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Why the total football of Euro 2008 is totally brilliant ..without us.

Byline: Oliver Holt

THE pain of missing out was supposed to ruin Euro 2008 for stuck-at-home England fans.

Instead, being rubbish never felt so good. Being excluded never felt so inclusive. Being exiled never felt more like coming home.

Maybe it's because England aren't there in Austria and Switzerland that it seems to be such an uplifting festival of football.

Maybe it's because we're not spending the early summer preoccupied with our national pastime of beating ourselves up about how useless we are.

Maybe, instead of lamenting our own shortcomings, we can actually concentrate on how good other teams are.

We don't need to worry about whether a broken metatarsal has healed properly.

We don't need to place bets about when Fergie's going to flip his lid about the treatment of Manchester United players.

Or fret about whether the Wags should be at a hotel in the valley when the players are on the mountain top. We don't need to berate Sven, mock McClaren or obsess about the fact that our players aren't as good as we thought they were.

We don't need to agonise about whether some of our fans are going to bash up a bar in Zurich or turn over some tables in a bierkeller in Vienna.

Or be attacked by a group of neo-Nazis from Germany or Poland, and still get all the blame.

We can marvel at Holland, Spain and Portugal one minute. Then stay in front of the telly and smile at Head Cases making fun of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard and their inability to play together.

Perhaps it's because of the absence of our nationalist angst that every match at this European Championship seems to be setting new standards for drama and beautiful football.

Who would have thought, for instance, that a group game between Turkey and the Czech Republic would be remotely of interest to the average armchair fan?

ITV must have been cursing at the weekend when they had to stick that smack in the middle of their primetime Sunday evening viewing.

But then the Turks overcame a 2-0 deficit by scoring three goals in the last 15 minutes and staging one of the greatest comebacks international football has ever seen.

There was joy, drama, football tragedy, brilliant goals and the Turkey goalkeeper getting sent off. But most of it has been like that.

It's been so good that people are calling it the best tournament for a generation.

They're right, too.

Has there ever been a tournament where the matches have been so consistently enchanting as this?

Where there have been so few duds?

Where the only teams who have disappointed have been the holders and the World Cup finalists.

Where the quality and the entertainment have so rarely dropped below a high level?

There has been so much with which to be enthralled. The brilliant counter-attacking play of the Dutch, particularly Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart. The flair of the Portuguese, led by Deco and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Turks' refusal to be beaten, personified by the goals of Nihat and brute strength of Servet.

The vulnerability of Petr Cech, the soap opera that is Felipe Scolari, the partnership between Fernando Torres and David Villa. The way Philipp Lahm can be so influential from right-back and the fading grace of Thierry Henry, still bewitching in the autumn of his career.

It has all served to underline quite how far England, undermined by the Premier League, serial mismanagement and rampant arrogance, have fallen.

Maybe this wonderful tournament will give us the wake-up call we needed and prompt us to start trying to close the gap.

Maybe Fabio Capello will shake us out of our cycle of under-achievement and self-loathing.

Otherwise, we'll start to get used to life in the shadows, watching others in the sunshine.

Maybe this wonderful tournament will give us the wake-up call we needed and prompt us to start trying to close the gap



ORANGE CRUSH Sneijder lands his first goal of Euro 2008 in the 3-0 win over Italy
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 18, 2008
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