Wigan Athletic: A very tenuous guide to the European Championship
With the Euros getting under way this weekend, Paul Kendrick runs the rule over the 24 nations and gives Wigan Athletic fans reason to follow each of their journeys with vested interest...
Italy - With Rigaletto's being the 'official restaurant' of the Azzurri (citation needed), Wiganers have a vested interest in them getting pasta the group stages. Head coach Roberto Mancini will certainly be hoping for better luck on the big stage than at Wembley in 2013, when a certain goal from Ben Watson led to his Manchester City tenure being terminated. Still marshalling the backline is Giorgio Chiellini, who was famously bitten at the 2014 World Cup by Luis Suarez, who was previously involved in a race row with Patrice Evra, which led to his Liverpool team-mates wearing ridiculous t-shirts of support...at Wigan.
Switzerland - Former internationals Reto Ziegler and Stephane Henchoz both wore the blue and white with distinction under Paul Jewell. And one of the club's recent shirt sponsors, Intersport, have their global headquarters in the mountainous country. 'We are all looking forward to having a fruitful relationship moving forwards,' said then-CEO Jonathan Jackson in 2014. The campaign ended in relegation to League One, but the firm's name remained on the shirts for the following year's promotion success.
Turkey - Latics looked to Turkey for much-needed inspiration midway through last season, and the signing of Joe Dodoo from Ankara Keçiörengücü proved to be a masterstroke. The striker responded with four goals - including three in the last seven matches - that helped the club secure safety, and earn himself a new contract offer. Latics also beat Besiktas 2-1 in their only home friendly of the 2014 pre-season. It wasn't a good omen for the season to follow.
Wales - The sight of Kieffer Moore leading the line for the Dragons will be bittersweet for Latics fans given his exit last summer. Talisman Gareth Bale warmed up for the finals with a brace on the final day of the Premier League season at Leicester, which were his first away goals since his bizarre goal at Wigan in April 2013 - when he charged down a Joel Robles clearance into the Latics net. The two dropped points helped send Latics down.
Belgium - Led by Roberto Martinez and Shaun Maoney, Belgium are again among the favourites to win their first major title. Much will depend on skipper Eden Hazard, who made his Premier League debut at Wigan in August 2012, winning a penalty inside six minutes in Chelsea's 2-0 victory. Also in the squad is Hazard's little brother, Thorgan, who was in the Zulte Waregem side that provided the opposition for Latics' first ever European fixture, in 2013.
Russia: Just as Mikhail Gorbachev would have been cheering his beloved Latics on in their survival bid last season, Latics fans will surely reciprocate by getting behind Gorby's boys, who are as big as 80/1 to win it. Given the warmth travelling Wiganers were treated in Kazan back in 2013 - in contrast to the general reputation of Russian football fans - let's hope they do all right.
Denmark - Latics fans won't remember Jakob Haugaard's loan spell with much satisfaction, and the big goalkeeper unsurprisingly didn't make the squad. First choice, of course, is Kasper Schmeichel, who conceded Jason Scotland's first Latics goal - at the 21st attempt - at Notts County in 2010. Which proved to be Antonio Amaya's last game for the club. Also in the Danish squad is Jonas Trump. No Latics link, just a brilliant name.
Finland - Speaking of brilliant names, quite how Robert Taylor and Daniel O'Shaughnessy have found themselves in the Finland squad is anyone's guess. Jussi Jaaskelainen has long since hung up his gloves, with son Will (currently in League One with Crewe) just missing the cut. Among the goalkeepers selected is Bristol Rovers' Anssi Jaakkola, who missed their last-gasp defeat against Latics in February with injury.
Ukraine - No direct Ukrainian links, but Latics raided the domestic league to bring Julius Aghahowa from Shakhtar Donetsk in January 2007. His 18-month stint infamously produced zero goals. As Paul Jewell later remarked at a sportsman's dinner: 'Yeah, we're still blaming John Benson for that one...'
Netherlands - Mario Melchiot made history in 2008, when he became the first Latics player to play at a major international competition. Another ex-Tic, Patrick van Aanholt, has made this year's squad. Goalkeeper Tim Krul is regarded as a penalty-saving expert. Sadly, he didn't get near Reece James' spot-kick in Norwich's 1-1 draw at the DW in April 2019.
Austria - Homeland of the legend, the maverick that is Paul Scharner, as well as Marko Arnautovic, who was singled out by Sam Morsy ahead of West Ham's FA Cup trip to the DW in 2018. 'I’m not sure how Arnautovic will feel about coming to the DW Stadium,' opined the Latics skipper. We never got to find out. Arnautovic dodged the game and Latics won 2-0.
North Macedonia - Brilliantly, Goran Pandev - still going strong at 37 - is older than the country for whom he's widely regarded as its greatest ever player. His glittering career has taken him to, among others, Inter Milan, with whom he won multiple trophies under Jose Mourinho. Who famously ended up with pie filling all over his expensive suit on his first visit to Wigan in 2005 following an ill-advised chomp.
