18 June ~ It’s open season on Marc Wilmots in Belgium. The Red Devils’ inept display against Italy highlighted the national coach’s tactical frailties – nothing new there – but, to make matters worse, Wilmots doesn’t seem to see anything wrong with his strategy, or lack thereof. “I don’t think Italy won a tactical battle,” he told national broadcaster RTBF.
17 June ~ Disappointment at conceding a late goal against Spain has given way to a more positive mood in the Czech Republic, with everything still to play for against Croatia today. Having taken an atypically defensive approach against Spain, coach Pavel Vrba has promised to return to his trademark attacking style for the remaining group games. Sparta Prague midfielder Borek Dockal, the Czechs’ leading scorer in qualification, is expected to return to the starting line-up.
16 June ~ Whatever conclusions can be drawn from the chaos so far at Euro 2016, one thing is for sure – fans in Russia have been picking over the events in great detail. At some point in the last week everyone has pointed the finger at everyone else. Fratria, the Spartak Moscow ultras group, were one of many claiming the English fans started the trouble by provoking the Russians – Fratria claim they only fought with those English fans that wanted to.
15 June ~ At half-time in last night’s Portugal v Iceland match I wandered down from my flat to the crescent of bars surrounding Gare Lille Flandres. When I got there it was obvious a number of Lille locals had chosen to participate in another spectator sport rather than tuning in to Cristiano Ronaldo and co.
15 June ~ Last Friday the Football League voted to include Premier League under-21 teams into the Football League Trophy. The competitions new, expanded format, which has been announced just a few weeks after the League suggested they needed to cut fixture congestion, will begin with a group stage and include 16 category one academy sides alongside the usual clubs from League One and Two. It will initially be trialled for one season, but the change hasn’t gone down well with fans, who were not consulted on the new format.
14 June ~ A week before the Euros kicked off, Turkey’s manager Fatih Terim tried to lower fans’ expectations. He declared that a draw against Croatia would be a great start to the tournament, and noted that should Croatia qualify for the knockout stages they would go very far in the tournament. By the looks of pre-game commentary on social and other forms of media, he was successful.
13 June ~ Northern Ireland’s opening Group B match with Poland was a game that had been 30 years in the making. In the end what ensued was a defensively solid performance but one lacking in attacking vigour and a disappointing defeat. It would be churlish indeed to say anything other than “hard luck, lads” but there is undoubtedly a sense that a change in approach will now be required.
13 June ~ Slovakia coach Jan Kozak will take no comfort in the fact, but his team‘s 2-1 defeat to Wales in Bordeaux has enhanced his reputation as a man of wise words. As soon as the draw for the final stages was made last November, Kozak said he was happy enough to be in a group with England and Russia but that Wales were the fourth seeds he really hadn’t wanted.
10 June ~ They say France has ground to a standstill, but there was little sign of that as commuters poured out of Gare Lille Flandres into the June sunshine this morning. Strikes continue to take place across the country as part of the CGT union’s widespread protests against the controversial loi travail, which would change working conditions in the country – but you would never have guessed it from the number of people wandering down Rue du Molinel into offices in the usual manner or enjoying their morning cafés on the pavement terraces.
4 June ~ Twenty-five years ago Hansa Rostock won the last-ever East German cup final, but that wasn’t the end of football in the GDR. After the German reunification, East German teams were distributed into the West German league pyramid. When the Bundesliga was formed in 1963 the clubs were admitted base on a ranking calculated over the previous 12 years, yet for the teams in the GDR’s Oberliga, it came down to how they performed over just one season.