Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Czech Republic & Slovakia September 2016

Two second level matches in the Czech Republic plus England’s visit to Slovakia.

Based in Ostrava I spent one day taking in the local sights which range from an impressive new shopping centre to a disused coal mine.
Aside from those delights the local museum featured the historical background of the region plus a feature on one William Shakespeare.

Perhaps the man from Stratford would also have enjoyed my evening meal of pizza and Lambrusco rosso (mead and roast beef were not on the menu)

3rd September 2016  Trinec 2 Vitkovice 1  Czech FNL  730 (c. 12 away)

It needed an early start to make it to Trinec for this 10.15am kickoff and I only just got there in time to see the players entering the pitch.
The home side play in a one-sided ground featuring a single stand that comfortably held those present.
Next door you could see the previous, larger traditional stadium.
On the pitch Trinec were two up within 18 minutes thanks to a pair of headers.
And it looked like they would win easily but gradually Vitkovice had more play and, after some useful left wing crosses, Vanek curled in a reply.

So 2-1 at the break.

The visitors made some changes after the interval and they generally edged the possession but never really got close to levelling.
The match drifted towards a home win without significant incident.

Afterwards I made the fairly long walk back to the station admiring the massive steel works that dominates the centre along the way.

3rd September Frydek-Mistek 2 Prostejov 2  FNL  1,270

Then by train on to Frydek-Mistek for the second game of the day.

This one had a lot more incident.
Firstly, after missing a good chance, Prostejov went ahead when David Strombach decisively converted a penalty after a player had been brought down.

But F-M responded immediately after Hykel forced home a left wing cross.
However on 37 minutes the visitors were back in front as Strombach drove in his second following a throw in.

Prostejov had taken their chances and deserved their half time advantage.

Into the second half and on comes Peter Nworah. Clearly wanting to make an impact the Nigerian chased back to make a tackle and was unluckily booked.
Unfortunately he argued the point and immediately received another card resulting in a brief ten minute cameo appearance.

So F-M battled with ten men though the visitors evened up the numbers by also having a man dismissed late on.
Then we had the dramatic conclusion.

With the home goalie up for a corner Kofron mishandled the ball and it eventually broke to Willweber who joyously drove in the added time equaliser.
2-2 it ended and it was somewhat tough for the lowly placed visitors who stay near the bottom of the table.

Back, by train, in Ostrava I settled for some simple refreshment after another hot day.

The following (Sunday) morning I got the early train on to Bratislava.

4th September Slovakia 0 England 1  World Cup qualifier  18,111 (c. 1700 away)

From Bratislava it takes around 45 minutes to get to Trnava.
Where England began their campaign on the road to Russia 2018.

Beforehand we had pre-game drinks and ice cream in the pleasant central area followed by a short stroll to the Arena for the inevitable security checks.

Though it was a new regime off the pitch it looked very similar on it.
But at least Sam Allardyce was more animated than many of the recent England coaches even though his players often seem to lack urgency.

However at this stage an away win against arguably the most difficult group opponent is enough.
Obviously the outcome was helped by the rashness of Martin Skrtel who got himself dismissed early in the second period.
But even before that Slovakia had threatened little, just one dangerous cross after an error by Danny Rose.

Otherwise England mostly controlled possession and when losing it usually worked hard to retrieve the ball.
The problem was doing something effective with it.

But eventually pressure told, Lallana hit the post and we were unlucky to see a goal disallowed.
Just when I was drifting towards the exit the ball reached Lallana on the left and he made space to drive in a shot that probably should have been saved.
It was his first ever England goal and a very timely one at that.

So lucky England and lucky ‘big Sam’.
But better to be lucky than good it is said.

A familiar pattern then - easy qualification then weak exit at the finals ?

Back in Bratislava it was starting to cool down with some light rain.

More followed the next day as I travelled home via Vienna.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Germany July 2016

Three games in the East of Germany.

