So this is Euro 2016, then. The first round of fixtures has been completed quicker than you can say Mark Pougatch, yet plenty has happened.
Discussed in this piece: The opening night of the tournament and one of the best goals it has seen so far. And hooliganism, too. Also, as seen on Left Back Twitter, 140-word match reports of the games from this opening round of matches.
There’s always something magical about the opening day of a tournament. Whether it’s the match itself, the carnival atmosphere in and around the stadium or, the genuine excitement felt upon seeing what the opening title sequences of BBC and ITV’s coverage will be.
Rarely will the efforts of the World Cups in 2010 and 2014 ever be topped in the opening title stakes, with ITV’s musical introductions to both surely being echoed by many around the country before Adrian Chiles appeared with his face like a disgruntled ballbag.
In many ways, these opening title sequences are very similar to the opening ceremony that cut the proverbial ribbon on these 2016 European Championships. Riddled with clichès and national stereotypes, you could say it was unsurprising how ‘cheesy’ the French’s production was. Unfortunately, the part where a moustached man rolled in on a bicycle wearing a beret with a baguette on his shoulder was interrupted by David Guetta – a man who showcased talents such as pressing buttons to play music before raising his hands, and smiling at a crowd of dancers who were being paid to not look like they were dying inside.
The opening night had, therefore, begun ugly, but it ended beautifully as, after a hard-fought game between the hosts and Romania, Dmitri Payet rocketed a left-footed winner into the top corner. Substituted not long after, it was then evident how much it all meant to the West Ham player, as he left the field with tears of joy whilst his club manager Slaven Bilic was equally excitable in the ITV studio.
Sticking with Bilic, he was yet again alongside Pougatch and the gang to watch his native Croatia make their Euro 2016 debut against a strong Turkey side. Star-studded by names such as Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, many see Ante Cacic’s side as a team who could challenge the bigger nations this summer – yet back in the Balkans, expectations have been lowered somewhat by the unpopularity of their managerial appointment.
I was recently lucky enough to speak to Croatian football writer, Aleksandar Holiga, who explained the reasons for this feeling towards the national coach of his homeland.
He told me: “Čačić doesn’t possess either the credentials or the reputation to lead this team, which also means he lacks authority and respect in the locker room. But none of that was taken into account when he was appointed – it is no secret that he was the personal choice of Zdravko Mamić, the Dinamo Zagreb boss who is also the puppet master of Croatian football. Čačić was chosen as someone Mamić can control very easily. This didn’t go well with many fans, to put it mildly.”
Nonetheless, Croatia have the talent in their team to perform to a high standard regardless of whom the manager is, illustrated no better than by Luka Modric’s goal. As a Turkish defender awkwardly cleared the ball from his penalty area, the Real Madrid playmaker must have been sneaking towards the edge of the box. The football rose high into the air, strangely high in fact, hitting altitude usually only seen when watching a goal-kick or Tony Pulis’ Stoke City side. But with his eyes on the ball throughout it’s flight, Modric watched it fall from the sky and timed his volley to perfection.
Hitting it with his laces made the effort even more difficult, as he connects with the ball using a fairly small surface area of one of his talented feet, but the number 10 gracefully struck the ball home. Skewing it horrifically out for a throw-in wouldn’t have been an unlikely outcome for many players.
Back up in the ITV studio, however, there was division. There was an admittance of course about the difficulty of the technique executed by the Croatian, but Glenn Hoddle, to Bilic’s frustration, pointed his fingers at the Turkish goalkeeper.
“If he steps a yard or so forward,” the Englishman said, “it’s an easy save.”
Bilic refrained from knocking the former England manager out, but argued, surely correctly, that goalkeeping error or not, it was a fabulous goal.
It appears that fashionable sportswear and bucket hats aren’t the only things that have come back from the 90s, as English football fans were involved in ugly, violent and frankly embarrassing scenes in Marseille. Presumably possessed by some bizarre yet sadly traditional method of showing national pride, some ‘supporters’ of national teams at Euro 2016 have been kicking the shit out of each other. Their reasons for doing so are unclear but presumably some of these people think that by damaging the face of their fellowmen with fists, they are somehow inadvertently saying that ‘my country is better than yours.’
What is important to remember though is that the scenes over in France are framed and carefully chosen by our news channels and even more so our social media timelines. Thousands of fans cheering, smiling, getting along happily and doing little more to disgrace themselves other than joining in that effing Will Grigg chant, quite frankly isn’t news. However, a few hundred idiots launching chairs and stamping on each other sadly is.
But it needs to stop nonetheless. UEFA are being tough on it, with Russia facing a fine and disqualification if their fans cause any more trouble. England has also been warned. The French police have more important issues to be concerned with, as this is a country that was sent into disarray by terrorists not long ago. Quite simply, the national security of France should be left to deal with threats from a well-organised, hateful terrorist organisation without distractions from Gaz and the rest of the pissed-up lads doing their best Danny Dyer impression. “The fackin’ melts.”
As for Russia, the fact they are surely in no state to host the 2018 World Cup has perhaps been given pretty light criticism, due to the 2022 tournament being the public subject of bribery, corruption and general evil from Sepp Blatter. But, if even some Russian fans continue to behave in the same manner that a small number of them have, surely some pretty big questions will have to be asked about that 2018 World Cup – and not just ones about the opening title sequences.
140-Word Match Reports