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Exit. (England 1-2 Iceland)

Euro 2016, Round of 16, Stade de Nice, 27/6/16.

It’s hard not to think that there’s some sort of karma about this result. After England voting to leave the EU (loosely referred to as Europe) its football team has just departed Europe unwillingly.

The commentator on ITV called it a humiliation and also used the word embarrassment. The unspoken assumption (though it was all but articulated) was that England should always be beating Iceland.

Well; to anyone who had watched Iceland’s group games this was no surprise. Iceland are supremely well organised, the players know what they’re supposed to be doing and play for the team and each other. They drew with Portugal and group winners Hungary and then beat Austria, well fancied before the tournament began. If that wasn’t sufficient warning as to what to expect what would be? Using words such as embarrassment and humiliation is extremely disrespectful to a group of players who work their socks off and have no little ability. I expect France will also find it hard to break them down in the next round.

Iceland know their limitations and strengths, and play to them; as a team. The same was true of Italy earlier in what was a magnificent team performance against Spain.

In this respect it is also hard to resist the temptation to remark that English football commentators have an inflated idea of the worth of their country’s footballers based on club performances. Just reflect, not one of those players is good enough to play for an overseas team. They appear effective at club level only because they are surrounded by foreign players who make them look good. And the clubs of the league they play in have not made too much of a splash in the so-called Champions League of late. (OK, Liverpool made the final of the Europa League this season but that was mostly due to foreigners, manager included.)

England’s most penetrative player tonight was an 18 year old who was only brought on to the pitch when it was far too late and has in any case not yet had the enthusiasm and any latent talent knocked out of him by unwarranted expectation.

New Cup, New Laws

I see from the club website that the Challenge Cup has been given a revamp so that it will now include more Scottish clubs from outwith the SPFL, top division under 20 sides and even clubs from Wales and Northern Ireland. The format looks like a right dog’s dinner.

I note that Tier 2 clubs won’t be joining till Round 3. It won’t make any difference to us. We always lose in it anyway. (I doubt being seeded will alter that at all.)

What concerns me most is the inclusion of the top division under 20s sides. This feels like the thin end of a wedge that will eventually see them allowed to play in the lower leagues. I know similar provision happens in Spain etc with reserve teams but the Scottish scene has unique characteristics that make me uncomfortable at the thought.

Edited to add. I just took in the fact that the draw will be regionalised. Fat chance of me getting to a a game then. (But maybe we’ll be in the North for that too.)

There have also been changes to the laws of the game. We’ll need to see how those work out.

Pollok House, Pollok Park, Glasgow

Pollok House, not owned by but run by the National Trust for Scotland, is in the south side of Glasgow, set in great parkland; so much so you would never believe you were in the middle of a big city.

Pollok House, showing gates on to parkland of Pollok Park, Glasgow:-

Pollok House Frontage

This is a stitch of three photos to get in the full frontage. In reality the grass and road don’t have that bend in them:-

Pollok House, Glasgow

The house contains an array of paintings – mostly of that branch of the Hapsburg family who ruled Spain for centuries. Being notoriously in-bred they are a fairly unprepossessing bunch. The very informative guide was much more taken with this painting by El Greco of rather different content; Lady in a Fur Wrap (picture from BBC Your Paintings):-

Lady in a Fur Wrap, El Greco, Pollok House, Glasgow

A certificate on an internal wall on the corridor leading to the tea-room (which has a marvellous setting, being housed in what was the Edwardian kitchen) commemorates the house’s use as a hospital during the Great War:-

Pollok House Great War Certificate

On a wall of Pollok House’s garden facing the parkland area there is a War Memorial dedicated to the men from the tenantry and staff of Nether Pollok who served in the Great War. There are 58 names on the cartouche. Beside 13 of them is inscribed “killed” – beside another it states “died”.

Pollok House War Memorial

That makes 14 out of the 58 who went away that lost their lives as a consequence. A fraction under a quarter of the total. And some of the others would have been wounded.

And Now I’m Back

I’ve been in Holland.

Well, strictly speaking, since it was on the borders of the Friesland and Groningen provinces, make that The Netherlands.

The good lady’s eldest brother lives there. We had been supposed to visit for years but life got in the way.

We needed to renew our passports first. I sent the applications away late in July. Despite all the talk on the news about delays we got the new ones inside a week. (As I remember it was four days.) Maybe the Glasgow Passport office is more efficient than down south.

So another country visited. Apart from the constituent parts of the UK (though I only just made it into Wales) I’ve been to Sweden (Stockholm,) the Soviet Union (Leningrad as was) and Denmark (Copenhagen) on a school cruise when I was at Primary School, Portugal (the Azores, Madeira, Lisbon) and Spain (Vigo) on a Secondary School cruise, and as an adult to Germany (near Stuttgart) and France twice (Normandy for the D-Day beaches and Picardy for World War I battlefields.)

Since the good lady didn’t fancy being on a RoRo ferry overnight we drove down to Harwich (with an overnight stop) and the same on the way back. I’m knackered.

Germanic Hegemony Looms

Over the past eight years Spain dominated the international football tournaments in which they took part – though they had a premonitory blip in last year’s Confederations Cup (and what a misleading pointer that final turned out to be.)

After the win by Germany in Rio on Sunday we could be in for a longer period of domination than the Spanish enjoyed as the German players are quite young and will only have gained in confidence from their achievement. I don’t know if I can stand that thought, though.

Still, at least it gives Scotland an early opportunity to claim their scalp as the two countries meet on Sep 7th in the first qualifying game for the 2016 European Championships.