I based myself in Berlin and began by taking the S-Bahn out towards Potsdam.

29th July 2016  Babelsberg 0 Wacker Nordhausen 2  Regionalliga  2,230 (c. 80 away)

It was quite hot for this Friday evening encounter at the old style (man stand plus terrace) Karl-Liebknecht stadion.

And it was the visitors who began well with the diminutive Austrian Schloffer putting them in front within ten minutes.
He combined well with Marco Sailer (also small though mostly beard) to threaten the home goal.

But eventually Babelsberg had more play and they went on to miss a number of presentable chances.
Andis Shala would hit the post as the home side should definitely have equalised.

However they contrived to miss their opportunities and it was left to Wacker to break away and score again in the closing minutes.
Certainly tough on the home team, but as they say if you don’t take your chances...

Back in the centre I was in time to watch the ‘Critical Mass’ cyclists (some 2000 !) on their way through K’Damm.

This event undoubtedly presents a fine nighttime image with lights and music and a wide variety of wheeled transport.

30th July  Rot-Weiss Erfurt 0 Hallescher 3  3.Liga  8,168 (c.1200 away)

The next day I took an early train to Erfurt, the fine capital of Thuringia.

As soon as you arrive at the station you see plenty of red & white shirts.
Both these teams brought sizeable contingents of ultras & they positioned themselves at either end of the redeveloped stadium.

Sadly the new version of the ground retains the track which, as always, tends to diminish the atmosphere.
But the away fans released some red smoke and the home ultras produced the choreo.
While YNWA was played together with the team song.

On the pitch it turned into a comfortable victory for Hallescher.
Certainly it helped that they went ahead so early (3 minutes) when Benjamin Pintol was given an easy conversion.

The visitors would miss other good first half chances before Lindenhahn broke from the right to score left footed on 66 minutes.
Goalie Bredlow had a hand in the third after his long clearance was controlled and crossed for sub. Wallenborn to volley in for number three.

It had been a disappointing afternoon for RWE who hardly produced any serious threats.
Not a great omen for the fans who had bought season tickets (priced from 175 Euros)

Back in busy Berlin I saw some of the City Night 10K run before bed.

31st July  Magdeburg 0 Fortuna Koln 3  3.Liga  17,796 (c.70 away)

An hour and half on the Regional train and you can be in Magdeburg.

Where the local team get substantial, noisy support in their MDCC-Arena, out towards the East of the centre.
So we had plenty of chants, songs and rhythmic clapping.

Not that it translated into success on the field for the men in blue.

Initially the two sides traded corners and some long throws before Fortuna went ahead when Dahmani slide in a cross on the half hour.
That was the only score at the break with the visitors edging proceedings.

However soon after the interval the outcome was decided, firstly with a Uaferro header from a corner then Brazilian Cauly converted a left wing cross.

FCM managed some efforts on goal but most went straight at goalie Poggenborg who held them all, tightly.
With the Fortuna defence well marshalled by Uaferro and Mimbala it never looked likely that Magdeburg would retrieve the situation.

So a setback for FCM, who finished just behind the promotion places last season, but a very creditable away win for the team from the West.

My Sunday night in the capital was completed by a pleasant meal of pizza, apple strudel (of course) and vino.

Back in the UK the next day I took the train home accompanied by Pokemon Go playing Asians.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Euro 2016 France Part #3

I travelled out on the Eurostar then picked up a car in Lille before going on to my hotel in the famous cycling location of Roubaix.

From there is not too far to Villeneuve-d’Ascq.

Hail Hal.

1st July 2016  Belgium 1 Wales 3  Villeneuve-d’Ascq, Lille   45,936

This was an amazing, historic win for the Welsh who thus reached their first major semi-final.
Their fans were considerably outnumbered by the Belgians who could easily drive across the border to the Grande Stade.
But it was a night to remember for all those from the Principality who were able to get tickets.

