Talking Sport … with Jim Tait
While individual pieces of magic have so far been fairly infrequent at the European Championship, there is no denying the overall technical ability of the sides contesting the tournament.
Doubts have been expressed over the format – group stages where two-thirds of the teams make it through to the knockout rounds – but we are now down to the last 16 teams and I think it has been a resounding success.
Almost all the final group matches involved at least one team with something to play for, which added to the excitement.
Most of the groups have thrown up at least one surprise result and few would have predicted that Hungary and Iceland would take the automatic places from their section with Portugal only struggling through as one of the best third-placed teams.
The most impressive for me has been Croatia, who defeated holders Spain despite being without two of their best three players, although the Hungarians have been another stand-out and it is especially pleasing to see such a once-great nation on the rise again.
Much has been made of England’s failure to top group B, and especially the decision by manager Roy Hodgson to replace six players for the final match against Slovakia. But if his strikers begin firing they will remain one of the favourites to go all the way. And finishing behind Wales could actually prove advantageous as they now face Iceland in the next round.
There is no doubt that Hodgson has a top squad at his disposal. The only surprise for me is that Ross Barkley, who can provide that bit of extra sparkle, continues to be overlooked in favour of players such as Adam Lallana or Dele Alli.
It was tremendous to see Northern Ireland progressing, and in Michael O’Neill they have about the most likeable manager in the whole competition. Their unexpected match-up against Wales is one of the mouth-watering ties of the last 16 round.
Likewise, the Republic of Ireland’s victory over Italy was hugely enjoyable, and much deserved as the already qualified Italians showed little interest in a battle. A forthcoming encounter with France may be a step too far but few would bet against the Midas touch of Martin O’Neill and his men.
Of course, the performances of the Irish, and also some of the other unfancied sides, does nothing to take away the misery of Scotland’s failure to qualify.
The Scots are at least as good as either Irish side or even the Welsh for that matter, despite not possessing a player of the calibre of Gareth Bale.
I wouldn’t go as far though as former Scottish Football Association chief executive Gordon Smith, the former Rangers striker and part-time pundit, when he said that not one Northern Ireland player had enough ability to make it into a Scotland team.
Smith’s statement was an embarrassment for a man who normally talks sense, and also disrespectful to the Irish. Would the Scots, and their threadbare central defence, not be able to find a place for Jonny Evans, for instance? I think we know the answer to that one.
There have been some refereeing howlers, the worst example being when Switzerland were denied an obvious extra-time penalty which could have put them above France in the group.
Also the Republic of Ireland missed out on a stonewall spot kick against Italy, although at least they went on to win the game.
It was suggested before the action began that referees had been instructed to penalise blatant fouling and shirt-pulling in the box, which would inevitably result in more spot-kicks being awarded. But so far there has been little evidence of anyone brave enough to make such a decision, especially when one of the bigger nations is involved.
But on balance the officials have done a reasonable job. The best of them has probably been Englishman Mark Clattenburg, while even the much-maligned Willie Collum has so far done pretty well.
The television coverage has also been very inconsistent, with ITV’s punditry team perhaps edging it over their BBC rivals.
In Mark Pougach the independent channel has a presenter of quality, while his colleagues in the studio Slaven Bilic, Lothar Matthaus, Tony Pulis and Norman Whiteside are excellent company for Lee Dixon who to my mind is the best pundit of all.
The BBC line-up, once again fronted by the over-exposed Gary Lineker, has been less impressive, partly due to the boring interventions of Rio Ferdinand, Thierry Henry and Vincent Kompany. Alan Shearer won’t mind though, as those three make him sound incredibly interesting.
Where the Beeb do better is in the commentary box. Guy Mowbray, Steve Wilson and Jonathan Pierce are much more incisive than the ITV’s wailing Clive Tyldesley and others, who spend more time trying to pronounce players’ names correctly than telling us what is actually happening.
Back on the domestic football front the bragging rights have begun on a new Scottish Premiership season, especially with the Old Firm once more reunited on the big stage.
Most of the trash talking so far has come from Joey Barton, Rangers’ new signing from Burnley, who claims he will be “the best player in Scotland” and that Celtic captain Scott Brown is “not in my league”.
Some idiots have even compared Barton to Paul Gascoigne in a bid to stir emotions down Glasgow way and further afield.
Barton was an excellent player and remains a pretty good one in his mid-30s, but I’m afraid he couldn’t lace Gazza’s boots and probably not Brown’s either. He would do well to keep his mouth, or at least his Twitter account, closed.
Whalsay’s Michelle Sandison continues to impress with her achievements in Scottish distance running.
She won the West of Scotland 10k road race at Pollock Park in Glasgow last Friday, recording a season’s best time of 36:16 on a warm and muggy night. That meant she completed the West District road and cross country double this year.
The race was extra special for Michelle as her father Robert was there to watch her race for the first time on the mainland.
She says: “I really wanted to push myself tonight as I’ve been training really well. It was brilliant to run with Dad watching.
“Normally the first thing I do when I cross the line is call home to let them know I’m okay but tonight I didn’t need to, Dad was right there.”
Congratulations to Michelle. Robert, and indeed the whole of the Bonnie Isle, must be very proud of her.
The oversized marquee/indoor facility/non-hockey centre at Clickimin drew the wrath of reader James Hutton in last week’s letters pages.
We probably shouldn’t wish, as he did, that the first bit of decent wind will blow the structure halfway to Bergen. That would just result in more money being thrown at the project.
But there is no doubt that this is a terrible eyesore. Even if had been coloured light green or brown it would surely not stand out so much.
Would a private individual have been granted permission to construct such a “building” on their land? What do you think?