Jam in Jerusalem
Jon Holmes, our man in Israel reporting on the European Under 21 Championship, has a rare moment away from the football to take in a spot of sightseeing in Jerusalem with Andy Hinchcliffe and the rest of the Sky Sports team
By Jon Holmes - @jonboy79
Last Updated: 11/06/13 4:24pm
A whistle-stop tour of one of the world's greatest cities? Many would consider that kind of sight-seeing as something of a travesty, but my Sky Sports colleagues Bill Leslie and Andy Hinchcliffe are working so hard at this tournament that Monday was their only chance to visit Jerusalem. The schedule has fallen in such a way that they won't be commentating on any of the games played at the Teddy Stadium.
So with one of our production managers David kindly agreeing to drive us south-east from our Netanya hotel to the city - a journey that should take around an hour but due to the considerable traffic problems in this country actually takes closer to two - we park up near to the American Colony Hotel, a famous retreat for world leaders and celebrities down the year.
We met Sky Sports News' chief reporter Bryan Swanson and his cameraman Richard in an Arab cafe that the latter had chosen especially. Richard lived in Jerusalem for around six-and-a-half years so knows the labyrinth of streets in the Old City, the best vantage points for photos and the tastiest places to eat. We tuck into delicious shawarmas in soft pitta bread - like a kebab but much healthier - before heading to the Damascus Gate and the entrance to the Old City.
You can buy almost anything in the narrow streets - it's a full-on assault on the senses too, with vibrantly coloured foods, sweet-smelling aromatic spices and the sounds of vendors shouting what they're selling through megaphones nestling amid their trays of produce. As you negotiate a route through the Via Dolorosa, you come across Stations of the Cross - the 14 biblical markers associated with Jesus' final march to Calvary - and a succession of tiny decorated churches.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the main destination for Christian pilgrims though, and it's a hive of activity with tourists reaching for the Stone of Unction (or Anointing) - a rock slab placed on the spot where Jesus' body is said to have been laid for cleansing after the crucifixion. Many people line up to rub their clothes on the rock and pray at the other sacred spots around the church. The most important is the Sepulchre itself, a huge tomb filling the Rotunda. It's the 14th and final Station - the spot where Christians believe Jesus's body was laid to rest.
You can see more from our walk around the Old City, such as our visit to the Western Wall and views of the Dome of the Rock and Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, in the accompanying video blog below.
Back to the football, and most of the English press out here in Israel were keen observers on Sunday at Netanya Stadium, where Germany were taking on Spain in a much-anticipated Group B clash. After watching Holland dismantle Russia 5-1 on the big screens in the media area (the Jong Oranje already living up to our pre-tournament expectations that they would be the most entertaining team to watch), we settled in for what was another technically accomplished display from the Spaniards, albeit one that was short on drama.
That's no criticism of Spain - at some point in Israel, they will probably smash several goals past the opposition - but their attractive build-up play, particularly from the astonishingly accurate Asier Illaramendi, is often let down by a wasteful cross from Cristian Tello or the simple fact that Rodrigo is not predatory enough. Alvaro Morata once again came off the bench and helped Spain step up an extra gear and get the goal they needed to send Germany packing.
I was again able to speak to Lewis Holtby after the match. Although he's always wearing his Beats by Dre headphones in the mixed zone, they are round his neck and not permanently stuck on his ears (unlike certain England players I could mention). His disappointment at Germany's early exit was evident, but he insisted that he had no regrets whatsoever over coming to Israel after a long hard club season. While understandably looking forward to a holiday, the Tottenham midfielder can look back on the Under-21 Euro knowing his reputation has been enhanced further. And I wouldn't be surprised if Germany go out on a high by beating Russia on Wednesday night.
Meanwhile, I've been enjoying meeting a lot of the journalists working out here, particularly several younger writers who have grasped opportunities to freelance for national newspapers and get their work published in print. I was interviewed by Ori Cooper, on the sports team at Israel's most widely-read newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, about my experience of his country (something that has been almost entirely positive, with only my fear of the roads the obvious exception).
I was also invited to speak to a Toronto radio station's European football podcast about the tournament, proving that the reach of the U21 Euro goes far beyond our own continent. The host Dan Riccio was surprised to learn of UEFA's plans to change the schedule after the Czech Republic have hosted in 2015, reverting back to even-numbered years for the finals and possibly reducing the number of teams from eight to four.
Stuart Pearce spoke about this at his pre-match press conference at Teddy Stadium on Monday night, and it seems staggering to all of us at Sky Sports and in the media that the perfect format, length and timing of the U21 Euro is set to be unnecessarily tinkered with. Hopefully the decision will be looked at again after Israel 2013 - "the superstars of tomorrow" slogan will seem rather trite if they are not provided with the platform to showcase their skills and potential.
I'll be at the England U21 v Israel U21 clash tonight in Jerusalem, so make sure you're following @SkyFootball and myself on @jonboy79 for all the latest news and goings-on at the European U21 Championship.