philblundell

FRIDAY evening sees France v Romania on the telly and the start of the 2016 European Championships. Tournament football is great, isn’t it? I’ve seen people say they think it’s rubbish and that they hated ‘The X World Cup’ because it wasn’t very entertaining.

So I thought I’d have a look at the TV guide for today, and for next Wednesday, and compare the entertainment levels.

Today BBC1 screened For What It’s Worth at 2pm followed by Escape To The Country at 3pm. Next Wednesday they’ve got Russia v Slovakia. Yeah, Russia v Slovakia doesn’t exactly get the juices flowing, I suppose, but there’s no comparison really, is there?

I won’t bother comparing the 5pm game because everyone has a hard enough time choosing between The Chase and Pointless without introducing Romania v Switzerland into things. Probably also worth pointing out England v Wales is a 2pm kick off, and not many people seem to have realised. So, if you’re that way inclined, it might be worth sticking a leave request in before your colleagues notice.

You’ve not only got the football, but there’s great potential for town centres across the land to feature flying patio furniture if things don’t go to plan. Because frankly, it’s not an international tournament for me if I haven’t seen some flying patio furniture outside a Wetherspoons in some two-bit town like Cirencester.

In terms of England, I’ve mellowed a bit. I used to actively dislike them and one of my favourite nights of international football was watching England fail to qualify for the European Championships in 2008. I never really worked out why, but I went from actively urging England on in 2004 to being delighted they hadn’t qualified in 2008.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, June 2, 2012: England's new head coach Roy Hodgson with coach Gary Neville against Belgium during the International Friendly match at Wembley. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In 2010 I spent the whole tournament betting against them because they were crap. That crap, that Emile Heskey and Matthew Upson were getting games. Fast forward two years to 2012 and I was caught up in a Roy Hodgson fury, wishing great misery on him and hoping he might find himself out of work.

In 2014 it was similar. We got great misery and somehow the daft old boot managed to oversee England’s worst World Cup campaign in history and still keep his job. How many self-respecting nations would do that? Imagine Germany scoring two goals, getting one point and being out before the last game had happened and saying, “Nah, you crack on, mate, it will be fine.”

This time around, though, I’m a little bit indifferent to it and wouldn’t mind them having a little run. Just to keep everyone entertained really. It’s pretty interesting how Hodgson has picked his side this time, and how his teams have been in friendlies.

I give you a quote from his time at Liverpool: “To suggest that, because I have moved from one club to another, that the methods which have stood me in good stead for 35 years and made me one of the most respected coaches in Europe don’t suddenly work, is very hard to believe.”

I don’t know about you but I’ve watched England recently and find them nothing like a traditional Hodgson side.

They’re open, a little dysfunctional, and as far removed from his normal rigidity as he will probably ever be. After all, he’s only picked three centre halves and ask any Evertonian and they’ll tell you that John Stones isn’t exactly a defender.

DINARD, FRANCE - Tuesday, June 7, 2016: Wales players line up for a team group photograph at the Novotel Thalasso Dinard ahead of the start of the UEFA Euro 2016 tournament. Back row L-R: Ashley 'Jazz' Richards, Emyr Huws, Paul Dummett, James Chester, Simon Church, George Williams, Jonathan Williams, David Vaughan. Middle row L-R: Andy King, James Collins, goalkeeper Daniel Ward, goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams, Sam Vokes, David Edwards, Ben Davies, David Cotterill. Front row L-R: Neil Taylor, Hal Robson-Kanu, Joe Ledley, Gareth Bale, goalkeeping coach Martyn Margetson, assistant manager Osian Roberts, manager Chris Coleman, coach Paul Trollope, captain Ashley Williams, Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It’s all very odd. England are, on paper, head and shoulders above the other sides in their group. Russia aren’t great, Wales (above) have Gareth Bale and a lot of footballers who play in England that aren’t on the same level as the lads England will put out, while Slovakia could be capable of a surprise but still aren’t exactly intimidating.

We’ve seen this before, though. England look well set, then mess it up. I think they’ll probably win the group, however, and then once they’re into the knockout stages, who knows?

I say ‘who knows?’ because I really don’t think there is an outstanding side in this tournament. Germany look the best set up and I’d make them favourites but when I’ve watched them something just doesn’t seem right.

France are missing Raphael Varane and Karim Benzema and aren’t really able to replace either.

Belgium (Eden Hazard below) fall in to the same bracket as England — they’re managed by someone not up to the task. Spain don’t appear to have a centre forward of sufficient class, while Italy and Portugal look shadows of their former selves.

This leaves me thinking that one of the teams a bracket below these could provide a bit of a shock. Turkey, Austria, Ukraine, Poland and Croatia all look well set up to have a real crack at this. Getting out of the group is as easy as it’s ever been which means that putting a run together really is possible.

There are people in England who look at Turkey and Croatia and reckon the prospect of them having a run is ridiculous. They aren’t as good as ‘Roy’s Boys’ on paper are they? But then, the Czechs weren’t in 1996, Croatia weren’t in 1998, Turkey weren’t in 2002, Greece weren’t in 2004, Russia and Turkey weren’t in 2008, and Uruguay weren’t in 2010.

CARDIFF, WALES - Friday, June 12, 2015: Belgium's captain Eden Hazard in action against Wales during the UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Round Group B match at the Cardiff City Stadium. (Pic by Mark Hawkins/Propaganda)

Lesser countries have form for having a run in tournaments — it isn’t always the top teams at the top all of the time.

Why can’t one of these teams go that little but further this time?

For example, Croatia are going to turn up with a Juventus centre forward and a midfield engine room featuring players from Barcelona and Real Madrid. This is the first tournament I can remember where I genuinely look at in excess of 10 teams and think they can win it.

The group stage does, however, feel a little bit redundant given that only eight teams will be going home.

There are still plenty of games to look forward to, though: Turkey v Croatia on Sunday should be a belter, Belgium v Italy on Monday, England v Wales, Germany v Poland is always a good watch, Spain v Turkey has upset potential, Portugal v Austria should decide the group winner and then Ukraine v Poland.

It’ll be a nice little appetiser to the main course that really gets started on June 25.

It’s going to be good, and it’s definitely more entertaining than Escape to the Country. Get out, get in the pub, have a barbecue in your garden — enjoy it.

You’ll realise how good it is in six weeks’ time when you’re getting in from work and instead of watching the Republic of Ireland v Sweden you’re choosing between Pointless and The Chase.

I know what I’d rather watch.

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