Euro 2016 – Semi Finals

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The Torre de Belem in Lisbon. Which I’ve mostly put here because (a) it is nice and (b) it’s in Portugal

After another reasonably dismal showing in my latest round of predictions (well, 50/50), it’s time for another mercifully brief Euro 2016 post.

Before I begin, I must leap unashamedly on to the bandwagon and say (a) how delighted I am that Wales are in the Euro 2016 semi finals and (b) how wonderful their performance was against Belgium on Friday night. Hal Robson-Kanu’s turn for goal number two was, patently, a piece of genius, while Chris Coleman has to be given enormous credit for the work he has done with his team.

Anyway, on to the predictions, and this time I’ll even go for scores just for the hell of it:

Portugal 1-0 Wales (AET) – as with last time I hope I’m very wrong but I think this might be one (probably quite boring) game too far for the Welsh. Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies’ suspensions will be particularly telling in contributing to the end of the Welsh adventure. And I really hope it isn’t Cristiano Ronaldo who gets the winner, as then that win will, as ever, be all about him (and his various abs).

France 2-1 Germany – neither side has particularly convinced me, particularly at the back, but I think France’s attacking prowess should just about see them through. Antoine Griezmann in particular seems to be improving as the tournament goes on – that and the home backing for the French might (if I’m right) see a repeat of that gloriously ill-tempered Euro 2000 semi-final, but this time in the final.

I’ll be back again for the final, and then perhaps a wee round-up of the tournament. Brilliantly, East Fife’s season starts again a week on Saturday (!) at home to Dundee in the League Cup group stage. Lovely.

Euro 2016 – Quarter Finals

“Well don’t be sad, cos 5 out of 8 ain’t bad.” Meat Loaf (get well soon) almost sang that very song (if he’d then simplified the numerator and the denominator). I got five out of eight Euro 2016 quarter-finalists right – I should have known that England would have played like England and that Italy would have been very much Italy.

As well as my invention of a new childrens’ TV/book character based on this week’s football (“Joe Hart’s Jelly Hands” already has a nomination for a Children’s BAFTA), I’m aware that this week has been in the news somewhat for other non-football reasons – for now I’ll leave these well alone.

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Joe Hart – look at his lovely hair

So, in no particular order, I think the quarter finals will finish up thus:

Poland will beat Portugal – and I’ll have lost a £5 bet;

France will beat Iceland  – even thought I’d love it to go the other way;

Germany will beat Italy – clearly I’ve still not learnt my lesson from the last 16 – added to the fact that Germany have never beaten Italy in a knockout match at either the World Cup or the Euros;

Belgium will beat Wales – though again I’ve be delighted if Coleman, Bale and Owain Fon Williams make it through to the last four.

I’ll be back for the semis midweek.

 

Euro 2016 – Preview – Groups A-C

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The Stade de France, venue for the final of Euro 2016 (among other games) – photo by Liondartois

It’s come round again. My secret favourite international football tournament – the European Championships. Despite my attempts at nostalgia recently (though I’ll finish my Euro 2000 post at some point as it was too good a tournament to not recall), time has strode inexorably on to the point where in less than 48 hours, France will kick off the 2016 European Championships against Romania. This first 24-team Euros perhaps doesn’t quite have the wall-to-wall quality of the previously 16-team tournament, but I imagine the Championships will still do the job pretty well in terms of general entertainment and footballing endeavour.

As this is a 24 teams into 16 group stage, I’ve employed the useful services of the Sky Euro 2016 predictor (I guess they have to do something when they don’t (for once) have the TV rights) to get the third place predictions properly into play. As ever in compiling these, I am also rather grateful to the good people at FourFourTwo for producing such a chuffing excellent preview to the Championships. I’ll do the first three groups tonight, with the next three to follow tomorrow night.

Group A

Inevitably, I think France will qualify with ease from group A and do so as group winners. One might argue that France’s Benzema-less forward department is perhaps, a little lacking in quality and/or experience compared to its other divisions, but given France won the World Cup in 1998 with Stephane Guivarch as the lone man up front, this may not be troubling too many at the other end of the Channel Tunnel.

Runners-up in Group A will I think be Switzerland, as was the case when the two countries were drawn together in the 2014 World Cup’s group stage. Switzerland are in that reasonably happy spot where they have markers of quality across their side – Shaqiri, Xhaka, Lichtsteiner and their ilk should see the Swiss comfortably into second.

