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A Continent From The Couch - Euro 2020 In The Media

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“Here we are in the Amsterdam Arena and already the atmosphere is building nicely with a couple of hours before the 2020 European Championships finally get underway here in Holland. There is no love lost between these two sides, the history runs back a long way and both have had their moments at the top of the world game, but all that goes out the window tonight as the Netherlands take on Germany.

“There’s no denying that UEFA have picked an excellent match and a great location for the beginning of their ‘European Festival of Football,’ but of course it isn’t just about the two teams who will be taking to the pitch at 8pm tonight. Euro 2020 will be spread across 13 countries, with 24 teams taking part who are all desperate to get their hands on the trophy on July 12th. Germany of course are defending champions, but all of the teams here will feel they have every chance of leaving their names in the history books.

“Before we begin to look at the players lining up in tonight’s game, let’s just remind ourselves of the teams involved in the rest of the tournament, and who we might be looking out for.”

The camera cuts from the Sky Sports studio to highlights packages of the qualification process - spectacular goals, wild celebration, full-stretch saves and red cards being brandished. Group by group, the team names slot into place as their highlights roll in the background.”

“Group A, and let’s begin with defending champions Germany. The generation that won them the 2014 World Cup and then won this competition in France has begun to fade away, but the likes of Mario Gotze, Marcus Reus and Thomas Muller still represent one of the greatest attacking line-ups in world football. Under Jurgen Klopp the team has added intense pressing to its famed quick passing, and they will be sure-fire favourites to progress from their group.

“Their main rivals will be their opening day opponents Holland. Frank de Boer’s men were another team to top their qualification group with a perfect record, and with a strong core of Ajax players this is a team that has grown up playing together. Add in the likes of Stijn van der Beek, who has had an incredible season with Juventus in Serie A, and few would bet against the Dutch joining Germany in the knockout rounds.

“Sweden on the other hand relied on the play-offs to make it to the finals, overcoming Portugal in a thrilling encounter. Much of their success in qualification was built on a strong defence and ability to break up play in midfield, with Markus Bengtsson showing why PSG were willing to spend so much money on him. They will be tough to break down, but still struggle for goals, and much pressure will lie on the shoulders of John Guidetti if they are to make it to the next stage.

“Finally in Group A, we have outsiders Montenegro. The youngest nation at the tournament, few would have expected to see this country of just 700,000 even reach the finals, let alone contend for glory. They have been unlucky to be drawn in a tough group, but what they lack in star power they make up for in experience, with well over 500 caps accumulated by the 23-man squad. The one name you may be familiar with is of course Stevan Jovetic, and the former Manchester City forward carries the hopes of a nation into their opening game against the Swedes.

“Group B, and of course, England…”

--

It seems the European Championships are in vogue at the minute, and ever-ready to jump on the bandwagon, here's my take on the big tournament in 2020. I hope you enjoy my take on the championships of the future, and if any of it ever comes to pass - well, you heard it here first!

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Nice idea and a good start! :)

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Thank you for the support guys - let's see where this take us...

--

From the sports pages of The Daily Mail

England expects - what you need to know about the Three Lions’ Euro 2020 chances

AS we all know, it has been more than 50 years since England last lifted an international trophy, Sir Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick the last time an Englishman’s goals led to footballing glory. Since then we have watched as the Germans, French, Italian and Spanish saw their own golden generations take home prize after prize, while as a nation we endured heartbreak after heartbreak - whether in penalty shoot-out agony at Euro 96, or abject failure at Brazil 2014.

This time, things could be different. Andre Villas-Boas was not the most popular appointment after Roy Hodgson’s retirement, but a World Cup semi-final and largely unblemished qualification record have brought a certain swagger to this England side that had long been absent under Hodgson. There have been gambles - Jack Wilshere curiously deployed at centre-back in Minsk the most unusual - but they have paid off, the swashbuckling attacking game which saw off Argentina in last month’s friendly the best sign yet that England are a force to be reckoned with.

Captain Wilshere, along with midfield partner Ross Barkley and striker James Owuso, will be the key to English success this summer. Putting club differences aside, the Arsenal and Chelsea skippers have formed a superb creative partnership in the centre of midfield, aided of course by the defensive efforts of Phil Jones behind them. Jones’ United team-mate Owuso, on the other hand, has become a global star by the age of 20, and will surely one day threaten Wayne Rooney’s England goalscoring record.

England’s bid for success will also be aided by what is one of the weakest groups at the tournament. Having avoided a spot in one of the two groups containing two top seeds, Villas-Boas should expect to see his men stroll into the knockout stage, with Scotland providing the only real opposition along the way.

Scotland have admittedly come on leaps and bounds over the last few years, but this is still Gary Caldwell’s first major international tournament, and the former Wigan and Villa boss has precious little experience of this level of football. His young team, dominated for the first time in years by SPL-based players, has promise but should not cause England too many problems. It would be no surprise, however, to see them follow the Three Lions in the knockout stage given the substandard opposition presented by the rest of the group and the advantage of having their first game on home soil in Glasgow. The Hampden Roar will surely be too much for Albania.

In all likelihood, the only danger posed by Albania and final group opponents Serbia is from crowd trouble, such is the record of both teams in recent years. Their clash on matchday six will be a stern test of the police in Dublin, but on the pitch neither side possesses any great threat. Serbia have a greater pedigree in these competitions than Albania - one of just three teams making their major international debut in 2020 - but if England do not rack up the goals against both countries it will be a bitter disappointment. Owuso will be rubbing his hands at the sight of the two Balkan defences.

Can England win the tournament? Yes. Germany are strong, as the Dutch, but one of the two will finish runners-up and therefore face a trickier path to the latter stages. Spain remain strong, and Italy are always tough to beat, but in truth Villas-Boas should be looking at the semi-finals as a minimum. From then on, home support at Wembley should be enough to carry the Three Lions over the line, and end 54 miserable years of hurt. This time, the trophy is ours.

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Thanks Ben - good to have you on board!

--

“You’re listening to BBC Radio 5 Live’s Euro 2020 preview show, and we’re joined now by former Arsenal and Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. Wojciech, good to speak to you mate.”

“Hi Colin, how are you?”

“I’m very good thanks, yeah. Wojciech, Poland are in Group C at the Euros and on the one hand it looks like one of the weaker groups, but on the other one of the most even. What are Poland’s chances do you think?”

“I wouldn’t say weak Colin, but you’re right - it is very even. The thinking in Poland seems to be that the team can get out of the group stage, but whether that is as winners or one of the third-place spots, we just don’t know.”

“So a fairly cautious optimism back home then?”

“Right. Russia are a great team, we saw that in World Cup, and we have to be careful of them, but they aren't at home this time and that will help us. Croatia too are a good side but when they’re bad they’re really bad, and really nobody knows anything about Armenia!”

“Yes, I think a lot of people will be interested to see how Armenia get on at this tournament. Wojciech, before we leave you, give us two players we should be looking out for from this Polish team.”

“Two players - the first is of course is the goalkeeper, Filip Bednarek. He’s been playing top level football in Holland since he was a teenager, and at 28 he’s in the prime of his career. He’s very athletic and great in the air, so strikers will get very frustrated by him.

“The other has also played in Holland but you guys know him a bit better, Arkadiusz Milik. He was great for Ajax and has been a great signing for Newcastle, and he will score goals if he gets the chance. He has pace and power, and no defender likes that combination.”

“Milik and Bednarek, we’ll try and remember the names. Thanks Wojciech, enjoy the tournament.”

“Thanks, you too.”

“That brings us to Group D, and we’re joined now by European football expert Andy Brassell to give us the low-down on the four teams here. Andy, welcome to the show.”

“Hi there, thank you.”

“Andy, is this simply a case of France plus three, or can the other teams pull off a shock here?”

“I’d say there’s definitely room for a surprise here. France struggled their way through qualifying - they scraped into second behind Norway if you remember - and there are plenty of people in France who wonder whether bringing Laurent Blanc back as manager was such a great idea - after all, it didn’t work out so well last time.”

“That’s right, and France haven’t really been the same since that glorious period when they won the World Cup and European Championships, have they?”

“That’s right, they’ve struggled ever since. Switzerland, on the other hand, are a team on the up, and they showed us in the World Cup in Russia that they can be very hard to beat. They don’t score too many goals, but you don’t get to a World Cup quarter-final unless you know how to play football.”

“What about the other two sides, Ukraine and Denmark. What do you make of their chances? Neither have really made the headlines over here, has there been much talk of them where you are?”

“Denmark I feel are probably the weakest of the teams in Group D Colin, and I think we saw that in their qualification. They had an easy group but dropped a lot of needless points, and I can’t think you can rely on Nicklas Bendtner to keep scoring at this level. Viktor Fischer has been great for Liverpool as we all know, but one or two players aside it’s a weak squad.

“Ukraine, on the other hand, they’ve got every chance of going through. You only to look at the two men on the wings for them, Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka, to know they’ve got goals in them, and that’s what you want in this sort of tournament. Both have been around forever but they’re only 30, and when you remember they only conceded four goals in qualifying, they’ve got every chance.”

“So if you were to pick two to go through Andy?”

“That’s tough, but I’d take France and Ukraine to edge out the Swiss.”

“Thanks Andy. So that’s Wojciech Szczesny on a strong Group C and Andy Brassell backing Ukraine to join France in the knockout rounds from Group D. Next up we’ve got Champions League-winning manager and Chelsea legend Roberto di Matteo to guide us through Group E. Good evening Roberto…”

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I am loving the format seamlessly drifting through one medium to another -- TV, print/online and radio -- it's great and has just lifted my expectation of this story a little bit higher than it already was.

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Thank you very much, although you're piling the pressure on with comments like that! I hope you find the story lives up to expectations...

---

From the sports pages of The Guardian

Iceland, football’s true underdog story

THE population of Iceland is smaller than the population of Manchester, Bristol, and even Croydon. Geographically, it is emphatically disconnected from the rest of Europe, sitting in isolation in the far northern reaches of the Atlantic Ocean. For most British people, its main contributions to recent history have been volcanic ash, banking collapses and the decline of the fishing industry. Yet later this week, Iceland’s football team will travel to Rome to take on the might of Italy and make their European Championship debut.

Official statistics suggest there are around 25,000 registered footballers of either gender in the tiny island nation, a staggering statistic when considering there are more than 40,000 football clubs in England alone. To state that Iceland have defied the odds in reaching UEFA’s showpiece event is an understatement of dramatic proportions - it is nothing short of a miracle.

The man who has taken them to the promised land is also the country’s most famous sporting export - former Bolton and Chelsea striker Eidur Gudjohnsen. Humbly, he suggests that he cannot claim credit for reaching his country’s first ever international tournament - after all, he came so close as a player.

“To get so close to the World Cup and then lose was agonising,” said Gudjohnsen, recalling a play-off defeat to Croatia which denied his side a place in Brazil in 2014. “We surprised a lot of people in that campaign, and it gave the country a real belief that we could reach a tournament in the future.”

Iceland’s rise has perhaps been more remarkable by the fact that there are very few household names among the 23 Gudjohnsen will take to the pan-European tournament. Gylfi Sigurdsson now plies his trade for Rangers after a period in England with Swansea and Tottenham, while top scorer Kolbein Sigporsson lines up for Marseille, but on the whole this a team of unknowns. Six of the squad still play domestically in Iceland.

“We have a good mix of players,” Gudjohnsen continues. “There are players who have played all across Europe, which will be good experience, but there are also the very best players from our home league. That is important, that we show the value of the Urvalsdeild [iceland’s top flight], and that good performances lead to getting picked.”

Drawn in a group with former world champions Italy, Nordic neighbours Norway and perennial dark horses Belgium, few are expecting Iceland to pull up any trees in a tournament they have done well to qualify for. But despite the overwhelming odds, the former Chelsea man believes his team have as good a chance as any of making it into the knockout stages.

“Of course, we are realistic,” he said, “and we cannot expect to wins the Euros. But in four of the six groups there will be three teams going through, and anything can happen in knockout football. I think as long as we beat Norway, there will be a week-long holiday at home. If we play our best football and give maximum effort, nobody will be complaining. It will be a great experience for the whole nation.”

In their bid to make footballing history, Iceland face Italy in Rome, Norway in St Petersburg and Belgium in Amsterdam. Should they make it through the group, it will one of football’s greatest underdog stories. Whatever the outcome, Gudjohnsen and his team deserve the highest praise for their efforts.

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I'd love to see Iceland spring a surprise next year Ben, it's a country I'd dearly love to visit one day.

--

“Finally to Group F, the sixth and final group of teams. Overwhelming favourites to progress will be Spain, who were unlucky to bow out in the World Cup quarter-final to Russia and lost the final of the last European Championships to the Germans. With Pep Guardiola at the helm, expect to see fast, attractive, flowing football and opposition teams struggle to get a foot on the ball. Expect possession, expect goals, expects victories, and expect to see La Furia Roja take their place in the last 16 with relative ease.

“Romania are making a return to international competition after a number of years in the wilderness, and under manager Dorinel Munteanu will have high expectations of getting through the group. His country’s most-capped player, Munteanu knows what is needed to succeed at this level, and with teenage phenomenon Doran Nicolau in central midfield his side possesses the creativity needed to unlock the world’s best defences. Questions will be asked of their back line, but hopes will be high.

“The Czech Republic are another side looking to regain international credibility after a lengthy transitional period. Pavel Vrba is one of the longest-serving international bosses in Europe, and his country’s patience has been rewarded with a bright, young, attacking team. A recent friendly win over the Italians proved how dangerous they can be, and Vaclav Kadlec could be the key to their fortunes. If he plays as he does for Dortmund, other teams will be in trouble. If he misfires, there is a youthful fragility to the Czechs which could see them home early.

“Finally, Northern Ireland. Nobody expected the Northern Irish to make it to the finals, and that they did so at the expense of the Republic means that whatever the result, the squad are already heroes. A great deal of responsibility relies on the veteran defensive pair of Jonny Evans and Craig Cathcart, as they will undoubtedly be tested regularly. However, if their wisdom and guile is enough to keep attackers at bay, the Green and White Army could surprise one or two nations with much shorter odds than themselves for the tournament.”

The camera cuts back to the studio, where presenter Jamie Redknapp has been joined by the suited trio of Thierry Henry, Clarence Seedorf and Oliver Kahn.

JR: “So there we’ve seen the 24 nations who will be hoping to take home the trophy in July, and while some are undoubtedly favourites, every one of them will be optimistic of a good run and lucky draw - you only have to think back to Greece in 2004 to see what can happen in this sort of situation.

“Before we go any further gentleman - who is going to win the tournament?”

