Archive for June, 2016

The Agony and the Ecstasy of a Couched Potato

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

I meant to write this post  about Wales‘s performances in the European Championships in a vain attempt to describe the roller coaster of emotions that I have experienced watching their matches. But I will return to that later.

Less than a week from the EU Referendum, Britain is experiencing a dramatic fallout from the dramatic decision of the British people to leave the EU. Economically, culturally, politically, the future appears to be very uncertain. One of the first victims of this decision is Prime Minister David Cameron. Just over a year ago  his Party surprisingly won the General Election with an overall majority of 30 plus seats when all the talking heads were predicting a Hung Parliament. I’m not sure whether his euphoria persuaded him to announce a referendum would be held within twelve months of his victory to determine whether the UK should remain or leave the EU.

Again, I’m not sure whether it was political naivety or sheer arrogance on his part, but he decided to place all his eggs in one basket and unequivocally support the campaign to remain. He could have decided to be objective and merely place the pro and cons of EU membership before the people. He could have insisted that  there had to be a majority of at least 60% to leave the EU. Consequently he must have been shell shocked when the result was declared.

Meanwhile England played Iceland in the knockout stage of the European Championships. Iceland are ranked 42nd in the World, and has a population of only 330,000. This is their first major tournament ever, and most observers believed they were just making up the numbers.

England admittedly didn’t impress many during the group phase with two uninspiring draws and a last gasp win over Wales. The mood of the Nation was optimistic before the match with Iceland. Cream would come to the top and Iceland would be brushed away. The game began very well for England when Iceland’s goalkeeper tripped Sterling and Rooney converted from the penalty spot after less than 4 minutes play. The players, coach Roy Hodgson, and their supporters were dancing a jig to the tune: “It’s so easy…….”

No sooner had the players finished smooching each other and readjusted their jock straps, they were caught be a sucker punch only one minute later. From a long throw in, the ball was headed down by a burly Icelander and a tapped in by a gleeful Icelandic midfielder. The England players were nonplussed and never recovered. To make matters worse, Iceland scored again in the 2oth minute which proved to be  the winner. England had been dumped out of the competition and Hodgson quite rightly resigned immediately after the match. England were humiliated with no place to hide.


Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Wales having qualified for a major competition for the first time since the World Cup in 1958, played their first game  against Slovakia. Gareth Bale got us off to a great start with a splendid free kick giving us a 1-0 lead at halftime. Slovakia equalized midway through the second half and I had settled for a draw, until late in the game substitute Robson-kanu scrambled in the winner. What a great start!

England were our next opponents who had squandered the lead after dominating their first game with Russia, and finally settled for a draw. England and Wales are bitter rivals and a win against them would not only give us control of the group, but it would be icing  on our group cake. Gareth Bale gave us the lead once more with yet another free kick which England goal keeper Joe Hart let slip through his fingers. I was jumping around the room waving my Welsh scarf around my head singing Calon Lan to anyone who would listen. The referee blew the whistle for half time with Wales leading 1-0.

England’s attack had been listless, and I was praying Hodgson would not bring on strikers Vardy and Sturridge, but that’s exactly what he did. Vardy soon equalized from a poor defensive header from Ashley Williams, and the match was heading for a draw which I was happy to accept. Unfortunately more drama was yet to unfold. In the dying embers of the game England were pressing for a winner, and Wales’ defense was beginning to creak under the constant pressure. Sturridge finally took advantage of a loose ball in the penalty area and slotted the ball into the net via goalkeeper Hennessy’s near post.

In that split second I felt like a burst balloon and Sturridge had provided the pin. I stood there open mouthed, unable to move a muscle, stunned by what had happened.  Amazingly, with only seconds remaining, Bale almost equalized with a very good header which fell the wrong side of the post. Game over and more work had to be done if we were to qualify as one of the top two in the group.

The final group game was with Russia, and we needed at least a draw to progress to the knock out section. Ramsey scored in the 10th minute to calm the nerves and we ran out 3-0 winners completely dominating a slow and ponderous  Russian team. It was a sublime performance that made me so proud to be Welsh. Bale and Ramsey were very good with the Real Madrid star scoring for the third consecutive game. But Joe Allen was simply superb.  He gave a master class in midfield, breaking up attacks with his tackling and interception, and creating attacking options with his insightful passing. England could only muster a draw with Slovakia and we topped the group with England runners up.

Into the last sixteen, and our opponents were our Celtic cousins from Northern Ireland. It proved to be a tough and dour match, and not a good game for the neutral to savor. The match was decided by an own goal scored by the Irish center back McCauley when he diverted a cross from the irrepressible Bale into his own net. During the qualifying and Championship games, Bale has scored or assisted in 82% of Wales‘s goals.

This Friday (July 1st) we play Belgium in the quarter finals. We know each very well since we were in the same qualifying group and we were fortunate to take 4 points from our two encounters. Belgium, however, demolished Hungary  4-0 in the last round of 16, and their star men Hazard and de Bruyne appear to be firing on all cylinders. Whatever the outcome its been a stunning Championship  for Welsh fans, and I don’t want it to end. Go Dragons!!!!

Allez Cymru -Euros 2016

Friday, June 10th, 2016

The European football Championships begin today, and Wales are competing in their first major tournament since the World Cup in  1958. Against all the odds they reached the quarter finals only to be defeated by the eventual winners, Brazil. A certain seventeen year old by the name of Pele scored the only goal of the game. Wales had the legendary John Charles in their squad, but he was injured and was forced to miss the game.