Also qualifying from Group A will,  in my view, be Romania. Like the Swiss they do have a smattering of quality in key positions, though perhaps a less convincing smattering. They also have everyone’s favourite Football Manager Romanian, Gabriel Torje, available to do his real-life thing, as well as having the manager of that wonderful 1994 World Cup team, Anghel Iordanescu, back in charge which should help.

Rather predictably, I reckon Albania will be on their way home in fourth. I’m not entirely convinced they have the quality in their squad to last the pace over the three games, and they did slightly have to rely on a flag-based riot to get them into this Championships (a chip on my shoulder you say?). That said, they did still qualified automatically from a group containing Denmark, Portugal and Serbia and have a tactically secure and sound manager in Gianni De Biasi. They will be wrapping Lazio keeper Etrit Berisha in many protective layers though – his two potential replacements both play in the Albanian top flight.

Group B

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Open-topped bus tour, anyone?

Again sticking fairly tediously with the seedings, I think England will finish top of Group B. Again, on balance the squad’s quality should be sufficient to see off their various opponents. Roy Hodgson, unlike in 2012 and arguably 2014 too, now at last seems to have found his favoured starting 11, a system that works and has picked hungry players (largely) more on form than reputation. As previously mentioned, I’m still utterly baffled why the best English midfielder in the Premier League in 2015-16 has been discarded in favour of someone who’s played about 78.92 seconds of football in 18 months, but you can’t win em all.

I really fancy Wales to join their near-neighbours in the last 16, on the assumption that they keep Gareth Bale fit. Like the Swiss in Group B (and other than the fact both sides play in red), they have a reliable spine through their team with Wayne Hennessey, Ashley Williams, Aaron Ramsey and the aforementioned world transfer record subject all playing at a high level. The added poignancy of this being a team arguably built (or at least the foundations) by the late Gary Speed will I imagine provide further motivation.

In third but still in the round of 16, I’ve plumped for Slovakia. This is largely based on the premise that I really, really rate Marek Hamsik who has, when so many around him have high-tailed it to England, Spain or Germany, stayed put in Naples and helped his club side to half-decent runs at the Serie A title and in Europe. Like Bale for the Welsh, he is the man the Slovaks build their side around and rightly so. If Martin Skrtel can reduce his propensity for own goals, the lower half of the Velvet Divorce should also be solid at the back.

In last I’ve gone for Russia. I’ll admit right away that this is predicated solely on the fact that, other than the blip that was Euro 2008, Russia tend to be abysmal when they qualify for tournaments. Still relying on Ignashevich and Berezuitsky as your first-choice central defensive partnership two years prior to hosting the World Cup perhaps also demonstrates the dearth of defensive talent in President Putin’s domain. I am though looking forward to seeing if Aleksandr Kokorin can produce the bacon for his side in a major tournament.

Group C

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Party along here come the 10th of July? Hmm…

Sticking to my record so far of exciting and out there predictions, I think a recently-slightly-ropey Germany should still top their group. Though Lahm-less they are certainly not sheep, though have, as everyone seems to have pointed out over the last few months, lost something of their defensive solidity and decisiveness despite Jerome Boateng emerging as a leader in the back four. Like the French, their forward line is severely lacking other than the ever-present yet elusive Thomas Müller. Deutschland should still however be capable of progressing some way into this tournament.

The only other side joining Germany from Group C in the last 16 will be Poland. At last the Poles appear to have found a way to get the most out of Robert Lewandowski (unlike in 2012), while there is more reliable European experience throughout the squad. Remaining unbeaten against Germany (and Scotland) in qualifying will only add to the Poles’ (rightful) sense of entitlement to progress further in the competition.

It gives me no pleasure in saying that I think Northern Ireland‘s European odyssey will come to an end when the group stage concludes. I still though, with their incredible team spirit and astute manager in Michael O’Neill, fancy them to beat Ukraine. For a side which features players from the likes of Kilmarnock, Notts County and Melbourne City, to get this far (at the risk of sounding extremely patronising) is an incredible achievement. And again makes me question why Scotland won’t be in France this summer.