TH: “I think France will do well. We have a good team, an attacking team, and a manager with experience at this level.”

CS: “Holland will win it. De Boer has built his team around players he knows very well, and the classic Dutch style is back again. Holland will win and look good.”

OK: “Germany, of course.”

JR: “Well, no national bias here then. We’ll be back after the break to run through tonight’s line-ups and check out the key players for either side.”

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From the sports pages of The Independent

Dutch courage matched by German fight

AFTER what has seemed like an eternal build-up, the European Championship finals finally got underway in Amsterdam last night, with hosts for the day Holland held to a 2-2 draw by holders Germany.

Frank de Boer’s Oranje will consider themselves unlucky not to have won after leading 2-1 into the dying moments, but an injury time goal from Thomas Muller earned Jurgen Klopp’s defending champions a crucial point in the Group A curtain raiser.

Muller’s late intervention, a rasping strike from the edge of the penalty area, was harsh on the Dutch who, buoyed by a packed Amsterdam Arena, dominated proceedings for much of the match. Their quick passing had the German defence chasing shadows at times, and Memphis Depay’s accurate finish midway through the first half was little more than they deserved.

A second goal did not flatter de Boer’s men, although the circumstances were somewhat fortuitous. Again Depay found himself at the centre of the action, and the winger’s low cross was glanced beyond Manuel Neuer by the outstretched boot of defender Dominik Stahlbeck, the Schalke man unable to manoeuvre his body out of the way.

Yet for all of the intricate build-up play of the Dutch, the Germans proved that their fabled efficiency has not deserted them. Ten minutes after conceding for the second time, Muller found Reus in space, he played the ball through for Julian Draxler, and the Arsenal man took one touch to set himself and a second to lift the ball over van der Hart in the Dutch goal to make it 2-1.

There were several chances for The Netherlands to put the bed beyond their opponents - Depay was guilty of a glaring miss when played through by Kevin Strootman, and van der Linde struck a post when it was perhaps easier to score - and they would pay for their profligacy in stoppage time, Muller’s arrow of a strike breaking the hearts of the thousands in the Amsterdam Arena and the entire Dutch nation.

Germany will have left the stadium last night feeling relieved to have claimed a point, while for the Dutch, their draw will have tasted much the same as a defeat. However, barring a disaster for either team they will both reach the knockout phases on the showing of this match alone. Should they meet again later in the competition, it will be the orange shirts of The Netherlands who will fancy their chances of getting one over their old rivals.

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Thank you very much - trying to make the tournament come alive is one of the challenges of this route, so I'm glad it's working for you! Thanks for following.

--

“Welcome back to talkSPORT’s England football special, with just an hour to go before the Three Lions kick off against Serbia in Group B. We saw a great game of football last night as Germany drew with The Netherlands, and already today we’ve seen Sweden beat Montenegro 2-0, but the question on everybody’s lips is quite simply - what about England?

“Manager Andres Villas-Boas announced his starting line-up earlier this evening, and before the break we asked what you thought of his team. Well, you haven’t disappointed us and we’ve got time to take a few of your calls now. Steve, you’re a Chelsea fan in Bristol?”

“That’s right Rio, great show by the way mate. Yeah, I don’t know what AVB’s doing throwing Vincent in at centre-back. He’s done well for the Baggies in midfield, but out of position on your international debut? It doesn’t make any sense to me mate.”

“It certainly is an interesting one. Rob, you’re a Baggies fan - you reckon the young lad’ll be alright then?”

“I do Rio, cracking show pal. Jim’s been great for us for two years now, and he’s shown he can drop into the defence no problem. He’ll be fine, and it means we can keep Chambers on the bench if we need him, he’s a bit more versatile.”

“Interesting thoughts Rob, keep Calum Chambers fresh for Scotland perhaps? We’ve got time for one more caller, we’ll go to Dave in Manchester - United or City?”

“City til I die Rio, and I still do not understand why Raheem Sterling is starting ahead of Theo Walcott. Raheem’s just coming back from injury and the Serbs will have a go at him, whereas Theo got the winner in the cup final and is buzzing. You want that pace in the team and I think AVB’s made a mistake with that one.”

“Thanks for your call Dave. If things don’t go England’s way tonight those will be the two selections that people will question - young James Vincent making his international debut alongside John Stones at the back, and Raheem Sterling in his first game for two months lining up on the left of the front three.

“Time for a quick word from our sponsors, and I’ve just been told when we get back we’ll have news of a goal at Hampden Park.”

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From the front page of The Daily Record

Disgrace! Albania stun Caldwell’s cloggers

YEARS of Scottish progress were thrown away last night as Gary Caldwell’s side were outplayed and outclassed by lowly Albania at Hampden Park.

Celtic’s Ryan Gauld was the sole bright spark for the Scots, and it was his curling free kick that gave the hosts the lead in front of a packed Glasgow crowd, but from then on the traffic flowed in only one direction - towards Liam Fraser’s goal.

The Rangers stopper performed bravely behind a defence which provided little protection, but he could do nothing about Birket Berisha’s second-half leveller. The Dinamo Moscow forward burned Andrew Robertson for pace on the Albanian right, cut inside and beat Fraser with a fierce shot into the far corner of the net.

Only a fine Fraser performance prevented a humiliating home defeat to the lowest-ranked team at Euro 2020, but the damage has already been done. In his first match in an international tournament, Gary Caldwell found himself woefully out of his depth, out-thought and outmatched by an opposite number who has never managed outside his native country. Scotland’s biggest threat, Celtic’s Mark McManus, stayed on the bench, his youth untrusted by a manager with blind faith in the experienced failures of the squad and none in the promise of youth.

McArthur, Forrest and Griffiths provided a strong threat years ago, but in 2020 the national team needs to move on. Even Robertson, for so long a solid option at left-back, looked lost at just 26 years old, and the time is surely ripe for the likes of Danny Richmond to step up into the starting line-up.

On a bleak day at Hampden, perhaps the only consolation came from the fact that the Auld Enemy also struggled in their opening match. Across the Irish Sea in Dublin, Andre Villas-Boas’ team had to fight back from an early goal to claim a 2-1 win over Serbia in a match they were expected to win comfortably. The English have their problems too, it seems, and will have had their confidence knocked by a sub-par performance.

For Caldwell to continue as Scotland boss, he needs to get through this group. With England up next in Copenhagen - a long way from the partisan support of Hampden - and a tricky test against Serbia to come, his chances do not look good. Scotland were turgid at best against Albania, and will need a new approach to beat our southern neighbours.

Are Scotland good enough to win in Denmark? Yes. Is Gary Caldwell to manager to do it? Sadly, we don’t think so.

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This will be the last post in here for a couple of weeks, as I'm heading off to Georgia (the country, not the US state) on holiday for a short break. Normal service will resume on my return.

--

“You’re listening to BBC Radio 5 Live’s Euro Social after another day of top class football, and it’s been the Russians who have impressed us most tonight. Aleksandr Kokorin will claim the headlines with a hat-trick against Armenia, but there will be plenty of English fans who have never heard of the 29-year-old.

“Well, to give us a bit of background on the Zenit St Petersburg striker, we’re joined on the line by former Russia captain and Arsenal star Andrei Arshavin, welcome to the show Andrei.”

“Hi Colin, thanks for having me.”

“So Andrei, Aleksandr Kokorin - what can you tell us?”

“Yes, what a game he played today! As you said, he’s a striker, 29, for Zenit, and he’s been their top scorer for the past three years. He would have been in the team for the World Cup, but he tore his hamstring before the tournament and missed out.

“As you saw tonight, he has good pace, finishes well, and is great at finding space. I wouldn’t be surprised if after tonight there are English, Spanish, Italian clubs looking to take a chance on him. He won’t come cheap though.”

“And Andrei, we don’t want to get too carried away about one game against Armenia, but Russia looked like the real deal today, you don’t get many 4-0 wins in international tournaments. Can they go all the way?”

“It will be hard, but I think so. Leonid $lutsky is a good manager, a lot of his players know each other very well, and after doing so well in the World Cup there is confidence in the team. If Kokorin keeps scoring, Russia can win the trophy.”

“Thank you Andrei, a bold statement indeed. We should perhaps feel a little for poor Armenia, taken apart on their tournament debut. Not a moment they’ll want to relive, I’m sure.

“The other team that failed to impress were France, who limped to a 0-0 draw with Denmark in Copenhagen, but let’s focus on the other two teams in Group C for a moment. Croatia and Poland put on a contender for game of the tournament so far in a match that had it all, and in the end 2-2 was probably a fair result. But will it help either side? Let’s found out with Croatia and West Ham hero Slaven Bilic, good evening Slaven.”

“Good evening Colin.”

“We haven’t got much time, but can Croatia get through this group? They fought back from 1-0 and 2-1 down, but that red card for Kovacic will hurt them surely?”

“It will, but luckily for us Kovacic plays in the one position we have good depth - Alan Halilovic is the likely replacement, and even Luka Modric can still play at 34. I think Croatia can make it, but it will come down to the Armenia game. After today you would expect Poland to beat them too, so goal difference could be key.”

“Thank you Slaven, it looks like a tight group and plenty of anxious moments for the fans. Quickly - will Croatia get out?”

“Yes, but it will not be easy.”

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Great read this one EvilDave. Looking forward to the resumption when you get back from your holiday.

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Thank you Neil, glad you're enjoying this one!

--

From buzzfeed.com

Five reasons Iceland managed to upset Italy

In last night’s Euro 2020 matches, little Iceland pulled off one of the greatest shocks in footballing history by beating Italy 3-2 in Rome. For our American readers, that would be the equivalent of the Coyotes making the NHL play-offs, or the Cubs winning the World Series. But their famous win was not just a remarkable fluke - here are the five reasons they managed to pull it off:

1 - A lightning start

Before the Italian team had even finished belting out their national anthem, Iceland were 1-0 up. Veteran Kolbein Sigporsson thumped the ball past Nicola Leali before the Azzurri had got a foot on the ball, and their incredible start set the tone for the rest of the match. Plenty of people expected Iceland to come and defend, but by taking the game to the Italians they were able to catch them by surprise and work them a lot harder than anticipated.

2 - Lack of fear

Whether they deliberately channelled the Viking spirit of their ancestors or not, the Icelanders did not look like a team facing four-time World Cup winners. Plenty of smaller teams have shrunk in the face of bigger, more successful teams, but Iceland were not in the mood to be walked over.

When Alessio Romagnoli squared up to Hjortur Hrardarsson in the second half, the Icelandic midfielder was immediately joined by four of his team-mates backing him up, showing that they were not afraid of the Milan defender and his world-class reputation. It was something that was repeated throughout the match, and despite the Italians’ best efforts, Iceland would not back down.

3 - An angry crowd

The Italian fans packed into the Stadio Olimpico expected a comfortable win, as did the rest of the world. They imagined their home advantage would not be needed against the smallest nation in the tournament, and certainly did not expect to be beaten. If anything, they were complacent.

After Iceland scored their first goal, the crowd fell silent and Italy’s advantage was gone. What’s more, as the home team struggled to get back into the game, the Roman audience became increasingly frustrated, jeering every misplaced pass from the boots of their heroes and even booing the team off at half-time. Domenico Berardi’s equaliser was greeted with lukewarm applause from such a famously passionate footballing nation, and when the second Icelandic goal went in the boos were deafening. By starting quickly and frustrating the home fans, Iceland managed to turn what should have been a major advantage for their opponents into something they themselves could feed off.

4 - Tactical adaptation

For a young manager, Eidur Gudjohnsen showed wisdom beyond his years in masterminding his country’s most famous victory. The former Chelsea and Barcelona forward, who played under the likes of Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and erm, Sam Allardyce during his playing days, was obviously taking notes on how to beat the world’s best teams.

His decision to play with two advanced wingers took the Italians by surprise from the outset, and when the Azzurri switched things up in the second half, he did not hesitate to bring another man back into midfield to create a numerical advantage. Even in the final moments, with the Italians desperately trying to find an equaliser, Gudjohnsen remained calm, ordering his players to keep cool and retain possession.

Compared to his opposite number Vincenzo Montella, Gudjohnsen seemed far more at ease with the situation and more confident in his substitutions. Which brings us nicely on to..

5 - A moment of magic

Who will forget that third Icelandic goal? It all started with the introduction of Brynjar Ragnarsson on the left wing, and finished seven minutes later with the final whistle and one of the most famous upsets in footballing history. With due respect to Ukraine (2-0 winners over Switzerland), Belgium and Norway (1-1 draw), nobody in the footballing world is talking about anything else.

Ragnarsson’s goal was sheer genius, the sort of goal he will never score again. The 22-year-old, who plays his club football back home in Iceland for Valur, was making just his 11th international appearance in Rome, and has never started for the national team. He will never buy a drink again.

From start to finish it was a joy to behold - the turn past Nicola Murra, the drop of the shoulder to break past Romagnoli into the box, the dummied shot which left the recovering Milan captain on his backside. The swing of the boot and the frenzied celebration as the ball curled beyond Leali’s outstretched right arm and into the back of the net. Sometimes it takes something very special to win a football match, and Ragnarsson delivered on the biggest stage of all.

Iceland may not win another game at this year’s championships, but it won’t matter one jot to Eidur Gudjohnsen and his team. On yesterday’s showing they may just go on to achieve even more, but again it will be largely irrelevant compared to last night in Rome. Iceland made football history, and we salute them.

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From the sports pages of the The Daily Telegraph

Bellerin: Spain can become Euro kings again

BARCELONA full-back Hector Bellerin believes Spain have the ability to claim their first major international tournament for eight years and win Euro 2020.

Bellerin, 25, started in his team’s 5-1 demolition of Northern Ireland in Bilbao last night, and is confident that under Pep Guardiola the team can once again scale the heights of 2008-12, when La Furia Roja lifted two European Championships either side of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Speaking immediately after defeating the Northern Irish side, Bellerin said: “We played very well tonight, and we showed we can perform to a high level.

“It is always important to start the game well against good teams like Northern Ireland, and to score twice in the first 10 minutes made it very easy for us.

“I think we can go to the final and win, why not? There are some very strong teams in the tournament - Germany, Holland, England, Russia - but we are very strong too, and we have some great players.

“Of course it will be harder when we are not at home - the fans were fantastic tonight - but Spain has won tournaments in other countries before and we can do the same this year.”

The former Arsenal defender’s optimism is easy to understand after watching his team tear apart a Northern Irish side which did little wrong, but was simply second-best against the relentless attacks of their opposition. David de Gea was barely tested aside from Jack Mulholland’s late consolation, and at the other end the Spanish attack swarmed around the penalty area with movement and energy to frighten even the biggest names at the tournament.

