Back Of The Net Special with Ray North: The Euros

by Ray_North on June 10, 2016

UnknownIt finally happened. Last night, whilst watching a documentary on S4C about the, sadly forgotten and neglected 1976 Wales European Championship team (Toshack, Leighton James, Brian Flynn etc), I got my first Euros tingle. I’m hoping that it will now work like a party which you haven’t really wanted to go to, but turns out to be the best night of the year.

My ambivalence towards the Euros has surprised me – after all, as George East keeps telling me: ‘you must be excited, Wales are in it, and Wales never qualify for anything’. Maybe it’s because of Wales’ participation that I’m not showing any emotions, because, this, for me, is the first tournament when my country which actually be taking part in, this is the first time, that I will actually be represented, and with that, as my English and Scottish friends tell me, comes hope, hype, expectation and then, ultimately disappointment.

But, enough about me, who’s going to shine at this tournament, and how will the three British teams and Ireland of course, get on.

I’m going to start with Wales – and let’s start with a statement of truth: Wales qualified because they have one exceptional player, indeed they have a player who could be the player of the tournament; I’m not suggesting that Wales are a one man team, but Gareth Bale scored most of our goals and gives the team an outlet and air of unpredictability that makes it difficult for the opposition. In the qualifications he was devastating, but the tournament proper is different – teams will have plans and preparations for Bale, you’ve only got to look at how Ronaldo and Messi have struggled at the big tournaments to appreciate how hard it is to shine if you’ve got two players kicking you every time you get the ball.
One thing I do predict however, is that Wales won’t lose to England, it may be a dour stinker with no goals, it may be littered with cards and petty fouls, but, England won’t get the three points, and, if Wales can then get a result against either Russia or (more likely) Slovakia, then, they could make it to the next round, which will constitute a good performance.

Player to watch, other than Bale, I’m expecting good things from Andy King after winning the Premiership he comes into the tournament with massive confidence.

Northern Ireland are a proper team. They have no household names, no stars, indeed they only have a handful of players who play in the top flight. But, what they do have is an indomitable team spirit an excellent defence and a formation that works for them.
I fear that Kyle Lafferty’s groin may deprive them of their best goalscoring threat, and I’m struggling to see where their creativity is going to come from. But, but, but, this is the year of the underdog, this is the year when collective endeavour triumphs over the expensive haircut and the Northern Irish could dig in and prevail, however, saying that prevailing against Germany, Poland and the Ukraine might prove too much for them.

Player to watchWill Grigg – how amazing to see a player who plies his trade for Wigan Athletic poised to take the stage in a major international championship, even typing his name, increases my excitement levels. Grigg has scored a lot of goals for Wigan this term and will become even more important if Lafferty’s groin fails him.

The Republic of Ireland have a good pedigree in major tournaments, and in Martin O’Neil have a manager who has played and managed at the very highest level – the experience he gained playing in Billy Bingham’s wonderful 1982 team, will stand him in great stead.
Like, their Ulster neighbours however, the draw hasn’t been kind and in Belgium and Italy they have been paired with two of the pre-tournament favourites, whilst Sweden are no slouches either – you get the feeling that if Ireland are going to do anything, they must get a result against Sweden and hope that they can get at least a point against the sometimes brittle Belgiums or cagey Italians.

Player to Watch – in a very experienced squad, the Derby County schemer, Jeff Hendrick will add a bit of youthful enthusiasm, he’s very well thought of at Derby and can pick a pass.

So, finally, England – unusually, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of hype surrounding this latest bid for glory. There’s no talk of golden generations and wags, no injured superstar upon whose toe or hamstring a nation’s hopes rest.

I’m interested in this England squad as it appears to have a naive coltish quality to it that is quite attractive: the likes of Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Dele Ali and Eric Dyer are all potential tournament stars and in their performance against Germany earlier in the season they played a high-tempo, pressing game that was very effective. However, there was one thing about the England team that lined up that day, that shouldn’t be ignored, but probably will, a certain Wayne Rooney was missing. Rooney may be a fine player in many ways, but, he is now neither quick enough to a world class forward nor experienced or savvy enough to be a world class midfielder – what he is is a very good player capable of great moments and super goals, but, too often he looks lost, whilst his lack of pace slows down the way England (and indeed Man United) play. Hodgson will pick Rooney, and when he does, every one of their opponents will immediately know how England will play and how to thwart them (see last World Cup and European Champs).
So, in summary, for me, if England play Rooney, then a fizzling out in the quarter finals probably looms, however, if Roy Hodgson is brave and picks a less experienced team but one that can grow as the tournament progresses, then, who knows.

Player to Watch – for me Eric Dier is massively important to England, he is, potentially, the best holding midfielder England have had in a generation. He’s young and inexperienced, but, if he can transform his Spurs form into the international arena then he could unlock the skills of the likes of Dele Ali, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling.

My tip for gloryGermany. A lot of people are tipping the French, and understandably, but Germany are the absolute past masters at tournament football. I was surprised when they picked Schweinsteiger, as his legs appear to have completely gone, but, a warm afternoon against a nervous deep-lying opposition, is a very different game from the hustle and bustle of the premier league, and just as they have done in the past with the likes of Matthaus, Breiner and even Beckenbauer, the Germans may have a plan for Schweinsteiger that will surprise us all.

Potential Leicester Citys – don’t look further than Poland. They have the wonderful Robert Lewandowski up front and in Milik he now has an able foil; they also have a superb and properly scary centre half in Kamil Glik (below). They are prone to self-destruct, but, if they can keep their heads, they could progress far into the tournament, and, the knockout stage is long in this tournament and with that comes unpredictability.Unknown-3

Three Wild Cards to Watch – Keep an eye on Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco, who is another exciting Belgian – he came on for Atletico in the Champions League final and immediately added a spark to their team, he could do the same for Belgium.

Just as exciting is the Schalke winger, Leroy Sane – quick, two footed and with an excellent cross, he could be the best German wide-man since Pierre Littbarski.

Finally, one from Albania – it’s great to see the Albanians in the Euros, my hunch is that they’ll probably do a lot of defending, and this will give us the opportunity to see the 19 year old Elseid Hysaj who plays his club football for Napoli and is described as being one of the best young defenders in Italy which is some accolade.

So my prediction for the last four:


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Mick Middle-East June 17, 2016 at 10:07 am

Did you see the match yesterday? Wales didn’t turn up. Apart from a couple of touches and the free-kick Bale never got in the game.


Ray_North June 17, 2016 at 10:12 am

Mick – I can’t disagree. Fair play to England, and in particular Roy Hodgson, in the first half, Wales were finding it easy, then, as soon as he brought on a cleverer striker who was able to move the Welsh back 3 around, Wales looked very vulnerable.
I hope he sticks with Sturridge and, I hope that England do well. I fear for Wales – Russia will be all on drugs!
(oh and I admit that, yesterday, I was wrong about Rooney, he looked very competent in midfield)


Mick Middle-East July 6, 2016 at 6:26 am

Ray, long may your predictions be wide of the mark. But I fear that your one about Germany may be correct. What odds a Germany v Wales final?
Cymru am byth!


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