We are one step from the final in the biggest Euros ever; four teams will battle it out to be crowned the champions of Europe for the next four years. On one half of the draw we have the expected, the old guard, on the other half we have the unexpected, the underdogs. The semis are set up quite nicely indeed.
Portugal v Wales
Two teams that probably thought that they weren’t going to still be in the tournament at this stage. Wales a country with a population just over three million and Portugal a team which is very much in the process of transition, both teams with one superstar who their respective teams rely on to drag them through, the two most expensive players in the world and two players who happen to play for Real Madrid.
Regardless of the result of this game it is the poster boy for the Euros expansion to 24 teams. We have Wales a team who would have had to go through a play-off to have even made the Euros and Portugal who only got through due to the third place rule. If every team in Wales’ and Portugal’s situation had been dumped out unceremoniously then it would have led to calls for it to switch back to 16, however there is no doubting in my mind that the switch has been good for the tournament.
Portugal have been really quite poor in the Euros so far, they haven’t won a game in 90 minutes, quite remarkable when you consider some of the teams which they’ve played. Portugal made hard work against Poland, in a game which neither side looked interested in really playing after half time, they may as well have went straight to penalties. This is generally the sign of a bad team.
The game against Wales is simple for Portugal, if Ronaldo shows up then they will win, if he doesn’t then it will be totally up in the air. There is no doubt in my mind that Portugal have more quality, however most of the quality Portuguese players are also enigmatic, not really ideal in a tournament where consistency is key.
Wales did the unthinkable when they beat Belgium, a Belgian team which is absolutely stacked with talent but has yet again disappointed in a major tournament. The odd thing about the Belgium match was that Belgium were in total control, it was more a question of how many than if they would win, yet after going 1-0 they sat back instead of going for the kill and Wales thoroughly took advantage.
I thought Wales would struggle, however they did really well, playing to their strengths of absorbing pressure and counter attacking. They will need to do the same against Portugal if they have hopes of progressing, but it won’t be as easy because this Portugal team isn’t nearly as talented or as willing to be on the ball as Belgium were.
There are two massive issues which I think Wales will suffer from in the semi-finals; pressure and suspensions. This isn’t the biggest game in Portugal’s national history, they’ve been to a Euro final before and they’ve made the World Cup semi as well, in fact some of the Portuguese players will have played at that level already, in contrast the Welsh players will never have went through anything like this. In fact the only Welsh player who has played at this sort of level is Bale and to a lesser extent Ramsey (who is suspended), they will need him more than ever in this game. The second issue is suspensions, Davies is missing for this game, however will likely be replaced with Collins which isn’t a massive drop off, the problem is that Ramsey has been Wales’ best player in this tournament and his replacement is going to be a massive drop in quality.
I think that that pressure and the loss of Aaron Ramsey will serve as the fatal blows for Wales’ hope for winning the Euros. I don’t think that they have no hope because Portugal have been awful so far, however Wales will be totally reliant on Bale, a player who I feel hasn’t been that great so far, and although Portugal are also totally reliant on Ronaldo, who also hasn’t been great, I think they are better overall and will handle the situation better.
Germany v France
Germany and France come together to give us the match of the tournament so far, something which will not be topped in the final regardless of who goes through each tie. The world champions and best team in the world against the host nation who have one of the best young talent pools in the world. The master versus the up and comer, quite the battle.
Germany just snuck through against Italy in a game where they will be pretty annoyed at having let the Italians get so close. Germany dominated the game, they were easily the better side, however a silly handball from Boateng let them down, which was followed by some really nervous play. I get the feeling the whole never having beat Italy thing was at the back of their minds. This led to the world’s worst penalty shootout, so many bad penalties, in particular from the Italians (Zaza’s being one of the worst I’ve ever seen).
I don’t think that Germany have been that great in the tournament so far, a big issue for them seems to be their inability to turn their dominance into goals. They haven’t conceded from open play in their five matches, so you know that they are defensively sound, you could of course say that they haven’t been challenged like the French will challenge them and it would be a fair point but the point stands, they have the best possession in the tournament, however they have only been able to score more than once in two games and one of those was a last minute counter attack goal to pad the score.
Germany are sorely lacking a central striker, Gomez is now out for the tournament, Muller and Gotze couldn’t look anymore out of form, where are the goals coming from? What makes it all worse is that they also lost Khedira and Schweinsteiger doesn’t look like he is capable of playing a full game without hurting himself, and to make matters catastrophic Hummels is suspended for the match, a huge blow to their backline (Howedes is a good player to be fair). It seems that Germany used all their luck up in the penalty shootout, because they have none in terms of squad selection going into this semi.
Franc have slumped along in the Euros so far without looking spectacular at all, finally against Iceland they put in the performance which we have all been waiting to see (it also makes England’s loss all the funnier). Iceland were taken apart like I’m sure a lot of people were expecting England or one of the countless other big teams they’ve played on their way to the quarters to do. The concern for France is that despite dominating Iceland and winning convincingly, they also let in two goals and it could have been more quite easily.
That is the problem with France in Euro 2016; I’m not exactly sure how good they actually are because I haven’t seen them play a good team yet. It is quite remarkable that they have been able to make it to the semi-finals before they play their first good team, it’s the luck of the draw but it also helps when that draw is favoured towards the home nation.
Unlike Germany France have every player available for selection, also unlike Germany France have players who are on form and scoring goals (top three scorers in the tournament and France have scored the most goals overall) and it is for that reason that I think France will take this game. The biggest doubt I have is that France haven’t been great and look fragile in defence (especially at set pieces) but Germany’s list of missing players is too long to not be concerned about. The only thing which I think goes against France is that expectation is firmly on them, the home nation against a wounded Germany, and I think that this will suit the Germans as it will allow them to sit deep and play on the counter, which without a recognised striker is ideal for them if they are to have a chance.
So that will make a final of Portugal v France. I do think that either game could go both ways, but I think that this is the most likely outcome from both matches. Not a great final, however you were always going to get a lopsided final after the way the group stages went. I don’t think that it is unfair to say that the Germany-France game is the de facto, however as Greece showed twelve years ago, the Euros likes to throw up odd results.
So what did you think of the quarter finals? Do you want to take part in your very own Viking clap? Are you furiously trying to find out if you have Welsh heritage? Or are you still pissing your pants over England going out in the last 16? Leave a comment and share those thoughts.