There were two goals for Bellerin’s clubmate Munir, a fine free-kick from PSG’s Isco, an accurate finish from Sergi Samper and the best of all from Ruben Elizagirre, the hometown hero marking his appearance from the bench with a skilful backheel flick into the far corner from Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross, and on no occasion did the Northern Irish defence seem capable of stopping them. The speed of passing and intelligent movement left the underdogs chasing shadows, and on this showing alone it seems that better teams than Northern Ireland will be put to the sword by this new-look Spain team.

With group rivals Romania and the Czech Republic playing out a 1-1 draw in Bucharest, Northern Irish hopes are not completely destroyed, but they will also take heart from the fact that neither of their future opponents would have done any better against a rampant Spanish side. For Bellerin and his team-mates, they face the simple task of maintaining their level of performance throughout the rest of the tournament. Should they do so, they stand every chance of lifting the trophy at the Wembley final.

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This is something else - the fluctuating between formats is the best part about this, from the radio segments to the list article from the last update, it's great.

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This is something else - the fluctuating between formats is the best part about this, from the radio segments to the list article from the last update, it's great.

I second that. And that Iceland match vs Italy sounds just epic.

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Thanks guys, I'm having some fun playing with the various formats. Italy vs Iceland was a belter, the Azzuri aren't what they once were though!

--

From the BBC’s live text updates:

Euro 2020 live:

- Holland beat Montenegro 3-1 in early Group A game

- Memphis Depay scores twice for Dutch

- Germany vs Sweden live from Munich in Group A (19.45pm)

- Albania take on Serbia in England & Scotland’s group (19.45pm)

1 min - The anthems have been sung, flags are waving and we’re underway in both Munich and Dublin, great synchronicity from the UEFA officials there.

4 mins - It’s an early chance for Serbia and it’s Djuricic who shoots wide, a good sighter from the Benfica but it rises over the crossbar. Serbia definitely starting the strongest of these two sides.

8 mins - The German fans are in great voice in the Allianz Arena, but it’s been a cagey opening in Munich. Plenty of possession for the hosts, but nothing much to report.

11 mins - I almost spoke too soon! Mario Gotze jinks his way through but can’t find the target, a real let-off for Sweden there.

16 mins - You can tell how important these matches are - none of the teams are taking any risks at the moment, there’s more action in the stands…

18 mins - GOAL! Germany 1-0 Sweden (Timo Werner)

The classic commentator’s curse! Leon Goretzka steps inside his man on the right and slides the perfect pass through for Timo Werner to power into the bottom corner. The fans are going mad in the stand, and it will be a long way back for Sweden from here.

22 mins - Almost a second for Werner, the Borussia Dortmund man heading over from a corner. He’s looking very good indeed tonight.

25 mins - There is a football match going on in Dublin, I promise. Still goalless between Serbia and Albania, which is good news for Scotland.

31 mins - RED CARD - Matija Nastasic (Serbia)

Well, well, well. Matija Nastasic is one of the biggest names in this Serbian squad, but the Valencia defender has put his team in a whole load of trouble here. Forty yards from goal, no threat whatsoever, and he has ploughed through Endri Cekici with two feet. He can have no complaints about the decision, and Serbia will have to play a man light for the next hour.

33 mins - Close in both games! Julian Draxler fizzes one just wide of the Swedish post in Munich, and in Dublin 10-man Serbia almost take the lead, Aleksandar Mitrovic flashing a low shot past the upright.

37 mins - Yellow Card - Simon Gustafsson (Sweden)

We have our first booking of the night and it goes to Lille midfielder Gustafsson and Sweden. It’s a lazy tackle, clipping the heels of Draxler in midfield, and it’s a deserved yellow card.

42 mins - Great save! Albanian dangerman Berkit Berisha finds some space on the edge of the area and lets fly, and only a diving stop from Peric stops the minnows taking the lead. The corner comes to nothing, still goalless.

45 mins - Simon Gustafsson needs to be careful here. He’s on a booking, but the Swedish midfielder goes spoiling for a fight with Ilkay Gundogan. Luckily for him the Manchester United man isn’t interested, but he’s walking a fine line is Gustafsson.

HALF TIME - Germany 1-0 Sweden, Albania 0-0 Serbia

Just the one minute of injury time in each game, and the teams retreat down their respective tunnels. Germany lead Sweden thanks to Timo Werner’s early goal and we’re scoreless in Dublin. Serbia, however, are down to 10 men thanks to Matija Nastasic’s rash challenge, and Albania have gradually worked their way into control of the match. Can they capitalise after the break?

Former Arsenal and Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann on BBC Radio 5 Live:

“Germany are in control of this game, and Werner looks like he wants more goals. You are always worried with a 1-0 lead, but if they can score again quickly this could be very one-sided. I don’t think Sweden have had a shot on target yet.”

Are Albania going to be one of the stories of this tournament? They held Scotland to a draw at Hampden and were unlucky not to win that game, and they have every chance of collecting three points against their fierce rivals here. A win would take them to four points, and you’d think that would be enough to go through…

Former Serbia captain Branislav Ivanovic on BBC Radio 5 Live:

“I’m worried for Serbia here. They have the better team but they aren’t playing well, they aren’t controlling their aggression and I’m surprised there haven’t been more cards shown by the referee. Berisha has found space once or twice already, and if we keep giving him chances he will score eventually.

What are your predictions for the second half? The teams are coming back out onto the pitch in Dublin and they’re not far behind in Munich, so let’s see what the second periods have in store.

47 mins - Yellow Card - Nemanja Matic (Serbia)

Branislav Ivanovic has just warned his team about over-aggressive tackling, and their captain Matic ends up in the book for a clumsy tackle on Berisha 30 yards from goal. Serbia need to be careful here.

50 mins - Yellow Card - Amir Xhaka (Albania)

It’s hard to see this one ending 11 vs 10 at this rate. Right winger Xhaka brings down Lazar Markovic and earns himself a place in the book. The Slovakian referee will need a new one soon.

55 mins - Things have calmed down a little in Dublin, but Sweden aren’t lying down in Munich. John Guidetti has just shot into Manuel Neuer’s arms from 25 yards, but it’s at least a statement of intent.

59 mins - Yellow Card - Sokol Kukeli (Albania)

There’s no excuse for that. Kukeli is penalised for a foul on Matic, but is then booked after kicking the ball away in frustration. That’s schoolboy stuff, his manager will be furious.

64 mins - GOAL! Germany 2-0 Sweden (Julian Draxler)

That should be that at the Allianz. Timo Werner scored the first and makes the second, his first-time flick falling perfectly for Julian Draxler to hammer in at the near post. Great football from the Germans, and that will be enough.

68 mins - Close! Mats Hummels deserves his pat on the back from Manuel Neuer there. The big goalkeeper got caught in no-man’s land there and Kristoffer Olsen’s lob would surely have dropped it had it not been for Hummels getting back in time. Germany can’t afford to switch off here.

72 mins - GOAL! Albania 1-0 Serbia (Armando Sadiku)

Albania take the lead! Serbia looked surprised when Berisha went off a moment ago, but his replacement Sadiku has scored with his first touch! They worked the ball well down the left, switched it across and the Basel forward had the simplest of finishes from Xhaka’s cross. Are Albania on the brink of qualification?

76 mins - Yellow Card - Lars Bender (Germany)

A touch careless there from German sub Bender. His heavy touch allows Guidetti to steal in, and all he can do in response is grab a handful of the striker’s shirt. In the book.

78 mins - Oh dear. The fans in Dublin have been well-behaved - until now. There’s a man wrapped in a Serbian flag on the pitch, and the game is held up while the stewards remove him. Not his finest hour.

83 mins - Germany are seeing this one out with ease. Mesut Ozil comes on for Mario Gotze - not a bad change to be able to make.

85 mins - RED CARD - Adem Ljajic (Serbia)

Serbia have lost it. Albania have a corner, it’s cleared to the edge of the box, and as Ljajic challenges for the bouncing ball he throws a clear elbow in the face of Kukeli, who goes down like a sack of spuds. Serbia are down to nine men, and Albania have five minutes left to claim a famous victory.

89 mins - Four minutes of injury time in Dublin, just the one in Munich. Germany are cruising to the finish line.

FULL TIME - Germany 2-0 Sweden

90+2 mins - Close! Armando Sadiku almost makes it 2-0! He bundles his way into the penalty area, Nemanja Matic daren’t touch him, but his shot is too close to Peric. Almost the icing on a fine Albanian cake.

FULL TIME - Albania 1-0 Serbia

Well, what an evening of football we have witnessed. Germany strolled to a 2-0 win over Sweden at the Allianz Arena to join the Netherlands with four points at the top of Group A, but the real story comes from Dublin where Albania have beaten nine-man Serbia by a goal to nil.

It might not register the same sort of shock as Iceland defeating Italy, but it is certainly not the result people expected when these groups were drawn. I’ll give the last word to former Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic, who has been tearing into his country on Radio 5 Live.

Former Serbia captain Branislav Ivanovic on BBC Radio 5 Live:

“Tonight will go down as one of the most humiliating nights in Serbian football history. The two red cards were stupid, incredibly stupid, and the players left did nothing to try and win the game. Only Peric and Mitrovic offered any fight, the rest were cowards from start to finish. Well done Albania, but Serbia should not be losing that match. It is embarrassing.”

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From goal.com

Henrikh Mkhitaryan - football’s greatest hipster

Since the advent of the internet, information on the most obscure corners of the footballing world has proliferated to the extent that anyone can become a football hipsters with little more than a second-hand Macbook, a Starbucks wi-fi code and a St Pauli jersey. Today, some of the original hipsters icons have gone mainstream - Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola are both managing their national teams after huge success at club level - and slipped to merely ‘cool,’ while others - Thomas Tuchel, Remi Garde, Chris Powell - have stepped into their places.

While managers remain popular with hipsters - thanks to large to the rise of long-form writing and the likes of Jonathan Wilson’s canonical Inverting The Pyramid - it is players who attract the most attention, with beard-wearing students the world over fawning over hard-to-pronounce stars from across the world. Juan Roman Riquelme, Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang, Alan Dzagoev, and now Brynjar Ragnarsson after his heroics against Italy in Rome have all been the subject of cult status as a result of their footballing talents. However, we at goal.com believe the ultimate hipster football is one often overlooked by the masses - Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Here’s why:

Choice of teams

Henrikh got off to a good start in life by being born in Armenia, a part of the world your average Brit couldn’t find on a map. Tucked away surrounded by equally-hip Georgia and Azerbaijan, any nation whose most famous landmark - Mount Ararat - is actually in another country is a great place to be born cool.

From then on things only get better for Mkhitaryan. He started off at Pyunik Yerevan, and after leading the team to undoubted success - four consecutive titles in his four years as a professional - he left for pastures new in not England, Spain or Italy, but Ukraine. And not with one of the big guns, but with Metalurg Donetsk of all teams. A goal every third game in a team at the wrong end of the table earned him a move to Shakhtar - a team famous for picking up promising young talent and selling at a profit - where he excelled alongside more heralded names such as Willian, Douglas Costa and Luiz Adriano.

While his team-mates moved to Chelsea, Bayern and Milan, Mkhitaryan was faced with the choice - the history, salary and reputation of Liverpool, or the young, exciting Jurgen Klopp project at Dortmund. For Henrikh, it was a no-brainer, and it was off to the Ruhr Valley he went. Now 31, his ageing legs no longer commanding a place in the first time, he decided to leave, but not for Marseille or Lazio, the first two established teams to place a bid. No, instead Mkhitaryan left for the fabulously hip Udinese, where he will no doubt be a great success. Great move, Henrikh!

The right kind of success

There is no denying that Mkhitaryan’s career has been very impressive, and his personal medal haul would be envied by the vast majority of footballers to have played the game. This could pose a problem - after all, success isn’t cool - but it is worth stopping to see exactly what it is that our hipster hero has achieved.

Mkhitaryan has won eight league titles, which would perhaps be a few too many for anyone willing to be truly hip. However, their locations - four in Armenia, three in Ukraine and one with Dortmund in Germany - makes for an undoubtedly cool career, and the five domestic cups - one with Pyunik, three with Shakhtar and one with Dortmund - are a fine accompaniment. That Mkhitaryan’s only continental trophy has been the hipster-friendly Europa League rather than the far too mainstream Champions League is testament to his indie abilities.

The test of time

As any band struggling with the all-important second album will tell you, the test of time is a crucial one for any would-be hipsters to pass. After all, to have fans who knew you before you made it, you have to make it to the top and stay there a while. Mkhitaryan’s longevity is the final string to his craft beer bow.

At the age of 31, he finds himself with a hip Italian club in the hip Europa League, while captaining his hip home nation to their first ever European Championship. So good does Mkhitaryan remain in the twilight of his career that, while most of Europe was obsessing over England vs Scotland last night, he was busy breaking new ground for his Caucasian comrades, slotting home the winner from the penalty spot against Poland to earn Armenia their first ever win at a major international tournament.

As we have undoubtedly proved, Henrikh Mkhitaryan is the greatest hipster footballer the world has ever seen, and yet so often he is overlooked by skinny-jeans-wearing Blizzard readers in favour of the next big enganche from Athletic Bilbao’s cantera or the brightest regista from Burkina Faso. To be honest, it’s probably best that way. The longer he remains unrecognised, the longer we can say we knew about him first.

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Thanks Ben - I'm a big fan of Mkhitaryan so the tribute felt right!

--

Jonathan Pearce: “The energy inside this Parken stadium is incredible Michael, you must have loved playing here?”

Michael Laudrup: “Yes Jonathan, of course. Every Danish boy wants to play for his country, and this is a special place.”

JP: “If you’re just tuning in I’m joined by Everton manager and Denmark legend Michael Laudrup, who will be providing analysis and insight into tonight’s European Championship clash between England and Scotland. Michael, has Denmark hosted a bigger game than this?”

ML: “Actually it has Jonathan, we hosted the Champions League final just last year. It was when Barcelona beat…”

JP: “Well the atmosphere in the stands tonight is superb, you’d think we were at Wembley or Hampden with the noise that is being made. And as the Portuguese referee checks his watch, here are how the two teams line up.

“England, wearing their all-white strip and kicking from left to right, will start with Hart in goal, a back four of Shaw, Stones, Vincent and Clyne, Phil Jones in the holding role behind Ross Barkley and captain Jack Wilshere, and James Owuso up front flanked by Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. It’s the same team which beat Serbia in the last match, and a big show of faith in young James Vincent.”

ML: “Scotland have Liam Fraser in goal protected by Robertson, Hanley, Wilson and Paterson, a midfield four of Forrest, MacArthur, Gauld and McGregor, and two up front in Jack Harper and Jordan Rhodes. A few changes to the team that only managed a draw with Albania in the previous game.”