England - Latics obviously set Reece James and Harry Maguire on their road to international stardom with loan spells at the DW, but Gareth Southgate won't have fond memories of the place. As a fledgling manager, his Middlesbrough side gave Chris Hutchings the first of only two wins as Latics manager in August 2007. Conor Coady, who hails from St Helens, scored the only goal for Huddersfield in their 1-0 away win in 2015, while Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson spent 2017-18 on loan at Shrewsbury, when they were pipped to promotion by Paul Cook's Latics. Appley Bridge resident Graeme Jones has also just joined the coaching set-up.
Croatia - The goalkeeping ranks include Simon Sluga, whose jaw-dropping last-second save from Michael Jacobs earned Luton a 0-0 draw in March 2020 - the final game before the season locked down, and the last fixture at the DW with a crowd. Whatever you do, don't work out the final league ladder had that effort trickled inside the post and not inches wide...
Czech Republic - Defender Tomas Kalas won't have great memories of Wigan. During a loan spell from Chelsea, he fractured his jaw in two places (both at the DW) in a 1-0 defeat in September 2018. Nick Powell's goal temporarily lifted Latics to third place in the Championship table. They've never been higher since...
Scotland - Goalkeeper David Marshall was one of the heroes of the Scots qualifying for their first major tournament since France 1998, when David Weir - father of future Latics midfielder, Jensen - was in the squad. Current star Jack Hendry also spent a short time with Latics, before returning north of the border to Dundee, and then on to Celtic.
Spain - David de Gea remains one of the best 'nearly signings' for Latics, with Roberto Martinez narrowly failing to bring in the-then unknown shot-stopper on loan from Atletico Madrid in 2009. Two years later, he moved to Manchester United for £20million. Martinez, though, kept an eye on the situation at Atletico, and was more successful in landing Joel Robles in 2012. The rest, as they say, is history, with Robles helping Latics win the FA Cup at the end of his season here. And just as important as Ben Watson's goal was Robles' first-half save from Carlos Tevez, when he used every single inch of his 6'5 frame to divert a goalbound shot away with his toe. Given his two-inch height advantage over De Gea, maybe the Gods were smiling down on Latics all along...
Poland - Having given us Dariusz Adamczuk, Tomasz Cywka and Tomasz Kupisz, Poland blotted their copybook by sending Lukasz Fabianski over to England. The big goalkeeper sent Arsenal to Wembley - and ultimately FA Cup glory - in 2014 after saving penalties in the semi-final shoot-out from Gary Caldwell and Jack Collison.
Sweden - Incredibly, still part of the squad is Andreas Granqvist, who will be one of the oldest players in the tournament at 36. The big centre-back didn't find his feet at Wigan between 2007-08, but his 88 caps - and very decent return of nine goals - give a greater indication of his quality. Also 36 and still going strong is Seb Larsson, who must be high up on the 'number of goals scored against Latics' - mostly from his deadly free-kicks.
Slovakia - Sadly the competition has come a couple of years early for Latics youngster Dan Smith, who is currently away with the Slovakia Under-19 squad. Remember the name. Latics fans will sadly never forget the name of Fulham goalkeeper Marek Rodak, into whose hands Leon Balogun planted a free header towards the end of the final game of the 2019-20 campaign. A yard either side, and...
Germany - Uwe Rosler is perhaps the biggest link Latics have to the 'Fatherland', but he won't be best pals with countryman Per Mertesacker. The big centre-half popped up with an 82nd-minute equaliser at Wembley to prevent Rosler's Latics advancing to their second successive FA Cup final, after conceding the earlier penalty - for a foul on Callum McManaman - which allowed Jordi Gomez to open the scoring. With struggling Hull awaiting in the final, Latics would have strongly fancied their chances of holding on to their trophy.
France - Pascal Chimbonda was Latics' first ever World Cup representative in 2006. This time much of the attention will be on Paul Pogba, who came through the Manchester United Academy ranks with Will Keane. Taught him (Pogba) everything he knows.
Portugal - All eyes will be on Cristiano Ronaldo, who has done well to have the career he's had despite almost being cut in half-time by Arjan de Zeeuw at the DW back in 2007. The Dutchman later revealed it was payback for Ronaldo's showboating - and disrespect of Leighton Baines - at the recent Carling Cup final. Bernardo Silva didn't enjoy his last trip to Wigan either, when his Manchester City side saw their hopes of a quadruple quashed by Will Grigg - despite the visitors enjoying a whopping 82 per cent possession.
Hungary - Latics have had two Hungarian goalkeepers - Adam Bogdan and Dan Gyollai - with the former making the squad for the finals. Also the birthplace of Josip Skoko, who went on to have a fine international career with Australia. Skoko scored a 25-yard volley for the Socceroos against Greece in front of 95,103 spectators at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in May 2006, which he regards as 'the most legendary moment of all time'. Far more legendary than England's meek surrender by an innings and 99 runs on the same ground to Shane Warne and Co later that year.