We had entered uncharted territory for the Euros, as the first ever last 16 knockout round came to a conclusion, leaving us now in the more familiar territory of the quarter finals, and there really are some doosies to sink our teeth into.
Poland v Portugal
The battle of the P’s! Both team will be looking at this quarter final tie and be salivating at the mouth. Portugal have been totally lacklustre throughout the tournament (yet to win a match in 90 minutes) and Poland aren’t what you’d call the toughest tie to get at this stage of the tournament (plus their best player is having a stinker).
Poland were reasonably lucky against Switzerland, they sat too deep after taking the lead and invited a weak Swiss side back into the match, naturally they obliged and after getting back to 1-1, the Swiss controlled the game and should really have won it in extra time. Poland looked tired after the match, which is natural when you have played 120 minutes, they are in a sense lucky that Portugal followed suit by going to extra time also or they could be in trouble from a fitness perspective. If Poland are to win this match then they really need to get Lewandowski contributing because currently he is a passenger.
Portugal really didn’t deserve to get through against Croatia; however it is Croatia’s fault for being so cautious throughout the match. It was an absolutely terrible game, with both teams seeming happy to take it to penalties. Portugal have been poor throughout, however are doing just enough to progress each time. The team is totally reliant on Ronaldo, if Ronaldo isn’t going to do something then nobody is. If Ronaldo shows up in this game then I have no doubt who is winning, if only his teammates followed suit.
I think Portugal will go through in what can only be described as an uneventful game with two teams who are scared to lose and have underperforming superstars. The thing being that once you are in a semi-final, it really is all up in the air, it doesn’t matter how shit you’ve been throughout the competition, you will always have that chance, and chances are your opponent will be just as nervous about the match.
Wales v Belgium
Possibly the worst game of the quarter finals sees Wales take on Belgium. Wales really haven’t looked particularly good in the Euros so far, in fact they’ve not really played anyone and got a result (Slovakia, Russia and N. Ireland were all shit). It doesn’t really help them that Gareth Bale has been mediocre, now Bale at mediocre still means 3 goals and the assist on an own goal, however he hasn’t had the impact on the Wales team which he usually would, and the team has been much more reliant on Ramsey because of that. Wales have been fortunate to get this far, a weak group and a weaker last 16 opponent have got them this far, now they play the first real team of the tournament and I think they’ll struggle.
Belgium were convincing against Hungary, the score line overstates how comfortable, however they walked out deserving winners. Hungary were too open and were rather naïve, in a sense it was great to see a smaller nation have a real go at the match, but some of their defending was laughable. Hungary were a credit to the tournament and they deserved a more respectable exit, I was pleasantly surprised. Belgium finally came to life in the game against Hungary, with a solid looking defence and De Bruyne and Hazard getting into form, Belgium will really like their chances of going all the way.
Belgium should win this game fairly easily, I don’t think Wales are really up to much and are way too reliant on Bale doing something, in contrast Belgium have many game winners in the first eleven and have a few who can come off the bench and make that difference when needed, something Wales definitely do not have.
Germany v Italy
The match of the quarter finals and oddly enough the only match which is between two behemoths. Germany were totally comfortable against Slovakia in the last round, outplaying them from the first minute to the last, 3-0 more than flattered the Slovakians. The Germans will be nervous about coming up against Italy, not only have they never beaten the Italians in an international competition but the Italians match up really well against them. Germany have struggled against teams who are able to park the bus, Italy are the kings of parking the bus. Italy also dismantled a very talented Spain team, a Spain team who is very similar (although not as good) as this German team. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Germany haven’t actually conceded in this tournament yet and they’ve also failed to score in only one match, saying that, they’ve also only played teams of a lower quality (Poland being the best and that was a 0-0). I imagine that Germany would have preferred to play Spain, Italy is their worst nightmare.
Italy have been the tournaments best team, they have been exceptional in each of their games (I’m not including the Ireland game as they put out a second team). Italy were phenomenal against Spain; in the first half they controlled the game and outplayed their more favoured opponents, the second half was more Italian, however they restricted Spain to very few chances. In a touch of a surprise, Italy created many chances against Spain and without the goalkeeping abilities of De Gea they would have won much more comfortably than 2-0, and they would have deserved it too. They may not have the best players, however they are a team who know what they need to do and are greater than the sum of their parts, this match against Germany suits them thoroughly, once again they are the underdogs and that’s how they like it.