JP: “Does any of that surprise you at all Michael?”

ML: “Not really. Villas-Boas clearly believes in Vincent in defence and doesn’t want to change a winning formula, and Gary Caldwell needed to make changes. He’s very bold lining up in an attacking 4-4-2 against this England team, but after Albania’s win yesterday a draw might not enough for him.”

JP: “Harper and Rhodes are about to kick off, a quick prediction before we start Michael? A fierce, frantic, battle of a game?”

ML: “Actually I think England will win easily, Scotland are not good enough but will score. Maybe 3-1.”

JP: “MacArthur loses out to Barkley, great challenge by the Chelsea man. Here comes Oxlade-Chamberlain, he’s got runners with him on both sides…”

ML: “If he plays this correctly to Sterling, England score.”

JP: “He does find Sterling’s run, and the Manchester City winger backheels it straight back to him. Oxlade-Chamberlain shapes to shoot, dummies, finds OWUSO! England lead!”

ML: “Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sterling did very well there. The diagonal run drew the defence, and the return pass gave Chamberlain too much space. And a great pass to find Owuso.”

JP: “Copenhagen feels like London right now as James Owuso celebrates, what a start for England! We’ve only been playing for 12 minutes and it’s England 1-0 Scotland. Andre Villas-Boas will be delighted with that.”

JP: “That’ll be comfortable for Joe Hart but a good effort from Harper, a warning sign from Scotland perhaps.”

ML: “It wasn’t a bad shot, but really he should have looked for Rhodes there. He was in a better position, and you can tell he’s frustrated by that. Someone who trained at Real Madrid should do better there.”

...

JP: “It’s two for England! It’s Ross Barkley, it’s 25 yards out, and it’s an absolute screamer - Michael, how good a strike was that?”

ML: “That’s a great strike, no doubt about it. He’s hit it with so much power that Fraser didn’t have time to react, and he’s found the top corner. He scored one like that against us last year at Goodison Park, although the fans weren’t quite as pleased as they are tonight!”

JP: “Indeed Michael, Parken is rocking after that second England goal. Half an hour gone and it’s England 2-0 Scotland.”

JP: “Harper gives it to Rhodes, who finds MacGregor, MacGregor into the box, goes down…”

ML: “Penalty.”

JP: “The referee has given a penalty! Nathaniel Clyne is adamant it wasn’t a foul, but Scotland have a lifeline here Michael.”

ML: “Yes, he can protest all his likes but Clyne stood on his foot as he went past, it’s a clear foul. A great chance for Scotland, they’ve barely attacked in this first half but could get a goal right on the whistle.”

JP: “It looks like it’ll be Jordan Rhodes to take the spotkick. Rhodes against Hart from 12 yards...scores! That’ll be the last kick of the first half and Scotland are right back in this game, it’s 2-1 Michael!”

ML: “Yes it is, but I wouldn’t get too carried away if I was Gary Caldwell. The score is a little kind to them at the minute, he will still need to make changes.”

JP: “No substitutions for either side at the break then Michael, can you see Scotland getting back into this one?”

ML: “Not really. Apart from the penalty Rhodes has done nothing, and Ryan Gauld needs to get on the ball more, they’ve got to get it to him. I’d take Rhodes off, maybe for Bannan, and see if they can share more of the possession.”

JP: “I somehow can’t see Gary Caldwell taking off a striker when they’re chasing the game Michael. Here’s Sterling, but he’s run out of room there and that’ll be throw-in to Scotland.”

ML: “No Jonathan, it’s not that simple. If you think of the last defender as a…”

JP: “Sorry Michael I’ll have to stop you there. Here come England again with Wilshere, out to Oxlade-Chamberlain who has switched to the left, back to Wilshere once more…”

ML: “Owuso is free in the middle…”

JP: “Wilshere chips it into Owuso, it’s just a little behind the Manchester United man. Owuso can’t shake off Danny Wilson, he tries again but it’s good defending from the Rangers man, Owuso will have to play it off to BARKLEY! 3-1!”

ML: “There he is again with the power, it’s not always pretty but it’s very hard to stop. Fraser didn’t even move then, his defender did such a good job covering Owuso that he couldn’t see the ball.”

JP: “Liam Fraser was beaten by the pure pace of the shot from Ross Barkley, and that’s two in the game for the Chelsea midfielder. Is that game over for Scotland? They’ve got 20 minutes to go and only one substitution left.”

ML: “Almost certainly. If they throw on another striker, England will open them up at will. England have won this now.”

JP: “We’re going to have four minutes of added time at the end of this one, with England leading by three goals to one. Here come Scotland, but Forrest has passed straight to Walcott and England are on the attack.”

ML: “You don’t want to give the ball to someone as quick as Walcott on the break.”

JP: “He could punish Scotland here, Theo Walcott. He goes past one, skips over the challenge of Grant Hanley, into the area, shoots but Fraser saves! Sterling on the rebound, goal! England lead 4-1!”

ML: “That was coming as soon as Walcott got the ball. He’s so direct and Scotland had too many men forward. Fraser was unlucky with the rebound, but Sterling reacted very well there.”

JP: “His eyes lit up when that ball bounced back off the goalkeeper, and Danny Wilson was never going to win that race. An easy finish, but it means Scotland are well beaten here.”

JP: “That’s it, it’s all over. Jorge Costa blows his whistle and England have not just beaten but thrashed Scotland, 4-1 the final result. Any final thoughts Michael?”

ML: “England were just too strong, and Scotland played into their hands by starting with such an attacking team. Two strikers, Gauld and MacGregor meant England had the midfield, and you can’t do that against Wilshere and Barkley. It was too easy for them.”

JP: “Well my thanks to Michael Laudrup on this great night for English football, Scotland are vanquished by four goals to one and a place in the last 16 is confirmed. Back to the studio.”

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Thanks 10-3, both for your encouragement and showing up of my non-existent Latin!

--

From the sports pages of The Guardian

French failure should come as no surprise

LAURENT Blanc will wake up this morning hoping that the events of yesterday evening were in fact a terrible dream. After an opening round draw with Denmark, his French side saw their first half lead wiped out against Switzerland, had Eliaqium Mangala sent off in the second period, and then conceded a late winner to a side unfancied by most at the European Championship.

It will be a bad case of deja vu for Blanc, 54, whose previous spell in charge of Les Bleus was also marked by failure at UEFA’s biggest international event. Back in 2012, his side made it through the group stages despite picking up just a single point from their opening two games, only to suffer an immediate defeat to eventual champions Spain. Here, with a clash against group leaders Ukraine - the team France beat to progress in 2012 - still to come, France will once again need last-day heroics if they are to meet even the minimum expectations.

Should his side not manage to overcome their Ukrainian counterparts, the collective shrug from the majority of Europe will speak volumes about the widespread perception of the French team. At each international tournament they emerge with a new, young team apparently free of their old problems, only to fail into the same traps as sides gone by. That Blanc was brought back as manager at all is typical of the French cycle.

Last night, after Denmark and Ukraine had played out a dull goalless draw, France’s clash with Switzerland provided them with the ideal opportunity to seize the initiative and overtake their upcoming opponents at the head of Group D. The Swiss are an effective but uninspiring team whose best days are arguably behind them, and on paper the French should have been comfortable winners.

For roughly 35 of the 90 minutes played last night, the statistics played out. Nabil Fekir’s headed finish gave Blanc’s men a deserved lead, but as soon as Xherdan Shaqiri muscled his way into the penalty area to shoot beneath the dive of Hugo Lloris, there was only ever going to be one result.

Mangala, whose career has been on a steady downward spiral since his ill-advised move from Porto to Manchester City in 2014, typified the lack of French discipline with a needless red card midway through the second half. With Josip Drmic in a threatening position but covered by the position of Raphael Varane, the Galatasaray centre-back still felt the need to clip the striker’s heels and earn himself a second yellow card. It was a rash decision, leaving his team-mates in the lurch, and ultimately cost France the match.

That it was Drmic who scored the winning goal will only add insult to injury, but the fact is that France is a footballing nation which seems incapable of dealing with setbacks. Had they beaten Denmark in their first match,there is little doubt that they would have cruised to victory against the Swiss and qualified for the next stage with a match to spare. However, after having their confidence knocked in Copenhagen, they were never going to recover in time for last night in Brussels.

Perhaps French football needs to take a leaf out of the Italian book - the Azzurri bounced back from that shock defeat to Iceland with a thoroughly professional 2-0 win over Belgium in Bilbao, their two first half goals never once threatened by ill discipline or fragile confidence. However, whatever the cause of yet another French failure, it is obvious that something needs to change within the culture of the game rather than simply by changing the manager each time. Laurent Blanc is not the right man for the job - this will be second set of evidence against him - but without a change of attitude and approach, nor will be whichever unfortunate Gallic soul replaces him.

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“...And so despite that late goal, Northern Ireland couldn’t find the second they needed to earn them a point. That proved to be the last significant moment in this second round of matches, so before we close for the night let’s have a look at who needs what going into the crucial last set of fixtures.”

The camera cuts from the Sky Sports studio to a classic Sky blue background, with each group table dropping into place on the left of the screen and the fixtures on the right. National team badges spin unnecessarily in the tables.

“In Group A it’s a case of finalising the order of the top three, although in theory all four teams remain in with a chance. Successive defeats for Montenegro mean they are out barring a huge goal difference turnaround, and ahead of them in third are Sweden, who are likely to stay there unless they can beat the Dutch in Bilbao. Germany and the Netherlands sit top on four points each, with the Oranje leading their old rivals by virtue of having scored one more goal.

“In Group B, two wins for England mean they are guaranteed a top two finish, while surprise package Albania will fancy their chances of joining them in the knockout rounds. They face the Three Lions in Munich, but four points should be enough to put them through as one of the best four third-place teams at worst. Scotland and Serbia meet in Amsterdam knowing that only a win will be enough to be sure of qualification, with a draw likely to see both teams eliminated.

“Group C remains wide open, with Russia the favourites to come through as winners ahead of their match against Poland in Baku. The Poles have just a single point after their defeat to Armenia, so need a win to have any chance of progressing. The other game sees Armenia and Croatia go head-to-head in Bucharest, where any result except a Croatian victory sees the minnows of Armenia into the last 16.

“In Group D, Ukraine go into their game against France knowing that avoiding defeat would be enough to progress, whereas Laurent Blanc’s men need a win to move on. Switzerland take on Denmark in the remaining fixture, with the Swiss sitting second in the group. Denmark, who have played out two goalless draws, need a win to qualify at their opponents’ expense.

“Group E is anyone’s group, with all four teams going into the final round knowing they could top the table. Iceland are the surprise leaders after the famous win over Italy and a goalless draw with Norway, and a point against Belgium would send them through. The Italians have three points and face a Norwegian side with two in Dublin, meaning only a win can propel the Norwegians into the top two. Trailing in fourth are Belgium with just a single point after their defeat to Italy in the second round, but a win over Iceland would be enough to overtake the minnows into second place at least.

“And finally to Group F, which features Spain as the only team other than England to be sure of qualification after two wins. Romania’s win over Northern Ireland puts them in the best position ahead of their clash with the Spaniards, while the Czechs’ game against Northern Ireland could be the opportunity they need to squeeze through ahead of the Romanians. Northern Ireland, despite two defeats, could still make it through as a lucky loser in third with a win.

“As you can see, there is still everything to play for as we head into the final set of fixtures, the four third-place spots meaning that no team has been eliminated at this stage. Only two of the 16 knockout spots have been taken, and every team will know exactly what they need to do to go through. It’s bound to be exciting, and we’ll have all the action right here, live on Sky Sports.”

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From the sports pages of The Independent

Klopp: First place means nothing

GERMANY will have “no regrets” about missing out on top spot in their European Championship group, according to manager Jurgen Klopp.

Klopp, 53, watched his team cruise into the knockout phase of this year’s tournament with a 3-1 victory over Montenegro - who finish the group with three successive losses - but miss out on top spot on goal difference after The Netherlands defeated Sweden 3-0.

“It is frustrating to play such good football and not to finish first,” said the popular manager, “but at this stage of the tournament the position doesn’t matter. First, second, even third - as long as you qualify, that is the most important.”

Four of the group winners are rewarded for their success with knockout ties against the four third-place qualifiers, while two others will take on runners-up for other groups. However, Klopp does not believe the Dutch have secured a large advantage for themselves by pipping his Germans to the top spot.

“If you look at the teams in this tournament, there are no easy opponents. Yes, we could play England or Spain, but Holland could play Italy, France. Even teams like Iceland and Albania are dangerous in single games - we’ve seen that already.

“We will be ready for anybody, we do our homework. I always prefer to let the opponent worry about us, and we will continue that approach.”

While Germans may worry about facing a group winner in the next round, they will be the team every top side wants to avoid in the last 16. With Thomas Muller once again finding the net and the likes of Julian Draxler, Leon Goretzka and Mario Gotze combining to lethal effect in the final third, Germany possess one of the strongest attacking threats in the tournament. England will want to avoid them at all costs.

The Dutch, on the other hand, have grown into the tournament after throwing away a two-goal lead in their first game, and looked thoroughly professional in their 3-0 win over Sweden. With star forward Memphis Depay rested, Ajax winger Ricardo Kishna stepped up with two goals of his own to add to an early header from PSV Eindhoven’s Nathan Ake as the Swedes were nullified. They will hope the three points they collected in their own win over Montenegro will be enough to see them through as a lucky loser, but from Group A it is the Dutch and German teams who look like possible winners of the tournament.

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“I’m Rio Ferdinand and you’re listening to talkSPORT, the only place to listen to Euro 2020, and we’re talking England and Scotland after a mixed night for the home nations. England go through with a 2-0 win over Albania, while Scotland finish the group stage without a win after conceding another late goal in their draw with Serbia. I’ve got Darren on the line in Aberdeen, would do you want to say mate?”

“What a disgrace that was Rio, an absolute shambles. Caldwell’s got to go after this, he’s too naive. You can’t keep two strikers on to protect a lead in international football, it’s madness. Time for him to go.”

“Strong words Darren mate, strong words. Steve in Bristol, we’ve spoken before!”

“Hi Rio pal, belting show tonight. Just wanted to say what a great performance from the lads tonight, very professional. I’d have liked to see a couple more goals though, Owuso’s only got one so far so maybe it’s time for Theo to have a go down the middle.”

“Interesting mate, but will AVB change a winning team? Greg in Birmingham, what would you do?”

“Nice one Rio - I’d stick to the same team to be honest, Owuso looks good to me. I just hope we don’t get the Germans in the next round - anyone else and I reckon we can give ‘em a good stuffing.”

