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.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

USA June 2016

Four games in the USA including three at the Copa America Centenario and a visit to LA Galaxy.

I flew into LAX (famous to all those Frank Zappa fans.. ‘The white zone is for unloading and loading, do not enter’....) where the fashion becomes less London and more Dexys Midnight Runners, for example.
The tattoos increase and the haircuts are more eccentric.

Then on to a hotel in Carson.

Which is not too far from Long Beach where I spent part of the day visiting the Queen Mary.
On the free bus some of my fellow passengers spent time discussing how to end all wars.
Amazingly they failed to resolve the problem.

Meanwhile inside the Queen Mary you see miles of dark wood framed corridors, the inevitable Starbucks, suites dedicated to various luminaries and … a tattoo artists’ event.
I passed on a tattoo and took the history tour.


2nd June  LA Galaxy 0 Sporting Kansas City 0  MLS  19,651

Meanwhile back in Carson the weather was less LA more London with a kind of mist cooling things down at the Stubhub Center.
LA lacked Steven Gerrard and Robbie Keane and those absences seem to make a difference as they failed to get much on target.

That was despite Nigel de Jong, playing quarterback, distributing the passes, but ultimately to no effect.
As the match progressed it was Kansas who looked more likely to break the deadlock with Dominic Dwyer having one of their best chances.
The away team also threatened from corners before we entered the closing stages when
England full back Ashley Cole proceeded to launch some long balls up to tall sub. Alan Gordon.

But all that came to naught and it finished goalless.
Leaving Galaxy still within the playoff positions and Sporting in 8th.

The next day I took a flight from LAX to SFO for the start of the Copa America Centenario.

Viva Zapata.

3rd June  USA 0 Colombia 2  Copa America Centenario  Santa Clara  67,439

A vast assemblage of software developers met at Levi’s stadium for the opening of the centenary Copa America.
Most wore yellow shirts in support of Colombia and they far outnumbered the US fans.

On a very hot evening in Silicon Valley Jurgen Klinsmann’s team came up short against a competent Colombian side.

Within 8 minutes the South Americans were ahead when a Cardona corner was met by Zapata who drove in the opener.
The clincher came close to half time when James Rodriguez decisively converted a penalty given for handball.

It had been a frustrating half for the home team who had reasonable possession and a number of free kicks but no end result.

Into the second period and Clint Dempsey would go closest, having a header cleared off the line.
And at times Gyasi Zardes had shown glimpses of talent.

However Carlos Bacca might have extended the Colombian lead later in the half.
He combined well with Cuadrado as the men in yellow consistently proved better on the ball.

So a poor start for US and a solid opening for Colombia who would harbour hopes of going far in the tournament.

I took the light rail back to Mountain View and on to my hotel, stopping at the liquor store for some wine as a nightcap.

Yellow fever.

4th June  Brazil 0 Ecuador 0  Copa America Centenario  Pasadena  53,158

Via the Caltrain and the BART to SFO then on to LAX.

Where I picked up a Supershuttle for the 50 minute ride, past downtown to Pasadena.

After settling in I made my way to Memorial Station and then on to the shuttle that connects to the Rose Bowl.

Which remains an iconic stadium with the mountain backdrop, vast, curving. open seating and those unusual entrance tunnels.
Health & Safety would probably not allow such tunnels to be designed now but they are one of the signature elements of this famous ground.

All this brought back memories of my last visit when Roberto Baggio put his penalty over the bar and Dunga’s Brazil lifted the 1994 World Cup.
The result this time was also a draw but there was, of course, no penalty drama.

However Dunga was back and his Brazil side did edge this encounter on ‘points’.
Certainly he would have admired the holding midfield talent of Casemiro.
And the skills of Willian and, at times, Coutinho.

But the well supported Ecuador, at least I think they were well supported as it was hard to tell which fans were which with both wearing yellow shirts, also offered plenty going forward.
Especially down the left where Swansea’s Jefferson Montero often troubled Dani Alves.
Ecuador offered a robust attack with Bolanos also a danger.

And they did get the ball in the net when Alisson fumbled a cross, however history was not made as the ‘goal’ was ruled out by the officials.
Having never beaten Brazil in the Copa America it could have been a very significant moment for Ecuador.

As the match wore on, with the fans indulging in a number of ‘waves’, possibly the best chance came to sub. Lucas Moura who had a great headed chance that he diverted wide.

So no goals and I guess many Brazil fans would be regretting the absence of Neymar, sitting in the stand with Justin Bieber, who might well have made a difference.

Back via the shuttle and a craft beer to finish.

Braves scalped in LA.

5th June  LA Dodgers 12 Atlanta Braves 6  MLB  47,950

I switched hotels, taking the metro via downtown, then near Compton, on to Mariposa.
All that takes a while - this is not like the subway in New York or anywhere in Europe.
No wonder most people have a car.

Anyway I made it back to Union Station for the shuttle and a return visit to the Dodgers.

Although I missed the top of the first (when the Braves scored twice) I saw a run of scores by the Dodgers.

Hernandez, Grandal and Seager all slugged homers to give the home team a 12-3 lead.

Short Stop Corey Seager is reckoned to be an upcoming star and he certainly played his part in this comfortable victory.
And though the Braves go it back to 12-6 they were never likely to get close to parity.

So the Dodgers, before a large Sunday afternoon crowd in the sunshine, stay second in the NL West while the Braves are gone in the East.

Back in Mariposa I had some fish & chips (in the hotel) washed down with some vino tinto.
The next morning I was back on American for the flight to SFO.

Ave Maria.

6th June  Argentina 2 Chile 1  Copa America Centenario  Santa Clara  69,451

Less yellow and a lot more hockey shirts on the way to Santa Clara.
But still plenty of software developers, though some on the Caltrain, with their bikes,  seemed unaware there was a game on.

Inside Levi’s Stadium there looked like more Chile fans in red than the light blue of Argentina.

All came expecting to see Lionel Messi but they would go home disappointed as the superstar stayed on the bench.

Not that it mattered as regards the outcome as the tournament favourites, and highest ranked country in the world, settled the match with two quick goals early in the second period.
Each time it was a combination between Ever Banega and the excellent Angel Di Maria.
First Banega dispossessed a Chile player and set up the PSG wide man whose shot went through Bravo.
Soon after Di Maria returned the favour and Banega beat the goalie via a slight deflection.

Earlier we had seen plenty of positive action with Sanchez very lively for Chile (he would benefit from an error to test Romero) in a pacy first half.
Inevitably midfielder Arturo Vidal would get booked,, within 20 minutes.

Chile remained combative but as the match wore on Argentina consolidated and never looked like being pegged back.
A very late consolation did come via a Romero error, misjudging a free kick , that allowed sub. Fuenzalida to head in.

2-1 was probably about right.

It means the favourites are on track and though a setback for Chile they should still qualify for the latter stages and it is possible the two could meet again in the final.