BBC BLOGS - Phil McNulty

Archives for June 2012

Euro 2012 final: Does winning make Spain boring?

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Phil McNulty | 20:30 UK time, Saturday, 30 June 2012

Euro 2012: Kiev

It is the question that has been hanging over Euro 2012 and it was fitting that the air should be cleared as Spain attempt to make history against Italy in Sunday’s final in Kiev.

Spain’s sequence of success started under veteran coach Luis Aragones at Euro 2008 and his successor Vicente del Bosque carried the torch to win the World Cup in South Africa two years later.

Now, on the verge of an unprecedented third successive major tournament win, Del Bosque and his masterly midfielder Xavi responded to what seems a nonsensical query given their record: “Are Spain boring?”

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Balotelli can lead Italy to Euro 2012 crown

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Phil McNulty | 08:24 UK time, Friday, 29 June 2012

Euro 2012: Warsaw

Mario Balotelli may have claimed he was "more of a man than Peter Pan" - but in his moment of triumph he was simply the boy who made his mother proud.

Balotelli ended the greatest night of his career draped in the arms of his adoptive mother Silvia as she balanced precariously on a ledge above the tunnel at Warsaw's magnificent national stadium.

It was a touching scene as this tearful, elderly lady clasped one of the game's most compelling and charismatic figures, stroking the back of his head in a gesture of affection all of Italy will have understood.

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Is Beckham's omission brave or foolish?

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Phil McNulty | 13:54 UK time, Thursday, 28 June 2012

David Beckham's shock exclusion from Team GB's Olympic football squad is a decision that puts manager Stuart Pearce's credibility - not to mention popularity - on the line.

Beckham was widely expected to be included, but Pearce has shown he is not willing to pick England's iconic sporting figure out of sentiment or as a gesture of thanks for his role in bringing the Games to London.

Beckham's enduring popularity was emphasised at half-time during England's friendly with Belgium at Wembley last month when he appeared to receive a Uefa award for winning 100 caps and received an even warmer ovation than the great Sir Bobby Charlton.

The 37-year-old may now be playing his football in the less competitive environment of Major League Soccer with Los Angeles Galaxy, but it was confirmation he still retains huge affection and his absence from the Olympics will anger many.

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Where is England's Pirlo?

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Phil McNulty | 18:49 UK time, Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Euro 2012: Krakow

The man held up as being single-handedly responsible for exposing the fault lines in England's football culture was as in control and centre stage at 'Casa Azzurri' on Tuesday afternoon as he was in Kiev's Olympic Stadium on Sunday.

Casa Azzurri is the impressive downtown Krakow headquarters commandeered by Italy for their Euro 2012 campaign and Andrea Pirlo was on show to the world's media before Thursday's semi-final with Germany in Warsaw.

The meeting with Germany may have been top of the agenda but the 33-year-old Juventus star was still being showered in acclaim for the midfield masterclass - and brilliantly audacious spot-kick - he delivered as Italy beat England 4-2 on penalties in the quarter-finals.

Pirlo has almost been cast in the role of the sort of player England most need, the identikit of the footballer that manager Roy Hodgson requires to shift their game away from the resilience, discipline and organisation on show here to something more subtle and modern.

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The future must start now for Hodgson's England

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Phil McNulty | 18:51 UK time, Monday, 25 June 2012

Euro 2012: Krakow

Roy Hodgson will have used England's flight home from their Euro 2012 base in Krakow to take a breath for almost the first time since his appointment as manager.

Hodgson had 40 days and 40 nights to prepare England for action in Poland and Ukraine while also fulfilling the final formalities of his duties as head coach of West Bromwich Albion.

Parachuted in as Fabio Capello's successor last month, the 64-year-old was thrown into a whirlwind of activity that soon acquainted him with a feeling familiar to his predecessors - the pain of defeat on penalties in a major tournament.

Hodgson, to his credit, made no attempt to hide behind any perceived misfortune. He accepted Italy's obvious superiority in a game that was goalless over 120 minutes and agreed it would have been England's lucky day had they emerged with the prize of a semi-final against Germany in Warsaw.

It was not to be, but Hodgson's parting words were in keeping with the dignified manner in which he has conducted himself in Poland and the way in which England's players have become popular tourists here.

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Euro 2012: England v Italy - A 0-0 hammering that ended as it always does

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Phil McNulty | 07:20 UK time, Monday, 25 June 2012

Euro 2012: Kiev

The clock in Kiev had ticked well beyond midnight when Alessandro Diamanti stepped forward to send England back in time and Italy into the last four of Euro 2012.

