Lakenheath Old Boys

We are all former students at Lakenheath High School and other public schools in East Anglia. We were in school in the 70s and 80s and drank deeply from the well of British culture of those decades - the pints, the telly, and of course the footie!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Quarter final 1 - Poland v. Portugal

I'm back and refreshed after two days of absolutely no footer at all. After that England v. Iceland, I swore off football forever. But we knew that wouldn't last. Now, I'm sure that today's match will test my faith, like Job facing a plague of locusts, but Poland v. Portugal is what we've got on offer. So, settle in this afternoon and suffer along with me. I'll be pouring myself a strong cocktail and advise you to do likewise.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

France 2016 Predictions Game - Round of 16 Update

I've barely recovered from that sickening match yesterday and feel like chucking in the whole football project altogether. But I'll soldier on and hope to feel better by the weekend. In this update, I've assigned three points for each of the R16 winning sides. Most got four of the eight sides for 12 points; a few got five of them for 15. I've also assigned 8 points for those who have picked one of the three players on three goals (Bale, Griezmann and Morata). Bale and Griezmann are still in; Morata and Spain are out). Consequently, we've got West Ham Rising, who was unlucky enough to watch yesterday's match live in Nice, on top of the charts. On we go to the Quarterfinals at the weekend.

Here are the current standings:

1. West Ham Rising - 51 points
2. The Saint - 48 pts
3. The Red Devil 1FCK - 46 pts
4. The Red Dragon - 45 pts
5. Blue Devil - 40 pts
-  Man Utd Rules - 40 pts
7. Gooner71 - 38 pts
-  Chelskilad - 38 pts
-  Someone Said - 38 pts
10. United We Stand - 36 pts
11. What's Up Wheaton Simon - 35 pts
12. Yellows - 34 pts

Monday, June 27, 2016

Round of 16 - England vs. Iceland!!

It's the big one, now. I've got the lucky shirt and the lucky scarf on to roar on the boys. It's England vs. Iceland. England will come in heavy favorites to not only win but run up a score. And I hope we do. England have been attacking in all three group matches, carving open defenses but then failing to make that final killer touch. Let's hope that we can take those chances when they come tonight. I'd love an early goal to settle the nerves and then we'll be able to relax and enjoy it. If not, I'll be bunkered away in the dark at the Cottage, peering those woven fingers at the screen. Come on!!!

Round of 16 - Spain v. Italy

Morning, chaps! It's a big, big day at France 2016. We were fortunate to see some actual football yesterday, but the tournament will hopefully really take off today with two super matches on offer. We start with a bang at noon with a clash of titan - Spain and Italy. Ordinarily, these sides might meet each other in the latter stages of a tournament, if not the final itself. However, Croatia conspired to edge Spain into second, producing this premature battle. It should be fascinating to see how these two sides turn out against each other. Tiki taka vs. catenaccio. It'll be a tactical battle and one for the purists, for sure. Join me at lunchtime for this one.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Round of 16 Belgium vs Hungary

 After the borefest and considering not watching any more Euro matches due to the excessive boredom, , we have been rewarded with some exciting matches. We just watched the Germans make a statement with the most dominant performance of the tournament as they thrashed Slovakia. Can the Belgians fulfill the promise that many have as a dark horse to win it all or will the Magyars, who are in their first major tournament in thirty years continue to surprise us. Join me to discover what transpires.

Round of 16 - Germany v. Slovakia

Well, that was an exciting start to the morning. Here's hoping for more of the same in our second offering of the day - Germany v. Slovakia. Like many of the other big teams, the Germans haven't convinced in their professional wins in the group stage. Slovakia have been erratic but have shown flashes of brilliance, mainly from Hamsik. Stop by for lunch and a match here on the LOB, won't you?

Round of 16 - France v. Republic of Ireland

I'm back where I belong in the cockpit at The Cottage hoping that today's slate of R16 matches will be a damn sight better than yesterday's bore-fest. The opening match certainly holds promise of drama. France and Ireland have previous, of course, and Martin O'Neill's team will almost certainly be seeking revenge for that TH14 handball that kept them out of South Africa 2010. The French have been good after the 85th minute of matches, but can they put together a consistent performance over 90 minutes? Can the Irish do to France what they did to Italy in the last group match? Join me for a Sunday morning cuppa to find out.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

France 2016 Predictions Game - Group Stage Update #3

Afternoon, boys! With yesterday thrilling conclusion to Group E and F play, we came to the end of the 13 day marathon run of group stage games at France 2016. So, it's definitely time to take a deep breath and take stock of where we are with our predictions game. As before, I'm assigning 2 points for each correct prediction at this stage and a bonus point for getting them in the right order Most of us got Groups A, C, and E correct, but Groups B, D, and F caused a good deal of lost points, given England, Spain and Portugal's poor finishes. That's also created a good deal of havoc in the bracket, so there will be lost points down the line with France, England, Germany, Spain and Italy all on the same side now.

