Sunday 8 June ~
England aren't at Euro 2008 but their absence is going to be invoked in mournful tones throughout the tournament by the English media who have made the trip. Already there has been an ITV interview with Slaven Bilic in which he was asked whether there was more expectation of Croatia because of "how they qualified" – as though finishing ahead of England is in itself a major achievement. Meanwhile, every time a moderate team appears – and there may be a couple on show today – there will be sighs of regret at England's mystifying failure to qualify.
Swtizerland failed to set the tournament alight in losing to an unimpressive Czech team and there won't many expectations that co-hosts Austria will do much better today. The Swiss and Austrians had to be made top seeds to improve their chances of at least getting to the knockout stages, but that has thrown the tournament off balance with one side of the draw notably stronger than the other. So an Austrian side that probably wouldn't have got through the qualifying tournament line up today against the team that broke English hearts, ruined Steve McClaren's career and buggered up the summer's advertising targets throughout the media. With that in mind, we can expect some of the coverage today to be a little snide.
The BBC's newest pundit, Steve McClaren, will be preparing his trademark tight smile in readiness for some jokes at his expense during Austria v Croatia. But at least it's not being broadcast by ITV and commentated on by Clive Tyldesley, whose Euro debut for Portugal v Turkey last night plumbed new lows in Anglo self-obsession. The BBC have parted company with their most “patriotic” pundit, Ian Wright, so we have cause to hope that there won't be quite the usual Germanophobia on display during the second of today games, Germany v Poland. But you can bet that the war will be mentioned somewhere in Gary Lineker's smirking preamble (if only via the fact that, whoops, he'd better not mention it).
Poland were woeful at the two most recent tournaments in which they appeared, the World Cups of 2002 and 2006, but their Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker is credited with having improved the team substantially. Indeed the Polish media seems confident of causing an upset, Beenhakker having expressed his dismay at the belligerent tone taken by a couple of local tabloids. In view of the imbalance in the draw, Germany will rate their chances of at least reaching the semi-finals and a win tonight would virtually guarantee a place in the knockout stage. But whatever happens, expect to hear England mentioned more today's coverage than any of the competing teams.