Joining Northern Ireland on their way home (though in a different direction) will be Ukraine. Though granted Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka are both excellent creative players with real European pedigree, the spine of the side looks to be suffering a few slipped discs (I’m here all night). Andriy Pyatov is not immune to the odd blunder, while Anatoly Tymoschuk, while undoubtedly a wonderful holding midfielder in his best days, is playing in Kazakhstan at the age of 37. Add to that the fact that a significant minority of the squad haven’t played in their club side’s home stadium in 2 years, and much as I’d like them to bring their countrymen some well-needed cheer (and frankly stick one to the Russians), I think Kiev Airport will be seeing a charter return flight reasonably soon.

Enough of my babbling for tonight – until tomorrow for Groups D-F.

 

World Cup 2014 Review

After 4 and a bit weeks, 64 mostly entertaining matches and an utterly farcical trophy presentation ceremony, it’s all over. Germany have won their first World Cup since reunification in 1990. The fact Mario Götze, a player born after Germany reunified, scored the winner made it all the more poetic on the night. This has been one of the more enjoyable World Cups of the recent past, and certainly better than 2010’s drudgefest. The group stage in particular provided so many goals, and so many talking points, that Russia 2018 will have to go some to live up to Brazil 2014. Here are a few of my thoughts on some of the best teams, games and players we saw in Brazil.

The Maracana, home of the 2014 World Cup Final (from the stadium’s Wikipedia page)


The Best Teams

Football is a team game. 11 chaps who all have a job to do in the hope of gaining a result for their collective unit. This seems to have been forgotten somewhat in recent times with the rise of the FIFA-box-covering superstar footballer. In this tournament, however, a number of sides showed that a collective, 11 man-unit working together can very much overcome a side with a superstar or two in it. For me the greatest exponents of this were Costa Rica. In Keylor Navas they had one of the outstanding goalkeepers of the tournament, with him marshalling a defence which had an absolute gem of an offside trap. They were unlucky to go out to the Dutch and Louis Van Gaal’s goalkeeper-based penalty mind games in the quarter finals, with a starting 11 made up mostly of MLS and Scandinavia-based players. I also really enjoyed watching Chile too although the memory of them has faded a little. Although Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez were outstanding individuals in their four games, it was so clear that Jorge Sampaoli had his players playing exactly the way he wanted to, and they were happy to do so with everyone easily fitting into the way he had Chile playing. Sanchez tracked back selflessly, Gary Medel was a 5 foot 7 inch rock at centre-half and again that whole back line, despite being a little makeshift, knew exactly what it had to do and how to support the attack.

Obviously, the best team in this World Cup was Germany, and they proved that last night. Despite losing Sami Khedira in the warm-up and Christoph Kramer to a head knock after half an hour, the Germans still had the gumption and the collective nous to see themselves through and deservedly take the World Cup back to Deutschland. Again obviously the Germans’ outstanding performance was in that mad semi final win over Brazil, though they showed their resilience in last night’s match and against the French in the quarter-finals in particular. Best Matches Staying fairly Germany-centric, to my mind the game of the group stages was Germany v Ghana. After Germany took the lead early in the second half, the Ghanaians came back with swagger and verve, with Asamoah Gyan and Sulley Muntari in particular seeming to remember what this football malarkey was all about with two wonderful performances. There was no little poetry in the Germans’ equaliser either, being scored by Miroslav Klose to equal Ronaldo’s World Cup goals record. It was one of those games which you were sad had ended. Another of those came in the knockout stages, in the shape of Belgium v USA. The opening 90 minutes provided, as this World Cup has done on a number of occasions, a very entertaining 0-0 draw with Tim Howard making an extraordinary number of saves to keep the admittedly poor-finishing Belgians out. Extra time of course only got better,with the Americans roaring back from two down at half time to get back in the game via a Julian Green goal. It was not to be, however, with even that wonderful training groud free kick routine unable to provide the US with an equaliser. And then of course, there was Brazil v Germany. But I’ve already said plenty about that. In short the match was just absolutely unreal, and in my view the game of the tournament, simply because it’s a result that’s never likely to be seen again between two nations of that calibre. Best Players Firstly, I want to get out of the way the fact that I think Lionel Messi as player of the tournament is an appalling decision. He may have scored four goals in the group stages but he did not a lot in the knock-out phase and was clearly knackered as the tournament wore on, though he is patently an outstanding player. My player of the tournament was James Rodriguez who scored six goals, at least one in every game he played, played beautifully throughout, was the attacking fulcrum of his side and scored the goal of the tournament against Uruguay. Other mentions have to go to Toni Kroos, Manuel Neuer and Arjen Robben. Messi wasn’t even the best player in his team – Javier Mascherano had an outstanding tournament, capped by his wonderful performance against the Dutch in the semi-finals. My team of the tournament (playing the now-traditional 4-2-3-1), then, would look something like this: Neuer; Lahm, Garay, Vlaar, Blind; Schweinsteiger, Mascherano; Rodriguez, Kroos, Robben; Müller Personally I wouldn’t give Messi a starting berth in my fictional eleven. Though clearly he has been very good at this World Cup, he tailed off as the tournament progressed, while I feel the 11 I’ve picked started well and kept up that form. Paul Pogba as young player isn’t much cleverer than the Messi either – for me Memphis Depay would have been a far more deserving choice. Some final thoughts to come in a separate post. Two for one!    

