Euro 2016

It’s finally here!!! The European Championships start today in France and it should be a fantastic tournament. I probably won’t speak to my wife for just over a month now which she’s probably happy about! On a personal note I’m really excited as my son is now 8 and loves his football and this is the first tournament that he’ll be really into which I’m excited about.

With UEFA extending the number of teams from 16 to 24 we as fans get more games but will it be to the detriment of the Euros quality wise? It could be. I always thought the Euros were actually better than the World Cup as you had 8 then 16 outstanding European teams competing whereas now with 24 there are some “lesser” teams involved which is great for those countries fans but might mean there are one or 2 heavier defeats for teams and more predictable results than in previous Euros.

With the tournament being held in France, security is a concern. Following the terrorist attacks in Paris last year there has always been a concern that something might happen during this football tournament. The French security authorities are doing everything they can to minimize the risk but unfortunately the risk factor can never be zero so the fans travelling to France need to be vigilant. French authorities have told local restaurants and bars not to show games on TV so that they get all the fans in one place within the designated Fanzones which will then be easier to secure. My concern, especially with some of the idiotic England fans is that they get drunk and think they can take on 10 men even with machine guns and so end up in very vulnerable situations. Surely even the football dunces can grasp the fact that its not other football hooligans they need to worry about but potential terrorists who won’t just sing songs back at them! If the fans listen to the Authorities they will be ok.

Back to football matters and I don’t really feel there is an outstanding team in the tournament. There are some very good sides but not one you could say was in the class of France 2000 or Spain 2012.

I personally believe only 3 teams have a chance of winning it though. France, Germany and Belgium. I don’t think Spain or Italy can win it despite being great tournament teams.

France being at home are my favorites for the title. I don’t think they are a fantastic side but in Pogba, Griezmann and Lloris they have 3 world class players and a bunch of very very good players. They aren’t the greatest defensively but with the home support I believe they will be lifting the trophy in Paris in July.

If France and Germany avoid each other in the knock out stages then they would be my 2 finalists.

Germany are obviously the World Champions and have some fantastic players but they haven’t been great since the world cup. Having said that the Germans are one of the greatest tournament teams in football history so regardless of qualifying or friendly results I think we’ll see a strong German showing again.

Belgium are a strange outfit. They probably have on paper the strongest squad in European football but they appear to find it difficult to gel as a team. I was disappointed with them in the last World Cup and they have been a bit iffy in the friendlies leading up to this tournament. Vincent Kompany will be a big miss for them but the squad is still pretty formidable. If they can click as a team then they have a real chance of winning it. In Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne they have 2 match winning talents. I think they’ll make at least the semi finals.

The holders, Spain, are nowhere near what they were 4 years ago when they were hailed as the greatest international team the world has ever seen. I always believed that Xavi was the main man and now he has retired there is a big hole to fill. Del Bosque has left some big names out of the squad and selected some young up and coming talent especially in midfield but I think this tournament will come 4 years too soon for them and I see them making the semi finals at best.

Of the others, I don’t think Italy and Portugal are as strong as they used to be but will still make the knock out stages.

England? Quarter finals at best again I’m afraid. I see a lot of pundits getting excited about England’s chances of winning it. Yes they have some exciting players especially up front but with a dodgy defense and a so so midfield I don’t think they have a chance of lifting the trophy. If Roy Hodgson gives up on his obsession with accommodating Wayne Rooney then England may have a chance of the semi finals. The formation he selected against Portugal was just bizarre and at one point Kane and Vardy were playing like wing backs just to be able to play Rooney as the striker. I would leave Rooney out. Kane or/and Vardy have to be the main strikers this tournament. I don’t think Rooney is good enough to play midfield at an international tournament and is only slightly better in the number 10 role just behind a striker. Rooney for me is a striker and that’s the only position he can play and we have better options in that position. Do I think he will leave Rooney out? Not a chance and that’s why I don’t see England going beyond the quarters, in fact I can see a last 16 exit if the team revolves around Rooney.

