Up early again on the morning of 3rd of July and I probably don’t need to tell you that it was another gloriously sunny morning with apparently much more to come. There is even talk that this good weather might last for the whole month. I know the farmers are complaining but I love it. I also probably don’t need to tell you what I had for breakfast as shown in the image above. No, I do not ever get tired of eating fries.
The morning was spent in the usual fashion of watching documentaries on TV, occasional forays into the back garden for a read whilst slowly roasting myself and doing some offline writing for this website. Hopefully I shall have my Lundy Island piece ready for uploading next time I have internet access.
I prepared lunch for Father and then some more of the same routine before the first game of the day between Switzerland and Sweden. The winners of this match will face the winners of the England game and again I am writing in real-time whilst watching the match. I am beginning to feel more like a sports journalist rather than a travel blogger.
The first half is not nearly as good as some of the football we have seen at this stage and both sides seem to be cancelling each other out. the Swedes are having the better of it but their best effort on 27 minutes came to nothing. It was 35 minutes before the first corner of the game which must tell you something. Switzerland had a good move on 38 minutes but blazed it over the bar and Sweden have just skied a wonderful opportunity on 41 minutes. At least it is livening up. Half-time now and no score yet. I hope it gets better in the second period.
The second half has started a bit livelier with decent chances at each end, both squandered. 65 minutes now and the deadlock is broken with a Swedish goal which was heading straight for Jan Sommer, the Swiss keeper, until it took a serious deflection off a defender. Having gone a goal down, Switzerland have to really go for it and they have but with a minute of normal time remaining they have not broken through. Three minutes of added time and in the first the Swedish ‘keeper has just made a fine save form a Swiss header. High drama now. Five seconds to go in extra time and a penalty to Sweden with the Swiss player sent off. Hold on, VAR review to see whether it was inside or outside the penalty area. Result, a free kick on the edge of the box. An excellent free kick was matched by an equally good save which was the last kick of the game and Sweden go through 1- 0.
I am becoming increasingly aware that this blog is getting very repetitive so I shall try to liven it up a bit with items that are not perhaps strictly related to the events of the day in question. I am going to share a brief overview of Northern Ireland with you which I wrote for Virtual Tourist a few years ago and which I have edited slightly to make it read correctly.
A quick history lesson.
I suppose that if you are not from there, your opinions about Northern Ireland depend a lot on your age. If you are of a certain generation (i.e. mine) you will probably conjure up images of riots, bombs, soldiers on street corners and so on, and that was the sad reality of life for over 30 years in the country of my birth.
I left in 1988 to live in London and do not actually return that much. Every time I do it seems as if so much has changed. I know this would be a normal situation anywhere in the world but it seems much more pronounced in Northern Ireland now that there is a semblance of normality there.
When I wrote this piece for VT I knew they strongly opposes political discussion, and rightly so, but it is difficult to speak of Northern Ireland without at least touching on history, religion and politics and this brief piece must, of necessity, only vaguely scratch the surface.
Without going too far back in time all of Ireland had been ruled by Britain from the Middle Ages until 1922. The “indigenous” population of the island tended to be (although not exclusively) Roman Catholic. Certain parts of the island, predominantly in the North and East had been settled by what were known as “Plantation Stock”, mostly Scots and Northern English, who tended to be (again not exclusively) Protestant.
Fast forward then to 1922 when, after several uprisings and a guerrilla war waged by Republicans, the island was to be divided. The six counties of Fermanagh, Down, Armagh, Londonderry, Tyrone and Antrim remained as part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the remaining 26 countries became a Republic which has been variously known as Eire and the Irish Free State over the years. It’s correct title now is the Republic of Ireland. If you want to remember the counties of N.I. FAT LAD is a useful acronym!
Fast forward again to the 1960’s when certain Nationalist groupings were involved in demonstrations etc. in relation to civil rights matters, either real or imagined depending on your point of view. Large marches degenerated into rioting and in 1969 the British Army was deployed in support of the civil power to restore order on the streets. They were to remain for over 30 years.
Rioting (although it continued sporadically over the years) in its turn gave way to either a guerrilla war or terrorist campaign, again depending on your political stance. Groups like the PIRA, INLA, CIRA and RIRA were on the nationalist side, basically demanding a complete British withdrawal from Northern Ireland, although the last two mentioned are more recent additions. On the Loyalist side, i.e. those that wanted to remain in the UK, were groups like the UVF, UDA, OV, RHC and LVF. I mentioned before that Northern Ireland lives (and too often dies) on acronyms.
Over the next 30 or so years over 3,000 people lost their lives and many many more were permanently maimed. It is a fairly appalling toll in a country with a population of less than two million.
Back to the present.
In 1998, after protracted and often acrimonious discussions, leaders from the British and Irish governments and the major political groupings signed what is known as the Good Friday Agreement which effectively put an end to terrorist activity and led to the situation that exists today. I won’t mislead the reader, there are still very occasional incidents, mostly carried out by dissident Republicans who did not want the agreement, but the visitor would be extremely unlucky to ever be caught up in one of these.