World Cup Final Weekend

And so, the 2014 World Cup has almost reached a conclusion. There are two matches left – one so meaningless that the very concept might as well be abolished, the other being the match that determines football bragging rights for another four years.

Dealing with the meaningless first, the third and fourth place play-off sees the Netherlands play the hosts Brazil. The Dutch have not scored a goal in four hours of knock out football, while Brazil, you might be aware, lost 7-1 to Germany in their semi final.The match itself is utterly pointless, largely being played out between two groups of squad players and involving sides who generally wonder why their flights home or back to Europe (as is the case for most of Brazil’s squad) have to be delayed for this nonsense.

As for the result, I have a funny feeling Brazil will win the bronze medal and restore the barest modicum of national pride. They will have Thiago Silva back, so sorely missed against the Germans, and have that pride to play for as they try to convince their public that $11bn and some stadiums that will hardly ever be used again was worth it to host a World Cup on home soil while their health and education systems go unnoticed.

This chap might be a little happier come tonight

This chap might be a little happier come tonight

The Dutch seem to have got their excuses in early, meanwhile, with Louis van Gaal stating that the game, as I propose above, should be abolished given its ultimate pointlessness. Last time the Netherlands played in this match in 1998 they lost to Croatia – I imagine the Dutch’s motivation has gone while Brazil still have some in hand despite their appalling play through the tournament.

To the main event then. This will be the third World Cup final to be contested between Germany and Argentina. The first, in 1986, was a five goal thriller; the second in 1990 needed a dodgy last minute penalty from Andreas Brehme to provide the game with a goal.

I have a feeling tomorrow’s game will err on the side of the latter, and that Germany will play in a similar manner to their fairly convincing 1-0 win over the French in the quarters to see them through. Germany’s midfield in particular is and has been excellent, with Philipp Lahm’s switch to full back and the consequent pairing up of Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger in defensive midfield making Germany simultaneously look more solid and more dangerous going forward. The Germans, as Chile and Costa Rica have shown in previous rounds, have and will in my view provide the ultimate demonstration that success in football is reliant on 11 players working together, not one chap who happens to appear on a FIFA box.

Have a feeling there will be a million very happy Germans on the other side of this on Sunday night

I have a feeling there will be a million very happy Germans on the other side of this on Sunday night

The Argentinians meanwhile, as ever, will have to rely on Lionel Messi to see them through. He is due a stellar performance, having been kept fairly quiet during the knock out rounds. If he does turn it on, as he can, in the final the Argentinians may have a chance.

Where things may fall apart for the Argentines is in defence. Germany showed their utter professionalism and ruthlessness in that win over Brazil, and Argentina’s defence proved to be fairly simple to penetrate during the group games – though they have kept three clean sheets in the knockouts. Regardless of that more recent record, I think Ezequiel Garay and Javier Mascherano will have to be at the absolute top of their games to keep their other less disciplined team mates in order and prevent the concession of a few goals. If they can’t, the Germans could find pickings as easy as they did against the chaps in sky blue and white in the 2010 quarter finals.

The last weekend then – and another four years to wait till next time. I really hope and wish that the final is a lot better than last time’s cynical foulfest. One point I had wondered about was if a new World Cup trophy would be commissioned on a Germany or Argentina win. However, and slightly boringly, FIFA’s website informs me that the current World Cup trophy cannot be won outright, as Brazil did with the Jules Rimet trophy (which was subsequently stolen and melted down) in 1970.

Brazil 1-7 Germany

Well, I had been planning to do a quick final and 3rd place playoff preview in time for the weekend. But I couldn’t let this incredible result go by without some more detailed thought on it.