It’s great to see Wales and Northern Ireland back in there and with the Republic of Ireland qualifying it was almost a full house of UK and Irish teams but unfortunately (I say that with a massive tongue in my cheek!) Scotland let the side down and bombed out!

Surprise package? I’m going for Slovakia, they have some solid players and added into that is the brilliant Marek Hamsik who can change a game. Not saying they are going to win it but I think they could produce a shock result or 2 which might be bad news for England and Wales. Having said that if Wales can keep it tight then I also see them producing a shock due to the magic of Gareth Bale. What at first glance seemed a pretty easy group for England I suddenly see as slightly “iffy”.

Star players? I see 3 guys who could well light up the tournament. Antoine Griezmann, Kevin De Bruyne and Anthony Martial. I think the best player in the tournament is Gareth Bale and if he clicks for Wales then anything can happen provided they keep it tight at the back but that might prove difficult.

Cristiano Ronaldo is obviously in the Portugal squad but he’s been struggling with injuries lately and even though he scored the winning penalty, he didn’t look himself during last months Champions League final. He still scores lots of goals but is becoming less of a threat outside the box. He’s an all time great and if he’s 100% fit then he might do something special as I think this will be the last major tournament we will see him in at anything like his peak.

All in all I think it promises to be a tournament to remember for all the right reasons. Football really is the beautiful game and these major tournaments are so special that I feel like a kid again waiting for it to kick off.

Enjoy guys!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Greatest

Muhammad Ali passed away on Friday at the age of 74.

I was watching TV when there was a news flash that interrupted the TV show. I’d read a couple of hours earlier that Ali had been admitted to a hospital with breathing problems so for some reason I just knew what was coming in the news flash but when the newsreader said the words “Muhammad Ali is dead at 74” it didn’t quite register.

A couple of moments later I could feel my eyes filling up with tears when the magnitude of the news hit me. The world had lost one of it’s biggest ever icons. All of a sudden the world had changed. It might sound dramatic but that’s how it felt to me.

Ali will leave behind an incredible legacy. He was the greatest sportsman the world has ever seen. He was an amazing athlete, but he also had charisma, looks, humor, incredible self belief, immense courage and an unparalleled will to succeed.

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr he would later convert to Islam and change his name to Muhammad Ali.

Outside of the ring he was a man of conviction and incredible courage even though some of his views during the 60’s and 70’s were controversial and divided opinion. He did inspire Americans to rethink their views on the Vietnam war after refusing to serve in the American Military during the conflict as he believed the war was unjust. The Authorities actually sentenced him to 5 years in prison. The sentence was revoked but he was banned from boxing between 1967 and 1970. Because of this the world missed out on seeing Ali box during what would’ve been his prime but when asked in later life if he would change anything he said he wouldn’t. His views and beliefs mellowed somewhat with age and he became by all accounts the most generous and loving man you could wish to meet. They say he would treat a beggar with the same respect that he would show to a monarch. He was just a very special human being of the likes we might never see again.

As a boxer he was sensational. For a big man he had incredibly fast feet and hands and very rarely wasted a punch. He had a granite chin and the heart of a lion. Technically he wasn’t text book. He had low hands, didn’t plant his feet to gain power and was susceptible to a left hook but that’s just semantics, the man was simply brilliant. He was also one the first to use “mind games” in sport to upset his opponents in the build up to fights. He would make some fighters so angry via verbal taunts in the lead up that they would literally abandon their game plan and thus lose the fight.

An Olympic gold medalist in 1960, he first fought for the Heavyweight title as a 22 year old Cassius Clay when he defeated the seemingly unbeatable Sonny Liston. In his own words “he shook up the world” and would continue to shake it up for years to come.

