Euro 2016 first week review

We have been lent a larger TV for the tournament, which is going to work especially when the end of group stage games are being played simultaneously.

On the telly

In the contest between ITV and BBC for best coverage I’m calling it a high-scoring draw. ITV’s commentators are generally weaker but they make up for it with Slaven Bilic in the studio, whereas their rivals continue to employ Kevin Kilbane. When the BBC brought in Gianluca Vialli (who quoted Aristotle) for analysis alongside Thierry Henry and Rio Ferdinand, it was genuinely interesting to listen to guys who had played the game at the highest level and knew how to express their thoughts about what they’d seen.

The other key area in this competition is opening titles. Neither theme song has the singalong joy of “Bra-sil, Bra-siiil” from two years ago, let alone "Sing Sing Africa", but I like them both. The BBC went for a typically chic cover of La Foule by Izzy Bizu (no relation to Bixente Lizarazu) but the accompanying graphics based on fish-eye lens views of France is comprehensively outplayed by ITV’s art deco tour of the country by the tournament’s likely stars, soundtracked by Charles Trenet’s La Mer.

As usual, neither broadcaster can admit that the other exists, pretending that the only way to watch some games is on their late-night highlights packages. Clive Tyldesley had the decency to say about England against Wales (which was live on BBC), “If you aren’t able to watch the game live, we’ll have highlights later” but that’s as good as it gets, which is silly.

There are no good adverts relating to the football. This is almost always true anyway but the current dominance of betting companies and their laddish idiocy (“Oi mate, want us to shaft you whilst making you feel like a top fella? Give us your money then, get in!”) leaves little space for anything other than anodyne car adverts. Mars rather naively chose to make an advert based on the invasion of France by English stereotypes, an example of art not so much imitating life as failing to anticipate it. What none of these can match, however, are the toe-curling movie tie-ins that Manchester United have thought are a good idea. X-Men: Apocalypse was bad enough but Independence Day: Resurgence is somehow even worse. The players seem to be having fun when not being asked to speak, but the whole thing is more embarrassing than Bebé.

Off the pitch

It’s been a horrible mess, hasn’t it? Sport is so often an escape from the real world but there’s just so much real world happening at the moment. No doubt we hear more reports about the bad things than the good (or the plain normal) but that’s because violence and death are generally more important. My daily Bible readings currently happen to include Proverbs (how to be wise or a fool) and Revelation, in which God amidst chaos triumphs over all evil. One day that will be the real world.

Le plats du jours

After the success of Football Fan Food at the last World Cup, Deb is cooking meals from all the participating countries again. French onion soup with large cheesy croutons started things well, Flying Jacob is a crazy but somehow pleasant Swedish casserole, Belgian beer and beef are delicious when cooked together for a long time, Russian blini were a bit average (and thus considerably better than anything else Russia has brought to this tournament), Maria’s Ukrainian honey cookies were sweet and sticky, a blueberry jus works well with lamb chops as any Icelander will tell you, and Welsh rarebit with beer and bacon was a great way to toast England’s last-minute winner (you see what I did there).

Star spotting

According to the ITV title sequence, these guys were due to be the stars:

Paul Pogba (France). A mixed first game saw him dropped for France’s second, only to be introduced at half time against Albania as manager Deschamps realised it wasn’t working without him. A 70-yard pass set up the breakaway goal that sealed their win but the host’s real hero has been the man who scored it: Dimitri Payet.

Robert Lewandowski (Poland). Greater than the sum of the parts around him but he hasn’t received a great deal of service so far. A star striker rarely is enough for a team to succeed in a tournament and some of the top teams seem barely to be bothering with one at all.

Gianluigi Buffon (Italy). I cherish him as one of the few players in the tournament who is older than me. He and his fellow Juventus defenders were in full “You shall not pass [in Italian]” mode against Belgium. He is the classic Italian tournament stereotype of passion and experience, but he shouldn’t try swinging on the crossbar when celebrating again.

Gareth Bale (Wales). Two belting free kicks made mugs of goalkeepers, and he was good fun in the build-up to the England game. I can’t work out whether his or Andy Murray’s mouth opens larger when they roar, maybe it’s a Celtic thing.

Robbie Keane (Republic of Ireland) and Jonny Evans (Northern Ireland). Perhaps included in the title sequence to make up the home nations and neighbours numbers, but Evans was the perfect combination of Manchester United big-game player and Tony Pulis disciple in his side’s wonderful victory against Ukraine. Keane, however, looks like he’s been enjoying American cuisine a bit too much.

Christiano Ronaldo (Portugal). After his sixth 50-goal season in a row, he looked a little out-of-sorts against a spirited Iceland, and then moaned about everyone’s new second-favourite team celebrating a draw. As someone said, he really should take a long hard look at himself in the mirror – except he probably already does.

Thomas Müller (German). A victim of Germany’s failure to play a real striker, he isn’t getting the space he likes to “interpret” because defenders aren’t having to worry about someone ahead of him.

Zlatan Ibrahimović (Sweden). A buffeting game against the Republic of Ireland was a pretty good introduction to the Premier League he is apparently considering moving to. Even further ahead of his compatriots than Lewandowski or Ronaldo, he was isolated for most of the game but still set up Sweden’s goal.

Andrés Iniesta (Spain). The puppet-master was at his imperious best against the Czech Republic, with a pass success rate of 90%, finding unseen angles, pulling and probing the entire opposition, and setting up the winner, whilst probably wishing the options ahead of him were a bit more like the ones he’s used to at Barcelona.

Wayne Rooney (England). It isn’t saying a lot to suggest that this is already Rooney’s best tournament since he took Euro 2004 by storm. Comparisons with Paul Scholes are ridiculous but he has now settled into a midfield position and is leading his team. Those who suggested that England’s most experienced current player and record goalscorer shouldn’t have even been in the squad should have revised their opinions by now. It’s not his fault that he can’t act.

Match reports for the short of time / attention

I’m writing a six-word summary of each game (up 20% from 2014, because 6 and 16 sound better in a phrase) which you can keep up to speed with at #Euro16in6