I'm assigning 8 points for those who picked Spain's Alvaro Morata as Golden Boot, as he's joint top (with Gareth Bale) on three goals. And everyone got a point or two for picking some of the best third place teams (Slovakia, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Portugal).

So, here are the current standings:

1. The Saint - 33 points
2. Red Devil 1FCK - 32 pts
3. Gooner71 - 29 pts
4. West Ham Rising - 26 pts
5. Blue Devil - 25 pts
-  Man Utd Rules 25 pts
-  What's Up Wheaton Simon 25 pts
8. United We Stand - 24 pts
9. Chelskilad - 23 pts
-  Someone Said - 23 pts
11. The Red Dragon - 22 pts
-  Yellows - 22 pts

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Day 13 - Group E Wraps Up!

Well, that end to Group F was a thriller. Let's hope that Group E does as well by us. I'm all set to watch Italy v. the Republic of Ireland. Italy are already through on top and will face Spain next week. The Republic will need a repeat of their heroics at Giant Stadium in USA '94 to secure their place in the R16 against France. Belgium just need things to stay the same everywhere but will probably go out looking for a win against Sweden. Should be enthralling. Join me for the afternoon snack.

Day 13 - Group F Wraps Up!

Morning, lads! As Group F wraps up today, we'll find England's destiny for the Round of 16. As it stands right now, Hungary sit atop Group F on 4 points. They'll face Portugal, who have had a poor run at Euro 2016 with two dreary draws, and sit in third on 2 points level with Iceland in second on superior goal difference. Iceland meet Austria, who have shown little apart from their ability to frustrate Cristiano Ronaldo. Join me for all the LOB shenanigans this afternoon.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Day 12 - Group D Wraps Up

Afternoon, chaps - Group D wraps up today with a great clash between the top teams in the bracket - Spain and Croatia. Spain bored us all in their opener against the Czechs but then thoroughly ripped apart a poor Turkish side. That means that a draw will put them through top whilst a Croatia win will likely bring Spain up against Wales in the R16. In the other match, the Czechs will need a big win against Turkey in order to have any chance of finishing a decent third on 4 points. Goal difference may be a key factor. Join me from 3pm onward here on the LOB for all the action!

Day 12: Group C Wraps Up

I've just about gotten over the disappointment of England finishing behind Wales in Group B yesterday, as it seems as if avoiding the Group D sides and getting a Group F side in R16 might actually be an advantage. Now we've got Group C wrapping up at noon with Germany facing Northern Ireland and Poland facing Ukraine. Germany top the group but only on goal difference. Poland are merely a goal behind and should easily take apart Ukraine, who have already been eliminated. Northern Ireland are on 3 points and will fancy qualifying as a third place team or better. So, all to play for today, eh? Join me for all the fun from around noon onward here on the LOB!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Day 11 - Group B Wraps Up!

I'm posting this image from our Euro 2012 reunion at WHR's house to give England luck today.

Everything's up for grabs this afternoon as Group B wraps up. England sit on 4 points at the top of the group and need at least a draw against Slovakia to qualify automatically. They need to equal Wales' efforts against Russia in order to top the group. All four sides, including Russia on one point currently, have a chance to qualify for the Round of 16 depending on other results.

Join me for all the Group B action this afternoon.

Happy 1st Anniversary!!

Happy First Anniversary Bob and Kate! A great time was had by all a year ago today! Congratulations and here's to many many more... and an England win!


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Day 10 - Group A Wraps Up

Happy Father's Day everyone. We've got a real treat on offer this afternoon for the dads among the footballing world. Group A is wrapping up with the top two sides in Group A - France and Switzerland - facing off on ESPN. On the Deuce, you can watch Romania and Albania vying for that best third place team spot. Join me for all the banter here on the LOB.

Euro 2016 Predictions Game - Group Stage Update #2

Morning, lads - with yesterday's 0-0 bore-fest between Portugal and Austria, we're through two tedious rounds of this summer's tournament and it's time to take stock of our standings. As before, I've assigned 2 points (plus a bonus) for the group standings, plus a point each for the best third place teams. With braces in their second matches, Spain's Alvaro Morata and Belgium's Romelu Lukaku have jumped to the top of the Golden Boot charts, so The Saint, UWS and the Red Devil have jumped to the top of our chart. Here are the current standings:

1. The Saint - 36 points
-  United We Stand - 36 pts
3. The Red Devil 1FCK - 35 pts
4. Blue Devil - 29 pts
5. Gooner71 - 28 pts
-  What's Up Wheaton Simon - 28 pts
7. Man Utd Rules - 27 pts
8. Someone Said - 26 pts
-  West Ham Rising - 26 pts
10. The Red Dragon - 25 pts
11. Chelskilad - 22 pts
12. Yellows - 21 pts

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Day 9 - Group E: Belgium v. Republic of Ireland

