EURO 2016 – Croatia v Spain

I’ve been in France for the best part of a fortnight now, but I’ve yet to see any decent weather…you know, proper summer weather. The south of France in June, I imagined I’d be sick of the sight of blue skies come the end of the group stages. That’s not been the case though, as thunderstorms and heavy showers have swept across the region and wiped out any chance of a relaxing afternoon outside.

That is, until today. The forecasts predicted a high of 35 degrees, and they couldn’t have been far off…it was absolutely roasting, the humidity was intense and the lack of breeze did nothing to help our cause. To be honest, it was almost too warm…the air-conditioned Media Centre wasn’t actually a bad place to be today.

My last group game would see Croatia take on Spain, once more inside the Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux.

It was quieter than I’d expected it to be, something I feel the huge number of Gendarmerie officers had something to do with…

As the game got under way, Spain proceeded to do what they do best – keep possession. It doesn’t make for nice pictures. They pass the ball, side-footed, from one player to the next, more often than not utilising Andres Iniesta as a pivot to distribute the ball around the pitch. For the last decade, Spain have become masters of this type of football – the Spanish players have won an absurd amount of trophies both domestically and internationally as a result of employing this sort of approach, so why change something when it works so well?

When Spain took the lead, it seemed the inevitable was on the cards, however Croatia fought back and equalised with a cheeky near-post flick. With bottles of water by my side, the tables turned in Croatia’s favour…firstly, with a magnificent penalty save to deny Sergio Ramos, and then, at the death, a winning goal from their number four Ivan Perisic, who struck a left-footed effort from an acute angle to embarrassingly beat Spain’s Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea at his near post…

The reigning champions were stunned. A huge bulk of photographers at the far end were stunned. Even I was stunned…as I trained my lens, from the sidelines, on the on-rushing de Gea, the last thing I expected to see was him moments later sitting legs akimbo attempting to blame another player for a rookie’s goalkeeping error. I was waiting for a diving save, or a two-fisted shield in front of his face, but not this. The final whistle went…the dejected Spaniards couldn’t believe what had happened, whereas the rapturous Croats celebrated like a side who’d just pipped one of the tournament favourites to win the group – because they had. What a result…

The next day was my last at Chateau de Grenier. I left after almost two weeks’ worth of Patrice and Chantal’s hospitality. They have been incredible hosts – extremely welcoming and friendly, very accommodating, and also very helpful too.

CDG
Posing for a selfie with Chantal & Patrice outside Chateau de Grenier

As I return to the chaos of family life in Cheshire, developments throughout EURO 2016 will determine whether or not I return before the end of the tournament. For now, Merignac is my next port of call.

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