“Confidence, that’s what we like to hear! Dunc in Glasgow, you were at the Albania game?”

“I was yeah, and after that rubbish I don’t want Scotland to qualify. If we sneak through we’ll get destroyed by one of the big teams, it’ll be embarrassing. Caldwell needs to go now, not good enough.”

“It doesn’t sound like Gary Caldwell is a very popular man north of the border, but don’t forget there’s still a slim chance Scotland can qualify for the last 16 - surely that’s a good result? On to England now for our last caller, and we’ve got Jack in Croyden.”

“Yeah hi Rio, great show by the way. I reckon Ross Barkley might just be the best midfielder in the world right now, what a player he is. Three goals already, as good a tackler as anyone, great vision - if he was foreign he’d be up for the Ballon D’Or. As long as he stays fit, England keep winning - bring on Spain I say.”

“That’s fighting talk from young Jack there, and that’s a question for everybody out there - is there a better midfielder in the world right now than Ross Barkley? Is there anyone England should be scared of? Who do you want in the next round? Join me after the break when I’ll be talking to Wayne Rooney, Peter Crouch and Steven Gerrard about those things and much, much more.”

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From uefa.com

Davor Suker: I am sad for Croatia, but enjoying the tournament

After his beloved Croatia moved close to the Euro 2020 exit door with a 3-1 defeat to Armenia last night, uefa.com spoke to UEFA President Davor Suker about his national team, the best players, and the multi-city format.

Q: Croatia’s loss to Armenia means they need to hope for third-place qualification to the round of 16 - how do you feel about the team’s performance?

A: Of course it is always disappointing to see your team lose, especially against a surprise team like Armenia. But I think as long as there is hope then Croatia should believe, two points may still be enough to qualify and then everything is new.

Q: Armenia have surprised a lot of people by finishing second in Group C, have you been shocked by their results?

A: This is Armenia’s first tournament, so you do not know what to expect, but they have played very well. If Russia had not beaten Poland they would have won the group, which is very impressive after losing their opening match. I am very pleased for the people of Armenia and their team.

Q: There have been a number of shock results in the tournament so far, do you feel the 24-team format encourages upsets?

A: I believe 24 teams is the ideal number for the European Championship. You always want the best teams at your tournament, and having too few excludes some of them. People have said 24 is too many, but look at the teams who did not qualify - Portugal, Turkey, Greece, for example.

You also want a tournament to be unpredictable and exciting, and we have certainly seen that this year. Who would have expected Italy 2-3 Iceland, or Albania and Armenia to progress? I am glad we have 24 teams in the competition.

Q: When Michel Platini announced the format for Euro 2020, he said he wanted it to be a ‘Festival of Football’ across Europe. Has the tournament achieved that in your opinion?

A: Definitely, and we are still in the group stages! Some people didn’t like the idea of travelling between countries, but we want UEFA to promote our sport in all countries, not just the wealthy or successful ones.

Also, we have allowed spectators to see matches they would otherwise not be able to witness - when else would England play Scotland in Denmark, France play Ukraine in Budapest, or Spain vs Czech Republic in Baku? We are taking world class football to all these places, and the fans have responded incredibly well. The teams enjoy it too, as long as everybody has to fly.

Q: Finally, who do you think will win Euro 2020?

A: I can’t answer that question! I think there are many strong teams still in the tournament - Germany, Netherlands, England, Russia - and some surprises like Armenia, but we are not even in the round of 16 yet, and I do not want to make a predictions!

I am surprised that France have not progressed, however. People will complain about Denmark playing three 0-0 results, but opponents have to score to win and France couldn’t do that. Denmark may go through now, and they should be congratulated.

Thank you for your time Davor, enjoy the rest of the tournament.

No problem, you’re very welcome.

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I'd love it if Davor Suker was UEFA President! He's such a nice guy and I had a huge soft spot for him during his (alas all too brief) time at Arsenal.

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Well, he is a VP at the moment and with Platini unlikely to return, you might just get your wish! Thanks for reading Ben!

--

“So this is it for Northern Ireland, a win here and we know now that they will qualify at the expense of Croatia. Scotland are out of Euro 2020 after Belgium beat Iceland earlier, so it’s do or die for Michael O’Neill’s men. I’m Alan Green, and joining me on BBC Radio 5 Live tonight is Gerry Armstrong, good evening sir.”

“Good evening Alan, a pleasure to be here. What a night this could be for Northern Irish football. Our first European Championships didn’t end so well in 2016, but the FA have kept the faith with O’Neill and he has repaid them with another big tournament this time. Win here, and we find ourselves in the knockout rounds.”

“We do Gerry, and why not? We may only be a small country, but so are Albania, Armenia and Iceland and all three of them have made it to the next round. We’ve got a cracking match lined up here in St Petersburg, and we’ll keep you up to date with what’s going in Rome between Spain and Romania, Spain already through remember.”

“It’s been a quiet opening 10 minutes here in Russia, but that’s not been the case over in Italy. Jacqui Oatley has been watching for us.”

“That’s right Alan, Spain may already be through but they’ve come out meaning business, and Munir has just put them 1-0 ahead. A simple finish really, tucking away Isco’s pass, and already it looks like Romania have a tough task on their hands here. Spain 1-0 Romania.”

“Thanks Jacqui, remember whatever happens in Rome, Northern Ireland need to beat the Czechs here to go through. Here come the Czechs though, and that’s a poor effort from Vydra to be honest, you’d expect better from him.”

“You would Alan, but Northern Ireland will take that - they gave the ball away cheaply and Vydra should at least be hitting the target there.”

“Corry Evans comes forward, this is more like it from Northern Ireland. Out wide to Brunt, the old man of the squad at 35 but still going strong, Brunt curls one in and it’s MCLAUGHLIN! Get in Stevie boy, it’s Steven McLaughlin and it’s 1-0 Northern Ireland!

“What a ball in that is from Chris Brunt on the right. He may not have the pace any more, but when you can cross a football like that you don’t need to run. That’s gone 35 yards straight onto the head of young McLaughlin, and all he has to do is let it brush his hair on the way. What a ball by Chris Brunt, has he put Northern Ireland into the knockout round?”

“We’ll wait and see Gerry, but that was something special. Stevie McLaughlin, loaned to St Mirren by Celtic last season, may have scored one of the biggest goals in his country’s recent history.”

“Cathcart dives in on Kadlec, that’s a foul and Cathcart could be in trouble here… yellow, much to his relief.”

“That was a little silly from the Huddersfield man Alan, Evans had him covered and he wasn’t going anywhere. Cathcart will have to watch himself now.”

“Vydra stands over the free-kick, but again that’s poor and Northern Ireland can clear. I can’t see him staying on for 90 minutes with shooting like that.

“Well that’s half-time, and Northern Ireland are 45 minutes from the last 16 of Euro 2020. Do not go anywhere - we’ll be back in 15 minutes for what is sure to be a thrilling second half.”

“Fifteen minutes gone in the second half, and we’ve got news of a goal in Rome - Jacqui Oatley.”

“Thanks Alan, you’ve heard correctly and unsurprisingly it’s Spain who have scored, Morata this time heading home and Spain will be joining England in the last 16 with a perfect record in the group stage. It looks like Romania will be relying on your boys to go through at this rate Alan.”

“Thanks Jacqui, no pressure then! We’ll need to survive this first, Petrak finding Kadlec on the edge of the area, Kadlec turns and shoots, OH NO! That’s taken a huge deflection off Jonny Evans and left Tommy Brown with absolutely no chance, the Czechs are level Gerry.”

“That’s so cruel on Jonny Evans, so very cruel. As soon as it hit him it was in, Brown could do nothing about it. All that hard work is for nothing now, and this is effectively a half-hour shoot-out now Alan.”

“You’re right Gerry, a draw does neither side any favours here. You’d expect both teams to go for it from here.”

“OFF! He’s got to go, and he does! It’s Kalas, the Newcastle man, and he trudges off with his head on the floor, has he just cost his team the game?”

“It’s a clear red though, he can’t complain. McLaughlin was in on goal there, but Kalas sent him sprawling. What a twist this is, just 12 minutes to go and the Czechs a man. We’re not done here either, Brunt with the free kick…”

“NO! Chris Brunt hits the post and the Czechs survive, how close can Northern Ireland get?”

“Chris Brunt has played out of his skin tonight Alan - he’s going to put in the full 90 minutes at 35 years of age, and he’s dragging this team into the knockouts. A hero of a player.”

“That’ll be a corner to Northern Ireland, and who else but Chris Brunt will take it. Outswinging ball to the penalty spot…”

“EVANS! IT’S IN! Jonny Evans has surely headed Northern Ireland into the last 16! He’s up like a salmon above the Czech defence, it’s a textbook header and Vaclik can’t get a hand on it. Northern Ireland are four minutes away Gerry, four minutes!”

“This Zenit Arena might as well be Windsor Park right now, the Northern Irish fans have absolutely lost it in their end. Jonny Evans, who half an hour ago basically put through his own net, has surely done it now for his team.”

“Four minutes Gerry, four minutes!”

“The Czechs go long to Necid, but Cathcart is there and it’s headed away. Time’s up ref, blow the whistle!”

“Not yet, not yet he says and in it goes again, but there’s Evans and the captain gets highest again. It falls to Brunt who'll bring it away, surely...YES! Northern Ireland have done it!”

“I can’t quite believe it Gerry, what a night! Northern Ireland 2-1 Czech Republic, Stevie McLaughlin and Jonny Evans are national heroes, Chris Brunt is a national hero, they’re all heroes. Michael O’Neill should be knighted for this - what a performance!”

“I don’t know about knighted Alan, but it is a fantastic achievement from this team. They may have left it late, but Northern Ireland have pulled it out of the bag at exactly the right time. What a game we’ve seen here St Petersburg.”

“Chris Brunt is leading the players over to the Northern Irish fans, they’re celebrating as if they’ve won the whole tournament. What a moment for this team, what a moment for Northern Ireland!”

“It certainly is Alan, and they’ll feel they can take on anyone in the next round now, confidence will be so high.”

“It will Gerry, and of course we’ll know tonight exactly who Michael O’Neill’s men will be facing. That draw and more to come soon, but back to Colin in the studio for more on a wonderful night here in Russia.”

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From BBC Sport

Euro 2020 predictions: Lawro vs England legend Wayne Rooney

BBC Football’s expert Mark Lawrenson is pitting his wits and knowledge against a different opponent for each round of Euro 2020, with things hotting up as the knockout rounds arrive.

Lawro’s opponent for the last 16 is none other than England’s record goalscorer Wayne Rooney, who was ruled out of Andre Villas-Boas’ squad with a thigh injury. Wayne is backing England to ease into the quarter-finals, and has picked one or two surprises in his choices.

“I think England have got a great chance to finally win the trophy, and even though we haven’t had the best record against Sweden in the past I reckon AVB and the lads can win this one comfortably,” he said.

“If I were pick another team to look out for it’d be Italy. They always hit top form at just the right time, and you can’t be too distracted by their slow start - they’re always dangerous.”

See the rest of Rooney’s predictions below:

Belgium vs Ukraine

The last 16 kicks off in Budapest with two teams whose progress to the knockout round has been quiet and unassuming. Ukraine went unbeaten to top a group which contained disappointing France a strong Swiss team, while Belgium snuck through in third place behind Italy and surprise package Iceland.

For both teams, it has been defence which has come out on top - Ukraine have scored three goals, Belgium just two. Yet there is undoubtedly attacking potential in both sides with the likes of Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Yevgen Konoplyanka and Andrei Yarmolenko, and both sides will fancy their chances of the making it to the last eight,

Lawro’s prediction: Both teams have done well to get here but you’d be massively surprised if they made it to the semis, let alone won it. Belgium are the better team for me. 2-0.

Rooney’s prediction: Having played against Eden Hazard, I know exactly how good is. He can win this on his own for Belgium. 1-0.

England vs Sweden

AVB’s England were one of just two teams to qualify for the last 16 with a 100 per cent record, and the form in particular of Chelsea midfielder Ross Barkley has been very impressive. Amsterdam is the ideal venue for the legions of fans who have so far followed the Three Lions across Europe, and they will be hopeful against a Swedish team who have historically caused plenty of problems for the men in white.

But Sweden can no longer call on the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and John Guidetti will not give Joe Hart the same kind of nightmares. Sweden have made it this far despite not threatening Holland and Germany, and England will take confidence from a leaky defence.

Lawro’s prediction: Sweden have been a problem in the past, but England have been very good so far and the midfield is full of goals. I think we could see a big win here. 4-0.

Rooney’s prediction: Barkley is on fire and Owuso is due a couple of goals, and for me Sweden has looked very ordinary so far. 3-1.

Armenia vs Switzerland

Very few would have predicted this last 16 match before the tournament started, Lawro included - he picked three defeats for Armenia and Switzerland to finish bottom of their group without a win. But Vardan Minasyan’s team have surprised many, and with Henrikh Mkhitaryan controlling play from midfield the underdogs will be confident or springing another shock here.

Switzerland’s progress has been much more understated, beating France and taking a point from Denmark to qualify despite an opening round defeat to Ukraine. Xherdan Shaqiri is the man to watch yet again for the Swiss, who will be very pleased to have avoided the big guns in the last 16.

Lawro’s prediction: 0-2.

Rooney’s prediction: 1-1, Switzerland to win on penalties.

Denmark vs Russia

Denmark have set their stall out very clearly in this tournament - sit tight, take no risks, and let the opposition do all the hard work. Remarkably, their conservative approach has been fruitful, three consecutive 0-0 draws earning them a place in last 16 at France’s expense. Whether they can continue to rely on their defence as the opposition gets tougher remains to be seen.

Russia, on the other hand, have been very impressive, putting four past Armenia in their first game and only dropping points in a scrappy draw with Croatia. Glasgow is not ideal territory for either team, but they will both be pleased to be in northern Europe rather than Bilbao, Rome or Baku.

Lawro’s prediction: I can’t ignore the form book can I? Denmark to win on penalties, 0-0.

Rooney’s prediction: Russia will be too good for Denmark. 0-2.

Northern Ireland vs The Netherlands

Few who saw it will eve forget Northern Ireland’s dramatic final group game against the Czech Republic, when Jonny Evans headed the winner with just four minutes remaining after scoring an own goal earlier in the half. Confidence will be high in the Northern Irish camp, but Michael O’Neill’s men will have a tough time against a free-scoring Dutch side.