Happy Saturday morning, lads. We've reached Day 9 of Euro 2016. I'll be celebrating my 1st anniversary today in Rochester, so I'm only around for the early one today - Belgium v. the Republic. Belgium got punked by a cynical Italian side in the opener. Can they bounce back or will they be frustrated by an industrious Irish side.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Day 8 - Group E: Italy v. Sweden

I'm checking in quickly to get this thread going for the Group C clash between Italy and Sweden. Italy got off to a flyer, punking heavily favored Belgium 2-0 in the opener, while Sweden had to be satisfied with a 1-1 draw with the Republic of Ireland. They'll both be in the mood this morning. I'll be around for the first half before leaving for an anniversary trip in Rochester.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Day 7 - Group C: Germany v. Poland

What a day! I've barely recovered from England's late, late winner and now I'm home from the office to watch the World Champions take on their neighbors to the East, Poland. While I was doing some work, Northern Ireland scored their first ever win at the European Championships, knocking off Ukraine 2-0. What shocks and surprises will be see this afternoon? Join me here on the LOB for a late afternoon snack to find out, eh?

Day 7 - Group B: England v. Wales!

Good morning, chaps! The Dahlgren boys want you to get up for the England this morning. This is the big one, against the home nation rivals Wales. After Slovakia's win yesterday and Wales' opening win, England need a win today in order to top the group going into the last set of matches. So settle in  with a strong cuppa and join me here on the LOB for the festivities!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Day 6 - Group A: France v. Albania

I'm pedaling home in time to catch the France 2016 hosts in their second match in the tournament. It seems like ages ago that Les Bleus secured a slim 2-1 win over lowly Romania in the opener on Friday through a late cracker from Dimitri Payet. They were hardly convincing in that match, and yet, many still rate them one of the tournament favorites. Will they live up to that vaunted billing this afternoon against Albania? We'll soon see - join me for an afternoon snack, eh?

Day 6 - Group B: Russia v. Slovakia

Morning, chaps. Welcome to the second round of group matches at France 2016. We start with the undercard in Group B - Russia v. Slovakia. I was actually hoping that Russia might be sent home for their hooligan fans' behavior by this point; however, we're still going on with this match. For England's sake, I'm hoping for a draw, which would put Russia on 2 points and Slovakia on 1. Pour yourself a cuppa and join me this morning here on the LOB.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

France 2016 Predictions Game - Group Stage Update #1

Evening, lads - we're through one round of the group stage games at France 2016, so it's high time for an update on our game. I've assigned 2 points for each Top 2 team that you've guessed correctly, plus a bonus point for guessing the correct order. I've also assigned one point for each of the top third-placed teams that you got right - Romania, Russia, Sweden and Portugal. And our resident Arsenal fans - Gooner and Simon - are both on 8 points, as their boy Olivier Giroud is level with all of the other goalscorers (that is, no one has scored more than a goal at France 2016 yet). In addition, several players also received 3 points for correctly guessing Giroud as the first scorer in tournament. MUR and I also received 2 points for picking Albania hapless captain Lorik Cana as the first to be sent off.

So, here are the current standings:

1. What's Up Wheaton Simon - 34 points
2. Gooner71 - 33 pts
3. The Saint - 26 pts
-  West Ham Rising - 26 pts
5. Blue Devil - 25 pts
6. Man Utd Rules - 23 pts
-  The Red Devil 1FCK - 23 pts
8. The Red Dragon - 22 pts
-  Someone Said - 22 pts
10. United We Stand - 21 pts
11. Yellows - 19 pts
12. Chelskilad - 18 pts

Day 5 - Group F: Portugal v. Iceland

Afternoon, chaps! It's Day 5 of the tournament. Hungary have just pulled off a 2-0 win over Austria that no one by I would have predicted before the tournament. Now, I'm settling in to watch Portugal's opening match against Euro debutantes Iceland. Join me for all the fun on the LOB!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Day 4 - Group E: Italy v. Belgium

This is the one I've been waiting for - Italy v. Belgium. Sweden and the Republic have just wrapped up another tight Euro 2016 match-up, ending in a 1-1 draw. Sweden's only shot on goal was Kieran Clark's own goal for them. Ah well...let's see if this marquee can break us all out of our Euro doldrums. Belgium certainly have the quality on paper to bring the Italians out of their shells. I'd love to see an early goal or two from the Belgians to get things rolling. Join me from 3pm onward for all the action.

Day 4: Group D: Spain v. Czech Republic

Morning, chaps - I'm settling in this morning to watch the European Champions, Spain, as they open their France 2016 campaign. We saw a less than inspiring German performance last night. Will Spain turn it on against the Czechs? We'll see next - join me?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Day 3 - Group C: Germany v. Ukraine

Group C action wraps up this evening in Lille with the marquee match-up of current World Champions Germany against their neighbors to the east Ukraine. I haven't been impressed by any particular side yet (apart from England - seriously!). Let's see if the Germans can fire the imaginations.