England’s story had a familiar ending as another penalty shoot-out sent them home heartbroken from a major tournament – but this time there must be no hard luck stories.

It is a road England have travelled before and the final destination has always been misery. It started in Turin in 1990 before moving on to Wembley in 1996, St. Etienne in 1998 then Lisbon in 2004 and Gelsenkirchen two years later.

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England boss Hodgson out to lift burden of history

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Phil McNulty | 23:00 UK time, Saturday, 23 June 2012

Euro 2012: Kiev

Roy Hodgson confessed to feeling the weight of history when England's Euro 2012 campaign began. It is a burden he has carried with increasing comfort throughout the last three weeks in Poland and Ukraine.

And the 64-year-old manager was receiving regular reminders of England's past failings - "nasty statistics" as he called them - as he stood in Kiev's Olympic Stadium, venue for Sunday's quarter-final with Italy.

England go in search of their first major trophy since the 1966 World Cup having become regular fallers at this hurdle, undermined by an inability to beat football's superpowers in the knockout stages.

Hodgson must change that pattern over the next week, with an increasingly ominous Germany lying in wait even if England can overcome Italy to extend a campaign that has been conducted almost under the radar.

And yet as small groups of England fans gathered late on Saturday near the banks of the Dnieper river that sweeps through Kiev, the optimism that accompanied Hodgson's squad through a draw with France and wins against Sweden and Ukraine continued its upward curve.

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Steven Gerrard finally flourishing as England captain

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Phil McNulty | 23:00 UK time, Friday, 22 June 2012

Euro 2012: Krakow

One of the enduring images of England's Euro 2012 campaign has been the sight of Steven Gerrard pumping the air with his fists, teeth clenched in a mask of triumph, with celebrating supporters for a backdrop.

It was the moment of victory against Ukraine in Donetsk's Donbass Arena that confirmed England's place in the last eight and ensured respectability and credibility from this tournament for manager Roy Hodgson and his squad.

Gerrard then pulled his white shirt over his head and looked to the heavens as he made his way off to the latest plaudits that have accompanied his performances in England's three Group D games.

Liverpool's 32-year-old captain has banished doubts held by some - including former England coach Fabio Capello - about his suitability to lead his country and will be vital once again when they face Italy in the quarter-final in Kiev on Sunday.

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How England and FA have embraced Euro 2012

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Phil McNulty | 15:14 UK time, Thursday, 21 June 2012

Euro 2012: Krakow
England's objective of winning Euro 2012 will face its toughest examination when they confront Italy in Kiev on Sunday - but one mission has been successfully accomplished irrespective of the outcome.

After the unfulfilling 2010 World Cup in South Africa, when misery arrived in equal measure on and off the pitch, the Football Association made the decision to warmly embrace the experience here in Poland and Ukraine should England qualify.

And as expectations rise around Roy Hodgson's team ahead of the quarter-final meeting in the Olympic Stadium, the decisions put in place by the FA to provide a framework for the tournament have been well rewarded.

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Honest England move into bonus territory

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Phil McNulty | 07:42 UK time, Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Euro 2012: Donetsk

When Wayne Rooney next uses the visualisation techniques that have become an integral part of his pre-match routine, he may allow himself to imagine something nobody saw coming.

England striker Rooney admits he lies awake the night before big games training his mind's eye on the decisive moments that might win a match, even armed with information about the strip the opposition will wear.

And events inside the vast, thunderous Donbass Arena in Donetsk would have fulfilled his dreams perfectly as a simple nod of his head inches away from an open goal after 48 minutes gave England the 1-0 win that put them into Euro 2012's quarter-final.

England manager Roy Hodgson set the stage for Rooney's return from a two-match suspension by invoking the name of the great Brazilian Pele as an example of how special talents can define tournaments.

After missing a first-half header that would have been filed away in the nightmare section of his motivational build-up, Rooney got the goal that means England and Hodgson have reached what most agreed would be a par performance for a manager who only took the job early last month.

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Upbeat Hodgson can guide England deep into Euros

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Phil McNulty | 21:56 UK time, Monday, 18 June 2012

Euro 2012: Donetsk

Roy Hodgson stopped short of asking the nation to dare to dream of winning Euro 2012 - but there is no doubt England's manager is warming to his task and alive to subtle increases in expectation.

Hodgson may have raised an eyebrow, even two, when the chairman of the Football Association's international committee, Sir Dave Richards, suggested the 64-year-old had "a Midas touch".

Richards may have been guilty of going too early on the back of a draw with France and a victory over Sweden that was not without its difficulties.

