So I haven't seen the England game. I was actually counting on parks being emptier during the England game, but this is London. No chance any patch of grass is actually left unoccupied if you can see the sun.
England - Croatia 1-0
Between the two, I favour Croatia, because of Balkan brotherhood and because they have been a consistently strong team ever since their re-establishment in 1993. But it was not to be on the day, they did not manage to spoil the England party, and by the looks of it for good reason. It is said that England played better, but I still think the 'It's Coming Home' songs will end in a whimper once the knockout stages come about.
Austria - North Macedonia 3-1
I was hopeful for the small nation of Macedonia, but unfortunately it looks like they're gonna be the whipping boys. Front favourite to go out in the group stage in my book at this point in time. They have a lot of soul, and I can tell epics are being born in Skopje these days, but unfortunately they seem to be very limited in terms of football ability. Already Pancev's goal means a lot, and I hope there will be more for them in the tournament, but the signs aren't there.
|What do you call a successful pop song?|
I don't much rate Austria as a team, and the fact that they controlled the game so strongly, specially in the second half, is telling. Alaba is clearly their star player, and for good reason: he was the most present in the game and very likely had the most touches. But even without a double Champions League winner, Austria can line up the likes of Arnautovic and a whole host of RB Salzburg players rather used to the rarefied air of Champions League.
Lainer's first goal was class, as was his gesture to hold up a support message for Ericksen straight after. Excellent positioning and control of the ball for the final touch. Will they beat Ukraine? Hard to say. I'll have a clearer view after match day 2.
Because the game was played in Bucharest (which the ITV commentator called Budapest at half-time, but hey-ho, it's east of Berlin, how is he gonna know?), a few words about my beautiful country. To be a host nation of this tournament, to have the eyes of the continent upon you and generally to be considered amongst the civilised nations is a historical luck that I'm still not quite sure how we stumbled upon. And what will Europe remember after this game? What will the thousands of Macedonians spending the week in Bucharest note? That the National Arena has a retractable roof that cannot actually be retracted, while the Austrian team - on their way to functional countries - will look back at that time in Bucharest when they couldn't do their official training on the game pitch as it was water-logged. Monsoon season in Bucharest, blame the weather and the historical bad luck. Only, when it's such a long streak, the fault might not lay entirely with the Gods.
Netherlands - Ukraine 3-2
Well, even De Jong, speaking for ITV before the game, wasn't fancying Netherlands all that much. With the weakest team in living memory, the Dutch are something of a question mark for this tournament. But credit to them, they hit the ground running and had a bunch of opportunities in the first half, on account of which they really should've gotten in with an advantage at half-time. But nil-nil it was, only for the goal-fest to start in the second half.
While the first goal was a great execution, Ukraine must be beating themselves for how easy they let in the second. As should the Dutch for being equalized so quickly and so easily. But all's well that ends well, Dumfries' goal sent the points where they should've gone with a lot less emotions. Ukraine will take heart from the performance and from the relative easy games left in the group. Can they beat Austria? They'll certainly want to.
As I write this, it's about two hours from the start of today's games. It looks like a straightforward treble of Czech Republic, Poland and Spain to me, with potentially a question mark over Scotland's resistance. But it's still the first game and the potential for surprise is still decent. It will drop significantly after the first round of games.