I have to go for Italy in this one; I think it is by far the hardest game to predict but a combination of Germany’s record against the Italians in major competitions and the way that Italy match up against Germany makes me think that another Italian mini shock is on the horizon.
France v Iceland
Well done to Iceland, the smallest nation to ever make it to the Euros and they’ve managed to make it into the quarter finals, a truly great achievement! What makes it all the greater (and funnier) is that in doing so they put out England, one of the juggernauts of world football and with two days less rest. Iceland have now conquered the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal and England in this run in the Euros, a truly spectacular performance from such a small nation. Prior to the games on Monday I thought it was unusual that their hadn’t been a single shock in the last 16 so far, something rather unusual in a tournament like this, a double of Chile and Iceland followed at 44/1, sadly it was for 90 minutes, damn bookies. When England went 1-0 up, I couldn’t (and I imagine I wasn’t alone) see anything but them running away with it, so when Iceland went straight up the pitch and equalised it was truly a remarkable moment. When Iceland then struck a second, the dream seemed more than alive, but surely England will come back, yet Iceland were totally disciplined the rest of the match and limited England to half chances and hopeless efforts. Yes they can’t string four passes together and they really aren’t the best team, but they have passion, they are a proper team and they are playing with no pressure and the belief of a world beater, underestimate at your peril.
Just a moment aside to have a little chat about England… I’m Scottish, so I’ll allow you to fill in what my opinions are of England; however this has been a terrible tournament for the English. It really isn’t a particularly talented England squad, however once again you wouldn’t have known if you had been bombarded by the English press. In each of their games they couldn’t break down teams which were seriously lacking in talent, and a big reason for that is that England don’t have any special players. Instead what England has is runners, guys who are suited to playing in matches where the opposition has a lot of the ball, in many ways it would have suited England to play Portugal more than Iceland (ridiculous as it sounds). Hodgson has already resigned (rightly so) but who will replace him? There aren’t any top English managers and could anyone really get much more out of such an ordinary team? Probably not, ultimately losing to Iceland is unacceptable, and more so than that losing to an Iceland team without actually looking like scoring at any point in the match is even worse. There are systematic problems within English football, and most of those start at the youth coaching level, followed by the difficulty of young English players to break through at the top level. In many ways the success of the Premier League damages England, English players are totally unaffordable outside of England, which means that they are stuck in a small tactical bubble, they suffer because of this and until England and English teams stop taking a win now mentality, it will never change.
France continued on their quest to win their home Euros with another fairly ordinary performance. France are lucky that they have been gifted another easy draw because if they had come up against better teams they would have been punished by now. Deschamps looks clueless on the side-lines and is getting away with it because of the quality of his players and the weakness of their opponents. Ireland were the better team in the first half of their last 16 tie, they grew tired as the match went on (three days less rest than the French) and lost in the end. France really haven’t impressed me, they have got through with an easy group and then an easy last 16 opponent, with incredibly favourable rest periods, and now they’ve fallen into a quarter final against Iceland, couldn’t really have planned it better.
France will need to improve because as odd as it sounds, Iceland is the best team they will have played so far (incredibly so), if they aren’t careful then they may be the next on a long line of Icelandic embarrassments, I don’t think it will happen but I wouldn’t rule it out.
So here are how I think the semi-finals will line up:
Portugal v Belgium
Italy v France
I feel that the Portugal-Poland and the Italy-Germany games are the two hardest to predict, I would be quite surprised if the other two games didn’t go as I think. I’m still on a France-Belgium final.
I would like to take this time to thank Iceland and Wales for their performance in this Euros, showing that some of the smaller nations deserve their chance in the Euros and that expanding the competition to 24 teams was indeed the correct choice. You don’t have to win the Euros to succeed, for many teams just taking part is a massive achievement and why steal that chance for those people to celebrate their nation and team? These teams have made the Euros greater for me, they certainly haven’t devalued it.
So what did you think of the last 16? Was it good, great, just ok? Are you looking forward to the quarter finals? Do you think that England going out to Iceland was the best thing ever? Well leave a comment and share those thoughts!