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'It's a very depressing story on one level but equally, in terms of wider themes beyond football, it is fascinating'

Football writers Miguel Delaney, Kieran Canning and Tom Williams are our guests as we preview Euro 2020 on the latest episode of The Punt.

Source: The42.ie/YouTube

WHILE IRELAND’S PLAYERS head off for some R&R after their end-of-season training camp, they can only watch on with envy as last night’s opponents Hungary and the 23 other qualified teams get set to finally take part at Euro 2020. 

As the name points out, this tournament was kicked down the road a year from its original dates due to the disruptions caused by Covid-19.

Not only will the Boys in Green be absent for the first time in three European Championships after their penalty shootout loss to Slovakia, the four matches that Dublin was scheduled to host at the finals have also been reassigned to London and St Petersburg. 

But the show must go on and a month of international football kicks off with Italy v Turkey in Rome this Friday.

On the latest episode of The Punt — our monthly show sponsored by William Hill — we preview the competition in some detail as Gavin Cooney is joined by The Independent’s chief football writer Miguel Delaney, AFP football correspondent Kieran Canning and football writer and broadcaster Tom Williams of The Times, The Totally Football Show and Canal+ among others. 

The lads discuss the credentials of pre-tournament favourites France and the main contenders, before running the rule over the continent’s other strong sides, potential dark horses and first-timers Finland and North Macedonia. 

We then ask all three guests — an Irishman, a Welshman and a Scot — to nail their colours to the mast in terms of an outright winner, and we bring you the latest William Hill prices.  

international-friendly-match-france-and-wales-nice Tom and Miguel have both picked France, who have Karim Benzema back, to follow up their World Cup triumph with victory at Euro 2020. Source: Niviere David/ABACAPRESS.COM

Speaking from England’s media day at St George’s Park, Miguel also addresses the issue that Gareth Southgate and his team have in relation to a section of their fans booing the taking of the knee before games, a gesture done to support racial equality. 

“It’s a very depressing story on one level but equally, in terms of wider themes way beyond football, it is somewhat fascinating that this is happening,” he explains. 

“Especially in England, with the speed of the vaccination programme before the variant, this was supposed to be a summer to bring people together with that feeling of communality, all those images of the 2018 World Cup and people in pubs celebrating.

Now, right in the middle of it, we have this issue and it couldn’t be a more perfect articulation of all the culture war issues and these social debates that have been happening in England since Brexit. 

“It puts the team in an interesting place and puts a focus on the very dynamic of the team, given it’s so multi-cultural with many diverse backgrounds. At least 14 of this England squad are eligible to play for other countries, and they are a range of countries from New Zealand to Ireland to Barbados. 

“Then, of course, there is this dynamic of what has always been a fanbase known for its behaviour and its right-wing beliefs. 

“In that sense, Southgate isn’t just trying to fit a team together. There is an element of almost trying to fit a country together. That is the power of what the team can do but, on the flip side, it is now faced with this huge potential issue.”

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england-v-romania-international-friendly-riverside-stadium England's Jadon Sancho takes the knee prior to their friendly against Romania. Source: PA

“In the foreground at the start of every game, there could be pretty loud boos — albeit followed by loud applause,” he added.

“The squad — the players and the manager — have been very clear that they are going to continue doing it and they don’t care. There is the potential question if it goes on about whether it affects people’s mentality or unsettles players before games.

“The vibe at the moment is very much that it will be tunnel vision and the message doesn’t change. It’s up to people to either get educated about it or get ignored.”

This episode of The Punt is also available in audio-only form wherever you get your podcasts.

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