So having painted this picture of recent death and destruction, what would possibly bring the visitor to Northern Ireland (or “Norn Irn” as it is rendered in the local dialect)? Well, any number of things.
Firstly, the hospitality, which is legendary. For a people who seemed hell-bent on annihilating each other within living memory, the Northern Irish really are the friendliest people going and visitors from all over the globe will attest to the welcome here. Then there is the scenery which is beautiful. From the natural wonder that is the Giants Causeway to the wildness of the Sperrin Mountains, the Mournes, the Glens of Antrim and the wonderful Fermanagh Lakes which are home to some of the best coarse fishing in Europe.
Belfast is now one of THE party towns of the world and the craic, as they call it, has to be seen, heard and survived to be believed. We’re back to the hospitality thing again. And then there is the food. People in this part of the world just love to eat, it is like a national pastime. From the haute cuisine of chefs like Paul Rankin through some excellent gastropubs and all the way to the ubiquitous “Ulster Fry” (as featured prominently in this blog). You really have to try one of those, just don’t tell your Doctor!
I’ll stop this now before I start sounding like a Tourist Board advertisement.
All I can say to you is that if you haven’t been, what’s keeping you?”
Right, that is the Northern Ireland very brief briefing over so on to the second football match of the day which is England vs. Colombia and which has understandably been getting so much media hype here. As usual I am trying to report on this in real-time but it is now half-time and there is not very much in a footballing sense to tell you about. England started well at a high tempo but there have been virtually no chances of note bar one very difficult chance which Harry Kane put onto the roof of the net.
What there has been is niggle aplenty including an incident where a Colombian player head-butted an English player in the chest and in the same movement went on to “nut” him on the chin. Clearly a red card for violent conduct but inexplicably the American referee only issued a yellow even after a review from that awful VAR. Even as they were running off for half-time one of the Colombian technical staff elbowed an English player prompting the fourth official to admonish him. It really has been that sort of game.
Into the second half now and let’s hope we see some football and less messing about as thus far it is far from thrilling and a long way short of some of the other games we have seen in this round.
51 minutes and another yellow card for Colombia. 53 minutes and a penalty to England for pushing in the box at a corner. Sanchez yellow carded and rightly so, it was virtually a judo throw he used to put Kane down. The Colombians are really messing about to delay the pen., not to mention scuffing up the penalty spot. It took over three minutes from the award of the kick to it being taken but Harry Kane is totally unflappable and hammers it straight down the middle to put England 1 – 0 up and pulls him further away in the Golden Boot competition which he already leads.
England are falling into the trap Colombia have set for them and are getting involved in all the shennanigans rather than just walking away. Two thirds of the way through now and Colombia have brought on a striker for a holding midfielder. Two minutes later and another Colombian booked for dissent. Frankly, the ref is losing control here. 63 minutes and Colombia get their fifth yellow card. This really is a very poor spectacle indeed.
If the football is poor then Harry Kane is breaking records left right and centre. Six goals in a single major Finals to equal Gary Linekers record and has scored eight in 12 starts as captain.
Fifteen minutes of normal time and Colombia are starting to press a bit but I suppose they have to. 80 minutes and Kyle Walker gifts the ball to the opposition who break away and then hammer the ball high, wide and not very handsome. England survive but they were lucky. Another good chance for the South Americans on 85 but could not finish with a header. Into injury time now with five minutes added. 92 minutes and Colombia equalise from a corner after a superb save by Pickford from an excellent long-range shot. Extra time here we come again. What is the betting on penalties and you know England’s record in that department!
Five minutes into the additional period and Pickford smothers a good cross from the left. Colombia are definitely looking the more likely now with more of the possession and more attacks.England are showing no urgency to get forward and are messing about at the back and then giving it away in midfield (Lingard has just been guilty of this) leading to a Colombian corner. They really need to liven up again. 13 minutes in and Falcao has just directed a header wide of the post.
Half-time in extra time and still deadlocked. Penalties coming ever closer which is probably the best England can hope for as they don’t look like winning through open play. Having said that on 21 minutes of extra-time the substitute Danny Rose has just slid one right across the face of the Colombian goal. Seven minutes to the dreaded shootout and Rashford on for Kyle Walker. 27 minutes and yet another yellow card for Colombia for a seriously reckless challenge. One minute of extra-time in extra-time and then you know what.
Here we go, another shootout and I know who my money is on. Colombia shoot first and Falcao scores. Captain Harry Kane buries his effort and then Colombia score equally emphatically. Marcus Rashford slots his home in the same spot as his skipper did. Muriel sends Pickford the wrong way to score. Jordan Henderson up next and the ‘keeper palms it round his left hand post. History is surely repeating itself but then Uribe hits the underside of the crossbar and back out. One miss apiece and Trippier up next. He scores well. Bacca takes one which Pickford saves brilliantly with his left hand and then Eric Dier goes to the ‘keepers right and beats him despite him getting a fingertip to it. England through to face Sweden on Saturday in only the second penalty shootout they have won at majors in eight attempts and I dread to think what level the media hype is going to ratchet itself up to now.
Off to bed for a read so stay tuned and spread the word.