Holland netted eight goals in their three group games to top Group A ahead of Germany, and Frank de Boer’s men look in ominous form as they seek a first international title in decades. Real Madrid’s Memphis Depay has already shown why he commanded a £60 million transfer fee to prise him from Liverpool two years ago, and if he is firing once more then Holland could be a very dangerous team indeed.

Lawro’s prediction: The fairytale ends here I’m afraid, and it could be nasty. 0-3.

Rooney’s prediction: There are always surprises in knockout football, so why not Northern Ireland? 2-1.

Iceland vs Spain

Eidur Gudjohnsen’s Iceland side could have a Hollywood blockbuster written about them, and we are only in the last 16. A famous, shocking victory over Italy in Rome was followed by a goalless draw against Norway and then a nervous wait to see if they would go through after defeat by Belgium. They did, and they will hoping their own remarkable journey can keep going in the face of Pep Guardiola’s Spain.

But few will bet against Spain, who have three wins from three and looked very comfortable in the group stage. Barcelona’s Munir is the main goal threat, but there are very few weak links in a team hoping to emulate the class of 2008 and 2012 in lifting the European Championship trophy.

Lawro’s prediction: Spain are too strong. 1-3.

Rooney’s prediction: 0-2

Germany vs Romania

Jurgen Klopp told reporters that he didn’t mind finishing second in Group A, but he will have been relieved to have drawn a fellow runner-up rather than one of the group winners. His German team have been scoring plenty of goals and will be comfortable favourites against unfancied Romania. Watch out for Timo Werner, who hit form in the groups and will fancy a shot at the Golden Boot.

Romania are not expected to make any further progress, and have done well to make it this far after Spain’s domination of Group F. They’ve only conceded three goals in the tournament so far, so Germany won’t have things all their own way in Brussels, where the Belgian fans will surely lend their backing to the underdog.

Lawro’s prediction: Romania have done well, but Germany are the better team. 1-0.

Rooney’s prediction: 3-2

Albania vs Italy

Another one nobody could have predicted. Albania looked on paper to be the whipping boys of Group B, but a draw against Scotland and victory in a bad-tempered game against Serbia have brought them to the last 16 against the odds. Berket Berisha remains the man to watch in their well-organised side, but the Dinamo Moscow will have to work hard against this Italian defence.

Italy, despite crashing against Iceland at home, made it through as group winners on goal difference and as such will be delighted with the draw. There is history between these two nations politically, but on neutral ground in Bilbao that shouldn’t have too much of an impact. Italy are famed for their slow starts, and are favourites to make it to the quarters here.

Lawro’s prediction: Italy have had their shock, but they’ve woken up now. 0-2.

Rooney’s prediction: I like Albania and reckon they might take it to extra time, but no more. 0-1.

If Lawro’s predictions are on the money, the Euro 2020 quarter-finals would look like this:

Belgium vs Switzerland

England vs Spain

Italy vs Russia

Germany vs The Netherlands

Make sure you follow all the action on BBC1, BBC2 and BBC Radio 5 Live, and see whether or not our man knows his stuff!

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From the sports pages of The Independent

Ukrainian phoenix gives hope from ashes of war

Five years ago, the Donestk and Lugansk regions of eastern Ukraine were almost completely cut off from the rest of the the country, a separatist movement backed by Russian ‘volunteers’ threatening to tear the country in two as part of a proxy war between NATO and Moscow.

Today, three years after the Baku peace deal, the regions are still struggling to find their place in the new Ukraine, with towns and cities slowly be rebuild after the devastating fighting displaced thousands of people and destroyed the lives of thousands more. Donetsk, once the most important city in Ukraine behind capital Kyiv, is only now beginning to find its feet.

Yet despite the huge social and economic cost of the war, Ukraine’s sport-obsessed population has been seeking solace in an unlikely source - its country’s football team. The precedent has been set in the recent past with Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk and Dynamo Kyiv reaching successive Europa League finals before Shakhtar Donetsk took Juventus to extra time in this year’s Champions League decider, and now at Euro 2020 it is Oleg Luzhnyi’s team which has captured the imagination of a nation.

Last night’s 1-0 win over Belgium, Ukraine’s third clean sheet in four matches at the tournament, booked their place in the quarter-finals - just three games from potential glory that seemed unthinkable at the height of the conflict. Their achievement surpasses their results at Euro 2012, when they co-hosted the tournament with Poland and were eliminated in the group phase, and former Arsenal defender Luzhnyi has been quick to thank the Ukrainian people for rallying behind his team on their European tour.

Back home, the feeling is mutual. Igor, a welder in a Donetsk factory, said the team’s success was making him happier.

“I am a Shakhtar fan, so I was very sad after we lost to Juventus,” he told us in a cafe across the road from a partially-rebuilt bombsite, “but the national team is making everyone feel better. We are showing everyone that Ukraine is not just a place for war, but a place of great sportsmen and great football too.”

His thoughts were echoed by Grigori, an architecture student in Mariupol - scene of some of the fiercest fighting in what is now known as the civil war.

“Of course everybody is watching the football,” he said between slurps of cabbage soup. “It will be very good if we can reach the final, and maybe this time a Ukrainian team can win one.”

It is true to say that the enthusiasm is more prominent among younger members of the population - two more elderly residents we approached declined to speak to us, saying they were not interested in football - but it seems that the national team’s fortunes matter a lot more to the average Ukrainian than a Belgian, Swiss or even neighbouring Russian. It is a theme manager Luzhnyi picked up on after last night’s victory.

“The players live and work all over Europe,” he told the assembled press. “But we hear the support from home, we know how much this means to our country, and we want to win for the Ukrainian people, not just ourselves. We want to make our country proud.”

If Ukraine are able to repeat their last 16 heroics in their quarter-final, they will surely do just that.

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Good story, sir! It was look like realistic, trying to reflect the real-life Euro 2020. I hope there will be a save for this! I would like to see what happens after that event!:D

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Thank you Sherwinriga for your kind words! I am unsure the real-life Euros will pan out quite like these, but you never know...

--

“In the wake of England’s extra-time win over Sweden earlier this evening, social media has been going mad after an interview with Swedish coach Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Now we all know Zlatan had plenty to say as a player, but since joining his country’s coaching staff he’s been fairly quiet, so what has he had to say Andy?”

“Well Colin, it’s been a quite remarkable hour or so here in Amsterdam. England were just about the better team over the 120 minutes, and their fans will have been very pleased to see James Owuso score the winner in extra time, but as you say it’s been Zlatan who has stolen the headlines with this bizarre rant in the post-match press conference. He seemed to interrupt the manager, Peter Gerhardsson, and then spoke for several minutes, switching between English and Swedish as he went. We’ve got a clip of some of that rant I believe.”

“We have indeed, let’s listen in to what Zlatan had to say.”

“It is obvious England won the game because Zlatan was not playing for the opposition. Without Zlatan, Sweden are like a horse without a head - a lot of running but no goal. England are not a good team, they are boring team, but Sweden without Zlatan are also in trouble. They are like a beautiful woman with no legs, [unintelligible Swedish]...

“...decided not to give a penalty because Zlatan was not the striker. If Guidetti is Zlatan, it is a penalty to Sweden because referees respect Zlatan, but not Guidetti. Even if it is Neymar, it is no penalty, but Zlatan gets a penalty. This is the solution for Sweden - Sweden needs Zlatan. [more Swedish.]

“What I am trying to say is that without Zlatan there is no Sweden and no tournament. I will not be watching the rest of the tournament because I am not playing, but I hope Armenia will be champions. They could be Zlatan, they have big [Swedish].”

“Quite remarkable stuff there Andy, do we have any idea what he said in Swedish yet?”

“We don’t yet Colin, although some of my Swedish colleagues here in Holland said he mentioned vultures, the Rush Hour movies and, bizarrely, the Percy The Park Keeper children’s books. I’m sure there’ll be plenty more on this as it emerges.”

“He certainly is a character, there’s no denying that, but you wonder whether this might take the gloss of what was a fairly good England performance?”

“Almost certainly Colin, let’s not forget that England don’t have the best record against Sweden, so to get a win in a high-pressure game like this will do the team the world of good. Ross Barkley was very good again, but the biggest relief for AVB will be James Owuso getting on the scoresheet - he looked sharp and dangerous, and that will be very important for the next game.”

“Thanks Andy. Just before we move on, is there any news on Raheem Sterling yet? He went off in extra time with a nasty-looking injury, will he be back for the quarter-final?”

“AVB was keen not to put a definitive timescale on the injury, but the way he went down and had to be taken off on a stretcher suggested it could be a serious. We know it isn’t a break, but it’s hard to see how he could recover at such short notice.”

“Thanks Andy, more on that as it comes I’m sure.”

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From the sports pages of The Times

Luck of the Irish smiles on Armenia as Swiss bow out

AN early red card and the support of a rowdy local crowd helped the Armenian football team continue its fairytale journey into the quarter-finals of Euro 2020 at the expense of Switzerland last night.

The match was just eight minutes old with full-back Ricardo Rodriguez blocked Aras Ozbiliz’ goalbound shot with his hand, and English referee Craig Pawson had no hesitation in showing the Milan defender a straight red card as well as awarding a penalty kick which veteran striker Yura Movsisyan converted with ease.

Despite Lansdowne Road being some 3,000 miles from Armenian capital Yerevan, the Irish fans threw their support firmly behind the underdogs, who along with Iceland and Albania have provided one of the stories of the tournament thus far by coming through a group also containing Russia, Croatia and Poland. While actual Armenians were few and far between in Dublin, the boisterous crowd cheered every pass and celebrated each of the three goals wildly in contrast to the stony-faced Swiss contingent.

Aided by the early red card, Armenia dominated the game, doubling their lead just before the break through captain Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and sealing the match in the second half when defender Gael Andonian headed a free-kick beyond the reach of Yann Sommer in the Swiss goal.

The win means Armenia progress to the last eight and a clash with Ukraine, while Switzerland leave despite a promising group phase and what seemed to be a favourable draw in one of the tournament’s minnows. Manager Pierluigi Tami was philosophical in defeat.

“Of course it is always disappointing to lose so heavily, particularly in a big match,” he said, “but Armenia are a very good team and to play the whole match with 10 is very hard. Ricardo is very upset and everyone is disappointed, but they are a strong group and they will be back.”

In contrast, Armenian boss Vardan Minasyan - who has managed his country for more than a decade - was delighted with his team’s performance.

“It was an excellent performance from the whole team,” said the 46-year-old. “We got a little lucky with the red card, but even without it we would have been 1-0 and that is a very strong position. We are looking forward to Ukraine, they are a strong team but so are we and I’m sure it will be a great match for the fans.”

With one quarter-final match already confirmed, we now know that one of Armenia and Ukraine - both unfancied teams before the tournament - will be in the last four. Armenia will be hoping that they haven’t used all their luck in one game here in Dublin.

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From BBC Sport’s live text updates.

Euro 2020 live:

- Three last 16 matches tonight

- Northern Ireland in action against Holland (9pm)

- Iceland take on Spain, winners to play England in quarter-finals (7.30pm)

- Glasgow hosts Denmark vs Russia (6pm)

Welcome to tonight’s live text updates for Euro 2020, we’ve got three massive games for you tonight and you won’t want to miss a minute. Northern Ireland and Iceland will look to continue their remarkable campaigns against the giants of Holland and Spain, while Russia and Denmark will look to join England, Ukraine and Armenia in the last eight first. That’s where our attention lies for now, and the teams are out on the pitch.

0 mins - We’re off at Hampden Park, it’s a full house here despite the absence of any Home Nations interest in the tie. Aleksandr Kokorin finds Aleksei Miranchuk and away we go.

3 mins - Both teams looking to get time on the ball and settle in this one, no real chances in the opening exchanges.

7 mins - First shot of the match and it goes to Denmark, Viktor Fischer finding half a yard but Akinfeev is there. Fischer is the danger for the Danes tonight, there’s no doubting that.

9 mins - GOAL! Denmark 0-1 Russia (Alan Dzagoev)

Denmark may have had the first shot, but Russia have the lead! It’s decent hit from CSKA Moscow midfielder Alan Dzagoev but Kasper Schmeichel will not want to see that one again. His view might have been blocked, but it’s come 25 yards and skipped over his dive. Poor goalkeeping, and that’s the first goal Denmark have conceded at Euro 2020.

13 mins - Russia are looking confident after that early Dzagoev goal, they’re stroking the ball around nicely here. Denmark struggling to get a foothold.

Former Denmark and Everton midfield Thomas Gravesen on BBC Radio 5 Live:

“It’s an awful goal for Denmark to concede, and so early. Schmeichel should have done better but nobody closed down the shot and Dzagoev had so much time. Denmark need to up the tempo and get Eriksen and Fischer on the ball.”

19 mins - Close! Pavel Zhuravlyev concedes a free-kick in a dangerous area, and the Dinamo Moscow midfielder is almost punished by Christian Eriksen but the ball flies just wide. Dangerous from the PSG man, Russia won’t want to let him have too many attempts from there.

24 mins - Zhuravlyev is looking a little unsure of himself out there, his slip almost lets Pierre Hojberg in but Shchennikov is there to clean up the mess. This is only his sixth cap and he’s clearly nervous.

Former Russia captain Andrei Arshavin on BBC Radio 5 Live:

“Zhuravlyev has been very good for Dinamo this season but this is a big step up for him. He’s only 21, and you wonder whether Ozdoev might come on for the second half if he keeps playing this way. Russia have the goal, but they need to be careful.”

30 mins - GOAL! Denmark 0-2 Russia (Aleksandr Kokorin)

Russia are more than careful - they’re 2-0 up! Eriksen’s ball can’t find Nicklas Bendtner and Russia are away, Miranchuk doing most of the running before finding Denis Cheryshev, and the Monaco winger’s near post cross is tucked away tidily by Alex Kokorin. Do Russia have one foot in the quarter-finals?

35 mins - The pace has dropped noticeably in the last five minutes, Russia happy with their lead and Denmark desperate not to concede a third. Will there be anything dramatic before the break?

38 mins - Yellow Card - Pavel Zhuravlyev (Russia)

It’s been coming, you can’t say fairer than that. Zhuravlyev has been the one disappointment for Russia in this first half, and his trip on Hojberg earns him a booking. He’ll miss the quarter-final if Russia see this out now.

42 mins - Another half-chance for Denmark, but Fischer can’t reach Bendtner’s knockdown and Vitali Dyakov clears for a throw-in. Good intent, but the final product isn’t quite there for the Danes at the moment.

HALF TIME - Denmark 0-2 Russia

One minute of stoppage time brings no further incident, and it’s Russia who will much the happier team at the break. It’s been a game of few chances, but Russia have taken theirs and Denmark's have gone begging, and that’s been the difference so far here at Hampden.