The late World Cup has unified the FIFA and Unofficial Football World Championships. Going into it Uruguay were the holders of the unofficial title but swiftly lost it to Costa Rica.

For historical reasons Scotland is actually at the top of the unofficial football championship rankings. The September game will give Scotland a chance to reclaim the actual title – if Argentina don’t beat the Germans in their friendly a few days before.

Sólo otro club

In one of the least unpredictable transfers of this summer Liverpool’s troubled (and troubling – the guy clearly needs help) star striker Luis Suarez has moved to Barcelona, no doubt to the benefit of his bank balance. The only question was over his destination. As he made no secret he wished to play in Spain the other option would have been Real Madrid.

Barcelona’s motto, emblazoned on the seats in their stadium, the Camp Nou, is “més que un club” (more than a club.) Such a claim to moral high ground is somewhat undermined by their acquisition of a serial perpetrator of assaults; assaults which if carried out in any other walk of life might have seen their author up before a magistrate.

Suarez’s gifts as a footballer clearly outweigh any consideration of propriety (or indeed of the player’s inner well-being: he is not going to change his behaviour when it is rewarded like this.)

It seems Barcelona is sólo otro club (just another club) after all.

di Stéfano

The football legend who has died today had a name that needed no further explanation. He was part of that legendary Real Madrid side that captivated the football followers of Glasgow and Scotland at the European Cup Final of 1960 – played at Hampden Park. di Stéfano scored a hat-trick.

I was too young to be aware of it at the time but the folk memory was promulgated and persists. Such was the effect of that display of what football could be that the names of the forward line still trip off the tongue with no need for googling. Canario, Del Sol, di Stéfano, Puskas and Gento. Mind you, I see film of that game now and think, “Where was the marking?”

One curiosity is that I believe the Eintracht Frankfurt team that formed the opposition that day were all amateurs – as was German football as a whole.

di Stéfano may be unique in having played international football for three different countries, his native Argentina, Colombia, where he played league football for a while, and Spain for whom he was naturalised in 1956. That was the type of scenario that I thought had been resolved by FIFA with its rules on eligibility but in the recent World Cup one of the commentators remarked that Kevin-Prince Boateng who played for Ghana in the tournament had previously played for Germany (but not, it seems, for the senior side.)

The World Cup was one stage that di Stéfano did not grace, for various reasons, but his thirteen national titles (two in Argentina, three in Colombia and no less than eight in Spain) and five European Cups – not to mention his scoring record – speak for themselves.

Alfredo Stéfano di Stéfano Laulhé: 4/7/1926 – 7/7/2014. So it goes.

Spain 0-2 Chile

World Cup Group B, Estádio do Maracanã, 18/6/14.

This is the way the world (Cup) ends. For Spain at least. Not with a bang – and barely a whimper.

The signs that were there in the Confederations Cup last year that Spain’s time was coming to an end are now manifest. Their defensive frailty in the Holland game was underlined here. How they miss Carles Puyol. I don’t think a defence with a Puyol in his prime would have collapsed in such a way. And the wisdom of selecting Iker Casillas in goal has to be doubted.

With this result we seem to have reverted to situation normal for Spain at World Cups. Implosion.

Speaking of which, has anyone else noticed the facial resemblance between Diego Costa and Fernando Hierro?

Fernando Hierro
Diego Costa

Brazil 3-0 Spain

FIFA Confederations Cup, Final, Maracanã Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, 30/6/13

Seemingly Brazil don’t do competitive defeats at home. Their last was 38 years ago, and that was the only one in the past 50 years. They have only ever lost twice in a competitive game at the Maracanã (whose official name I’ve now learned is the Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho.)

As in the semi-final Spain were most unSpain like. This could be due to the fact that both Italy and Brazil got at them. I note here that even if Big Phil did not send Brazil out deliberately to play the early ball over the top David Luiz had certainly noticed the Spanish vulnerability. It was his crossfield pass that led to Brazil’s first goal.

It was strange to see Spain out-hustled for two games in a row. Hustling is one of their strengths. But Italy and Brazil didn’t allow them time on the ball nor space to pass it.

Spain had their chances but the combination of a David Luiz goal line clearance and a Julio Cesar in great form frustrated them.

Fred’s second early in the second half killed the game. Iker Casillas showed here why Jose Mourinho may have preferred Diego López latterly.

Talking about goalkeepers falling from their absolute best Gianluigi Buffon in the semi seemed to have recovered from Italy’s defensive horrors in the group games but looked a bit iffy again in the third place match.

Brazil don’t lose competitive matches at home?

Well, they’re still haunted by the loss to Uruguay at the Maracanã in the last game of the 1950 World Cup. They still will be when next year’s tournament comes round.

Confederations Cup 2013

This year’s tournament has been very watchable stuff, even if the games involving Tahiti were total mismatches.

Italy have been strange; leaking goals in the group games was very unlike them. They reverted to defensive type in the semi-final against Spain, though, except they seemed to adopt that most un-Azzurri tactic, the ball over the top. An un-Italian inability to convert chances scuppered them in the end. I wonder if Brazil will try the ball over the top in the final. It caught Spain out a few times, confirming the sense that the Spanish are get-at-able at the back.

Nigeria look to have the nucleus of a side for the future; get themselves a clinical finisher and they’ll be there.

I was surprised that Japan ended up with no points. They were excellent but allowed themselves to be caught out. Given a good draw in next year’s World Cup they could go deep into that competition.

Brazil aren’t the full article yet either but Neymar is a player (even if he falls over too easily.)

And what a transformation for Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani from the group games – when he looked lost – to the semi-final, where he was influential all over the pitch.

(The final will probably be a let down now.)

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