But it is easy to detect a significant switch in mood around England's squad and Hodgson is clearly hopeful of transforming a position of promise into a place in Euro 2012's last eight by securing at least a point against co-hosts Ukraine in Donetsk's Donbass Arena.

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Wait is over for Rooney and England

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Phil McNulty | 15:57 UK time, Sunday, 17 June 2012

Euro 2012: Krakow

England's most potent weapon is hardly a secret but there was still a sense of anticipation when Wayne Rooney was wheeled out in front of the media in Krakow on Sunday.

Rooney's road to England redemption after his red card in Montenegro last October will start in the hostile surroundings of Donetsk's Donbass Arena on Tuesday where their Euro 2012 aspirations go on the line against co-hosts Ukraine.

When former England coach Fabio Capello travelled to Uefa headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, to plead for Rooney's suspension to be cut from three games to two - and open up a window of opportunity at Euro 2012 - this was the occasion he had in mind.

And Capello's successor Roy Hodgson will now be the grateful beneficiary of the Italian's unswerving support for England's outstanding player as they seek the point they require to reach the last eight.

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Decisive Hodgson passes tactical test

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Phil McNulty | 01:25 UK time, Saturday, 16 June 2012

Wayne Rooney has been smashing balls around England's dressing room walls in readiness for his belated entrance to Euro 2012 against co-hosts Ukraine in Donetsk.

And for a chaotic spell in Kiev it looked like manager Roy Hodgson might be left banging his head on the same place as England did not so much flirt with danger against Sweden but grasp it in a full-blown embrace.

Hodgson and England have been accused by outside forces of failing to enter into the spirit of this football festival on the flimsy evidence of one pragmatic draw in their opening game against France. Both answered those charges - but face others as they prepare for a decisive final game against the co-hosts on Tuesday.

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Confident Hodgson happy to brush off criticism

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Phil McNulty | 22:30 UK time, Thursday, 14 June 2012

From Kiev

England's warm embrace for the Krakow community has deservedly won friends and admirers - but among opponents they are winning a reputation as the unloved country of Euro 2012.

Roy Hodgson and his players flew from their Poland base into the sprawling bustle of Kiev in Ukraine to more verbal blows and even a touch of mockery from Friday's opponents Sweden as they prepare for their second Group D game.

England's crime appears to be a point-blank refusal to make life easy for France in their opening 1-1 draw in Donetsk, a result and resilient performance that unsettled the purists but served Hodgson's purposes with an important point.

Matters of style were once more on the agenda as Hodgson and captain Steven Gerrard faced the world's media in the shadow of Kiev's impressive Olympic Stadium. And the supreme indifference they showed to the inquisition suggests they adhere to the old adage stating that there is only one thing worse than being talked about - and that is not being talked about.

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How Tottenham fell out of love with Harry Redknapp

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Phil McNulty | 01:00 UK time, Thursday, 14 June 2012

When Harry Redknapp stood on the steps of Southwark Crown Court in February after being cleared of tax evasion, the last obstacle to a golden farewell to his career looked to have been cleared.

The pieces appeared to be falling into place for the 65-year-old as hours later Fabio Capello resigned as England coach and Redknapp was immediately made "The People's Choice" to succeed the Italian.

Tottenham were third in the Premier League and playing a thrilling brand of football as they stood 10 points clear of their faltering north London rivals Arsenal.

Redknapp is now out of work after a parting of the ways with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, as the complex and often uneasy relationship between the pair was fractured beyond repair.

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England look to remove shackles against Sweden

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Phil McNulty | 17:29 UK time, Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Euro 2012: In Krakov

As Roy Hodgson joined England's players in driving rain on gentle laps of the pitch at their Hutnik training base, his thoughts will have focused firmly on the next phase of their Euro 2012 campaign.

The buzzword from players and management around the England camp since the creditable 1-1 draw against France in their opening game in Donetsk has been "platform".

A point earned from arguably England's toughest Group D game in Ukraine has provided this platform - a base and solid foundation for manager Hodgson to move forward.

Invite questions on the first impressions of Hodgson's new England, however, and one query is posed with such regularity that it assumes significance.

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England must build on platform from France draw

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Phil McNulty | 08:32 UK time, Tuesday, 12 June 2012

In Donetsk

Roy Hodgson will have felt an inner surge of satisfaction as Patrice Evra stood in the alleyways of Donetsk's Donbass Arena and damned England with faint praise.

Evra confessed to a night of French frustration as England assembled the first foundations for their Euro 2012 campaign with a 1-1 draw built around the template new manager Hodgson has swiftly put in place.

Hodgson called it a platform. Evra - in a nice sort of way - called it dull. What this was, on a night of searing heat and clammy humidity in Ukraine, was a very creditable draw. A good point.

