Dave Seddon's Euro 2016 pressview
I have to admit that I was sceptical when UEFA announced they were to expand Euro 2016.
Like many, I feared that the increase from 16 to 24 competing countries might water-down the quality.
The first week of the tournament in France has proved me wrong, the standard of football very decent and producing an interesting set of matches.
No country has looked particularly out of its depth, which was the concern with the expansion.
Albania might have lost twice but they gave it a right go with 10 men in the second half against Switzerland last Saturday.
And they came within a whisker of holding France to a goalless draw on Wednesday night before succumbing to two late goals.
My disappointment for the underdog falling at the last was tempered slightly by the fact I have France in the LEP sweep!
Not too long ago, Albania were one of European football’s whipping boys, fortunate to get a couple of points in the qualifying group.
Now I find myself helping the kids to put stickers of their players in their Panini albums.
Another minnow to catch the eye this week was Iceland who drew 1-1 with Portugal.
They sat behind the ball, soaked up pressure and after falling behind, hit back with an equaliser.
Late on, Iceland might even have won it – what a result that would have been.
A grumpy Cristiano Ronaldo was not impressed by what he saw as the small-time mentality showed by a country with a population of only 330,000.
What did he expect, Iceland to play an open, expansive game, giving him the space to carve them open?
Don’t blame the opposition for your own team’s shortcomings Ronaldo.
Seeing Iceland play evoked memories of Bjarki Gunnlaugsson’s couple of seasons with Preston during David Moyes’ reign.
I spoke with Bjarki three years ago for a look back at his time at Deepdale and to see how life after football was treating him.
He was then, and probably still is now, part-owner of a football agents company in his home country.
Back in 2013, Bjarki was predicting good things for Icelandic football.
At the time they were on course for the 2014 World Cup and only missed out on going to Brazil in the play-offs.
He said ‘watch this space’ and has been proved right.
Reflecting on the first week of the tournament, at the time of writing my favourite game to date was Italy’s 2-0 win over Belgium.
I enjoyed Hungary’s victory against Austria, one-time PNE loanee Tamas Priskin appearing as a second-half sub for the Hungarians.
It was nice to see Northern Ireland beat Ukraine, overcoming the stage fright they seemed to have in their opener against Poland.
As for England, it has been a bit of a bumpy ride but they go into Monday’s final group game against Slovakia top of the section and in good shape.
There were good and bad parts of the draw with Russia and perhaps a lesson was learned from dropping back and settling for what they had, a plan which backfired as they conceded the late equaliser.
Against Wales, it took the introduction of Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge to spark England into life.
Two positive substitutions became three when Marcus Rashford joined the action during the second half.
When Rashford was being readied to come on, I really did wonder whether the normally conservative Roy Hodgson had banged his head at the interval and developed a personality change.
I’m stating the obvious when saying Vardy and Sturridge have to start against Slovakia.
Maybe the midfield could be freshened-up with Dele Alli given a breather?
The media scrutiny of the Euros, both of the broadcasting and social variety, means little escapes the public eye.
Poor old German coach Joachim Low was caught doing a spot of ‘trouser husbandry’ on the touchline which was soon trending on Twitter.
Russia boss Leonid Slutsky looked to be having a nervous breakdown sat in the dugout during his side’s 2-1 loss to Slovakia.
Slutsky is the youngest of the coaches at the Euros at the age of 45 but by the looks of it, has had one hell of a tough paper round.
The manner in which he was breathing heavily and pulling all kinds of faces as Russia fell to defeat, suggested an early exit was something he was not particularly craving.