For one, I am very pleased Brazil are out. Scolari’s side have played with a cynicism and misplaced arrogance that few Brazilian teams have demonstrated previously. The stereotypical “samba” stylings have been replaced with functionality and an over reliance on Neymar. This cynicism was particularly displayed in the 2-1 quarter final win over Colombia. In that match, Fernandinho was given a mission to kick James Rodriguez into ineffectiveness, a task he largely succeeded in. The refereeing in that game, and throughout the tournament, had erred on the side of lenient towards Brazil and allowed that cynicism and malice to shine through.

Their overwrought and overplayed emotional state has also caused me to take against them, and that state was somewhat responsible for their hammering last night. Tears before and after the penalty shoot out against Chile; tears during the now cliched a capella second verse of the national anthem- these have given the impression of a side more interested in their emotions and their “narrative” than actually playing the game. This mawkish approach was particularly exemplified during last night’s rendition of the Brazilian national anthem, as the absent Neymar’s shirt was held aloft between David Luiz and Julio Cesar. Never mind that Neymar’s injury was ultimately a by-product of his own side’s cynicism against Colombia – Brazil saw themselves as victims in this instance and wanted to make the most of it. That this was probably David Luiz’s most positive contribution to the match tells its own story.

This chap's presence wouldn't have made a huge difference to the scoreline last night.

This chap’s presence wouldn’t have made a huge difference to the scoreline last night.

Until the first goal was scored, the game had been reasonably even with both sides looking dangerous on the attack. That first goal was arguably the worst and certainly the simplest of the seven Brazil conceded – a corner which found Thomas Müller completely unmarked at the back stick to side foot home. Luiz, who was ostensibly marking Müller, threw his arms down at his side in a slight tantrum.

From that moment on, it was clear that Neymar would not be the big miss for Brazil. Rather, it would be Thiago Silva, their captain and Luiz’s central defensive partner. What was obvious as the second, third, fourth and fifth goals were clinically knocked past Julio Cesar in that crazy 6-minute spell was that without Silva, Brazil’s back four and their two defensive midfielders might as well have not bothered turning up, given their abject positioning and continually being caught in possession, ncluding for the goals. It says a lot about this Brazil team that lacking one, admittedly exemplary, defender’s discipline and organisational skills turns their defensive unit to something as useful as mulch.

One man is exempt from that criticism, even as goals six and seven were Schürrle-d past him. Julio Cesar was arguably a bit at fault for Klose’s goal (Germany’s second), palming the ageing forward’s shot back to him, but he otherwise kept the score from being utterly comical and cut a relatively lucid figure while all around him were depositing their heads a reasonable distance away. Cesar is a fine keeper who deserved a better sign-off from his long international career than what he got.

My Brazil diatribe is not to take anything away from the Germans, however. They were utterly clinical, played some beautiful counter attacking, passing football and completely owned the midfield. Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira were particularly excellent, while Schürrle looked a different player from the man who could be rather passive in a Chelsea shirt last season.

Brazil 1-7 Germany. I still can’t quite comprehend that scoreline. Just to demonstrate how bad it was, only Haiti and Zaire have previously been 5 down in a World Cup finals match at half-time. It equalled Brazil’s record defeat (a 6-0 reverse against Uruguay in 1920), and was their first competitive defeat on home soil since 1975. Having enjoyed Brazil’s performances in most of 1994, 1998 and 2002, while understanding that those sides were rather more functional than the 1982 vintage I could see on YouTube, I was glad that this poor excuse for a selecao had been so ruthlessly dispatched.

As for tonight, if the Argentina v Netherlands match gets anywhere near the excitement and uniqueness of last night’s game, I will be delighted. And rather surprised.

The 2014 World Cup so far

Well I don’t know about you, but I really wasn’t expecting this. After the rank turgidity that was South Africa 2010, and the red card festival of Germany 2006, Brazil 2014 has finally provided us with a World Cup to enjoy.

With the group phase at an end, a total of 136 goals have been scored, at more than 2.8 a game. We’ve had a 5-2, a 5-1 and a 4-2, a few 3-2s and more 2-1 come-from-behind wins than you can shake a stick at. One slightly sore point for me is the continuing presence of the joy-sappingly awful Greece in the last 16. But you can’t have it all.

My set-up for the final two Group G games, which I was rather pleased with.

My set-up for the final two Group G games, which I was rather pleased with.