On this occasion, Wales have Gareth Bale as their talisman. Not quite the legendary figure of John Charles, but he is rated as one of the top five players in the world, and Wales are infinitely a better team when he is in the line up. In addition to John Charles, Wales could also boast two great players of that era, Ivor Allchurch and Cliff Jones. Brazil were so impressed by Allchurch that they rated him the best number 10 in the world.

However, Bale’s supporting cast is not so impressive. Yes they have very good players in Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen, and to a lesser extent Andy King and Ben Davies, but the rest of the squad are journeymen. Ashley Williams, the captain, has proved to be a very good servant for Swansea City and to Wales, but he’s on the wrong side of thirty and his weakness at set pieces is apparent for all to see. Both Swansea and Wales are vulnerable to crosses (I’ve done the Dracula cliche in previous posts ) into the penalty box where Williams was once dominant.

Wales’s group games are against Slovakia, England and Russia, and Gareth Bale needs to play in all three games if they are to qualify for the last sixteen knockout stage. He will be a marked (literally) man and Wales should designate a minder (on and off the field) to look after him.

The opening game with Slovakia is crucial if they are to make any progress. A draw in their second game featuring England would probably benefit both teams. The players know the opposition so well that it could be played like a Premiership game. England’s manager Roy Hodgson is very conservative in his team selection and tactics which would be  to Wales’ advantage. If Hodgson was to unleash the talents of Ali, Wilshire and Barkley in combination with Kane and Vardy, the Welsh defence could be in for a torrid time.

Alternatively, England’s back four can look very vulnerable at times, and Bale could use his great skill and speed to run at them.  England have only three central defenders, Smalling, Stones and Cahill, in their squad. Smalling and Cahill appear to be the first choice pairing, but they are not exactly international quality.

England do have quality in midfield and attack if utilized properly, but I suspect they will fall by the wayside before the quarterfinals due to poor selection and tactics. However, I’m allowing my heart to rule my head, and remain optimistic about Wales reaching the knockout stage of the tournament. I am concerned that our strikers, Vokes and Robson-kanu appear to be incapable of scoring at international level, so without Bale and Ramsey, we have no goal threat to offer.

That being said, I have no great expectations of Wales winning the tournament, but I hope to enjoy our three games in the group, and additional success will be a welcome bonus. Good luck also to Northern Ireland and the Republic. Northern Ireland qualified by topping their group, so could they be the dark horses of the tournament.

How strange I haven’t mention England’s captain, Wayne Rooney, but I don’t believe he can play at this level anymore. He will probably have me eat my words by scoring a hat-trick against Wales.To quote former England manager Graham”turnip head” Taylor: “Would I not like that?”

Cymru am Byth!!!


Quite a Remarkable Season

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

Leicester City were quoted at 5000-1 to win the Premiership at the beginning of the season. Meanwhile, defending champions, Chelsea were imploding  and fired their manager Jose Mourhino half way through the season and finished a mediocre 11th. Manchester City announced to the world in February that Pepe Guardiola would be taking over as manager next season, and needless to say their form dipped alarmingly.

Tottenham Hotspur promised a new dawn for their beleaguered fans who had not witnessed the team winning the title for 55 years. They were in a great position to push Leicester all the way, but fell away as usual picking up a meager two points from their last four games. The final game of the season was an embarrassment to the club and their supporters, losing 1-5 to Newcastle who were already relegated.

A record eleven managers were sacked during or at season end; including Gary Monk of Swansea City. He began the season impressively winning the opener at Manchester United and achieving a credible draw against reigning Champions Chelsea. Unfortunately a run of eleven games without a win in mid season proved to be his downfall. The Swans took their time in appointing a new manager (six weeks.) Rumors were rife that former manager Brendan Rodgers was returning to the club, Chairman Huw Jenkins had flown to South America in pursuit of a savior, but out of the blue they hired a virtually unknown Italian, Francisco Guidolin.

Guidolin was given a contract until the end of the season, but spent the first couple of weeks of his tenure in hospital with a lung infection. Club legend Alan Curtis was left holding the reins until the Italian was well enough to return, and secured a shocking but welcome away win at Arsenal which proved to be the turning point of a disappointing season. This was followed by another unexpected away win at Everton, and retention of their Premiership status was almost assured. Nevertheless, they played for most of the season as if they were destined for the Championship. I just hope they revitalize the squad by acquiring some quality players and casting adrift some of the dross that’s accumulated over the past two seasons.

Garry Monk was in exalted company by season end of managers receiving their P45s. Luis Van Gaal won the FA Cup for Manchester United and two days later was sacked, principally for spending a fortune on mediocre players,and playing a turgid system that was alien to the United style of attacking football with flair. He was compensated somewhat by walking away with a 5 million pound payoff in his back pocket.

Sam Allardyce proved once again he is the master evader of the big drop by saving Sunderland with a few points to spare. He has the distinction of never been relegated when managing several clubs that hovered over the abyss. Newcastle, Norwich and hapless Aston Villa were the three clubs relegated and replaced by Burnley, Middlesbrough and Hull City. Burnley and Hull City are the proverbial yo-yos vying with promotion and relegation over the last few seasons.

But Leicester City made this a season never to forget and probably never to be repeated. This was definitely a team effort adopting a basically simple 4-4-2 system, but playing to their strengths of soaking up punishment and counter attacking. Claduio Raneiri, their Italian manager” transformed from the “tinkerman” into the “thinkerman.” They were extremely lucky with injuries and were fortunate to make minimum changes throughout the season.

I believe it’s fair to say that the juggernauts of the Premiership, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal, all underperformed for one reason or another, and were incapable of challenging Leicester City for the title. Tottenham were once again the great pretenders and flattered to deceive in the final furlong. Leicester City ultimately won the title in a canter by 10 points. What odds would you give them for winning the Champions League or being relegated next season????