Friday was our last full day in Nice, so we made sure we watched all of the games. After a trip to Monaco where we spent the grand total of an hour; if you aren’t into yachts, motor racing or spending 29 Euros on a cheeseburger, there isn’t really a lot more to see and do!
We were back in Nice to watch Italy overcome Sweden, although that game proved to be somewhat of a test of endurance; the only notable moments really being Zlatan missing an open net from a yard out, Manchester United might want to ‘find’ something in his medical having seen that; and another stoppage time winner, this time by Eder, late goals have been a real feature of the tournament so far, which at least provides some motivation for continuing to watch a match that isn’t exactly end to end.
The 2-2 draw between Croatia and the Czech Republic was much livelier and saw the Czechs come back from 2 goals down. The fact that the equalizer came from a penalty in added time, most of which came as a result of the match being delayed when flares were thrown onto the pitch by Croatia fans, made it feel like some form of poetic justice.
With the late game being in Nice, although this time we didn’t have tickets unfortunately, it meant that Spanish and Turkish fans had been filling the city in the build-up to kick off; while nowhere near as loud (or for that matter as drunk!) as the Northern Irish and Polish; there was nevertheless a real carnival feel around the old town, with Matadors, chanting Turks and numerous renditions of Viva Espana. We headed to the fan park for one last time and were incredibly impressed by Spain’s performance, especially in the first half were they looked almost like the teams of 2008, 2010 and 2014; it seemed that rumours of their decline had been somewhat exaggerated.
Our flight was delayed on the way home, which did allows us to watch a much improved Belgium put Ireland to the sword, while drinking free beer in the Business Class Lounge; honestly it was just as hard work as it sounds! The result puts Belgium back on track but leaves Ireland probably needing to beat Italy to go through.
The delay to our flight and the vagaries of transport back from Gatwick meant that we were only able to watch the highlights of Iceland-Hungary and Portugal-Austria; while a late own goal denied Iceland what would have been an historic victory in the former, the latter in which Ronaldo missed umpteen chances including hitting a penalty against the post and having a goal ruled out for offside, had my wife and I, in hysterics!
The first game of the final round of group games saw France and Switzerland play out a goalless draw which probably suited them both as they are both now through to the knock-out phases; although the fact that the BBC pundits here in the UK spent most of their analysis discussing how easily a number of Switzerland jerseys tore and on the hugely dramatic moment when the ball burst, probably tells you all you need to know about the quality of the game! Although France may well be concerned about another game where they struggled to create too much in front of goal.
The key discussion ahead of England’s last group game against Slovakia tonight seems to have centred on potential changes to the line-up and possibly the formation; it seems likely that Sturridge and Vardy may well start in place of Sterling and Kane, both of whom have disappointed so far. Whether Jack Wilshere also comes in will most likely be determined by whether Hodgson wants to change formation. The mooted potential switch to two up front and a midfield diamond might free up space on the flanks for the full-backs to get forward and would push Rooney further forward into a number 10 role in order to use the England captain in a role in which he seems more suited.
While I will be watching England tonight I am hopeful that Wales will have enough against Russia to secure qualification.
… Update– kaylindawood pointed out that in this summary I failed to mention Albania’s stunning win over Romania; it leaves them anxiously watching the results from the remaining matches to see if they go through as one of the best four third place teams, but their achievement of a victory in their first ever finals tournament is nonetheless an historic moment!