Though it did not begin too well after a tracer bullet from Nainggollan wizzed past Hennessey after 13 minutes.
Belgium looked ready to strut their stuff but they suffered a setback when a corner was headed in by unmarked Welsh captain Ashley Williams on the half hour.

That definitely knocked the Belgians confidence and Wales ended up with more first half possession.

Into the second and Belgium brought on Fellaini.
And we saw Eden Hazard produce a run and shot that went close while Lukaku should have done better with a header.
The Everton striker was fortunate to stay on so long, being belatedly replaced by Batshuayi.

But the key moment came on 55 when the unheralded Hal Robson-Kanu collected a cross from Ramsey, swivelled, leaving three defenders floundering before shooting home left footed past Courtois for 2-1.
It was a goal that will live long in the memory of Welsh fans.

Belgium pressed for a leveller but Bale and co. all worked consistently hard to stop them.
And in the end another breakaway brought a third after sub. Sam Vokes neatly headed home a cross from the right.


Presumably the end for Belgian coach Marc Wilmots who failed to deliver the required performance from their ‘golden generation’.

I eventually dried out on the way back to Roubaix reflecting on a famous night in Welsh football history.

The following day I drove south to Senlis, a town of considerable history with its ancient centre, Roman remains and cobbled streets.
Back at the hotel I watched Germany edge Italy on penalties.

The next morning I spent in Chantilly.

The footballers had gone, no doubt concentrating on catching up with their shopping.
But the town itself has a timeless quality epitomised by the historic stables, racecourse and the outstanding chateau.

Inside the equestrian museum as well as real horses are reminders of its place in history.
Similarly the chateau itself has a vast array of portraits of French nobility plus some stunning decor.

Perhaps our chastened England team will have noted the chandeliers and put them on their list of future household accoutrements.
But they will struggle to gain the nobility and class of those pictured on the walls.

Its a short drive back to Senlis then onward to the north of Paris for the final quarter final.

Iceland frozen out.

3rd July  France 5 Iceland 2  Stade de France  76,833

More rain here and more ‘thunder’ from the Iceland fans who even had the locals joining in.

I saw my 12th Opening Ceremony - every game should one !
Before France set about destroying the Vikings with four first half goals.

Giroud was set free for the opener before Pogba showed another of his skills when he rose high to head in number two.
Payet shot through a number of legs then Griezmann added to his total with a superb chip.

Finally the Iceland defence had crumbled.

They had just one first period chance from a set play.

But at least their excellent fans had more to cheer (or clap) in the second half with two goals, the first from an excellent Gylfi Sigurdsson cross, the second a Bjarnason header.
Lloris also made a point blank save from another chance.

But France had their moment as well when Giroud outjumped the opposition goalie for their fifth.

It had been a entertaining win for the hosts who looked very threatening going forward though somewhat less solid at the other end.

Next up for them would be a semi against the Germans.

For Iceland it will no doubt be a memorable homecoming in Reykjavik.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Euro 2016 France Part #2

This time just the one match.

Flew to Nice, hired a car and based myself in Antibes.

Thunderclap Newmen.

27th June 2016  England 1 Iceland 2  NIce  33,901

I had a nightmare that England would lose this match but then realised that could only happen in a parallel universe, surely ?

Then I woke up and we had lost to Iceland !

Inside the stadium the atmosphere did not feel as raucous as the previous England games and it was the Iceland fans, enjoying their most historic match ever, who set the tone with their rhythmic, ‘thunderclap’, clapping.

The game had started so well with Sturridge neatly finding the much maligned Sterling and he was brought down for a penalty.
Captain Rooney scored into the corner and all looked well for a solid 3-0 victory.

But then, soon after, a schoolboy error allowed Iceland to respond quickly as our defence switched off.
So that made it 1-1 and it got worse as Iceland worked a move through the centre of our defence giving Sigthorsson the chance to shoot.
It was a decent effort but Joe Hart clearly should have done better as the ball escaped his dive and went in to give the Icelanders an unlikely lead.

