STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
You know, if you're weighed down by worry, you find a distraction. That at least is what Europeans are doing amid their economic trouble. They've been turning to their favorite sport - soccer. This weekend saw the last two Euro 2012 quarterfinals. This is a huge competition viewed in Europe, as second only to the World Cup. NPR's Philip Reeves of course has been following the action. He's on the line from London.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hi.
INSKEEP: So the Italians have something to talk about other than their economic trouble I guess.
REEVES: Yes. They beat England. And for the English this was Groundhog Day. Why? Because they lost the game yet again in a penalty shootout. Just to explain. The tournament's in the knockout stage. And that means if the game's drawn at the end you play another half hour. And if there's still no winner, then you have this shootout. It was nil-nil after two hours. Two hours of football. And so they held a shootout and two English players missed.
Now, this has happened time and time again in big international competitions to the English. Last night, people packing the pubs and at home watching TV were watching in horror as it occurred for the sixth time in 22 years in a big international game.
INSKEEP: Not that people are counting or anything like that.
REEVES: Oh, they count. Not only do they count, they remember every player who misses forever. It's kind of etched into a national list of shame. One of them's got a song written about him. They appear in commercials. They become questions in pub quizzes. And for the English, generally very secular people, not usually all the superstitious, but this has kind of created the idea that they are jinxed.
INSKEEP: Oh, my gosh. OK. So that was one game. There was another quarterfinal over the weekend.
REEVES: Yeah, the English for once aren't sort of indulging in self-flagellation and self-loathing. They usually do after a defeat. The same cannot be said of the French. They were beaten two-nil by a far superior Spanish side. And they haven't taken it at all well.
A former captain's accused the team of being rubbish and stupid. A star player has gotten apparently into an expletive-laced argument with a journalist after the game. And after an earlier defeat at the hands of the Swedes, there was a big bust-up in the French dressing room. So they're going back to France in a very bleak mood.
INSKEEP: Does a string of profanity sound better when it's spoken in French?
REEVES: Oh, doubtless it does. Yes, I'm sure it does. And I'm sure the French are absolute masters of it.
INSKEEP: So what happens next?
REEVES: Semifinals. Portugal plays Spain on Wednesday. Germany versus Italy on Thursday. And then the finals on Sunday. Now, the Spanish and the Portuguese aren't very good. You know, there's some big stars there who are performing very well, but a lot of people are expecting Germany to win. And this, as in the larger world of, you know, European politics and economics, the Germans are the dominant force.
INSKEEP: Well, let me ask one other thing, Phil Reeves. We've started with the notion that this tournament is taking people's minds off the economy. Is it really?
REEVES: Oh, yes. In some cases it certainly is. The best example of this is the Irish. You know, their economy's in big trouble. It had to have a huge bailout. I mean, cuts, tax hikes. They've got an IMF EU austerity program imposed on them. People have had their lives ruined. And a multitude of young Irish people have had to migrate to find work. Yet, listen to this.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing)
INSKEEP: Somebody sounds happy.
REEVES: Yeah, those are the Irish fans singing at the end of a game against Spain some days back when they were being trounced 4-nil.
REEVES: They lost every game they played. But they did win the hearts of their hosts in Poland and many others, you know, because they went there and they really did have a wonderful time. Now, whether that was appreciated in Brussels and Berlin, who've been handing the Irish their bailout money, I'm not so sure. Apparently they spent an absolute fortune in the bars.
INSKEEP: Well, Phil, I'm feeling better already. Thanks very much.
REEVES: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: NPR's Phil Reeves in London. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.