Evra moved with great reluctance towards offering England praise, likening their approach to Chelsea's successful rearguard action in victory when they met Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final.

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England united ahead of France opener

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Phil McNulty | 19:34 UK time, Sunday, 10 June 2012

The verbal hand grenade tossed between England manager Roy Hodgson and captain Steven Gerrard was still causing vibrations as they started their final training session in the giant bowl of Donetsk's Donbass Arena.

Like someone arriving at a party fashionably late and with every intention of spoiling the buoyant mood, a member of the French media shattered the relative calm by openly questioning England's right to be called a great football nation.

If it was designed to provoke a reaction and lace England's opening Euro 2012 meeting with France in Ukraine on Monday with added spice the ploy worked - whether it worked in a good way remains to be seen.

There is a quiet confidence about Hodgson's new England and it was not dented by this abrupt, and presumably unwanted, intrusion into their plan to present a fresh footballing face to the watching world in steamy Donetsk on Monday evening.

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England win over the locals but now face tougher tests

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Phil McNulty | 15:13 UK time, Friday, 8 June 2012

Euro 2012: Krakow

The penalty spots may have been missing but everything else was in place as England opened their doors to the Polish people for their Euro 2012 training session.

After what Uefa described as "isolated incidents of racist chanting" during the Netherlands' training, England's reception could not have been warmer inside the compact Hutnik stadium on the outskirts of Krakow.

At an open session on Friday they were met by perfect warm conditions and 3,000 locals as they entered a meticulously prepared playing surface through a guard of honour formed by schoolchildren.

If there were any fears of racism casting a shadow over proceedings they were instantly dispelled. The people of Krakow were clearly receptive to Roy Hodgson's team and the players responded in kind in their mission to embrace the place they have made their home for Euro 2012.

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Maturing Hart vital to England

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Phil McNulty | 19:21 UK time, Thursday, 7 June 2012

Among the fall-out from the incident that left Gary Cahill with a double fracture of the jaw and renewed the debate about Rio Ferdinand's exclusion from England's Euro 2012 squad, manager Roy Hodgson may eventually reflect that things could have been worse.

The cynical shove from Belgium's Dries Mertens that ended Cahill's hopes of figuring in Poland and Ukraine also narrowly avoided inflicting damage on goalkeeper Joe Hart as his late evasive action unwittingly injured Chelsea's defender.

And as one of the most precious pieces of cargo aboard England's plane to Krakow on Wednesday, the prospect of losing the 25-year-old Manchester City keeper would have been nigh on unthinkable for Hodgson.

Such is Hart's sporting prowess that he earned accolades as a promising young cricketer with the Worcestershire academy before making his way in football. New Road's loss has been England's gain.

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Off-field problems add to Hodgson's England headache

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Phil McNulty | 17:57 UK time, Sunday, 3 June 2012

Two words on Rio Ferdinand's Twitter timeline poured fuel on the fire of a debate that now threatens to overshadow England's final preparations for Euro 2012.

When Belgium's Dries Mertens needlessly and nastily shoved Gary Cahill into goalkeeper Joe Hart in England's 1-0 win at Wembley on Saturday, he not only caused Chelsea's defender a double fracture of the jaw, he also gave new manager Roy Hodgson a serious headache.

With Cahill a serious doubt from the moment the incident occurred - his absence was confirmed on Sunday afternoon - it was clear much of the attention would centre on whether Hodgson would turn to Manchester United defender Ferdinand as his replacement.

Ferdinand was the most high-profile exclusion from Hodgson's 23-man squad for Poland and Ukraine and the questions surrounding his absence will no doubt be revisited in the build-up to England's first game against France in Donetsk on 11 June.

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England win wasn't pretty ... but neither were the Greeks

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Phil McNulty | 06:00 UK time, Sunday, 3 June 2012

At Wembley

The weight of expectation will not add much to England's baggage when they fly to Poland for Euro 2012. It is a load so light that it may not even register on the scales.

And it seems manager Roy Hodgson and his players are happy to keep it that way while many observers weighing up two 1-0 wins over Norway and Belgium against their realistic ambitions over the next month content themselves with attaching the label of "the new Greece" to England.

Not damning with faint praise - simply recalling how unfancied Greece responded to the fierce tactical discipline and defensive organisation of veteran German coach Otto Rehhagel by winning Euro 2004 against odds stacked a mile high.

No-one can seriously put England forward as potential winners on the evidence of two friendly wins but Hodgson and his captain Steven Gerrard have both name-checked the Greeks as "Exhibit A" to state their case for how surprises can be sprung.

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