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England secure semi-final spot in nail-biting penalty shootout against Switzerland

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IN a match that epitomised the unpredictable nature of England’s Euro 2024 campaign, Gareth Southgate’s side edged past Switzerland to reach the semi-finals. The clash at Düsseldorf on Saturday, 6th July 2024, ended 1-1 after extra time, with England triumphing 5-3 in the penalty shootout.

Switzerland took the lead in the 75th minute through Breel Embolo, leaving England teetering on the brink of elimination. Murat Yakin’s team dominated the second half, and it appeared that Southgate’s 100th match in charge might be his last. Southgate’s tactical decisions were questioned once more, particularly with Harry Kane struggling to find form and the introduction of Cole Palmer, Eberechi Eze, and Luke Shaw coming only in the final 12 minutes.

However, Bukayo Saka’s brilliance came to England’s rescue again. The young star equalised with England’s first shot on target, ensuring the game went into extra time. Despite a disjointed performance marked by chaotic defending and stagnant play, England managed to hold on. Jordan Pickford’s critical saves, including a stunning stop from Zeki Amdouni, kept them in the contest.

The penalty shootout showcased Southgate’s meticulous preparation. Switzerland, who have lost five of their last six shootouts, faltered when it mattered most. Manuel Akanji’s crucial penalty was saved by Pickford, while Trent Alexander-Arnold sealed the win for England with a decisive strike past Yann Sommer.

Reflecting on the match, Southgate’s tenure has been marked by both criticism and praise. His ability to rally his team in penalty situations remains a testament to his detailed management. Saka, who missed a vital penalty in Euro 2020, redeemed himself with a flawless performance, converting his spot-kick with confidence.

The match began with a tentative approach from both sides. England’s defensive setup, with Kieran Trippier on the left and Phil Foden unable to replicate his club form, suggested a team unsure of its identity. The midfield battle was intense, with Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham striving to assert control. Kobbie Mainoo’s energetic display was a highlight, though his efforts could not mask the overall lack of creativity.

Switzerland’s Embolo turned the game with his goal, capitalising on a defensive lapse from Kyle Walker. England’s response was immediate yet disorganised until the late substitutions. Saka’s equaliser was a moment of sheer individual brilliance, cutting inside and bending a shot beyond Sommer.

Extra time saw England scrapping to stay afloat, with Pickford making another vital save and Shaqiri hitting the post. The introduction of Ivan Toney and Alexander-Arnold added fresh legs and impetus, yet the match seemed destined for penalties.

In the shootout, England’s calmness prevailed. Palmer, Bellingham, Saka, and Toney all converted their penalties with composure. Switzerland’s responses through Schär, Amdouni, and Shaqiri were not enough to counter Alexander-Arnold’s decisive kick.

As “Sweet Caroline” echoed around the stadium, Southgate embraced his staff, reflecting on a night that encapsulated both the fragility and resilience of his team. With the Netherlands awaiting in the semi-finals, England must improve to continue their journey. But for now, they celebrate a hard-fought victory, driven by the unwavering belief and individual brilliance of players like Saka and Pickford.

England fans can hope that this chaotic, nerve-wracking journey leads to ultimate glory, as they prepare for another stern test on Wednesday.

News

England’s Euro 2024 semi-final victory captivates millions

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ENGLAND’S Euro 2024 semi-final victory over the Netherlands garnered a peak audience of 20.3 million on ITV, cementing its status as the most-watched television programme of the year. Broadcasters are now hopeful that Sunday night’s final against Spain will attract over 30 million viewers, surpassing the numbers that tuned in for England’s Euro 2020 final defeat.

The overnight viewing figures, provided by ratings agency Digital-i, do not account for the millions who streamed the match on ITVX or watched in public venues. The coverage of Euro 2024 in the UK is split between the BBC and ITV, with the channels alternating first choices for matches in each round. ITV executives celebrated Jordan Pickford’s crucial penalty save against Switzerland, which secured another high-profile England match and delivered a substantial advertising boost to the channel.

Both the BBC and ITV will broadcast the final, with approximately a fifth of viewers typically opting for ITV over the BBC. Euro 2024 has demonstrated the enduring appeal of live sports broadcasting, which continues to draw massive audiences, particularly when the events are free to watch. Even matches not involving home nations have attracted significant viewership, with the Spain v France semi-final on BBC One peaking at 11 million viewers.

The Euros are part of the UK’s “crown jewel” sporting events, which include the football World Cup, Wimbledon, and the Olympics, all mandated by law to be shown on free-to-air channels. In contrast, other sports have opted for the higher revenue available from pay TV channels, resulting in substantially lower audiences for international matches. The England and Wales cricket board successfully lobbied in the 2000s to keep England test matches off the free-to-air list. Consequently, Jimmy Anderson’s farewell match against the West Indies at Lords, broadcast behind a paywall on Sky, attracted a peak audience of only about 700,000 viewers.