Day 3 - Group C: Northern Ireland v. Poland

Group C gets going this afternoon with debutants Northern Ireland against Poland. Will Nice be nice to the Green Army? We'll soon see - join me for a lunch-time match.

Day 3 - Group D: Croatia v. Turkey

Morning, chaps - I hope that you have all recovered from your England hangovers. It was a disappointing end to a brilliant day, but we all have another England game to look forward to on Thursday. We've got another three matches on tap today for your Sunday enjoyment, starting with Croatia v. Turkey at 9am. Join me for all the fun on Day 3.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Day 2 - Group B: England v. Russia!

Wahay! It's the big one - England v. Russia. I hope all of you lads are feeling confident and relaxed. Let's sit back now and enjoy a comfortable win for the England boys over Russia. Join me for all of the England victorious action here on the LOB.

Day 2 - Group B: Wales v. Slovakia

Wales enter the Euro 2016 arena after decades in the international wilderness. Their first opponents - Slovakia. All eyes on Gareth Bale this afternoon. England fans will want a Wales win but a Monkeyboy injury. Join me for a lunch time gathering, eh?

Day 2 - Group A: Switzerland v. Albania

Welcome to Day 2 of the Euros, lads! I hope you got a good night's sleep, because the live football is just going to keep coming today, starting sharpish with the Group A clash between Switzerland and Albania at 9am on ESPN. So, grab a strong cuppa and join me here on the LOB for all the action.

We Are England

Morning, chaps - I thought I'd get the England mojo started with posting Shaun Ryder of Happy Mondays new unofficial England 2016 anthem, "We Are England." Enjoy!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Euro 2016 Begins!

I'm well ensconced at Castle UWS in Scotia and looking forward to the opening match of France 2016 - laissez les bon temps roulez!

Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries Football Team, Nigeria

I found this commentary funny. Enjoy Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries Football Club, Nigeria There was a time in one’s youth, when one knew little of the world, that Hamilton Academical felt like the greatest possible name for a club. One grows of course and the environment expands. It becomes gradually clear that not everybody’s parents eat roadkill and there are other ways of getting a high than belly-flopping onto a smaller child’s paddling pool. In the same way, football teams from all over the world swim into one’s purview and some of them have even better-sounding names than Hamilton Academical. Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries Football Club, for example, have a truly exceptional name, and their fans’ song: “We love you Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries Football Club, we do, We love you Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries Football Club, we do, We love you Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries Football Club, we do, Oh Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries Football Club, we love you” is rubbish. But this is a spiritual club, as evinced by the hands clasped in prayer on its crest, and the song, though a bugger to scan, is still strangely uplifting. If, incidentally, you are going to Nigeria and plan to see its famous Mountain of Fire and Miracles, be sure to take in the Visitors Centre which sells mementoes and shows artefacts, including a hand towel that, anecdotally, cannot dry tears.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Euro 2016 Preview - Group F: Austria and Iceland

Finishing up Group F with the also ran sides - Austria and Iceland - first up Austria:

Nickname: "Das Team" (rather uninspired, really)

Absurd FIFA ranking: 10th (seriously, Sepp?!)

Coach: Former Grasshopper Marcel Koller

Match Schedule: 

June 14 - Austria v. Hungary  (Bordeaux, 12pm EST, ESPN)
June 17 - Austria v. Portugal (Paris, 3am ESPN)
June 22 - Austria v. Iceland (St. Denis, 12pm, ESPN)

Prospects: Austria surprised lots of footie watchers by qualifying top of a competitive group and including Sweden and Russia (both of whom qualified later in playoffs). But how will they fare in a major tournament, not having qualified for a major tournament for the best part of a decade. Austria feature several players such as Leicester City's Christian Fuchs and Stoke City's Marko Arnautovic, who will be familiar to Premiership watchers after sparkling seasons in Blighty. The opening match, which sees a historical Hapsburg Empire clash with Hungary, will determine a lot about this group.

Key Player: Stuttgart midfielder Martin Harnik is the glue for this side.

Prediction: This is a close call, but I reckon that Hungary might just edge out Austria in the group.

On to the Iceland, who are happy to appear at France 2016.

Nickname: "Strákarnir okkar" ("Our boys")

Absurd FIFA ranking: 34th

Coach: Top Swede Lars Lagerback

Match Schedule: 

June 14 - Iceland v. Portugal  (St. Etienne, 3pm EST, ESPN)
June 17 - Iceland v. Hungary (Marseille, 12pm ESPN)
June 22 - Iceland v. Austria (St. Denis, 12pm, ESPN)

Prospects: Icelanders are known to be overly optimistic about their sports teams and heroes; however, even they must have modest expectations for a team that is entering its first major tournament. France 2016 will either be enlivened by the presence of these minnow sides that have qualified for the first time due to the enlarged 24-team format - or it will be dragged down by it. In any case, Iceland have a seasoned campaigner in Lars Lagerback to guide them through the group stages. Yet, there lack of quality will almost certainly drag them down. Only Swansea's Gylfi Sigurdsson and Cardiff's Aron Gunnarsson will be at all familiar to those who follow the game.

