BBC/ITV needs to serious revise its punditry/commentary team or risk losing the coverage: Commentators showed constant poor preparation (reference to Spain v France being a game between the only two teams to have won a European-World Double took the biscuit, when actually West Germany was the first team to do it, but that was just one of many); co-commentators added precisely zero value to the coverage with constant repetition of nothing other than the bleedin’ obvious; pundits were afraid to say anything useful (except Roy Keane, who went overboard) and were plainly biased (the BBC team’s inability to grasp overtly that Italy had been by far the better team in the first half of the quarter final against England was the ultimate example). The idea of a commentary team is to add value – tell us things we may not have spotted, give us an idea what players and managers are really thinking, and say it as it is objectively. Only Sky provides that (unfortunately with a large dose of overkill, but at least it does it) – that is why it retains the Premier League coverage and it will take coverage of international tournaments soon enough on this evidence (given that the concept of “terrestrial television” will be consigned to history by the end of the year).
Fifth officials are a complete waste of time: Fifth officials were already a waste of time before the Ukraine-England match, existing solely to determine whether or not the ball had crossed the goal line (when actually, had they been placed on the opposite side from the linesman, they could have assisted the referee a lot more). Then, of course, on the one occasion that was necessary, the fifth official got it wrong! The chip technology, which determines instantly whether the ball is in or out, is the way to go.
We need fewer knock-out games, not more: UEFA has rightly come under pressure for its nonsensical decision to increase the size of the tournament to 2016 – so much so that its only defence has been to suggest more knock out games are what people want. Really? Three of the quarter finals have produced just three goals and on occasions the prospect of watching grass grow looked more appealing, as caution has inevitably set in and defences have predominated; even in the case of the fourth, seldom has there been such a dire six-goal game as Germany-Greece. The group games, on the other hand, were full of action and intrigue – from end-to-end goalfests (Portugal-Denmark, England-Sweden) to games of high technical skill and interest (Spain-Italy, Netherlands-Germany). So having more knock out games is deemed a selling point? Why, exactly?
The English and Irish aren’t very good at football: For the thirteenth time England goes out in the last eight of a major tournament (versus only four progressions at that stage, and two of those were as host country; only Mexico, which has gone out 12 times out of 12 away from home at the last sixteen stage in the World Cup, can match that kind of record at particular round); for the sixth time England exits in a penalty shoot out. This century alone, Portugal, with just a fifth of the population, has reached as many semi-finals as England has in its entire history. The game against Italy certainly showed England’s technical deficiencies, but those are not even the prime problem as I see it: what is really marked is the players’ tactical deficiencies – an inability, beyond the basics of group defence, to be able to step up and change a game on the field tactically. Pirlo is a magnificent player, but given time on the ball so are a lot of people! As for Ireland…
Officials are getting a lot better: The standard of officiating is improving so much that, aside from a few baffling decisions in the first game, the on-field officials have barely been noticed. This fact should be noticed – it is a very good sign!
UEFA/FIFA need to sort the draw out: The nonsense of “seeding” host nations whose coefficient indicates they probably would not otherwise have qualified was exposed again, just as it was in 2008 and 2010. This time the exposition was even more spectacular, as all four semi-finallists come from just two of the four groups – the two which did not have host nations playing in them. And they’re thinking of expanding the tournament…?!!
I should stick to club football: Having done so well with predictions during the club season (including Arsenal’s third place, Barcelona’s Champions’ League exit, Wolves’ post-McCarthy collapse and so on), my suggestions that Portugal were a one man team (in my defence, I did note he was a very good one man), that the Netherlands were serious title contenders, and that Russia would be a strong dark horse bet were all somewhat flawed. Indeed, as noted above, this has been a tournament where the strong have survived.
So who’ll win? Notwithstanding the above failings… historically, there’s still many a slip twixt cup and lip: in 2000, the final was due to be Netherlands v France and, ironically, it was down to Italy and Portugal to play the role of semi-final spoilers. The latter nearly managed it, taking France to extra-time and a late penalty; the former did manage it, keeper Toldo incredibly seeing off two penalties in normal time before securing a win in the shoot out. In the end, Italy was just injury time away from winning the whole thing. So in 2012 can Italy and Portugal do likewise? I still have to bet against Portugal, although the gap does seem to have closed between the Iberian neighbours and 2010 match winner David Villa is not playing. Italy is a more intriguing proposition, as it was 12 years back, with a German defence which still hasn’t fully been tested. Yet with Italy having missed so many chances against England, you do wonder where the goals would come from and it is hard to see the Germans failing to score. But I feel a surprise in my bones, perhaps a rollercoaster or too, so I’ll go for a Spain-Italy final. (Your best bet is now to go out and put a large chunk of money or Portugal-Germany!)