Parc des Princes (Park of the Princes), unlike the larger and newer Stade de France is inside the city of Paris where Paris St.Germain prefer to play. With the 6th Rugby World Cup utilising Le Stade, with its 80,000 seat capacity, the France and Scotland soccer teams had to settle for the smaller arena (42,000) on Wednesday in an important EURO 2008 top of the table clash.
However, with 14,000 members of The Tartan Army in the City of Light, they took the high road and the walk from the Eiffel Tower to the Parc, in full regalia-kilts, bagpipes, tartan hats and flags. At the weekend in Milan France and World champions Italy could only tie 0-0 and after beating the French 1-0 in Glasgow last fall, a win would put the Scots top of the group. Unbelievably, that they did with a long range shot from James McFadden in the 64th minute. The Everton striker's goal against Lithuania on Saturday at Hampden Park had earned him the job of lone striker.
I have been watching Scotland since 1965 at Hampden Park and in World Cups in West Germany 1974, Argentina 78, Spain 82 , Italy 1990, and France 1998 and they are THE MOST COLOURFUL and passionate fans on the planet, followed by the Brasilians and the Dutch and the English. First Walter Smith(now at Rangers) and now Alex McLeish have revived a side that achieved little under Berti Vogts. McFadden's goal must rank with the one I saw when Scotland beat Holland 3-1 in Mendoza in 1978 with a wonder goal from Archie Gemmill past goalie Jan Jongbloed. If Holland had not scored 1 goal then the Scots would have advanced even after dismal displays against Peru and Iran in Cordoba. My favourite goal in a Scotland match was at EURO 96 at Wembley as I was priviliged to see Paul Gascgoine flick the ball over the shoulder of Scottish defender Colin Hendry and score with his right foot past Andy Goram.
Since scoring for England in St. Etienne in World Cup 1998 against Argentina, Michael Owen has been the darling of English soccer. Unfortunately a wasted time at Real Madrid and frequent injuries have not advanced his status recently, including being injured most of the time at Newcastle United. However, a goal against Israel last Saturday and a brace against Russia on Wednesday night at Wembley, both typical Owen strikes, has ignited his England team mates and the critical fans and popular press. They now find themselves 2nd in the group, after a loss in Croatia and a tie in Israel had left them down the group. They have a relatively easy home match with Estonia, a difficult away one on an artificial pitch in Moscow, and finally at home to leaders Croatia, and hopefully passage to Austria/Switzerland next summer.
I must admit that Craig Bellamy is not one of my favourite players, with his formerly surly antics, but I must admit I though his performance for Wales away in Slovakia was World Class. The Welsh had suffered a truly horrendous loss 5-1 at home to the Slovaks in the fall and without Bellamy against Germany last Saturday were very ordinary. His return to lead the side out as regular captain was a wonderful display of skill, grit, and thoughtful soccer. After passing to Freddie Eastwood for the first goal he scored 2 more himself and was responsiblel for the fourth as a clever shot from a narrow angle went in off a Slovak defender. There were only 5,000 in the small stadium an hour outside Bratislava, inclusing 500 Welsh fans taking advantage of cheap flights,and the campaign is already a lost cause but WELL DONE CRAIG!
When England hosted the Women's EURO championships in Lancashire a few years ago, 27,000 showed up to watch the hosts beat Finland 3-2 at City of Manchester Stadium in the Opening match.England failed to quailfy for the knock out rounds with a team devoid of skill and woefully unfit. After scraping past favourites France in a deciding match for FIFA WWC China 2007,in Rennes, the F.A. in London decided to give coach Hope Powell the help and support she deserved. 12 years ago at their only other World Cup appearances in Sweden 1995 has only 2 assistants to take care of medical and fitness situations. Now she has 10, and the association sent the team to acclimatize in steamy Macao for 3 weeks preparation. Kelly Smith, of Arsenal Ladies FC, European champions played college ball in USA for West Herts College and later Seton Hall and then 3 years in the WUSL for the Philadelphia Charge, has been injury prone, but when she is good she is very, very good. After going one down to a superbly taken Japanese free kick by Aya Miyama she scored 2 awesome goals in 3 minutes, and it seemd a victory was in sight. The England goalie was injured and should have been substituted in the final couple of minutes, but in the 86th minute, with the final kick Aya Miyama equalized for Japan.
Today in Shanghai England showed maturity and poise in holding Birgit Prinz and World Champions Germany to a 0-0 tie. Argentina, who had conceeded 11 without reply in the tournaments opening match with Germany, were unlucky to lose 1-0 to Japan, and the final group match England vs Argentina should provide Kelly Smith with another stage to show her class as maybe the best player in the tournament and in the world.
Here is a useful soccer site. www.transparencyinsport.org and Andrew Jennings: FOUL, The Secret World of FIFA.