Really, this was like watching West Brom in an international tournament – lots of earnest, honest endeavour from both sides, incompetence in front of goal and a deathlessly dull 120 minutes. England copped a load of flak for their endeavours but it wasn’t as if Italy were breathtakingly adventurous – they couldn’t manage a goal despite monopolising the match.
The template for a 0-0 was set early on. After 21 minutes, all neutrals began the Mexican wave, which England fans admirably ignored. But you couldn’t blame the rest of us for taking part.
Locals cranked up ‘Oooh-cry-ina’ chants early, one guy even tried to get a ‘Rossiya’ (Russia) chant going but had no takers. Later on, the ‘Ooh-cry-ina’ morphed into ‘Italia’, as the hosts decided to back Italy because they were still miffed that England had edged them out of the championships.
In fact it was a shame Ukraine missed out on this match as it would have been immeasurably improved – they’d have been a more fluid attacking threat and, of course, everybody in the stadium would have gone absolutely bazonkas as per the crazed Swedish hordes who lit up the stadium in the 3-2 defeat nine days earlier. Instead, most people were moderately interested.
So we had a strangely subdued motley crew at the match – surprisingly quite a few Poles – many of whom were Ukrainians taking the first swig from international football’s champagne tournament.
England fans, again admirably, stoked up the heat with a strong second-half showing of support which felt at the time as though it could carry the team through. But there was to be no joy for Jon, Kiev resident and Stevenage Borough fan. Liked his comment: “It’s been interesting to be able to look the police in the eye in the course of the tournament.”
But, not being in the habit of watching England very often as Wales play at the same time, the parallels with Lisbon 2004 were uncanny – only that was a far better side.
Back then Sven, it seemed to me, played two back fours (I was up in the stand) and used a siege defence. Lo and behold, reading before the tournament, Sven copied a lot from Roy Hodgson’s Swedish success in the 70s.
So now England have Sven’s guru in the hot seat and the style is the same. Against decent sides, at any rate. Two back fours, clean sheet, bore the fans to death.
Though a friend Oxana called it ‘lingeringly suspenseful’, texted: “I watched in perfect comfort in McDonalds, not amidst crowds in the fanzone. And though it did seem interminable I was having a kind of private reverie, so I was not bored.”
So commiserations to England fans on another penalty fiasco. Painful, obviously. But if you want real anguish, pop over to Wales in September for the next qualifying campaign. That’ll be REAL pain.