Despite the lost years from 67-70 he still became the first 3 time Heavyweight champion of the world. The 3 fights with Joe Frazier were legendary with Ali winning the trilogy 2-1 but perhaps the most famous of Ali’s fights was the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” when he fought George Foreman in Zaire. Foreman was deemed unbeatable just like Sonny Liston had been 10 years earlier but while the rest of the world believed this, Ali didn’t. He got inside Foreman’s head in the lead up to the fight and then during the fight he adopted the so called “Rope a dope” where he sat on the ropes for 7 and a half rounds and let Foreman literally tire himself out before unleashing a flurry of counter punches which knocked Foreman out in the 8th round.

He should have retired after the foreman fight but he enjoyed the fight game too much and so carried on another 7 years. During those 7 years there were some good performances but Ali was never quite the same and the world watched on in sadness when he fought the brilliant Larry Holmes in 1981. I can remember watching it on TV with my dad and asking if this is the great Muhammad Ali because he was getting battered. His reflexes had gone and he took too many punches that day despite Holmes not unleashing his full repertoire that I think he would have on any other fighter. Ali was Holmes’ hero and it must have been hard for him but he had a job to do so can’t be blamed.

Parkinson’s was diagnosed in 1984 and every subsequent TV appearance would show the degenerative disease getting worse and worse as the years passed on.

In 1996 Ali emerged in the Olympic stadium in Atlanta to light the Olympic torch. It was a moment that will go down in history and I’m pretty sure every person who witnessed that moment either in the stadium or watching on TV shed a tear or two as the great man completed his task despite shaking badly due to his disease.

The last time he was seen on the world stage at a major sporting event was the 2012 London Olympics where he appeared very frail.

Doctors have said his final year was a tough one for Ali.

I feel privileged to have lived at a time that he did. To have actually seen Ali fight would’ve been a life highlight. My Uncle Bill actually went with a group from Barnsley to watch the “Fight of the Century” between Ali and Frazier at Madison Square Garden in 1971! What an experience that must have been. I’ve always looked at Uncle Bill in awe thinking that he actually saw Ali fight!

Ali was the most famous person in the world for 5 and a half decades. Every village, town and city across the world will have heard of Muhammad Ali.

His words and actions will continue to inspire future generations. I’ve already got a picture of him with a quote on it that I will be printing off and pinning to both my sons’ bedroom walls to inspire them as they grow up.

He will be remembered forever as simply The Greatest.

Fly high Ali.

What is your greatest Ali memory?

 

 

 

 

Magnificent Murray

So Andy Murray gets to yet another grand slam final!!!

A wonderful achievement from the Scot as the clay of Roland Garros is a long way from being his favorite surface.

In easily defeating the defending champion Stan Wawrinka in 4 sets, Murray again showed the world that he is one of the greatest players to have played the game and certainly the greatest British tennis player of all time.

The 2016 French Open final will be Murray’s 10th grand slam final!! That is a fantastic record, the only downside is that Murray has played in an era that has included 3 of the top 10 players of all time.

Murray is like marmite, you either love or you hate him. I’ve never fully understood why anyone could hate him though. I see Murray as just an introverted bloke who just wants to play the game he is very very good at. Granted he’s a bit grumpy on court sometimes but that’s just because he’s such a fierce competitor and doesn’t like losing. He isn’t cocky and shows his opponents a lot of respect off the court. He might lack the charisma that the public seem to expect from our sportsmen and women but that’s the public’s problem as Murray is a tennis player and that’s all he wants to be. I’m a Murray fan and I enjoy watching the guy play. He’s a fantastic counter attacking tennis player capable of some breath taking shots in big games. He’s also a great athlete and rarely gets aced even by the big servers.

The final will be the 7th time Murray has faced Novak Djokovic in a grand slam final, winning only 2. Djokovic is arguably the best athlete tennis has ever seen and just seems to grind opponents into submission but Murray is improving even at 29 and this will be a close game.

Clay isn’t Novak’s favorite surface either so I’m going for an upset and for Murray to claim a surprise French Open title in a 5 set thriller.