From Kiev With Love


I've been in Kiev since Tuesday and so far I've experienced a truly 24-hour city.  It has an almost dream like quality to it, due to the sheer amount of effort that has gone into the hosting of Euro 2012.

The main street has been turned into a gigantic fan park with multiple screens, so it's never too crowded and you can always see the game. There are bohemian bars that have been set up in tents, fantastic weather - which they've done incredibly well to provide - and an inclusive, celebratory atmosphere that makes the whole thing feel like a festival, albeit one with better hygiene and more personal space.

There are Sweden fans everywhere - they're based in Kiev for the whole of the group stages - and you cannot move for happy supporters kitted out in yellow.

I've not seen as many England fans as I've heard. Last night in particular there seemed to be a constant stream of people staggering past my window shouting “England!” over and over again and I expect this to continue as a lot of the pubs are open all night.

I am fortunate enough to be attending the game today and it feels odd that there's controversy before a match for which England aren't responsible. I'm talking about the “Bumgate” scandal, in which Sweden goalkeeper Johan Wiland had the ball shot at his bare rear end after losing a game of keepy-uppy. This, I gather, has caused some tutting back at home.

I worry that England will feel the need to step up and outdo their opponents on the silliness front. I can see them blindfolding Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and making him jog in front of the team bus while Ashley Cole takes shots at him with his trusty air gun.

However, this England squad does seem to be far more sensible than many that have come before it. Much has been made of the lack of expectation but it seems more to me like it has merely been replaced with more realistic hopes. The team produced a pragmatic display against a more talented France side and came away with a vital point. While some have been annoyed that England didn't win – and play like Spain while doing so – the majority of fans seem to recognise that this is a good start from England. It's certainly one better than in Euro 2004, where England threw away a lead against France in injury time.

England and Sweden met and drew in the group stages of that same tournament and seem unable to beat each other when it counts. Neither side will be satisfied with a draw this time. Sweden would have expected to get something from their opening game and will view England as an easier opponent than France, while England will be wary of facing a final group game against a motivated Ukrainian side with anything less than 4 points in the bag.

Sweden were uncharacteristically open against Ukraine and if England can keep their heads and play with the same discipline they showed against France, they have a good chance of getting a win here. For this to happen, John Terry and Jolean Lescott will have to be fully focussed on stopping Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the forward players must display that same concentration in the final third. Either way, I don't expect to get much sleep.