All the build-up to the third Euro 2012 semi-final between France and Spain, as well as a nod or three towards England's game with Italy
Good morning. *adopts annoying Big Brother voice* Hello and welcome to Day 16 of Euro 2012. This is the time when things should be taking strange and odd turns.
*loses annoying Big Brother voice*
After this amount time cooped up together in faceless hotel rooms the remaining six teams left in the competition should be going a little bit Castaway. Steven Gerrard's new best friend should be a football he's made to look like Phil Collins with a fat marker pen; the Spanish squad should be eyeing each other up suspiciously muttering thinly-veiled threats about not passing to ball to one another while there should be all out war in the Italian set-up with loud shrieking arguments about stolen women and hair gel.
Instead, everything seems very nice and calm - a little too calm - as everyone goes about their business in a professional and respectful manner. A festival of reasonableness, as someone once said (though it's debatable whether you actually want the two to go together) and it seems to be working out for Euro 2012.
But before we start cranking up the atmosphere ahead of tonight's quarter final between France and Spain and tomorrow's crunch clash between England and Italy let's indulge in some light Saturday morning reading and listening ...
• The latest instalment of the Football Daily podcast can be found here.
• Read how Germany dispatched Greece in a ruthlessly efficient manner
• England have nothing to fear from Italy, says ultra-confident Roy Hodgson
• Mario Balotelli: Is he really worth the risk? Daniel Taylor asks and answers the question
• Today is Zinedine Zidane's 40th birthday - he wasn't bad against Spain so he wasn't
10.30am Look at Lee Dixon's face! Just look at his face!
10.42am: Some Below the Line love where Akno has written bemoaning the assumption that England will brush aside the Italians and reach the semi-final with ease.
"Is anybody else annoyed about the press underestimating Italy? I'm sorry but I fail to see what we've done that's so impressive and how despite our dodgy defensive performance against Sweden we've obviously got a defence that's definitely too good for the Italian attack.It's a very valid point and, even by the standards of the more jingoistic elements of the media, I am amazed at how presumptuous people are about this game. I think it's being driven by the broadcasters who see England v Germany on Thursday as the highlight of the tournament. But I would argue that Italy have been more impressive than England so far (from a much tougher group) and it could be a long, long night for Stevie G and Scotty P on Sunday night as they chase after Pirlo's metronomic passes like dogs chasing a tennis ball. That's my argument at least.
"I was enjoying this tournament when we were all pessimistic (or realistic) about our chances of winning matches, I'm not really surprised that the press have decided to start over-hyping our team again but I'm still annoyed we've lost the refreshing relaxed attitude we had.
"I'm really excited about the match though as I always enjoy watching Pirlo, a player I feel privileged to watch (on a related note, happy Birthday Zidane). Italy will provide a tough challenge but whatever happens I think Hodgson has had a very positive effect on the team in a very short time, so well done Roy."
11.01am: A Readers letter from Will in London: "In today's Guardian it claims that 'England have never beaten a previous World Cup or European Championship winner outside Wembley in the knockout stages of a major tournament'. While they do not represent the same scalp as a Germany or Spain, I think 1992 European Championship winners Denmark have been overlooked here, who England defeated in the first knockout round of the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea."
I think a bit of Chinese whispers have been at play here – that 'stat' has been doing the rounds this week and began as 'England have never beaten a major nation outside Wembley etc and son on ...' sparking much debate as to what actually constitutes a 'major nation'. Somehow along the way it has become a previous World Cup or European Championship winner but that is, as Will points out, incorrect. The cheque is in the post, Will*.
* It's not really.
11.11am: If you have ever say at home on a Saturday morning and thought: 'I would love to pose a question for Sid Lowe in some sort of web-based conversation' then hang on to your hat because today is your lucky day. Click here to go below the line and ask a question. Sid will be along in about 45 minutes to answer them.
11.14am: Birthday boy Zinedine Zidane has been getting much love today, thanks in part to this piece by Amy Lawrence. France also played Spain in the final of the 1984 European Championships. Have a look at some highlights here.
11.20am: The mystery of FAI head honcho John Delaney's 'stolen' shoes has been solved. Or at least is closer to being solved.