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Crime

Welsh Snooker star Michael White jailed for assaulting partner

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A WELSH snooker star has been jailed after assaulting his then-partner. Michael White, 33, of Penshannel, Neath Abbey, assaulted the woman, causing actual bodily harm, on two separate occasions. The first incident occurred on February 12, 2022, and the second on December 10, 2022.

White pleaded guilty to the charges. A further charge of intentional strangulation on December 10 was directed to lie on file. White, whose snooker world ranking peaked at 15 in 2016, was sentenced at Swansea Crown Court on Thursday, July 11, 2024.

He received a total jail term of 36 months – 19 months for the first incident and a consecutive 17 months for the second. The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association has announced that White has been removed from the world ranking list and the World Snooker Tour with immediate effect.

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Politics

Culture secretary vows push to keep free-to-air Six Nations games

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WALES’ culture secretary vowed to make the case for keeping Wales’ Six Nations games on free-to-air TV to her Labour colleagues in the new UK Government.

Lesley Griffiths told the Senedd she will be seeking a meeting with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to discuss the issue.

Ms Griffiths said: “Making the Six Nations free-to-air ensures that everyone, regardless of their financial situation, can feel part of this shared experience.

“This inclusivity strengthens community bonds and fosters a sense of belonging.”

Responding to a debate on a Senedd culture committee report on broadcasting rights, the culture secretary said she would write to the UK Government by the end of this week.

Delyth Jewell chairs the culture committee, which held an inquiry on whether Wales’ matches should be added to Ofcom’s list of events that must be shown on terrestrial TV.

The Plaid Cymru politician said: “A perfect storm of market dynamics in broadcasting live sport has seen more and more events go behind a paywall.

“Public service broadcasters are facing significant budgetary constraints, be this from long-term cuts to the licence fee, or a downturn in the advertising market on broadcast television. Increasing production costs are compounding both these factors.

“The advent of global streaming services also means that the value of sports broadcasting rights has increased.”

The Welsh Rugby Union told the inquiry that moving matches to the protected list could have a devastating medium- and long-term impact on the whole game in Wales.

Media rights account for £20m of the WRU’s £90m total revenue, with the union calling for open competition to maximise income for the game.

Carolyn Thomas, the Labour MS for North Wales, recognised this tension but warned: “There is a real risk here that avoiding action will leave us dropping the ball. We must ensure future generations can connect with the game without having to shell out for the privilege.”

She added: “Let’s hope, with the new UK Labour Government, we will be in a safe pair of hands and we get protected, free-to-air Six Nations coverage over the line.”

Heledd Fychan called for matches to be broadcast on S4C, rather than having a Welsh viewing option on platforms such as Amazon Prime.

The Plaid Cymru MS, who represents South Wales Central, pointed out that Rhondda MP Chris Bryant has been appointed a junior DCMS minister as she urged Labour to act.

Samuel Kurtz raised concerns about the 8% interest rate the WRU is paying on an £18m coronavirus business interruption loan scheme from the Welsh Government.

Pointing out that the rate was fixed at 2% for English premiership sides, the Tory MS said: “I think that’s a financial constraint that’s hurting our professional clubs here in Wales.”

Caerphilly MS Hefin David joked that he has a lot in common with former PM Rishi Sunak – “as my dad wouldn’t let us have Sky either, and we had to listen to it on the radio”.

He called for a ‘Plan B’ for the hospitality industry if rugby goes behind a paywall, including a contractual clause to give small pubs and clubs a reduced pay-to-view subscription.

Dr David said he watches Wales matches at Gilfach workmen’s club, which pays £514 a month for Sky, as he raised concerns about venues having to buy multiple subscriptions..

“Well, Gilfach workies simply can’t afford that,” he said.

Alun Davies, a fellow Labour backbencher, said: “We need to address the real crisis in Welsh rugby and that is ensuring that the game exists for future generations, and I believe that exposure to the Six Nations championship is fundamental to that.”

The Blaenau Gwent MS raised the example of Glamorgan cricket.

He said: “It does raise fears within me that the more we take the game away from the screens, the more we take it away from our communities and from the people who enjoy watching the game, and the less it becomes our national sport.”

The culture committee’s inquiry was sparked after John Whittingdale, a Conservative former culture minister, left the door open last autumn while giving evidence.

Sir John told the meeting: “We’ve always said that if the Welsh Parliament argued very strongly that, for the good of sport in Wales, we needed to look again at the listed events, we would look at it, certainly. So, it’s not closed.’

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