Aligned alongside Yohan Cabaye and Paul Pogba in a three-man midfield, Sissoko impressed as France recorded a 0-0 draw against the Swiss in Lille on Sunday that took them into the last 16 as Group A winners. As well as catching the eye with his driving runs, his inclusion allowed Pogba to excel in his preferred left-sided role and with Blaise Matuidi struggling for form, the 26-year-old Newcastle United midfielder has given coach Didier Deschamps food for thought. “Didier has a difficult choice to make,” former France midfielder Alain Boghossian told Monday’s edition of French sports daily L’Equipe. “With Pogba having rediscovered his place, Blaise Matuidi could pay the price, even though he’s shone brilliantly for the past two years.”
Could Moussa Sissoko play his way into France’s starting XI? Some thoughts on his performance against Switzerland here.
Looking beyond Euro 2016, Vardy will undergo an operation after the tournament to repair “two big cracks” in his right wrist, but says he will only be sidelined for three weeks. He is bringing out an autobiography, My Story, in October and revealed that a film charting his rags-to-riches tale is slated for release in 2017. “It’s happening,” he said. “It’s out in 2017, from what I’ve been told. I think they’re just getting all the actors sorted.” In response to a question about who will play him, as well as a cheeky entreaty about who might take on the role of Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger, he would only say: “I’m not at liberty to say.”
Jamie Vardy sat down for a chat with journalists at England’s Euro 2016 media centre in Chantilly this week. Find out what he said here.
In England’s final pre-tournament friendly, an unconvincing 1-0 win over Portugal on June 2, Rooney led the line as a central striker in a 4-3-3 formation. Two weeks later, he is being picked in midfield ahead of specialists such as Jack Wilshere, Jordan Henderson and James Milner. Rooney’s repositioning has exposed a hitherto underappreciated side of his game, with his strafing passes helping to set England’s tempo against both Russia and Wales. He completed 66 passes against Wales, more than any other player, and his tireless promptings established a foundation for the late push that culminated in Daniel Sturridge’s injury-time winner.
Wayne Rooney’s redeployment in England’s midfield appears to represent the dawn of a new phase in his career. I’ve written about it for AFP here.
Despite Wales sitting perilously deep at times, England toiled in their attempts to pull them out of their defensive shape and it was not until added time that the decisive moment of quality arrived. Sturridge knocked the ball forward to Vardy, who laid it off to Alli, and though the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder could not profit from his own slick turn, Sturridge burst in to beat Hennessey at his near post. It prompted an explosion of joy on the England bench, Hodgson leaping to his feet and assistant coach Gary Neville haring down the touchline. But throwing all the strikers on and hoping for the best is not an approach that can be relied upon to carry England deep into the tournament.
For all the joy of England’s dramatic victory over Wales, they remain very much a work in progress. My piece for AFP can be read here.
Historically, the relationship between the two nations has been one of English incursions and Welsh resentment, from King Edward I’s invasion of Wales in the 13th century to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s war on striking Welsh coal-miners in the 1980s. Today, Wales answers to the British government in London, although it was given a degree of political autonomy by the creation of the Welsh Assembly in 1999. “Wales is administratively part of England and so Welsh national identity is a rather contested area,” Huw Richards, a Welsh journalist and academic, told AFP. “An awful lot of Welsh national identity is tied into the relationship with England and is about not being England, being different.”
Ahead of their Euro 2016 clash in Lens on Thursday, I’ve written something on the rivalry between England and Wales. You can read it here.
My AFP match reports and reaction pieces from Euro 2016:
Report: Ronaldo tears as Eder fires Portugal to Euro glory
Report: Record man Ronaldo ends Wales’s Euro fairytale
Report: Robson-Kanu fires Wales to historic semi-final
Reaction: Hodgson quits as England boss after Iceland humiliation
Report: Iceland stun England in one of greatest ever shocks
Report: McAuley own goal sends Wales into Euro 2016 last eight
Report: Gómez guides Germany into Euro 2016 knockouts
Reaction: Deschamps encouraged by Pogba display
Report: Pogba shines as France top Euro 2016 group
Reaction: Hodgson joy as England turn the tables
Report: Vardy, Sturridge rescue England against Wales
Reaction: Modrić shrugs off brush with fan
Report: Modrić stunner sees Croatia past Turkey
Reaction: ‘Historic’ victory for Wales, says Bale
Report: Bale and Robson-Kanu give Wales winning return
Distinctive haircut? Check. Multiple national player of the year awards? Check. Feared attacker with a vicious shot and the freedom to roam all over the pitch? Check, check, check. Gareth Bale and Marek Hamšik would be able to reflect upon the many things they have in common were they not lining up against each other for Wales and Slovakia in tomorrow’s Euro 2016 opener in Bordeaux. The two players — topknot-sporting Bale, 26, and mohican-crested Hamsik, 28 — inspired their respective countries to qualify for a European Championship finals for the first time and the outcome of the match may boil down to which of the two players comes out on top.
A piece on Gareth Bale and Marek Hamšik, who face off in Bordeaux on Saturday. Read it here.
Related link: Wales fans’ journey reaches Euro 2016 destination
Kyle Walker could not bring himself to watch England’s recent tournament appearances, but he is thrilled by the prospect of starting their Euro 2016 opener against Russia on Saturday. The 26-year-old Tottenham Hotspur player is sampling major international competition for the first time, having sat out Euro 2012 with a toe injury before missing the 2014 World Cup due to an abdominal problem. Named man of the match in last week’s 1-0 win over Portugal, the right-back is expected to start against Russia in Marseille. If he does, it will be the first England game at a big tournament that he has paid attention to for a while. “When I’m injured, I can’t watch it,” Walker said. “It’s too difficult for me.”
Kyle Walker talked to journalists at England’s Stade des Bourgognes training base on Tuesday. Read my piece here.
I made my first appearance on the Betway Insider podcast this week to talk about Roy Hodgson’s tactical conundrums with England, France’s troubled preparations for Euro 2016 and my favourite memories from reporting on major tournaments. You can listen to it here.
Louis van Gaal, Mourinho’s sacked predecessor, ultimately paid the price for failing to secure Champions League qualification, but it was the pedestrian nature of the team’s football that provided a lightning rod for criticism during his two-year tenure. The European game’s arch pragmatist, Mourinho is not renowned for dashing football and his poor record of promoting young players — one area where Van Gaal enjoyed some success — has been held against him throughout his career. United’s two greatest managers, Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson, built their success on youth and the club’s fans are unlikely to react kindly if players like 18-year-old striking sensation Marcus Rashford or teenage full-backs Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson abruptly disappear from view.