TV View: Spain eventually get Swiss over a barrel

Hitting the target more than their opponents proves effective for Spain

Switzerland’s goalkeeper Yann Sommer after losing to Spain in the penalty shootout. Photograph: EPA

Switzerland’s goalkeeper Yann Sommer after losing to Spain in the penalty shootout. Photograph: EPA

 

Understandably enough, ITV was having trouble focussing on the first of the Euro 2020 quarter-finals, the meeting of Spain and Switzerland, their thoughts drifting 21 hours ahead to the game between Ukraine and (checks fixture list) England in Rome. Mark Pougatch was careful to be respectful towards the Ukrainians, but then asked Roy Keane if Gareth Southgate should rest Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips, Harry Maguire and Phil Foden because they’re on yellow cards and, so, would miss the semi-final if they picked up another.

Roy checked to see if Mark was jesting, throwing him one of those death stares when he realised he wasn’t, and all you could hope was that he didn’t read the English paper on Friday that wondered out loud if Covid restrictions would mean England couldn’t have an open-top bus victory parade through London.

Roy, in so many words, advised Mark that thinking about the semi-finals before actually winning your quarter-final wasn’t entirely wise, “a dangerous road to go down”, and that it would be best if Southgate picked his best XI, otherwise there’d be no semi-final for the rested lads to play in.

“The biggest danger for England is themselves,” he said, “and chicken-counting telly presenters”. He didn’t actually say that last bit, but he was thinking it.

Sitting alongside Roy were Graeme Souness and Nigel de Jong, and you couldn’t but imagine the midfield the trio would have formed if you had a time machine. Shin pads were invented for a reason.

“Football ain’t coming home,” Graeme had concluded after watching England draw with Scotland, but now he’s not so sure. In fact, he’s done a total about turn. “I think England are going to win it, the stars have aligned beautifully,” he said, the pain etched all over his face, not even his beard could hide it. Worse: “My son goes to the games with his England shirt on, singing ‘Football’s Coming Home’ - it’s hard at home at the moment.” Roy looked tempted to give him a comforting hug.

It was with no little relief, then, that Graeme was allowed turn his focus to Spain v Switzerland in Saint Petersburg, where, John Kenny told us over on RTE, a crowd of 34,000 was in attendance. After Spain took an early lead through the mother, granny and aunty of all deflections, the atmosphere flattened. “It certainly doesn’t sound like 34,000 people, John,” said Kenny Cunningham, “it feels like we’re at Mass”.

And quite a few of us wouldn’t have given the Swiss a prayer, but then Xherdan Shaqiri equalised and the atmosphere became a whole lot less funereal, we had ourselves a game. The only disappointment was that Brian Kerr wasn’t there to give his latest thoughts on the fella (remember his exquisite observation from a few years back? “Shaqiri’s like a bloke that you might see standing outside the pub on a Sunday morning with his boots in his bag . . . and a white van comes along and picks him up. He’s a little chunky fella, about five foot three, wide at the hips - that’s probably being generous to him - and the jersey looks like it’s bet into him. If he lived in Dublin, he’d be called a ‘Barreller’.”).

When Switzerland had a lad sent off, it seemed like a van would be along any minute to take Barreller and his mates home, but they hung in there. As we inched towards penalties, ITV’s Sam Matterface noted that “the French are out, the Dutch are out, the Germans are out, the Portuguese are out, and Spain are struggling to go through”. Quite how Lee Dixon resisted breaking in to “it’s coming home”, we’ll never know.

Back in the studio, Mark asked Graeme about his experience of shoot-outs and his advice on how to take penalties. He went in to some detail on his approach, but Roy was a bit more concise. “Hit the target.”

Which Spain did more than Switzerland, despite the Swiss having “a big yellow bumblebee” in goal, as Kevin Doyle described Yann Sommer. The Spanish, then, were buzzing, on they march. Whether or not they’ll rest players for their semi-final, or start planning their open-top bus victory parade through Madrid, we’ll see.

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