When you compare the 2014 group stage to the dirgefest in South Africa, it becomes even clearer how refreshing this World Cup has been. A mere 101 goals were scored at the end of the 2010 group stage – indeed, 2014 has already beaten the total number of goals scored in South Africa 2010 following yesterday’s two second round games.

There are frankly too many highlights to choose from at this point in time- however I’ll try and do so anyway.

Teams

For me, despite my bias from 1994, Colombia have been fantastic. They have shown attacking verve and creativity, and in James (Ha-mez) Rodriguez have the star man of the tournament thus far. Along with him, I have been very impressed with the effortless running and ability to beat players shown by Juan Cuadrado, and at the grand old age of 38 Mario Yepes seems to have found a new lease of life – his reading of games has been exemplary.

Chile and Costa Rica have also shown that while football is often obsessed with individuals like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi (more of him below) in the current era, the sport is still fundamentally a team game. Costa Rica in particular have no star players to speak of  but play with such a firm idea of their collective aims that that lack of individuals is swept to one side. They emerged unbeaten from a group with England, Italy and Uruguay in it – I for one hope that they can see their way past Greece in the last 16.

Finally, it would be somewhat remiss of me not to talk about the efforts of at least one European team. While France have impressed, the Netherlands, and particularly that 5-1 thumping of Spain in their first match, have been an absolute joy to watch. Robin Van Persie’s header against the Spanish was obviously exemplary, Arjen Robben has been absolutely mesmerisingly good, and the Dutch yet again have an embarrassingly impressive selection of youngsters coming through. Daley Blind, Bruno Martins Indi and Stefan De Vrij have excelled at the back, while the wonderfully named Memphis Depay has looked fantastic up front whenever he’s stepped on the pitch.

Players

Another point that has gladdened my heart has been the fact that the big names have turned up, and then some. Lionel Messi almost dragged Argentina through the group stages by himself, scoring the winning goals against Bosnia and Iran, while coming good in the final game with a wonderful free kick effort against Nigeria. Neymar has been imperious for Brazil too, his finest performance coming in the hosts’ eventually comfortable win against Cameroon. Karim Benzema has finally shone at a big tournament as well, getting 3 goals to sit just behind Messi and Neymar who have four apiece.

The Media

As ever, the standards shown by the British broadcasters has been ropey to say the least. The inclusion of Fabio Cannavaro has brought a little more credibility to ITV, along with the wit of Martin O’Neill. However, the presence of Adrian Chiles and Andy Townsend in particular fill me with emotions bordering somewhere between dread and despair.

The BBC, meanwhile, have not used Tim Vickery anything like enough. Listening to a World Football Phone-In podcast today, host Dotun Adebayo raised that very point with him – Vickery very graciously, and in my view wrongly, said there were far better experts than him sitting on the Match of the Day sofa. Vickery has at least been on the TV, bringing insightful video compilations to the fore before each match on the BBC involving a South American side, and has also contributed in the MOTD studio on a few occasions. It was particularly heartening prior to one match (and surprising) to see the BBC talk to Sid Lowe (of the Guardian fame) and Vickery within about 5 minutes of one another.

One man who has surprised me is Danny Murphy, who, although he does come across a little as a dull Scouser, has managed to bring a little more insight and analysis to games beyond saying things like “good pass” or “what a hit,” doing such revolutionary things as keeping track of defensive lines throughout matches and picking out where sides are leaving pockets of space. In the outstanding Germany v Ghana match, he was particularly good, though I was a little perturbed when he said that he hadn’t seen much of Mario Götze but liked him. You can’t win em all I guess.

His fellow Danny, meanwhile, Mr Mills, has said undoubtedly the stupidest thing to emerge from the mouth of a British pundit so far in this tournament. Asked about his views on Luis Suarez’s bite on Giorgio Chiellini (you may have heard about this incident), Mills took the somewhat draconian view that Suarez “should be thrown in jail and locked up forever.” Riiiiight.

What I will say for the BBC is, other than keeping Robbie Savage in paid employment, their coverage on 5 Live has been excellent whenever I have had reason to tune in (usually the walk home from work). 5 Live appear to be getting the balance of talking to expert journalists and ex-players about right, while their commentators, particularly John Murray and Mike Ingham, and much less so Alan Green, continue to be fantastic.

Anyway, as I said, it’s been a wonderful tournament so far, though the last 16 clearly sees the start of the real business of this World Cup. If yesterday’s two games are anything to go by, the quality and excitement provided by the knock-outs may even surpass that of the group stages. Here’s hoping.