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Eine Kleine Dantmusik - Euro 2024 Day 3 16/6/24

And so to day 3 and my first game of the tournament. You spend the night before flapping that you haven’t prepped enough, that you don’t have the pronunciations right for half the players, you think you’re going to lose your train of thought completely multiple times during the game etc etc etc. The excitement of doing the job is almost matched by some odd belief that you can’t do that job no matter how experienced you are in tournament football.

It’s always like this and the truth is that none of the worst stuff happens (usually) and the job gets done to your satisfaction…not total satisfaction, as there are always moments you feel you could have described better on reflection.

Back at the Volksparkstadion by midday in readiness for the 3pm kick off, we swiftly bumped into Ian Dennis and Dion Dublin who were doing the game for 5 Live in the comms position next to ours. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating - contrary to what folk may imagine or even want, there is no “war” between those who work matches for rival sports broadcasters, especially talkSPORT and 5 Live. There’s only one BBC individual I’ve fallen out with in near 20 years at talkSPORT (and I’m not about to name them here) and the support, information and encouragement we offer to one another is proper “hands across the airwaves” stuff. And “Denno” is right at the top of that very tree. Just a pleasure to know and liaise with whenever I get to see him, which is nowhere near often enough.

I also met a Blues fan, Tina, who lives in Hamburg and introduced herself to me as she was working at the stadium as one of the hundreds of volunteers tournaments like this needs to function and flow. Turns out she's a Solihull native like me and it was nice just to chat about my home town and our thoughts about our beloved Blues' descent into the seventh circle of hell (otherwise known as League One) for a few minutes. Birmingham are massive, everywhere we go and all that - more proud Birmingham-related content later...

A potentially serious security incident involving one individual at the fan park half an hour from the stadium was relayed to us and was a sobering reminder of how events such as these need the very best policing and protection for the thousands of fans who just want to enjoy the games and the spectacle. Reports of Albanian & Serbian fans clashing in Gelsenkirchen were also disturbing to hear of as we took our place at the commentary position to await team news - and for the first time since 2008 at a major, Poland would have to pick a team without Robert Lewandowski in it.

And wouldn’t you just know it, it was his replacement target man, Adam Buksa, who promptly headed the Poles in front after a quarter of an hour of Dutch pressure had been the way of It from the start. The Dutch fans have seen this whole ‘concede early’ trick quite a lot in this 2nd spell of Ronald Koeman’s management but Gakpo’s deflected equaliser on the half hour just quietened any dissension in the Orange Army away to our left. Koeman’s obsession with zonal marking at corners was picked up on by Darren Bent next to me as if Holland hadn’t learned the lessons from Buksa’s opener. It has always been the most curious corner set piece tactic of recent times - as Ray Houghton once told me, “Space never scored a goal”.

The dissension that had calmed a little at the Dutch equaliser started to creep back in as the second half wore on with seemingly no way through for Depay, Simons et al. And then came Wout Weghorst - a figure of fun in the Premier League after zero goals for Man Utd and little impact at Burnley. He hadn’t exactly ripped it up on loan at Hoffenheim recently either, but in his country’s shirt he is quite the super sub.

I’d already seen it live with my own eyes in that incredible World Cup quarter final in the Lusail a couple of years back as he notched twice off the bench (the second goal 11 minutes into added time) to force extra time against Argentina. It only took him 2 minutes today to get the job done, sweeping the ball home with unerring accuracy from Ake’s precise pass from the left. He won’t start next time, though - Koeman appears quite dogmatic in his desire to keep Weghorst on the bench. But a striker can’t just keep rescuing you with substitute goals all the way to a final…can he?

Benty was excellent alongside me during our commentary. I’ve worked with so many different ex-pros as co-commentators and Darren was really informative and insightful throughout. When they spot things that you haven’t very early on in a game, you know you’re in good hands and that’s exactly what I got from him today. He’s game for a laugh too, as he pitied Buksa treading on the ball under no pressure at one point saying he’s done that ‘many many times’ himself. Can’t beat a bit of self-deprecation!

We had the usual interminable wait for an Uber to get close enough to the stadium after full time so we cold decamp to the hotel - instead we hung around in the media hub and I resisted the temptation to challenge Darren to a game of FC24 (FIFA to you and me) - there were 2 consoles set up and free to use for anyone who fancied a game. Perhaps I should have done and asked him for a B’ham/Arsenal rematch from 2011 and embarrass the Gunners once again! There’s still time - doubtless all the media hubs we’ll use will have these set up…you can barely tell one media hub from another at major tournaments. It’s all identikit stuff, which I guess does provide some calming regularity amongst your flapping at all these players with 6 syllables in their surname.

Only one surname mattered later - Bellingham. All us ‘Noses are living our lives vicariously through Jude since his rapid ascent to the very top of the European tree with Real after Dortmund. He was targeted by Serbia no doubt, but he and England got the win - it’s never that simple of course…now it’ll be 3 days of ‘Foden’s way out of position’ or ‘Trent in midfield-why?’ Or ‘Kane doesn’t look right to me, you know’. It certainly made for an anxious watch as the game went into the latter stages, but that may just be our toughest group stage game out of the way already - certainly given the tackles Serbia liked to put in, it will be the ‘toughest’ in that sense.

We’re travelling south to Stuttgart Monday afternoon as our next game is Germany/Hungary on Wednesday. As a consequence of all this travelling, unpacking one’s suitcase is really a pointless exercise. Virgos are supposed to be a tidy sign, but that one has definitely passed me by over the years. However on this trip so far, my room does not resemble a bad washing powder advert and my minimalist approach appears to be working. Probably means I won’t be able to shut the KISS Kase with the rucksack swag from yesterday, now I’ve said that.

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