against Spain. How quickly form can change. Let’s hope that none of the remaining three games needs to go to penalties.
Italy, the form team of the tournament (apart from England, of course), saw off my original tip Belgium 2-1. Nothing flukey, no sendings off, no hotly disputed VAR decisions, they got through on merit. Italy’s second goal was a peach, worthy of winning any match.
At this point, I held off mentioning it earlier, can I point out that I actually predicted all four semi-finalists correctly? Yes, I too, am amazed given how crap my punditry was in earlier rounds.
The naysayers among you may say anyone could have predicted them. But, could they? Okay, saying that England would get through was an easy call for anyone not desperate for an English win. Also, saying that Spain would overcome Switzerland was not, exactly, brave.
But, in my mind at least, the other two games were 50:50 calls. I backed Italy to beat Belgium because I thought the Belgians might be stripped of a couple of star players due to injury. That said, Kevin De Bruyne did feature. I didn’t use the word ‘play’ because it was not one of his best games in a Belgian shirt. Similarly, I felt there was little to choose between Denmark and the Czech Republic.
So, on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, Wembley will be the venue for the semi-finals. Both games kick-off at 8pm (2 in the morning Thai time so a late one for all England fans).
Can I successfully predict the final? Let’s see. I’m opting for an England V Italy final and will have fingers and toes crossed that I’m right.
* The editor is from Sunderland. What sort of a crawler am I? Actually the keeper was born in Washington. The web tells me that Washington is a large town in the City of Sunderland local government district of Tyne and Wear. Close enough!
Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that, it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past publications worked for include the South-East London Mercury*, Kent Messenger, Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor for an East Midlands-based publishing group.