Who can understand football with its infinite shocks and surprises? Who could ever have envisaged that Sweden, four goals down to the supposedly formidable Germans, should from the 62nd minute onwards get all those goals back against a German defence which unbelievably and so untypically collapsed?
Who would ever have dreamed that Northern Ireland, after limply failing to win in Belfast against even the minnows of Luxemburg, would go to Porto and come breathlessly close to beat a Portuguese team which, by way of massive anticlimax, saw Cristiano Ronaldo winning his 100th cap? Who would have predicted that France, so inconsistent a team for all its talent, would very deservedly draw in Madrid with Spain, even if the goal, by the Arsenal disappointment and late substitute, Olivier Giroud, after four minutes of stoppage time?
And England? True, they had to endure the needless frustration of a match postponed in Warsaw under drenching rain; the result of the gormless incompetence of the Polish football authorities?
Also reviving memories of all those cruel New York jokes about the alleged though hardly substantiated dimness of Polish people. One remembers hearing in Las Vegas that remarkable comedian Rodney Dangerfield joke about “the Polish pirate, an eye patch over each eye.” We hear that the manager of the Polish team didn’t want the roof of the stand – awarded a prize for a design which turns out to promote flooding by rain – to be closed, because he thought or hoped that the conditions would favour his team. He couldn’t have realised that a deluge was in prospect, but the Polish officials should surely have taken it into account. How sorry one feels for the hapless England fans who made the expensive journey, only to fly home again without seeing a ball kicked in anger. Being promised their ticket money back by the Polish Federation was scant consolation. But sleepy players?
When the game was played, Poland, even without their most gifted and dangerous player, the injured Jakub Blasczykowski, whose partnership with his fellow Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski can be so effective, looked the better, more inventive, more commanding side. Neither of the two goals was remarkable; poor marking contributed in both cases. Wayne Rooney, largely disappointing whether behind the striker or on the flank, scoring with his shoulder. Pavel Glick given far too much leeway to head home from Obraniak’s corner. Should Joe Hart have stayed on his line rather than rush out into the void? Should Glick have been prevented to connect with his header?
Overall, it was a mediocre England, uninspired and unconvincingly assembled. Pointless, surely, to put central midfielder Tom Cleverly out on the left, to the exclusion of the exuberant Oxlade Chamberlain. Surprising to use a once more disappointing Carrick in central midfield. Debatable to take so long to replace Jermaine Defoe, admittedly poorly supported, with Danny Welbeck, who had twice done so well at Wembley. Still, Ukraine, after their impressive show at Wembley have fallen deeply into the doldrums, even if this means that Montenegro have now become a threat.
It remains to be seen what UEFA, with such a poor disciplinary track record, will do about the horrors that followed the end of the Under 21 match in Krusevac. Ominously, they have included the maligned and maltreated England players in their general accusation, though the Serbian aggressors were all too horribly well displayed on television.