Violent storm disturbs sleep!

The storm had been predicted. Its ferocity had not. I stood at the window of my ninth floor hotel room for half an hour trying in vain to get a picture as the sky was illuminated by a dazzling light show. Unfortunately, every time I clicked I managed to miss the lightening bolt.

Match of the Day commentator Steve Wilson, in a room on the same side of the hotel, had the same idea. Steve had more luck, and skill, than me and below is his shot of lightning over Warsaw’s Palace of Culture.

So, Euro 2012 enters the knockout phase. The Republic of Ireland, who I have been covering, have already packed their bags and headed home chastened by the experience of playing their first international tournament in a decade. The Irish could not sustain their impressive run from qualification and pre tournament friendlies in which they had gone fourteen matches unbeaten.

However, their unbelievable travelling supporters – over 25-thousand of them – made an indelible impression upon the Championship. They packed the train from Gdansk to Poznan where they played their final game, a 2-nil defeat by Italy the other day. The train was so full that I had to perch on my luggage in the corridor. It’s not all glamour in TV, you know.

From here on, it’s knockout football. England are still in their fighting and surpassing many expectations. It’s Italy in the last eight and the dream of possibly meeting old foes Germany in the final in Kiev on July 1st. Let’s hope the England players have been practicing penalties.

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Euro 2012 explodes into life

The only downside on the pitch has been the Republic of Ireland, who I am covering. The Irish national anthem can surely never have been sung with more passion than before their opening game with Croatia in Poznan. Even I was welling up and I am not Irish. Sadly, the team was outplayed by the classy Croatians and conceded three uncharacteristically soft goals in going down 3-1.

The threat of violence towards visiting black and Asian fans by right wing Polish and Ukrainian thugs has not materialised. I have had a friendly welcome in Poland and experienced no such problems when I have visited Ukraine in the past. However, British broadcasters have been warned to keep a low profile for fear of confrontation with decent Polish fans who are angry at the way the country was depicted in the Panorama programme before the tournament.

That is not to say the tournament has not been entirely trouble free. Warsaw got a bit nasty when bitter rivals Poland and Russia met in their second Group A game. There were more violent clashes when some Lech Poznan ultras sporting balaclavas turned up intent on wrecking the party atmosphere the night before Ireland played Croatia. By and large though, rival fans have mingled together and enjoyed sing songs and friendly banter in bars and town squares. Euro 2012 is actually shaping up into a bit of a classic.

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Euro 2012 Preperations

This time, I will be reporting from the Republic of Ireland camp for as long as they remain in the tournament. I have already paid a visit to Malahide near Dublin to interview some of the players and their Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni. It provided my first experience of what local journalists call Trappish – English as spoken by the national coach. He is one of the world’s most respected managers but his English still needs a little work. His press conferences often end with reporters scratching their heads and asking each other what the Great Man was trying to say. Still, I can’t speak a word of Italian or coach a football team, so who am I to mock the mighty Trap?

As well as football preparation, there are a host of other minor details associated with travelling abroad to deal with – like arranging foreign currency and updating inoculations against some of the diseases that are common in eastern Europe. I didn’t know measles is so prevalent in Ukraine. Then there are match and production schedules to get your head around. Travel arrangements to and from the tournament, internal flights between some of the main venues. Poland and Ukraine are both pretty sizeable countries. The distance between some of the host cities is vast.

Nobody seems to be giving the England team any chance in this summer’s tournament. The so-called golden generation is a distant memory. There is an absence of truly world class talent available apart from Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney and the Manchester United striker is suspended for the first two matches. Add to that a brand new manager and you can see why few of the pundits fancy their chances. That might just mean the pressure is off and England’s players can go out and express themselves without the onerous burden of expectation back home.

In the Ireland camp, where I will be, there have always been fewer expectations. Partly for selfish reasons, I hope they can get out of their tough group which features the World and European champions Spain, Trapattoni’s home country Italy and Croatia. Whatever happens to the Republic of Ireland and England at Euro 2012, it promises to be one hell of a ride.

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