Okay, let’s call it a wrap. Don’t kick another ball. I’ve seen all I want to see. England have beaten Germany. That’s good enough for me. I’ve waited 55 years to see England overcome Germany in the finals of a major tournament and I’m still purring a few days on.
Yes, England had that amazing night in Munich in 2001 when they triumphed 5-1. But that was in qualifying for the World Cup, not the actual finals.
I’m grinning now. But, in truth, I shed a tear or two on Tuesday evening. It wasn’t the greatest of games, nor the best of England performances, but the result was everything… if you are an England fan.
I had predicted an England victory, but that call was probably 75% based on patriotism and only a quarter on an honest appraisal of team form. The German team had not been at its best, but they had (for 55 years) always managed to raise their game against England.
Not so on Tuesday. Even when England went a goal ahead I still feared a German comeback. Indeed, when Thomas Muller was clean through on goal late in the game I thought this was it – comeback time. Amazingly, he missed! A TV commentator said that nine times out of 10 he would have scored – and I wouldn’t disagree. But this time he dragged it wide and I started to believe that England might actually win the game.
Harry Kane’s goal put it beyond doubt. The English press are making a big fuss of Kane, but I think he’s been poor so far. If he can score a goal a game from now on, I’ll take that.
What about Raheem Sterling?
Going into these finals I was starting to doubt if he could hit a cow’s arse with a banjo. But, I’m more than happy to be proved wrong.
Can England go all the way to the final?
Well, you have to say that they find themselves in the weaker half of the draw. They face Ukraine in Rome on Saturday (at 2 in the morning Thai time) and, should they win that, sadly, not a given, they would face either Denmark or the Czech Republic who they have already beaten in the group stage. The other half of the draw still has Belgium, Spain, Italy and the not-so-fancied Swiss. Yes, England would have to face the best of those four in the final. But, they have to get there first. One game at a time as the old cliché goes.
So, for a quick recap of the last 16 games.
On the Monday we saw two great games in which sides came back from 3-1 down to force extra time. Spain managed to recover from the setback to beat Croatia 5-3, but joint favourites France didn’t fare so well. Paul Pogba scored a goal fit to win any game to put the French 3-1 ahead, but he managed to lose the ball in midfield which led to the Croatia equalizer. The penalty shootout (hate them) saw Kylian Mbappe miss the last kick of the five and France were out. One less top side for England to face!
Holland, to my surprise, lost to the Czech Republic 2-0. I think there can be little doubt that the sending off of Matthijs de Ligt was a pivotal point in the match. The handball was just crazy. Time was a player might have got away with it if the referee was blindsided, but, with VAR, those days are long gone. I think defenders should have a little more trust in their keepers. Not 30 seconds before that incident a Dutch player had been through with only the keeper to beat and the Czech keeper came up trumps. Even if your team does concede, there would still be 11 players on the pitch to mount a comeback. Very poor work by de Ligt, in my opinion.
Belgium squeezed out the holders Portugal 1-0, but suffered injuries to key players De Bruyne and Eden Hazard. At the time of writing, neither is expected to be fit to face Italy on Friday. Belgium V Italy is the tie of the last eight for me. It’s a spin of a coin between the two. If Belgium had all their players fit, I would fancy them to win. But, they don’t. Big test of squad depth.
I’ve held off mentioning Wales. I thought they might have enough to beat Denmark, but the 4-0 scoreline was, well, embarrassing. That said, and I fear this might sound condescending, I think Wales have overachieved in the past two Euros. Fair play to them for getting out of their group.
I didn’t see much of the Sweden V Ukraine game. So lacking in excitement that I fell asleep (effects of the alcohol consumed during the England game). I woke just in time to see the Ukraine’s last minute extra time winner. Can England beat them? Yes. Will they? Ah, that’s another matter. Never underestimate the ability of English footballers to shoot themselves in the collective foot.
In an earlier article I had a 50% success rate when attempting to name the winners in the last 16 matches – I had tipped Wales, France, Holland and Sweden.
So, how will I get on in trying to predict the last four?
I’m choosing England, Spain, Italy and Denmark. If I get only half right, I hope that at least England is one of them.
The 1996 song It’s Coming Home spoke of 30 years of hurt. It’s now 55 years. Enough is enough, come on England!
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.