Key Player: Goalkeeper Hannes Por Halldorsson will have to be on top of his game to keep the bedlam in front of his goal at bay.

Prediction: Three losses and out - a good shout for the worst side in the tournament.

Zardes first touch compilation

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Euro 2016 Preview - Group F: Hungary

Continuing on with Group F now and Hungary: 

Nickname: "The Magical Magyars"

Absurd FIFA ranking: 20th

Coach: German cone-dropper Bernd Storck

Match Schedule: 

June 14 - Hungary v. Austria (Bordeaux, 12pm EST, ESPN)
June 17 - Hungary v. Iceland (Marseille, 12pm ESPN)
June 21 - Hungary v. Portugal (Lyon, 12pm, ESPN)

Prospects: Hungary haven't enjoyed any footballing success since the 1950s and they're unlikely to enjoy much this summer. The Magyars are lucky to be included in the worst group of the competition, which should mean that they'll plod their way into the Round of 16.

Key Player: Former Fulham and WBA midfielder Zoltan Gera runs this side as a traditional #10.

Youngster to Watch: 22 year-old Werder Bremen midfielder Laszlo Kleinheisler.

Who Will Get the Goals: Bratislava striker Tamas Priskin was the top scorer in qualifiers.

Who Will Get the Cards: Gritty veteran Roland Juhasz is feeling the years.

Prediction: Just edging out Austria into third. Out to Wales in the Round of 16.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Euro 2016 Preview - Group F: Portugal

On to the final group now - Group F. Top seed in the group - Portugal:

Nickname: " A Seleccao" ("The Selection")

Absurd FIFA ranking: 8th

Coach: Fernando Santos

Match Schedule: 

June 14 - Portugal v. Iceland (St. Etienne, 3pm EST, ESPN)
June 18 - Portugal v. Austria (Paris, 3pm ESPN)
June 22 - Portugal v. Hungary (Lyon, 12pm, ESPN)

Prospects: Portugal had their usual rocky path to France 2016, starting with a 0-1 home loss to Albania and then shedding their former manager Paolo Bento only days later. New boss Fernando Santos safely shepherded his squad through to eventual qualification top of Group I. Expectations in Portugal are rather low, given the profusion of aging players such as Ricardo Carvalho, Bruno Alves, Ricardo Quaresmo and Nani who are all past their sell by date. Fortunately, they've landed in the softest group in the tournament - getting out of Group F should be fairly easy.

Key Player: Cristiano Ronaldo, of course. Long considered one of the world's best, he has yet to prove himself on the biggest stages. If Skippy can put this group of average plodder on his shoulders and carry them to a title, then he joins the pantheon.

Youngster to Watch: 23 year-old Braga midfielder Rafa Silva has a similar body type and playing style to that of his namesake David Silva.

Who Will Get the Goals: With 56 goals under his belt, Ronaldo is Portugal's all-time top scorer. To say that Portugal are overly reliant on him is the understatement of the tournament.

Who Will Get the Cards: Fenerbahce hatchet man Bruno Alves recently got himself sent off during a friendly at Wembley for a kung fu kick worthy of Eric Cantona - he's more than a good bet.

Prediction: Top of Group F only brings on Italy prematurely in the Round of 16. Knocked out in a penalty shoot-out after a grim 0-0 draw.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Euro 2016 Preview - Group E: Sweden and the Republic of Ireland

Finishing up Group E with the also ran sides - Sweden and the Republic - first up Sweden:

Nickname: "Biagult" ("The Blue-Yellow")

Absurd FIFA ranking: 35th

Coach: Natty dresser Erik Hamsen

Match Schedule: 

June 13 - Sweden v. Republic of Ireland (St, Denis, 12pm EST, ESPN)
June 17 - Sweden v. Italy (Toulouse, 9am ESPN)
June 22 - Sweden v. Belgium (Nice, 3pm, ESPN)

Prospects: In an ordinary group, Erik Hamsen's Swedish side might be considered a shoe-in for second slot. However, given the Group of Death, it's hard to see Sweden edging out either Italy, who have a superior tournament record to them, or Belgium, who have a superior side. The Biagult are an aging squad dominated by the presence of one Europe's most prominent prima donnas Zlatan Ibrahimovic. If he's in the mood in France, Sweden can survive the group in a close third place. If not....

Key Player: It's not a summer tournament without Zlatan.

Prediction: We'll get an early indication of how this group will go with the June 13th match-up between Sweden and the Republic. I expect a close fought draw; however, if one or the other side comes up with a big win and Belgium beat Italy, this group could be wide open.