11.34am: "Re: that Lee Dixon clip,|" writes Ryan Dunne. "I find it's even funnier if one imagines Lee saying, stroppily, "get her!" under his breath. Great to see some Italy love in today's live blog (I'm backing them to beat England *without* recourse to penalties, but then I am Scottish). Anyone else reckon that France could pull off an upset (Spain fanny about, it stays at 1-1, late piece of Ribery/Benzema magic) tonight, or is that Bendtner-as-Euros-top-scorer style wishful thinking?"
11.36am: Take a seat please ladies and gentlemen because Rio Ferdinand has spoken and England's cheerleader-in-chief is pretty pleased with how things are shaping up in the camp. A camp he was so cruelly denied entry to.
"When I first started with England, players would sit in distinct groups," Ferdinand told The Sun. "You would have a table for Manchester United players, another for the Liverpool lads and one for Alan Shearer and his mob. I didn't know where to sit for fear I would upset one group or another and be marked down as in a particular gang. It all sounds strange now but that's how it was in those days.
"In the squad today you have plenty of Manchester United and Liverpool players but many have had a different upbringing. Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing have moved to Anfield, yet are north easterners. And, of course, Danny Welbeck knows Henderson from the time he was on loan at Sunderland."
11.39am: "Fair play to the director of that clip," writes Peter Wilson of the John Delaney clip. "His homage to Scorcese's Harvey Kietel drunk scene in Mean Streets was delightful. A triumph (although I am feeling a bit sea sick now and I'm off for a lie down)."
11.49am: Some reaction to Greece's exit last night at the hands of a rather impressive Germany. Greece looked as if they could be humiliated by a rampant German side but fought back to at least rescue some pride for of a nation that has been exhausted by crisis. Striker Dimitris Salpigidis, who set up Greece's equalizer before scoring a late penalty, says "We leave with pride. We fought as much as we could." He says he hoped that Greek people "got some encouragement from watching us fight." The papers back in Greece certainly seem pleased with their effort. "We're Proud of You," Greek daily SportDay wrote in its banner headline Saturday, while GoalNews added: "We owe you, and we love you."
12.04pm: Ryan Dunne again: "Is it just me, or did Rio's "Alan Shearer and his mob" not bring to mind a mad vision of a Newcastle-set Sopranos? Andy Caroll would surely need a haircut to pass as a Paulie Gualtieri style Capo." It's just you, I think.
12.06pm: Sid Lowe's webchat has now started so if you could all direct your attention over there he will answer your questions. Rob Smyth will be taking over this blog after Sid is done.
12.45pm: Hello. Nothing's going on. Nothing. So let's endeavour to justify our existence by picking our favourite European Championship assists. Send your suggestions to email@example.com. Off the top of my head, here are some gems from Dennis Bergkamp and Teddy Sheringham (in the same game), Lothar Matthaus, Karel Poborsky and – a personal favourite, this yin – Aljosa Asanovic.
. (Thanks to Benjamin Newman for the link.)
1pm: An old clip that has nothing to do with the Euros: Tim Flowers on bottle.
1.05pm: Previously on France v Spain, a stonking goal from Jean-Pierre Papin in a Euro 92 qualifier. This goal from Luis Fernandez in the return fixture is also, in the parlance of our time, a belter. And look at this tackle in the same game. Oof.
1.25pm: I don't know what to say. Nothing is happening. Even the yellow Sky Sports News Breaking News Ticker – the Breaking News Ticker that never sleeps – is having a nap.
1.30pm: I feel like I'm reporting the passage of time.
. (Warning: clip contains adult gentleman's language.)
1.31pm: "You could always start writing/requesting reader suggestions for a 'Joy of Six: Best Sky Sports Yellow Ticker Moments'?" says the ever faithful Ryan Dunne. ... QPR FORWARD HEIDAR HELGUSON SIGNS ONE-YEAR CONTRACT EXTENSION ... is right up there.
1.33pm: A bit more France/Spain history. Here's a highlights package of Zinedine Zidane's imperious performance in the Euro 2000 quarter-final.
1.45pm: Talk of Zidane allows a nice easy segue to Carlton Palmer. This clip has nothing to do with the Euros either, but here's Palmer scoring a 20-yard header back in the day.
1.50pm: "I reckon you should start making up increasingly outrageous (but maybe disarmingly minor) news stories and see how long you can get away with it," says Omar Naboulsi. "Nothing can go wrong there, right?" Pea forty what?