Former Denmark and Everton midfield Thomas Gravesen on BBC Radio 5 Live:

“The frustrating thing from a Danish point of view is that Russia haven’t had to work for their lead. The second goal was a good break but they haven’t played much better than us, they’ve just used the ball better. Eriksen is on the edge of the game a little, and he’s the one that makes things happen for Denmark.”

Former Russia captain Andrei Arshavin on BBC Radio 5 Live:

“Russia are doing everything they need to do here, and all they need to do is be sensible in defence. Denmark haven’t scored a goal yet in the tournament, so I think Russia will be very confident with 2-0.”

46 mins - We’re back underway in Glasgow, can Denmark claw their way back into this one or will it be Russia heading to the last eight?

49 mins - GOAL! Denmark 1-2 Russia (Nicklas Bendtner)

Denmark have not given up on this! Whatever was said in the dressing room did something, they have come out at some speed. First Viktor Fischer sees a volley blocked on the edge of the box, but at the second attempt he is able to scoop in a pass which Nicklas Bendtner slots into the net. Appeals for offside there, but he looked on to me. Great improvisation from Fischer there.

53 mins - Hampden is rocking now, you get the impression the Scots have decided to back the Danes in this second half. Will they end up on the winning side?

56 mins - It’s the first change of the match and it’s no surprise to see Pavel Zhuravlyev coming off. As Andrei Arshavin suggested, it’s Magomed Ozdoev who replaces him in midfield.

60 mins - Denmark are making a change now, and it’s a bold one - off comes right-back Daniel Wass and on trots striker Andreas Cornelius. Cardiff City fans may remember him - he cost the Bluebirds £8 million in 2013, played eight games without scoring and then returned to FC Kobenhavn for a fraction of the price…

Former Denmark and Everton midfield Thomas Gravesen on BBC Radio 5 Live:

“It’s a bold change from Jess Thorup, but it makes sense when you’re chasing a game like this. Boilesen will form a back three with Kjaer and Agger, the two wingers will have to do a little more defending but it means Fischer and Eriksen have two men to aim for up front. It looks something like a 3-3-2-2 I suppose, very attacking.

67 mins - Yellow Card - Nicolai Boilesen (Denmark)

As soon as Boilesen is asked to move inside, he finds himself in the book for a late challenge on Kokorin. He wasn’t too late, but he was late late enough.

71 mins - Close! Denmark are very nearly level there. Cornelius has been largely anonymous since coming on, but his header is met by strike partner Bendtner and Akinfeev does well to hold on the volley.

73 mins - Close! This has suddenly turned into a basketball game! Miranchuk loses his man down the left and his shot fizzes across goal with Kokorin sliding in half a second after the ball goes by. That was almost the game there.

76 mins - GOAL! Denmark 1-3 Russia (Maksim Kanunnikov)

A great substitution from Leonid $lutsky and Russia should be home and dry now. Rubin Kazan striker Max Kanunnikov comes on for Miranchuk on the left, and within two minutes he gets the third goal, collecting a diagonal pass from clubmate Nabiullin at right-back and firing underneath Kasper Schmeichel.

Former Russia captain Andrei Arshavin on BBC Radio 5 Live:

“This is a great performance from Russia. They didn’t panic when Denmark scored, and they have exploited the gaps in midfield very well. I’m pleased for Kanunnikov - he doesn’t play as much as he would like for the national team, but he always gives maximum effort and he’ll be very pleased with a goal.”

82 mins - This has died down a little now, any hopes of a Danish fightback extinguished by that third Russian goal. Russia, Ukraine, Armenia - is it me or is there a bit of an Eastern feel to this European Championship?

86 mins - Keep-ball in midfield from the Russians now, and a few more seconds used up as Oleg Shatov replaces goalscorer Dzagoev. This is all over.

90 mins - Three more minutes separate Russia from the quarter-finals…

FULL TIME - Denmark 1-3 Russia

That’s all for the first game of the night, and it’s Russia who go through at the expense of goal-shy Denmark. The Danes put up a bit more of a fight in the second half, but two goals in the first half hour was too much of a mountain for them to climb. Russia look strong though, you can’t see Italy or Albania looking forward to that clash.

That’s all from me as I hand over to Mark McDonald for Iceland vs Spain, which you can follow here. Let’s get the last word from Russia manager Leonid $lutsky, who is speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live.

Russia manager Leonid $lutsky on BBC Radio 5 Live:

“We are very happy with the match, of course. We started very well, and the goal gave us a good advantage. We knew Denmark would attack in the second half, but I feel we managed the game well and it was quite comfortable in the end.

“Of course we will watch Italy and Albania, but we do not prefer one team to the other. Italy are very strong team, but Albania have done many surprises, we cannot be arrogant. Thank you.”

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What a good move by the Russians! These underdogs are in the house, meanwhile! Sir, will you create that save as soon as possible?

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Russia are looking good for sure! Thanks for your kind words - unfortunately this save file is long gone so I can't upload anything, sorry!

This one is for 10-3 and his fellow Americans, tongue firmly in cheek...

From espn.com

Goliath stomps David as elite eight takes shape

NOT all stories have a happy ending, and fans of Iceland and Northern Ireland were left crying into their beers after watching their teams broomed out of the UEFA Euro Championship in the first play-off round.

Both teams had provided a fascinating subplot to the international trophy, which rolls around every four years. Northern Ireland upset the Czech Republic on a late goal in the group phase to reach the last 16, while Iceland’s win over Italy in Rome was like something straight out of a Disney movie. Both sides got served a big dose of reality last night, however.

Iceland came closest to writing another chapter in the history books, taking two-time champion Spain to overtime with the score tied at 1-1 over 90 minutes. Decorated coach Pep Guardiola went to the bench for reinforcements that Icelandic counterpart Gudjohnsen just couldn’t match, and they ride into the quarter-final bracket on the back of a brace from young Basque attacker Ruben Elizagirre. Iceland will at least take pride in a strong game against the better team.

For Northern Ireland, they go back across the Channel with bruised egos and crushed pride after shipping a foursome of goals to the flying Dutchmen. Wide defender Hodson scored on his own keeper in the first quarter of the match, and the Brits just couldn’t get back into the mismatch of a game. Even a strike after the 90 from young phenom McLaughlin couldn’t raise Irish spirits - the referee ruling it out for an offensive infringement - and coach O’Neill will have a tough job to rebuild the warrior spirit in his team.

The tough beatings handed to the two minnows mean the fate of the underdog lies firmly in the hands of Armenia - who upset Switzerland to make the quarters - and little Albania, who faces the mighty Italians in tonight’s second match-up. Romania, who plays Germany earlier in the day, are the third wheel on a bike struggling to stay upright.

As is often the case in European soccer, it is class that wins out. Of the six teams already confirmed for the last eight, only two have beaten a country above them in FIFA’s world rankings, and Ukraine sits just two spots beneath Belgium, meaning Armenia is the only real surprise result of the round. With Italy and Germany to come and almost certain to win through, the quarter-finals of UEFA’s main event will feature six of the eight top-ranked teams in the tournament, with only Belgium and a flakey France team missing out.

It’s results that this that are liable to turn the US public off the ‘beautiful game’ - the big teams win through, the little countries go home, and we all applaud as Germany or Spain adds another trophy to the collection. Perhaps it’s about time we start calling soccer the predictable game instead.

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“That’s it, that’s the final whistle, and the boos from the Italian contingent are ringing out across the new San Mames stadium. They’ve travelled to Spain in their thousands expecting an easy win, but little Albania have held their ground and remarkably we’re heading to penalties. Mark?”

“Well I just don’t think the Italians have done enough in the last two hours to go through. We saw this against Iceland when they seemed to expect a goal at any minute, they just don’t have that ability to take hold of a game. I can honestly see them losing here Jonathan.”

“Well we’ll see about that very soon. Vincenzo Montella is on the pitch with his players, taking down the names of the five Italians to step forward in the shoot-out. Mirel Josa does the same with his Albanian side - just going to that disallowed goal Mark, do you think it stood have stood?”

“It’s a difficult one when the margins are so fine, but if the referee thinks Berardi has impeded the goalkeeper at all then he has to disallow it. I’m not sure he did, but it’s not for me to decide.”

“Even with that goal ruled out, Italy didn’t really create too many chances for themselves did they? What else could they have done?”

“They were just too slow all through the game. Against a weaker team you’ve got to zip the ball about, make them chase the game and tire them out, but Italy have been at walking pace here. I don’t know whether it’s the heat, but nobody else has struggled with it. It’s laziness if you ask me.”

“Well whatever the reason, it means we have our first penalty shoot-out of the tournament, and it’ll be Italy to go first, shooting towards the Albanian end of the ground. Is that an advantage Mark?”

“I think so Jonathan, yes. It’s always better to be ahead than playing catch-up.”

“It’s going to be Marco Verratti to take the first penalty, a lot of pressure on the midfielder’s shoulders right now. He here comes… never in doubt, a great penalty.”

“Yes, he’s given the keeper the eyes and put that right in the opposite corner, very confident from Verratti.”

“Now it’s Albania’s star man, Birket Berisha. can he get the better of Leali? Yes he can, straight down the middle from the striker, another good penalty.”

“You always gamble going down the middle, but Leali moved early then, he made it easy for Berisha.”

“It’s going to be Matteo Darmian for Italy next, the right-back. Interesting choice, but a great penalty, Alban Hoxha guesses right but the spot-kick is right in the corner again, pressure back on Albania.”

“The keeper is unlucky there, he goes the right way but it’s just too accurate, a good penalty.”

“Sokol Kukeli is up next, he’s the man who got Adem Ljajic sent off in the group game...saved! Leali punches the air, he palms the penalty air but it was a weak effort from the Albanian.”

“Yes, he looked nervous in the run-up and he almost scuffs it to the left, it’s an easy stop in the end.”

“So Italy lead 2-1, can De Sciglio ram home the advantage? No! Hoxha with a superb stop, that looked in all the way but the keeper got a hand on it.”

“He’s get his team alive there, a great save. De Sciglio’s put it in the corner, but it’s at a good height for the keeper.”

“So, Ergys Kace can level for the underdogs here. Stutters in the run-up...goal. Calm as you like, sends the keeper the wrong way and rolls it in.”

“I don’t like the stuttering run-up and you look a fool if it goes wrong, but Kace made that look easy.”

“So it’s 2-2 after three kicks each, here comes Berardi for Italy. Short run-up and oh, that’s very cheeky. A little chip down the middle with Hoxha grounded, Italy lead again Mark.”

“The players are taking some big risks here, but it’s all coming off. That’ll lift Italy, a cool penalty.”

“Armando Sadiku now, the late substitute. He’s got to score here...he does. Leali almost gets to that with his trailing leg but it’s central enough to go in.”

“He’s a little bit lucky there, he tried to do what Berisha did earlier but didn’t get it quite straight enough. Still, it’s gone in and that’s all he’ll be bothered about.”

“Indeed it is Mark. So, we’re into the last round of kicks before sudden death and it’s going to be Stephan El Shaarawy for Italy. It’s a long run-up...over the crossbar! El Shaarawy sinks to his knees, a shocking miss and Italy could be out here.”

“That’s an awful penalty Jonathan, absolutely terrible. He’s right to be upset - he could have cost his team the match. Absolutely terrible.”

“So it’s 3-3 with Klodian Gino to come, the Panathinaikos man taking his time walking forward as the occasion sinks in. It’s Gino with the chance to knock Italy out of Euro 2020… It’s there! Gino sends Leali the wrong way, cool as you like, and Albania, little Albania, are into the quarter-finals!”

“I don’t know what it is about this Italian side, but after the Iceland result and this today, you expect there’ll be a serious enquiry into the state of the national team.”

“I’m sure you’re right Mark, but take nothing away from Albania today. They rode their luck at times, but they’ve matched Italy blow for blow and there won’t be many teams looking forward to facing this lot.”

“You look at the draw and it’s Russia next for them, and on paper you’d say Italy are a better team than the Russians. However, on form you’d still say Albania are underdogs Mark.”

“Oh definitely, but for Albania they’ll be delighted to have avoided the likes of Spain, Germany and England. There’s only really Armenia or Ukraine you’d give them a better chance against.”

“Well whatever the result, today is undoubtedly the greatest moment in Albanian football history. Italy are out, and the questions will continue for Vincenzo Montella and his team, but tonight belongs to Albania, who incredibly march on to the quarter-finals.”

“And with Germany beating Romania earlier today, we know the quarter-final line-up.”

“Indeed we do Mark, and there are some cracking ties in the last eight. Armenia go against Ukraine in a battle of the East, before England take on Pep Guardiola’s Spain in what could easily be the final of this tournament. Then it’s today’s heroes Albania hoping to keep the fairytale alive against Russia, and finally Germany vs Holland in a repeat of their classic group stage encounter. Who’s your money on Mark?”

“It’s hard to say, but whoever comes through out of England or Spain will have their hardest match out the way. I think that’s the game where we’ll see the winner emerge.”

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From BBC Sport

Wilshere: England are ready for Spanish test

ENGLAND captain Jack Wilshere is convinced England are ready to end their long wait for international success as they prepare for their Euro 2020 quarter-final against Spain.

Wilshere, 27, will lead his country out in Rome against the two-time champions hoping to edge one step closer to a first international title in more than half a century.

And despite a series of impressive performances from their Spanish opposition, the Arsenal midfielder is confident of a win.

“Spain have been playing very well, we all know what they can do. We’ve had a word with some of the Northern Irish lads, and they told us just how good they were in that first game.

“But they seemed to struggle against Iceland, and they’ll be tired from playing extra time. I think they’ll be looking at us and saying ‘England, they’re playing well at the minute’ and be worried about taking us on.”

England go into the quarter-final with a fully fit squad, giving manager Andre Villas-Boas the luxury of choice. However, having made just two changes to his starting line-up all tournament, Wilshere expects familiarity to breed success.

“Some people have had a go at the boss for sticking to the same team, but when you’re winning there’s no need to change. It helps us all, particularly some of the younger lads, to know who you’re playing with, and those not in the team are raring to go if they get a chance. It’s a healthy squad to be part of.

Should England make it past Pep Guardiola’s side, they will play either Germany or The Netherlands in the last four, with one crucial advantage - the semis and final are all set to be played at Wembley.

“Of course you want to play in front of your home fans,” said Wilshere. “You get such a boost playing at home, it can be the difference between a win and a draw, and England fans are some of the best in the world.

“They’ve been absolutely brilliant so far, every game has felt like a home game, even in Germany where you’d expect a bit of hostility. We know they’ll be out in force in Rome, and we want to put in a good performance for them as much as for us.”