On to the Republic, who are in a similar place:

Nickname: "The Green Army"

Absurd FIFA ranking: 31st

Coach: Veteran gaffer Martin O'Neill

Match Schedule: 

June 13 - Republic v. Sweden (St, Denis, 12pm EST, ESPN)
June 18 - Republic v. Belgium (Bordeaux, 9am ESPN)
June 22 - Republic v. Italy (Lille, 3pm, ESPN)

Prospects: The Republic arrive in France after a 1-0 aggregate win over Bosnia in the playoffs last fall. Martin O'Neill's side plays very much like a Championship level side, not pretty on the eye, but effective enough to qualify fairly regularly for major competitions. Euro 2012 was a bit of a disaster for the Green Army, providing target practice for eventual champions Spain. Getting out of this Group of Death would be a major accomplishment.

Key Player: Southampton's Shane Long is Ireland's main target man at present. With the LA Galaxy's Robbie Keane an aging force, Ireland will need Long to run the line and score the goals for them.

Prediction: Fourth place in Group D and perhaps rivaling Albania for the worst side in the tournament.

Euro 2016 Preview - Group E: Belgium

Continuing with Group E, the Group of Death for this summer's tournament, and Belgium.

Nickname: "De Rode Duivels" ("The Red Devils")

Absurd FIFA ranking: 2nd!

Coach: Former national team hero Marc Wilmots

Match Schedule: 

June 13 - Belgium v. Italy (Lyon, 3pm EST, ESPN)
June 18 - Belgium v. Republic of Ireland (Bordeaux, 9am ESPN)
June 22 - Belgium v. Sweden (Nice, 3pm, ESPN)

Prospects: The Belgians come into this tournament in red hot form, having swept their qualification group and with a record high FIFA ranking of 2nd. They've got a squad full of glittering superstars who are gracing teams all over Europe. What could go wrong? Well, lots of things. The back-line may rue the loss skipper Vincent Kompany, who will miss out on France 2016 due to injury. Moreover, Belgium have the feel of Manchester City, a side that, on paper, should win every match and yet...doesn't. This could be their moment, yet, if they fail to gel again, as they have in the past, Belgian could flatter to deceive once again.

Key Player: Chelsea Goalkeeper Thibault Courtois, if he's at his best, he could see Belgium through some sticky matches in the knock-out rounds, which is usually key to a side advancing to the latter stages. Belgium are likely to thrill fans in the group matches, but they'll need to "win ugly" in order to lift the trophy in Paris in July.

Youngster to Watch: Belgium have one of the most impressively young squads in the tournaments, so there are plenty to choose from on this front. My choice - Liverpool's 21 year-old striker Divock Origi. This could be his moment.

Who Will Get the Goals: Wilmots could easily go balls-out in attack by playing Kevin de Bruyne out wide right, Atletico's Yannick Carrasco out wide left, Christian Benteke and Romelu Lukaku as a strike partnership and Eden Hazard in the hole (cor!) and I hope he does. Goals should flow from this lot, but it's got to be The Chunk (Lukaku) who will score most of the goals and is a decent pick for Golden Boot.

Who Will Get the Cards: As he proved in that epic slug-fest with Chelsea, Toby Alderweireld is a chippy little sod.

Prediction: Their opener with Italy is likely to be the match of the group stages. I predict that Belgium will win that day and will top the group, leaving Italy to scramble to qualify in the other matches. Top spot will bring on a fairly easy contest with a side such as Croatia in the Round of 16. Yet, get through that hazard and Belgium step off a cliff in the Quarters when they run into current World Champions and presumptive favorites Germany. I can't see them getting beyond that stage.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Euro 2016 Preview - Group E: Italy

On to Group E now, the Group of Death for this summer's tournament. Top seed in the group - perennial tournament contenders Italy:

Nickname: " Gli Azurri" ("The Sky Blues")

Absurd FIFA ranking: 12th

Coach: Future Chelsea boss Antonio Conte

Match Schedule: 

June 13 - Italy v. Belgium (Lyon, 3pm EST, ESPN)
June 17 - Italy v. Sweden (Toulouse, 3pm ESPN)
June 22 - Italy v. Republic of Ireland (Lille, 3pm, ESPN)

Prospects: Despite erratic form under former Juve boss Conte, the Azurri topped their qualifying group. They arrive at France 2016 in the Group of Death and with low expectations. Yet, the Italians have a way of starting slowly, playing badly and still somehow eking their way through the rounds until - hey, presto! - they're in the semifinals. If only England had their tournament mentality! The Italians possess one of the most seasoned squads in the tournament with players along the spine - Buffon, Motta, de Rossi - that have been there before. Count them out at your own risk!

Key Player: Gianluca Buffon has the potential to be a hero again for his beloved national side. In a procession of close call matches, Buffon might save Italy's bacon in several rounds.

Youngster to Watch: None; even the youngest players in the squad have been out of short pants for quite some time.

Who Will Get the Goals: Scoring is the Azurri's main weakness under Conte who is likely to play one solo striker up front. Without crazy Mario Balotelli around this time, striking duties may fall to the likes of Southampton's Graziano Pelle.

Who Will Get the Cards: Take your pick among the rugged and cynical Italian backline; however, Juve's Georgio Chiellini always starts on a yellow in my book.