2pm: "France/Spain history, yeah?" Nathanbarleys Phil Podolsky. "Spain's roster of late 90s/early 2000s included such unarguably world class players as Raul, Mendieta, Valeron, Luis Enrique, Guardiola, Tristan, Helguera. However, plagues of injuries aside, when they played together for the national team, they looked a bit like England. Wherefore?"
Wasn't it that whole mentality business? You know, that mentality stuff. Mind you, quarter-finals in 2000 and 2002 is only a snifter below par, even though they didn't play especially well in either tournament. The 1994-96 team were better, I think. They were, perhaps, only a shocking Julio Salinas miss away from a World Cup final.
2.02pm: "Monsieur Ribery really doesn't have a flattering silhouette, does he?" says SonOfTheDesert of the picture at the top of this article.
2.02pm: ... BREAKING NEWS: THE SKY SPORTS BREAKING NEWS TICKER HAS COME ALIVE ... but it's something about Formula 1 rather than football, so.
2.05pm: Barry Fry is on Sky Sports News, waving a couple of small England flags and shouting "Come on!" Let's hope Bazzer doesn't think the studio is cursed.
2.15pm: "The Zidane love reminded me of what could have been his greatest moment if Anelka hadn't fallen flat on his face," says Kari Tulinius. "That would have been one of the all time great assists. As to great assists that came off, I really like the assists for 2.50pm: "It's been a slow day in the office," says Angus McDowall, "so clearly the obvious thing to do was to compile the tournament results of all the so-called top world sides in a mini-table going back to Euro 92 to prove how England are utterly incapable of beating real teams in proper competition. It proved the following:
1. Yes. I'm really sad.
2. And, yes, England are relegation fodder.
On points per game, having awarded three for a win, even on penalties, and one for a draw in group-stage matches, the league table from top to bottom goes: France, Brazil, Portugal, Germany, Spain, Italy, Holland, England, Argentina. What it also shows is that most sides have a goal difference of only plus or minus one. It really is all about the penalties."
2.52pm: "Evra loses his place in the side due to an innocuous foul that led to the Gerrard curler," says Nik Storey. "Will Clichy miss out after his stinker vs. Sweden (went missing for both goals)?" Are those two lamentable has-beens really the best France have got at left-back? Dear me.
3pm: "I broadly agree with your criticism, but they would also concede some goals without Xabi Alonso, I think," says Phil Podolsky. "Also, I don't want to live in a world where Pedro has a starting spot ahead of Fabregas. It's like, I've been informed J.K. Rowling sold more books than Angela Carter and Phil Collins more records than Nick Drake, but that would be the final straw. Maybe Spain just need another midfield magician in Thiago Alcantara!"
3.05pm: NOTHING IS HAPPENING. But I'm still here, diligently reporting the passage of time. It's 3.05pm.
3.08pm: At the third stroke it will be 3.08pm precisely.
3.10pm: It's now 3.10pm.
3.15pm: I'm starting to lose it. Shall we have a picture? Do you want a picture? Here's the coolest footballer in history, and star of Euro 84, advertising about eight things at once.
3.20pm: "OK, I'll interrupt your reverie/ennui," says Lou Roper, whose parents must be U2 fans. "Is it heresy to claim that France have more than a decent chance against any side with Alvaro Arbeloa in it" As I've got a bit of time on my hands, I'll give you the long answer. Yes.
3.30pm: Right, I've done my stretch. I'll leave you with this cute young thing. Here's Scott Murray.
3.35pm: Poor Bob! But don't fret, readers, he's recovering now, he's sat in the corner of the office with his feet up and a wet flannel on his head. Alan Rusbridger and Polly Toynbee are peeling him grapes. Anyway, let's pick the pace up a bit with the pools dividend:
4 Score Draws (3pts): 6,43,45,48
18 No Score Draws (2pts): 1,3,4,9,14,15,22,23,26,32,33,36,37,38,40,41,42, 49
No claims are required. Winnings are sent automatically.