Can England finally win a major tournament? Or will Spain make it to yet another semi? Follow all the action on BBC1, BBC Radio 5 Live and right here on the BBC Sport website to find out.

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From the sports page of The Daily Mail

Calamity Kryvtsov hands Wembley ticket to Armenia

ARMENIA will play at Wembley for the first time in their history after coming through a titanic battle with Ukraine in the first quarter-final of Euro 2020.

Ninety minutes of pulsating football could not separate the two former Soviet nations, forcing them to extra time in Munich’s Allianz Arena.

With a penalty shoot-out looming, Shakhtar Donetsk defender Sergei Kryvtsov earned a place in the history books by slicing past Maksym Koval to earn Armenia, who surpassed expectations by merely qualifying for the tournament, a place in the Wembley semi-finals.

The sight of 29-year-old Kryvtsov lying prostrate on the Munich turf will be one of the tournament’s enduring images, but it should not detract from the enthralling game of football which preceded it. Kryvtsov himself had a hand in the opening goal, Roman Bezus sweeping home after the defender’s powerful header was blocked on the goal line, and it was Ukraine who held the upper hand through much of the first half.

Yet Armenia grew in stature as the game progressed, and Yura Movsisyan’s 78th minute equaliser was no more than Vardan Minasyan’s side deserved. Aras Ozbiliz provided the cross for his former Spartak Moscow teammate to turn beyond Koval and set up a frantic finale as both teams looked to win the game inside 90 minutes.

Ukraine came closest, the ever-dangerous Andrei Yarmolenko forcing a flying save from Arsen Beglaryan, but Dietrich Steinhardt blew for full-time before the deadlock could be broken, forcing extra-time. Rather than a nervous wait for penalties, the two teams poured forward - Yarmolenko again going close with a swerving effort at one end, and Armenian captain Henrikh Mkhitaryan, one of the stars of the tournament, saw a fierce drive fly inches past Koval’s far post with the goalkeeper static.

With penalties imminent, only Kryvtsov’s untimely intervention denied the near-capacity crowd the spectacle of a penalty shoot-out just two days after Italy bowed out in the same fashion. The horror on the face of the Ukrainian goalkeeper contrasted perfectly with the sheer joy on the face of Mkhitaryan, whose ball was turned beyond the goalkeeper by the stricken Shakhtar man, and in the blink of an eye Armenia had made it to the semi-finals.

Armenia have yet to face one of the tournament favourites - England, Spain, Germany and Holland - and having come through on the weaker side of the draw against first Switzerland and now Ukraine, they will face either fellow minnows Albania or Russia, who beat them comfortably in the group stage, in the final four. Should they find Wembley to their liking on their first visit, a second appearance suddenly seems strangely within reach.

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Rio Ferdinand: “You’re listening to talkSPORT, the only place to listen to every kick of Euro 2020, and it’s half-time in Rome with England leading Spain by a goal to nil. I’ve got two former Liverpool men in the studio with me here, Peter Crouch and Fernando Torres, and even you have to admit Fernando, that was a great strike from Raheem Sterling.”

Fernando Torres: “It was Rio, it has to be very good to beat David de Gea from that range. If you watch the replay, you can see he knew exactly where he wanted to put it - a great goal.”

Peter Crouch: “Nando’s right, it’s an absolute belter, and it came right after Spain had put us under a bit of pressure. It calmed the lads down, they’ve been a lot more confident since then.”

RF: “Good point that Crouchy - in the past England have been nervous against teams like Spain, this time they’re bossing it. Are you worried for your countrymen Fernando?”

FT: “A little, but really no. Spain has a great team with a good character, they do not worry. They will play the same - pass, pass, pass - and then all of a sudden, goal.”

PC: “I don’t know to be honest mate, Jonesey in the middle has played a blinder in front of the back four. He’s having the game of his life out there.”

FT: “Maybe, but he already has a yellow card. He won’t survive 90 minutes.”

RF: “Phil Jones could well be the key to this game for England. If he can keep it up, he’s got the door closed in Spanish faces. If he picks up another yellow though, or if AVB takes him off, we might have problems.”

“Nando, you know this Spanish side better than either of us two - if you’re going to get into the game again, who’s going to do it for you?”

FT: “I think Spain is full of quality, but you immediately look at Isco and Munir. Isco has the key, and then Munir kicks the door down. They can cause many problems I think.”

PC: “Munir really is top class, he’s always going to score goals. England might need another to be safe, y’know?”

RF: “I think we all know Crouchy, 1-0 is never a good lead to defend. Before we go back to Alan and John in the commentary box, I have to ask - predictions for the final score?”

PC: “England are going to do it Rio - 2-0 to the boys.”

RF: “Nando?”

FT: “Spain have too much quality to lose easily. I think will be penalties.”

RF: “Just when you thought you’d get through half-time without mentioning that awful word, there we have it. With that, let’s go back to the commentary box and rejoin Alan and John. Over to you lads.”

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From the back page of The Sun

AVB Agony As England Pay Penalty Again

RAHEEM Sterling’s missed penalty led to the tears of a nation yet again as brave England lost to Spain in their Euro 2020 quarter-final.

The Man City winger’s tame effort was patted away by David de Gea after Ross Barkley earlier hit the post, meaning Isco did not have to take the final kick of the shoot-out.

Thousands of passionate England fans in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico stayed behind to applaud AVB’s brave boys after the defeat, which came after a good performance against one of the tournament favourites.

More penalty woe will not deflect, however, from an uninspired series of selection decisions from manager Villas-Boas, who failed to keep the team fresh and struggled to make an impact with his substitutions. His decision to replace Phil Jones with 10 minutes to go and move James Vincent into the holding role led directly to Sergi Samper’s equaliser after Sterling’s wonderstrike, and he left Theo Walcott on the bench once again despite a tiring opposing defence.

Defeat, even on penalties, is a step back after an improved World Cup in Russia, and already there are question marks over the future of the Portuguese. Once again England have impressed against smaller sides, but come up short against the best in the world.

He has also failed to find a replacement for the last of the Hodgson generation, with 34-year-old Wayne Rooney almost certain to be included in the squad before his unfortunate injury. James Owuso has potential, but has struggled at the Euros, and there are precious few options in AVB’s squad.

With defeat costing England the chance to make history at Wembley, the pain is even greater. Sterling and Barkley will join the long line of England stars to fail at the crucial moment and recover, but for AVB this may be one mistake too many. His ideas were fresh four years ago, but now they are stale, exploited by a fresh young Spanish side which should now win the tournament. We suspect Villas-Boas will not be around to see the next one.

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Indeed - England just don't know any other way...

--

From Sky Sports

Villas-Boas: I won’t walk away

England manager Andre Villas-Boas has told the FA that he has no intention of resigning from his position in charge of the national team.

Villas-Boas, who is widely believed to be the best-paid international manager in world football, led the Three Lions to the semi-final of the 2018 World Cup, but came under fire as England lost on penalties to Spain after a 1-1 draw in Rome.

But with qualification for the next World Cup in Qatar due to begin in September, the former Chelsea and Spurs boss said he still hoped to be in charge of his adopted nation in 2022.

“I have no desire to quit,” he told Sky Sports. “The FA know that, the players know that and my family know that.

“I think we have made good progress in these Euros, we made a good tournament and were unlucky in the penalties against Spain. We have a good team that is growing together, and we can do very well at the World Cup.”

One bookmaker has already cut the odds on Villas-Boas leaving his post to an odds-on 4/9, with Everton manager Eddie Howe the popular favourite to replace him. Also in the running are experienced Premier League bosses Mauricio Pochettino and Roberto Martinez, while the odds on the FA luring Jose Mourinho away from his native Portugal are also being cut by several companies - despite the former Chelsea boss only taking the job before the finals.

No FA source has commented on rumours AVB could be about to be sacked - although if the rumoured details of his contract are correct, the 42-year-old could be in line for a payout of around £12 million should his bosses decide to wield the axe.

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“You’re listening to BBC Radio 5 Live here in Baku, where the third semi-finalist of Euro 2020 has just been determined. I’ve been joined by former Manchester United, Everton and Rangers forward Andrei Kanchelskis, who is wearing a big grin on his face because his home country of Russia has just beaten Albania 2-0. Andrei, you enjoyed the game?”

“Hi Colin, yes. Yes, I think Russia played a very strong game, at a good tempo and without too many problems. They knew Albania would be tired, and they took advantage.”

“Denis Davydov got the goals tonight, but it’s the Russian defence that impressed me tonight Andrei, Albania didn’t get a sniff out there.”

“Yes, the defence is very stable for Russia today. It took a little while to get selection right after Berezutskys and Ignashevich retired from the national team, but Granat, Chernov, Burlak, Dyakov, Shchennikov, Nabiullin - it is a good group, and the manager has confidence in them.”

“And what about the goalscorer Davydov? He hasn’t started before tonight, what prompted the change?”

“Leonid $lutsky obviously thought Kokorin was not recovered from Denmark, and with Davydov he has a very good replacement. He has played for Spartak since boyhood, he is a very capable striker and when he is confident he scores. He will be the number one striker one day soon, I am sure.”

“A word on Albania, Andrei - they’ve had a great tournament, do you think this is the start of a stronger Albania in the future?”

“I think maybe yes, but it is hard to know. A lot of their players are still in Albania or Greece, which are not strong leagues, so maybe their players need to move outside to learn more. It think the country can be very proud, to reach quarter-final is very impressive and a good surprise.”

“It certainly was, they’ll remember those wins over Serbia and Italy for decades I’m sure. Now, Russia are in the semi-finals, and it’s Armenia at Wembley. Will the Russian people be happy with that?”

“They will only be sad the game is not in Luzhniki! After the World Cup, Russian people wanted to qualify easily and win tournaments, but it is not easy. Look at the teams we have played so far - Poland, Croatia, Denmark, Albania - it is not Spain and England, no? Russia won 4-0 in the group, and they will be very confident in this game.”

“Finally Andrei, is there anyone in the Armenia team you are worried about? We all know about Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but is there anyone else?”

“I think $lutsky will make sure Ozbiliz is marked well. He is very dangerous, and he knows many of the Russian team well from his time in Moscow with Spartak. He and Mkhitaryan are the key for Armenia I think.”

“Thank you Andrei, we’ll let you go and celebrate with your countrymen now.”

“Thank you, good night.”

“That was Andrei Kanchelskis, who believes Russia can beat Armenia for a second team and book a place in the final of Euro 2020. His team have beaten Albania tonight by two goals to nil, and our semi-final line-up is almost complete. Join us again tomorrow tonight when we’ll be in St Petersburg for the last of the quarter-finals, and what a match it promises to be as Germany take on the Dutch once more.”

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From the sports pages of The Independent

Berlin to Baku - is UEFA’s continental dream a success?

LATE last night, Russia booked their place in the last four of this year’s European Championships with a 2-0 win over Albania in Baku, Azerbaijan. The previous day, Spain defeated England on penalties in Rome’s storied Olimpico, and 24 hours earlier Munich hosted Armenia and Ukraine in their quarter-final match. That same Ukrainian team had played their previous four matches in Baku, Bucharest and Budapest.

To celebrate 60 years of the competition, organising body UEFA made the decision to abandon the regular one-country format, in which nations bid against each other for the right to host everything from the opening ceremony to the showpiece final. This time, 13 of Europe’s grandest locations were selected to host up to four matches, with one - London - given the tournament’s concluding three matches.

From a fan’s perspective, such a widespread competition is either a dream or a nightmare. If you are a football fan in Budapest, Baku or Bucharest, you may not regularly be able to witness the best teams in Europe strutting their stuff down the road. International travel may also be beyond your means, and so the chance to watch the world’s finest on your own terms is a rare blessing.

However, for those who pride themselves on watching their team’s every game, and for those hoping to sample the atmosphere generated by a major sporting event in a country or city, Euro 2020 has felt strangely empty. Some cities suffered in the draw - Copenhagen, for example, witnessed a drab 0-0 between the home team and France, was left in a drunken mess by English and Scottish fans, was handed effectively a dead rubber between Spain and Romania and finally hosted the most one-sided match of the last 16 as Holland breezed past Northern Ireland - while others, such as Glasgow, have found themselves lacking any of the big teams to draw in the crowds.

UEFA’s argument for spreading the tournament around was twofold - first and foremost, came the line from then-president Michel Platini, was the desire to show off football’s universal appeal and take the beautiful game to the fans in every corner of the continent. In many respects, they have succeeded - Baku, for example, would never have otherwise hosted a major quarter-final, and the presence of Russia in that particular match no doubt helped swell the numbers. From the Caspian Sea to the Baltic via Bilbao, the pan-European coverage has been as comprehensive as is possible, with the absence of one of Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki perhaps the only glaring omission.

The second was the celebrate UEFA’s own successes, showing how the work of the European Championship, Champions League and countless other initiatives has helped to grow football across the continent. Here, the response has been more mixed - in Western and Northern Europe, where fans are on the whole more affluent, stadiums have been at or near capacity even with relative minnows on the field, the offer of international football providing enough of a lure to the neutral.

However, where UEFA have missed a trick has been in the East, where grounds in Bucharest, Baku and Budapest have seen seats remain empty in the absence of a home team. By applying universal pricing, fans who would have jumped at the opportunity to watch Croatia vs Armenia at local prices have instead been expected to pay the same for their ticket as a German in Munich or Dane in Copenhagen. Even in Glasgow, where the relative income is much higher than all but the wealthy outliers of the former Eastern Bloc, Scotland’s elimination saw a substantial drop in the number of tickets sold.

The third prong of UEFA’s assault on hearts and minds, however under-advertised, has been a success. In reaching out to the likes of oil-rich Azerbaijan, recovering Romania and power-hungry Russia in addition to their traditional sources of incomes, European football’s governing body has been able to pull in unprecedented levels of sponsorship for the tournament. Figures are not released to the public of course, but with many of the former Warsaw Pact nations keen to use sporting events to show off their progress - Baku’s hosting of the 2015 European Games and 2028 Olympic bid the finest example - it has been all but confirmed that sponsorship for Euro 2020 has shattered previous records.

Ultimately, the success of Platini’s pan-European games will lie with what Davor Suker and his executive committee choose to spend that money on. If the money returns to line the pockets of Western FAs, or adds to the already exorbitant pot on offer to the elite teams in the Champions League, the whole project will ultimately have been a wasted opportunity.

Conversely, should Suker take the opportunity to reinvest in those rising stars of the Eastern game - Albania and Armenia the finest examples on their showing at the current tournament - ploughing the cash into grassroots movements and generating positive change where it is needed most, UEFA will create for themselves a legacy beyond the football field. Surely it is here, rather than the identity of the winning team, that they should be judged.

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