No problem, we would win 3-2, just be patient.

But it never happened.

And if anything Iceland might have another goal, Joe Hart to some extent redeeming himself.
England created little of significance, some long range shots and a half chance for Vardy.

With coach Hodgson on his feet but still looked transfixed and bewildered the team never seemed to have the passion and leadership required to recognise what was happening and retrieve the situation.
Iceland didn’t even have to waste much time, they continually tackled and rebuffed all the opposition moves.

Perhaps if Rashford had been brought on earlier ? Maybe if Wilshere had been fully fit rather than undercooked, perhaps if Kane was sharper ?

Nobody expected it to end this way.

But it was a stunning outcome for Iceland and their country.

The Gunnarsson’s, Sigurdsson’s, Arnason’s , Sigthorsson’s and the rest of their team will be remembered forever while Hodgson and co. will always be associated with England’s worst competitive defeat since USA in 1950.

As for Antibes that was very pleasant in the sunshine.

Not quite so comfortable was the arrangements for getting to the stadium in Nice.
I had parked the car some way from the ground and gone into the centre to collect my ticket.
From there it was back out again on a special bus.

Which dropped you a long way from the stadium (subsequently I learned there was a local bus that passed a lot closer)
Meaning a slow walk in the 28 degree heat.
But such is often the way with these tournaments.

At least, though I also had a long walk back, the return by car to Antibes was reasonably negotiated.
And I chose a late night Erdinger to calm down and to contemplate the future of the England national football team.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Euro 2016 France Part 1

Euro 2016 Part 1

The Euros began for me in Marseille after I had travelled via Barcelona and Nimes.

11th June  England 1 Russia 1  Stade Velodrome Marseille   62,343

This was a game England should have won against a poor Russian team in the very impressive rebuilt Velodrome stadium.

We came close a number of times before, surprisingly, Dier took a free kick that beat Akinfeev.

Rooney played in the no.10 role and did ok - it would seem likely that will be his position from now onwards.
His passing was certainly better than most as it was a game that had a curious number of errors (e.g Joe Hart kicking the ball into touch - nerves ?)
The Russians were even worse.

England controlled most of the match with Sterling, for example, having lots of the ball.
But to generally little effect.
As always one goal might not be enough and so it was with defender Berezutski rising to head in an undeserved leveller in added time.

That was a blow - and there was plenty of those inside & outside the ground as well as clashes in the old port.
We avoided all that but the sirens kept going into the night.

Marseille was also troublesome for those trying to get back to their distant hotels, like your correspondent, with no taxis picking up and only, limited, night buses as a way back.
It meant a return by 1.40am and not much sleep.

12th June Turkey 0 Croatia 1  Parc des Princes  43,842

I made the Ouigo train from Marseille to Disneyland(Marne) and then eventually on to the Parc just in time to get a ticket outside and into the stadium about 15 minutes before kickoff.

Compared to the previous night this game had more quality, particularly the crosses.
Unfortunately the heading ability is not what it was and numerous chances were spurned, mostly by the Croats but also some by Turkey.

Croatia definitely edged the possession and provided the threats, hitting the woodwork and often going close.
It took a brilliant volley by Real Madrid’s Luka Modric from 30 yards, late in the first half, to decide the outcome and that strike certainly deserved to seal the victory.

Afterwards Croatia were mostly content to waste time and frustrate the Turkish fans.

Back at the Paris hotel I watched most of NI v Poland and half of Germany’s game, before falling asleep.
I needed a good sleep.

13th June  Ireland 1 Sweden 1  Stade de France  73,419

Suitably rested I made the metro + RER ride to the Stade.

Again it was a showery, cloudy day in Paris.
And there was a massive turnout of (slightly more) Swedish and Irish fans.