Dividend Forecast is Low
6 Score Draws (3pts) 3,9,12,19,22,29
5 No Score Draws (2pts): 4,15,36,38,41
20 Home Wins: 1,2,5,6,7,11,14,17,18,20,21,24,25,27,28,34,35, 37,45,47
18 Away Wins: 8,10,13,16,23,26,30,31,32,33,39,40,42,43,44,46, 48,49
Dividend Forecast is Good
3.40pm: Alan's left a bit of skin on one of the grapes, but I think Smyth's going to let it ride.
3.50pm: Ladies and gentlemen, we have some news! Helder Postiga will miss the rest of Euro 2012 with a thigh strain sustained in the quarter-final win over the Czech Republic. He was carted off the pitch upon pulling up lame during the first half against the Czechs in Warsaw. We already knew he was jiggered for the semi against France or Spain - but that's him out of the final as well, should the Portuguese make it. He was replaced against the Czechs by Hugo Almeida. Oh dear, poor Helder. Readers of a certain vintage may remember the Guardian's old space-filling hilarious Clogger column taking regular pot-shots at Postiga during Euro 2004, just before the player
England out of the tournament. Oop! Ah well, at least we're not bringing Clogger back there's no possibility of him embarrassing us England like that this time round.
4pm: And all's well!
4.10pm: You do know there's some rugby on, don't you, sport fans? Evan Fanning, fresh from live blogging unisex hurdles, is all over the South Africa v England stramash - as it happens! Go, go now, he's got more to offer you, I won't blame you for leaving, just don't look back and catch me crying.
4.20pm: "I understand that Alex Oxlade Chamberlain has tweeted today," writes Steve Clowes, leading us by the nose towards some light entertainment. And look what he's found!
Oh Alex! Oh Mr Roy! Oh England! Ah well, that's that, then.
There's no reason to have a plan 'B' because it distracts you from plan 'A'.....
4.25pm: What other little images are lurking around in our system? Hello, a horn. Here's the opening blast of
, then. Very similar, funnily enough, to the noises going through Scott Parker's head whenever he traps the ball and begins to process the passing options.
4.30pm: ENGLAND PRESS CONFERENCE!!! Here's Mr Roy and Steven Gerrard. Questions only in English, Italian and Ukrainian, please! "We must make certain we prepare for the match, and do what we set out to do," says Hodgson. "We've had a video-based meeting, and tomorrow before lunch I will give them some final reminders, before running through some set plays. That's the format we've been running, and will continue to do so." You've got to have a system, haven't you.
4.35pm: Roy is asked by an Italian journalist whether England are a bit like Italy. He bristles for a while, presumably irked at the suggestion that a bit of bus parking has been going on. "I don't know what qualities you are comparing us to, so I can't answer your question." And he doesn't. He's then asked why he changed his team to include Wayne Rooney the other night. It's because he's good, says Roy. This is gold.
4.37pm: Roy's in a bit of a sharp mood. I hope he's sleeping well, and not waking up, like Graham Taylor before him, with pyjamas soaked through. A hack from Ukraine brings up the ghost goal from the other night. Roy communicates a reply using only parps of steam, a bit like a whale, or Ivor the Engine.
4.40pm: Before Mr Roy gets involved in some sort of brawl, Steven Gerrard takes over. He reckons Joe Hart will be the best keeper in the world in a couple of years, and that Andrea Pirlo is world class. To his right, Hodgson sits and simmers. Defensive! The very thought.
4.42pm: Roy's back on form! A huge smile plays over his face, because he gets a chance to trot out some of his Italian. It's nice to see him happy. I hope he's sleeping properly.
4.45pm: A final word from Gerrard, who stresses the importance of keeping control in midfield tomorrow evening. "If we don't, we're in trouble," he says. That's the final stunning revelation of the press conference. Someone's got to get 1,500 words out of that, you know.
4.55pm: News of it all kicking off in the England dressing room. The problem? Wayne Rooney's godawful indie music. "Wazza seems to be the only one who likes his music," says Glen Johnson. "It's all guitar and no singing. It only lasts for about three minutes so we can suffer it." Seeing we're speaking of music, and also of Ivor the Engine, the theme tune would suit Mr Roy down to the ground, no? They could play it as he walks into each press conference, and before every post-match interview.
I wonder how long it would take before he'd snap?
5pm: And that, my fellow newshounds, is that for this rolling blog. Please join me later on for the Spain-France game, which promises to be another soporific tikitakafest a rip-roaring classic. See you then!
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