Talking Turkey on the Iberian question
Euro 2012 moments do not come more surreal than when sat drenched from rain in a small kebab eatery in Kharkov, the former Soviet capital of Ukraine, discussing with two Turkish customers and fellow football fans the state of the shish offerings and whether the Portuguese can win their Iberian derby and then defeat likely opponents Germany, on Sunday.
With dropped kebab debris mixing it up with the rain puddles on the establishment's floor, we three damp strangers overnighting in this weird Ukraine city on the Kiev-Donetsk road concluded that if Cristiano Ronaldo continues to sparkle, then yes, he could lead Portugal to an historic victory on Sunday. But have he, Pepe, Nani, et al, the gall and gumption to overcome the mighty La Roja, a team that is so good it does not appear to play with a striker, we mulled as we munched. All across Europe - and the football-watching world - such questions are being asked of this gripping tournament.
On my return journey from Donetsk, when the Iberian half of the Euro 2012 final equation will be known, I shall again pass through Kharkov, one of the host cities now winding down and lowering its prices (slightly) from the football frenzy. Here I shall stop over and watch in the fan zone the Italians play Germany. And I shall once more check into the Hotel Kharkov, where rudeness is a speciality and the receptionists are preparing for a spoonerisms' convention ... 'I asked if you have an extra towel - not scowl'. All this is from a Four Star Euro 2012 'Partner Hotel'.
You take the rough with the smooth on this eye-opening football tour and it's been a make and mend, clean and tidy day. My Land Rover has suffered a minor injury, a lost dust cap from the rear axle. Most likely it popped off in one of the many E40 highway potholes. It's not serious and some mild physio, aka African bush repairs, have been applied - a plastic bag secured with arguably the most important invention known to man other than the round ball, cable ties.
My hotel bath is now full of soap suds as I undertake some laundry duties. I do not trust the in-house laundry service of former communist-run hotels. At a premier golf tournament two years ago in China, the laundry staff lost my shirts and when I took advantage of the free shoe shine, my highly expensive handmade English brown brogues were returned black. How I pine for Warsaw and Camp Wok's laundry operation with its 1000rpm tumble dryer and steam iron and stainless steel sink. What a shame it is I did not return there for a semi-final. Curse you, England!
But I just couldn't face another helping of German invincibility - not just yet. Many claim Germany has defensive flaws and will run out of steam. What tosh. I believe I know the outcome of tonight's semi-final in Poland - and the final. I am willing to bet all my washing pegs on a German win and final triumph.
Danish coach Morten Olsen thinks likewise and I would place my trust in a Viking ahead of a BBC or ESPN pundit. 'I would say that Germany are going to win the Euros,' Olsen said. 'The Spaniards have been convincing as far as possession of the ball is concerned, but the Germans create chances more easily. Both teams have incredible offensive qualities, but Germany's game is more dynamic.'
Maybe we'll not see a similar thrashing of Greece, but I am sure Cesare Prandelli's gladiators will find their swords and other bludgeoning tools no match for Joachim Loew's elite and highly disciplined legionnaires.
Germany midfielder playmaker Bastian Schweinsteiger is fit, and this will add to the Azzurri's doom - more so as they are giving intensive treatment to three players ahead of the match. But even if fit, if the Italians can only beat a poor England thanks to poor English penalty taking, you are treading rather dangerously on Ukrainian turf. I can recommend cable ties as a temporary cure to hold Italian dreams together, but I not sure even they would last 90 minutes of German pressure.
As I prepare to check out of the hotel and be sent on my merry way to Donetsk with one final grunt from reception, it is time I mentioned the other flaw in my trusty steed. In an earlier dispatch I noted my vehicle is noisy and draughty. But, as witnessed yesterday, when there is a perfect gathering of speed, curve of the road and slant of the rain and wind, it leaks like a sieve.
Thus, the colours of the Xinjiang rug I had put into the rear camper space for added home comfort have run slightly, tainting a couple of my T-shirts into retro 1970s fashion. I shall try and plug the leak with the bathroom sealant I keep stored for such emergencies. But the repairs shall have to wait until the dye is cast and the colours of Sunday's final pairing are known.