The men in green often had the better of this encounter and might count themselves unlucky to only get a draw.
They developed a number of chances, O’Shea just missing one cross and Hendrick delivering one effort that clipped the bar.
It was a promising and encouraging performance in a difficult group.

And Ireland got the merited lead when Houlahan half volleyed the opener just after the break.
That set the Irish fans alight - they’re not used to seeing many goals !

However they’re also used to disappointment and sure enough that would come about 20 minutes later when Ibrahimovic was set free down the left and his cross was inadvertently headed into his own net by Ciaran Clark.
The Swedish star man featured then but generally he was constrained by the Irish defence.

The odds favour teams who manage three draws making it through so Ireland could still progress.

Again the RER and metro worked fine & I made it back to watch Italy take care of Belgium.

15th June  Switzerland 1 Romania 1  Parc des Princes  43,576

Into the second round of matches and back to the Parc - I find it a consistently atmospheric stadium with fine viewing, certainly from the upper levels.

At this one the Swiss fans outnumbered the Romanians and for those who needed a ticket there were numerous on offer outside.

Switzerland began well pressing their opponents but Romania absorbed those moves and they went ahead from a Stancu penalty.
Given for handball it looked harsh.

Both sides would go on miss chances before Mehmedi was given too much time to line up the equaliser from the edge of the box.

The Swiss generally looked the better side but Romania did enough to keep their interest in the tournament.
A brisk exit and I was on the metro and in comfortable time to join the locals at my hotel watching the hosts beat Albania thanks to two late goals.
Two glasses of vin blanc were sampled as Payet and co. ensured France qualified for the next phase.

16th June  England 2 Wales 1  Lens  34,033

I decided to forgo the train (Thursday being a strike day ?) and opt for the bla bla car option.
Which worked well, a pickup at the Palais Congres and we were in Arras before 10.30am.

Like many of our guys I stayed at another basic F1 hotel.
But at least with an earlier kickoff there was no problem getting back afterwards.

Memories of ‘98 came back as I emerged from Lens station - that small town with crowds looking for tickets.
This time I had one whereas back at the World Cup I had to pay a substantial premium.

And as against Colombia there was no shortage of atmosphere with the Welsh fans being in the minority.
But everyone mixed Ok and even the respective anthems were applauded.

Hodgson opted to retain the same team and that soon looked unwise.
But sometimes in tournaments the optimum eleven does not emerge until later (eg England ‘66) and hopefully a coach will adapt accordingly.

Whether our man can do that is an open question.

Anyway change became a priority after Gareth Bale’s dipping free kick eluded Joe Hart.
On came Vardy & Sturridge and eventually Rashford to present an un-Hodgson like all-out attack.  

Against a better team it might have come unstuck but with Wales backing off the pressure finally told.
First Williams inadvertently set up Vardy to equalise then Sturridge calmly converted the winner from close range in added time.
Somewhat tough on the Welsh who for periods seemed to want it more than England.

However the space given the likes of Walker and Rooney meant it was probably only matter of time before Hodgson could express his relief whereas for a while he was contemplating his exit cheque.

Train back to Arras, bus and a meal (not bad - salad + cod + vin blanc) in the Balladins hotel, Germany on TV.

18th June  Portugal 0 Austria 0  Parc des Princes  44,291

After a stopover in Amiens where the rain showers continued but the food was fine and the entertainment - 3 games on TV - conducive.

From there I took a morning train and the metro to my hotel near the Paris Opera.
A central area that offers plenty of restaurants and cafes and is convenient for getting to the Parc.

Getting there was the relative easy part,  getting a ticket was a lot more troublesome with few around and many also looking.
Eventually I made it inside slightly late but without missing too much.

Portugal could be billed as ‘Ronaldo + 10 other guys’ because one way or another he is often the centre of attention.
This time his moment came in the second half, with about ten minutes remaining, when the Italian referee awarded a spot kick.
Up stepped our hero - but for once he failed with his strike hitting the post and rebounding to safety.