Prediction: It will be the usual long and winding road for Italy this summer, edged out of top spot in Group E by a rampant Belgian side that finally comes good. That will bring up a toothless Portugal in the Round of 16. After dispatching them 1-0, they'll run into old foes England in the Quarters. Another penalty win gets them a semi final occasion with Spain. One game too many for them.

Euro 2016 Predictions Game - Welcome!

Hiya, chaps - It's that time again. With merely a week until the opening kick-off of France 2016 with the hosts taking on Romania on Friday, June 10, I'm asking you to pull out your crystal balls and come up some predictions for this summer's tournament. For those new to our predictions games, all you have to do to participate is email me with your predictions in the following categories (please email me without "replying all" to the list of competitors so that we get a variety of entries): 

* The top two teams in each of the six groups (you'll receive two points for each correct team plus an extra point if you get them in the correct order); e.g. "Group A: 1. Switzerland  2. Albania."

* The four best third placed teams that also advance to the Round of 16 (1 point for each team)

* The winners of each of the eight Round of Sixteen matches (3 points per team)

* The winners of each of the four Quarterfinal matches (4 points per team) 

* The winners of each of the two Semifinals (6 points per team) 

* Champions! (10 points

* The scorer of first goal scored in the tournament (2 points)

* The first match to go to a penalty shoot-out (2 points)

* The player who scores the winning goal in the Final (if there is one) (2 points

* The first player sent off (either straight red or two yellows) (2 points)

* The first manager to be sacked (2 points

* The Golden Boot winner (top scorer) (8 points)

* Tournament MVP (8 points)

The winner of the Euro 2016 Predictions Game will receive the vaunted Lancer Cup (pictured below) - you know you want this junk shop beauty on your mantel or in your trophy cabinet, right lads?

I've started a series of previews that I'm posting on the blog at and on my Facebook feed, which may (or may not) help you with your picks. I'll be updating the game on the blog and through email every few days throughout the tournament. We'll be live blogging most games, so definitely jump in on the chatter and feel free to post threads with news and funny bits. 

I can't wait for it all to get started. 

Cheers, Bob

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Euro 2016 Preview - Group D: Turkey and the Czech Republic

Finishing up the Group D also ran sides - Turkey and the Czechs - first up the Turks:

Nickname: "Ay-Yildzililar" ("The Crescent-Stars")

Absurd FIFA ranking: 18th

Coach: Grim-faced boss Fatih Terim

Match Schedule: 

June 12 - Turkey v. Croatia (Paris, 9am EST, ESPN)
June 17 - Turkey v. Spain (Nice, 3pm ESPN)
June 21 - Turkey v. Czech Republic (Lens, 3pm, ESPN)

Prospects: In previous tournaments, Group D might have been a competitive group, even a Group of Death, given that all four sides have had their moments in the sunshine. Yet, Turkey have fallen off the ledge of international football in recent years, having failed to qualify for two tournaments in a row. Expectations have been slightly raised by recent decent form, but qualification for the Round of 16 is still a big ask for a plodding squad of aging veterans who ply their trade in lesser leagues.

Key Player: Skipper Arda Turan rarely gets a match for Barcelona, but he holds things together for his national team.

Prediction: The June 21st match-up with the Czechs will likely determine whether Turkey (or the Czechs) will qualify for R16 through a third place berth. My leaning is against either of them being one of the four best third placed teams.

On to the Czechs, who are in a similar place:

Absurd FIFA ranking: 29th

Coach: Popular Czech figure Pavel Vrba

Match Schedule: 

June 13 - Czech Republic v. Spain (Toulouse, 9am EST, ESPN)
June 17 - Czech Republic v. Croatia (St. Etienne, 12pm ESPN)
June 21 - Czech Republic v. Turkey (Lens, 3pm, ESPN)

Prospects: After having failed to qualify for Brasil 2014 and being group in a Group of Death with Holland, Iceland and Turkey, few Czech fans expected their side to qualify this summer. Getting out of that group was accomplishment enough; yet, this aging squad will likely have little left in the tank after a tough, long season.

Key Player: Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky rarely gets a match for his side these days and may well be heading out of the Emirates. But he runs this Czech side. If his recent injury scare keeps him out of France 2016, this Czech side is sunk.

Prediction: Fourth place in Group D - it's time for a complete overhaul of this side.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Euro 2016 Preview - Group D - Croatia:

Continuing on with Group D now and Croatia: 

Nickname: "Vatreni" ("The Blazers")

Absurd FIFA ranking: 23rd

Coach: Veteran Croatian gaffer Ante Cacic

Match Schedule: 

June 12 - Croatia v. Turkey (Paris, 9am EST, ESPN)
June 17 - Croatia v. Czech Republic (St. Etienne, 12pm ESPN)
June 21 - Croatia v. Spain (Bordeaux, 3pm, ESPN)

Prospects: Ante Cacic presides over the another Central European side that's more than the sum of its parts. The squad is thin but there is quality throughout the spine, including a defense led by Shakhtar Donetsk's Diego Srna, a midfield diamond with Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic at the base and Real Madrid's Luka Modric at the top, and giant Juve striker Mario Mandzukic up front. That should be just enough to see them out of a competitive group and might even see them spring a few surprises along the way.

