Euro 2016 Update – The Final Four

From the ‘Viking Clap’ to Mats Hummels announcing Germany’s defence wouldn’t be terrified of Will Grigg before the group stage encounter – This European Championship Finals has had everything. That’s with bypassing the complete tragedy that is the English National Team.(That mess needs a separate post dedicated to it!)

In my previous Euro post, I predicated that if Belgium played for one another instead of a team of individuals they should make the semi finals. I’m sure most Welsh fans if they were honest would agree with that too. Even if they do seem to have the wood over them at the moment.

What happened next, was something which will live long in the memory for anyone with Welsh blood.


It would be easy to relate the Welsh heroics in the Championships so far to that of Leicester City’s historic PL title winning season. But certain similarities and qualities make it hard to not too.

The majority of Football fans pre tournament would have guessed that England; The perennial underachievers, would have finished top of Group B. Leaving Slovakia / Russia & Wales to fight it out for runner up spot.


Why it hasn’t been just a case of the BALES for WALES

You’d be forgiven if before the Euro’s started you were under the impression that Gareth Bale was the only man who could make the national team tick. It’s true, the Two time Champions League Winner was immense during Wales’s qualification period, and has provided some ‘star man’ moments during the tournament. But there is a lot more to the Welsh team than meets the eye, but I’ll go into that later on during the preview of the Semi Final.

Throughout qualification for Euro 2016, Coleman’s dragons quietly went about their business dismantling the likes of Belgium and Israel. Taking confidence and belief from every game and being urged on by a fully packed Cardiff City Stadium (apparently it was electric isn’t that right Jasper?).
It’s this confidence and belief from qualifying which helped them to top the group (1st time debuting team at Championships to do so, since Sweden in 1992) and also catapult themselves into the Semi’s tomorrow night against Portugal.

The Welsh boys have not feared any team yet throughout the tournament, and they won’t begin to now. Every player in the Welsh squad has bought into the team ethos 100%, you can see every player is playing for the team. On paper Bale & Ramsey might be the big names, but not when it comes to Game Day. Every played has played their part to get Wales to the Semi Final.

Whatever happens tomorrow night in Lyon, the Welsh team should be coming home to a hero’s welcome later this summer. I wonder what impact the last few weeks will have on Football participation levels in Wales? Perhaps it leads to more kids wanting to kick a football rather than catch a rugby ball?

Semi Final No. 1

Portugal Vs Wales (Stade de Lyon)

Portugal will go into tomorrow nights Semi Final as the bookies favourite but not by much IMO. They looked on their way out in the group stages, but managed the mother of all come- backs and equalise 3 times against Hungary with special thanks to National Hero – Cristiano Ronaldo.


The only team to progress to the knockout stage without winning a game – hardly striking fear into the opposition is it. Perhaps Croatia took them for granted in the last 16? Croatia looked very tasty during the Group Stages especially beating Spain, I thought they were going to be a force.

 

As the figures lie at the moment, Portugal have the 2nd best possession statistics during the tournament with 87% of passes completed and 54% of general possession. How will this fare against the 2nd best attacking nation so far of the tournament. Wales have scored 10 goals so far from 59 attempts in their 5 games at Euro 2016.

IMO – Portugal will try and dictate the tempo of the game from the start, Fernando Santos will be hoping his team don’t carry on with being wasteful in front of goal. Now that we are at the business end of the competition.

On the other hand, Wales will be more than content to let Portugal have as much of the ball as they like, as long as the superb Joe Allen (Sorry, Welsh Pirlo!) and Bad Dad Dancing King Joe Ledley (Save the dancing for your postponed Wedding, Joe!) are on hand to sniff out any danger.


The Three centre back system has worked well for Chris Coleman so far, with the colossus that is Ashley Williams yet again stepping up, how is he not at ‘A Top 6 club?’ Mangala who?!
This Welsh team have proven they are a real attacking threat from counter attacks, helped by the use of Neil Taylor & Chris Gunter dominating the flanks. Crossing in particular has been a positive, perfectly illustrated with Sam Vokes’s goal in the 3-1 victory over Belgium in the Quarters.

Tomorrow night might just be decided from a set piece. With Bale getting more serve on a freekick than an Andy Murray slice, he’s always going to be a threat. Also with James Collins coming in for the suspended Ben Davies, it adds extra height alongside Ashley Williams to attack corners with.

One thing for sure Aaron ‘Rambo’ Ramsey will be hugely missed in the No.10 position for Wales, he currently tops the Assist charts at the moment with 4. Andy King will be hoping for more success like he had last season with Leicester.

It takes a full team performance to make it through the Semi’s into a major European Final, part of the reason why it won’t just be Bale Vs Ronaldo. But instead more about who can bring the best out of their team mates. Not a night for an individual.

Verdict: I’m not about to stop the Welsh party bus! In my opinion, Dean Saunders your parking fine is about to get a little bit more expensive!

