UEFA billed this European Championship as a 60th birthday celebration and wanted everyone to join the party.

Obviously the governing body couldn't have known that a global pandemic was just around the corner and soon the decision to host the finals in 12 cities across the continent looked like an increasingly unachievable pipe dream. They managed to get there – admittedly with 11 hosts and a few venue changes – but what some of those alterations have also done is give a number of the stronger teams a huge advantage. Now, host status does not always correspond to success at a finals – it has only happened once since 1980 when France won the tournament in 1984 – but it certainly helps.

Previous hosts have reached the semi-finals in eight of the last 10 Euros. The two exceptions were when second-tier nations Austria and Switzerland and Poland and Ukraine were co-hosts There is another less heralded issue. A pocket of hardy Wales fans made the near 7000-mile round trip to watch their side draw 1-1 with Switzerland on Saturday in a shell of a stadium in Baku where watching the game from their vantage point was akin to spotting craters on the moon.

They face Turkey on Wednesday in the same venue and then must travel to Rome if they want to see the final group A against Italy. We're still in the throes of that aforementioned pandemic, of course, with an Alpha and a Delta variant now part of the lexicon. And as much as it is fantastic to see supporters inside grounds again it all just feels like lunacy to have supporters traipsing across the continent in this manner.


At the risk of tempting fate before Scotland play this afternoon, should Steve Clarke's men win today, they can travel to Wembley later this week without any trepidation - certainly if England's performance against a bang average Croatia was anything to go by. It has always felt as if the biggest obstacle to England's chances at these finals is England themselves. More specifically, Gareth Southgate seems to be unsure how to meld the undoubted riches he has in his squad into a winning formula.

For example, Kieran Trippier was a revelation for Atletico Madrid in their La Liga title winning season, playing high up the pitch as an advanced right wing back. Trippier had six assists for Diego Simeone's side in the campaign just ended so quite why Southgate decided to station him at left-back yesterday is anyone's guess. The England manager claimed it was to give his backline more experience. Experience of what exactly? Didn't Ben Chilwell just win the Champions League with Chelsea – a match incidentally that they won in part because of managerial tinkering?

His decision to start with two holding midfielders made little sense either. Yes, England won against Croatia yesterday but the Croats are a waning power – a look at recent results confirms that – and Scotland are capable of getting a result, especially if Southgate continues with his acts of self-sabotage.


How heartwarming to hear that Christian Eriksen is sitting up in bed and sending WhatsApp messages to his Inter Milan team-mates. I can't have been the only one who felt as if the Denmark midfielder's brush with death on Saturday night had a personal dimension to it. As a Spurs supporter who has marvelled at Eriksen's majesty up close at White Hart Lane and Wembley – and from afar – it felt akin to watching a member of one's family in distress. It was nothing of the sort, of course. Eriksen has a wife and two children, a mother, a father and a sister. It was a chilling reminder of how we can often take the permanence of those relationships for granted.

They will be forever grateful for the speed with which the medical team responded. It was a reminder that the protocols that have been put in place since the high-profile deaths of other famous footballers on the pitch – Cameroon's Marc-Vivien Foe in 2003 and Motherwell's Phil O'Donnell in 2007 – have largely worked. Largely because Eriksen was certainly one of the lucky footballers. Many more have died despite the loss of O'Donnell and Foe and certainly more can be done such as heart screening from a younger age, better provision of CPR training and the presence of defibrillators at lower-league grounds which should be as standard as a set of goalposts.

Watching Eriksen tread the line between the dark and the light was the worst thing I have ever seen on a football pitch – in 40 years of watching, playing and reporting on the sport – but simply wishing it away will do nothing to prevent it happening again.


There was a time when Breel Embolo was talked about as the next global phenomenon. The year was 2016 and the then-Basle striker was being courted by, among others, Barcelona, Manchester United and Arsenal. The teenage sensation signed for Bundesliga giants Schalke, instead, in a £20m deal. But he spent much of the time injured playing just 48 times, scoring 10 goals, before joining Borussia Monchengladbach two years ago. It has not been plain sailing for Embolo there either. In December 2019, it came to light that he had lost his licence while caught driving using his mobile phone. Earlier this year, he attended an illegal party but denied his presence there before subsequent police reports indicated that Embolo had escaped by fleeing across a roof to a flat where he hid in a bathtub to avoid detection. He was fined E200,000.

There is a less wild side to Embolo. He set up a foundation that bears his name in Switzerland to help disadvantaged child refugees from Cameroon – the land of his birth – and Peru. Embolo left Cameroon as a child himself when his mother decided that there were no prospects for her family in Africa.

Against Wales on Saturday in Baku, he looked like the kind of striker he was destined to become, scoring once, almost scoring another two and generally causing havoc for the Welsh defence. It's a real shame we have not seen more of that side to his game.


It's not just in Scotland and England where there has been an ongoing political row over ideological messaging. Where the endless debate on taking the knee has been top of the agenda on these shores, Russia and Ukraine have been involved in a political spat of their own.

Russia's gripe stems from a design and slogan on Ukraine's kit for the finals which contains an embroidered map of the country containing the Crimean peninsula which Russia annexed in 2014 and declared part of its territory. Despite that claim being rejected internationally, Russia had nevertheless complained to UEFA about the Ukraine jersey which also carries a slogan inside the neck which reads: 'Glory to the Heroes', a phrase that was used by protesters who ousted the Kremlin-backed president, Viktor Yanukovych, in 2013-14. UEFA say the message is “clearly political in nature” despite previously having approved the kit for use.