Key Player: Rakitic makes this Croatia side tick.

Youngster to Watch: 21 year-old Dinamo Zagreb striker Marko Pjaca could be a more mobile foil for Mandzukic.

Who Will Get the Goals: Mandzukic is the main target man for Cacic's side.

Who Will Get the Cards: Liverpool's Dejan Lovren has learned the dark arts in the Premiership.

Prediction: Just edging out Turkey in Group D will bring up a Round of 16 match-up with highly fancied Belgium. Knocked out in a 4-3 thriller.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Euro 2016 Preview - Group D: Spain

On to Group D now. Top seed in the group - the current holders - Spain:

Nickname: "La Furia Roja" ("The Red Fury")

Absurd FIFA ranking: 6th

Coach: Vicente del Bosque

Match Schedule: 

June 13 - Spain v. Czech Republic (Toulouse, 9am EST, ESPN)
June 17 - Spain v. Turkey (Nice, 3pm ESPN)
June 21 - Spain v. Croatia (Bordeaux, 3pm, ESPN)

Prospects: Despite a poor performance at Brasil 2014, where they crashed out in a Group of Death, Vicente del Bosque's side will come into France 2016 as holders and one of three or four sides that might be tipped to win the whole thing again. With four starters with over 100 caps for the side, they have bags of experience at the top level, which will be all important in the latter stages of the tournament. Del Bosque is still set up to play tippy tappy nonsense in midfield all day long, but the addition of Diego Costa up front gives them a more potent edge than in previous tournaments.

Key Player: Even at 32, Barcelona's Andres Iniesta still pulls all the strings for this Spanish side.

Youngster to Watch: When will Manchester United's superb David De Gea elbow Iker Casillas aside as Spain's #1?

Who Will Get the Goals: In this set up, Chelsea's wide man Pedro looks most likely.

Who Will Get the Cards: At 30, veteran stopper Sergio Ramos could get exposed.

Prediction: Beaten by Germany in a tense, hard-fought battle in the final.

England v. Portugal Live!

Afternoon, chaps! I'm settling in in the office to follow this afternoon's Euro 2016 warm-up with Portugal at Wemberly via the Fox Soccer 2 Go link. If you're so inclined, jump on the blog for a natter this afternoon, eh? Cheers!

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Euro 2016 Preview: Group C: Poland and Northern Ireland

Tonight, it's the turn of the also-rans in Group c, starting with Poland:

Nickname: "Biale Orly" ("The White Eagles")

Absurd FIFA ranking: 27th

Coach: Adam Nawalka

Match Schedule: 

June 12 - Poland v. Northern Ireland (Nice, 12pm EST, ESPN)
June 16 - Poland v. Germany (Saint Denis, 3pm ESPN)
June 21 - Poland v. Ukraine (Marseille, 12pm, ESPN)

Prospects: The Poles had a decent run in a difficult group that included Germany, the Republic and Scotland, finishing second behind the World Champions. So, they'll count themselves in with a real chance of qualifying for the second round of the Euros for the first time. A lot of press has concerned whether Adam Nawalka would call up Leicester City's sturdy defender Marcin Wasilewski. Poland have a decent, tight squad that can play a bit with some useful midfielders and Lewandowski up front.

Key Player: Bayern Munich striker and Poland skipper Robert Lewandowski is well on his way to becoming Poland's all-time record goalscorer.

Prediction: The June 21st match-up with Ukraine will decide who qualifies automatically as second place in the group and gets a cushy ride through the Round of 16. It's a close call but I'm tipping Poland for a loss in this match followed by another loss in the Round of 16.

On to Northern Ireland, who are appearing in the European Championships for the very first time:

Nickname: "The Green and White Army")

Absurd FIFA ranking: 26nd

Coach: Former journeyman footballer Michael O'Neill

Match Schedule: 

June 12 - Northern Ireland v. Poland (Nice, 12pm EST, ESPN)
June 16 - Northern Ireland v. Ukraine  (Lyon, 12pm ESPN)
June 21 - Northern Ireland v. Germany (Paris 3pm, ESPN)

Prospects: Northern Ireland will be carrying banners that say "Just Happy to Be Here" into France this summer. They could easily suffer the fate of the Republic at Euro 2012, where the Green Army were hammered in three successive matches. O'Neill will have a difficult choice of squad members, as anyone with a Northern Irish granny who's playing well in the upper reaches of English professional football will be in for a call-up.

Key Player: Southampton midfielder and Norn Ireland captain Steven Davis adds a lot of industry and the occasional goal.

Prediction: Fourth place in Group C - don't overbook your stay at the Cote D'Azure hotel, lads!