Quel dommage !

But in a way Austria deserved something because of their resolute defending.
They rarely threatened at the other end but they remained (and looked) determined in thwarting the more talented Portuguese.
Free kicks, corners and crosses were all repelled leaving the much more fancied Portuguese with just two points from there two matches so far.

20th June  England 0 Slovakia 0  St Etienne   39,051

Train from Paris to Lyon - no problem - train to St Etienne also OK.
Meet up with a friend and find a fairly quiet restaurant - not too easy but managed.
Enjoy the meal.

So far so good.

But as always with the England matches things, certainly at tournaments, often become harder.
The scrum getting in, the pushing and shoving.

And on the pitch it did not go as planned either with Slovakia employing a solid, well organised defence.
They rarely threatened apart from a Smalling error but achieved what they set out to do.

While Hodgson’s six changes, well trailed in advance, looked somewhat risky.
Vardy was a popular inclusion and he came close a couple of times while Dele Alli, on as a substitute, also nearly broke through.
But we found it increasingly difficult to break down the opponents despite them conceding space.
I did cast my mind back to ‘98 again and that famous goal by Owen at this venue - I wonder with it crossed Hodgson’s mind that Rashford might have done the same ?

Anyway it came to pass, with Wales winning, that we would finish second in the group.
The consequences became telling when the Round of 16 fixtures were clarified and we had France as likely rivals in the quarter finals plus Germany, Italy and Spain in the same section of the draw.

Meanwhile on the way back to St Etienne, just when the tram was going along nicely, an idiot lets off a flare inside the vehicle, the driver naturally stops and we go no further.
That meant a long walk and a late arrival at the station to be faced with a  long queue.

So a late arrival back in Lyon and some extra drinks to calm down.

21st June  N.Ireland 0 Germany 1  Parc des Princes  44,125

Again a limited sleep and an early train back to the capital for another visit to the Parc des Princes.
This match was memorable for the superb NI fans and their improbable ‘Will Griggs on Fire’ song.
That and the performance of their goalie Michael McGovern of the famous Hamilton Academicals.

He stopped nearly everything the Germans produced and it was only a Mario Gomez strike on the half hour that eluded him.
It was an heroic defensive effort by the men in green and the reward would come when it resulted in them squeezing into the 3rd place qualifying positions.

I made it back to my hotel in time to see Croatia surprise Spain and hence contribute to the unbalanced split as mentioned above.

22nd June  Iceland 2 Austria 1  Stade de France  68,714

Anyone wanting to get a ticket for this one could easily be accommodated.

But though it was never going to be full those in the stadium witnessed a famous win for the smallest nation at the event.
Iceland went ahead from what looked like a foul throw with Bodvarsson benefiting after 18 minutes.
Prior to that the islanders had showed intent when Gudmunsson had clipped the bar.

Austria should have equalised twenty minutes later but Dragovic dragged his penalty onto the post.
However eventually the pressure from Arnautovic and co. told and a fine move ended with popular sub. Schopf scoring.

Austria, needing to win, went hard for the victory, including bringing up their goalie for the final set plays.
But as the match drew to close Iceland had their moment.
A breakaway by Bjarnason down the right and he crossed for Traustason, just on as a substitute, to score a goal that will become part of those Icelandic sagas.

Back at the hotel more drama transpired with Ireland scoring late to beat Italy and Belgium sending Sweden (and Zlatan) home.

So ended the first part of my Euros trip.

Reflecting back the impressions were of large numbers of enthusiastic fans, tight but dramatic matches and an interesting expanded format.
Who would have thought three home nations plus Ireland and Iceland would be in the Round of 16 ?

Generally being in Paris, where I stayed most of the time, worked fine with excellent transport and reasonable stadium access.
In the other locations, at the England matches, it was a lot less comfortable.

While the intermittent strikes didn't affect my travel arrangements.