Semi Final No. 2

Germany Vs France (Stade Velodrome, Marseille)

Arguably a match up which should have been saved for the Final come July 11th. This has the potential to bring football to its very purest form; Attack Vs Defence. Forget the tactics and the individual player instructions for a second. We have the best attacking team of the tournament playing against the best defensive team of the tournament.

Every supporter in the world is entitled to their own preference, some might enjoy a defensively solid performance. Whereas others might gain a thrill from a team hammering an opposition’s goal with waves of attacks. No one opinion is right.

The Stats:

FRA: 11 Goals / 87 attempts / 29 on Target / 31 off Target / 27 Blocked

Vs

GER: 1 Goal conceded / Passes Completion 91% / Possession 63%

If you didn’t believe me beforehand that this will be a game of Attack Vs Defence, perhaps you will do after viewing those statistics.

I have to admit during the Group Stages, I didn’t think Germany were the force they have been in the past. A 0-0 draw with Poland and only a 1-0 victory over Northern Ireland didn’t make pretty reading for Joachim Löw, but they got the job done and progressed to the last 16.

A much more clinical performance against Slovakia and once again they look like the unstoppable World Champions from two years ago. The Quarter Final against Italy, should have been over by the 90, but for a moment of madness from Boateng.

But who are kidding, it was never in doubt was it? The Germans just don’t lose penalty shootout. Ever.


In all forms of Sport, coaches plan for their athletes to taper before a competition so that they can hit peak performance level during a competition. It would appear that Löw’s taper has worked perfectly. Germany looking dangerous. Anyone else got a case of Déjà vu?
As for France, without playing sensational football thus far they find themselves through to the Semi’s. When teams try and attack France, it would seem this is when France are at their most dangerous – prime example being the Quarter Final against Iceland which finished up 5-2.

I tipped France before the tournament to challenge for the European crown, because of their attacking style compounded with the sheer ability in midfield. So far it hasn’t been all guns blazing, the first half of the ROI game was dismal for example.

If France can engage Germany during the semi – final, it will benefit France. The more open the game becomes the more it drifts into France ‘s favour in my opinion. If it’s cagey and being decided in moments of 50/50 challenges the pendulum swings back towards Germany.

Key Battle:

Is it any wonder that Germany have almost 1000 more completed passes than the next closest team behind them in the possession stats, when they possess Toni Kroos in the heart of their midfield. The Madrid man has been running the show for Germany so far during this summer’s Championships and will hope for more of the same come Thursday evening.


Clearly either Matuidi or Pogba will be given the job of closing Kroos down, but which one of them? If it was me, Matuidi is the engine room and should be given the opportunity, whilst Pogba focuses on breaking towards the opposition goal. Chances won’t come easily against the World Champions, so Pogba needs to be ready to lead the counter attack.


Verdict: I’m going to stick with my pre-tournament pick of France; SkyBet have Griezmann as odds on to win the Golden Boot and I think he’ll nick the winner against Germany.

Thanks for reading as always folks,

Tom

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Euro 2016 – Review of Week 1

Thoughts on the Championships so far;

It feels like a whirlwind. Or perhaps that’s just the combination of late nights and assortment of lagers but the last week of football has well and truly delivered. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had quite such a variation of emotions like I did during the ENG vs WAL game. Whilst travelling the globe you come across a plethora of people, I haven’t yet found anyone in Sydney who watched that game and wasn’t captivated from start to finish; pure emotion.


So we are more than a week into the Championships now. What’s happened so far?

Winners so far;

Albania – They came, they played their hearts out and can easily walk away with their heads held high. Briefly catching the highlights from their victorious last group game against Romania, they look very promising indeed.


Iceland – Fair bloody play! They might receive some criticism, but not from me. Clearly well drilled and prepared to hit the ground running. They believed they could get something against Portugal, and they did. Sounds like sour grapes Cristiano!

France – Okay I’ll take some flack, I put the classic commentators curse on them with my previous article. But, France have flattered to deceive so far, at certain points they have shown snapshots of how dangerous a force they could well be. I’m still saying watch out Europe!

And now for the Losers;

Germany – I’ll try not to take too much enjoyment in this one. Die Mannschaft aren’t quite clicking at the moment. A 0-0 draw against Poland isn’t what Germany want to be remembered for at Euro 2016, then again neither is Joachim Löw’s ‘sniffing-gate’.


Belgium – How many journalists predicted after the previous European Championships in 2012 and then the World Cup, that this would be the tournament where ‘The Golden Generation’ established themselves as a world force? As starting line – up’s go, Belgium’s is like a night at the Oscars. One High profile character after the next. Didn’t turn up against Italy, then took ROI apart 3-0. Very temperamental side. If Wilmots can get it right, Belgium should skate to the semi’s. Big If mind.

You may have noticed that I have barely touched on a certain team. Yes that’s right let’s talk about England. We all knew it was going to happen at some point during the article. As I sit here now trying to re-capture every emotion which was experienced during Friday morning’s pulsating game with Wales. (God bless Sydney and their Casino 24 hour drinking laws!) I feel torn between criticising ‘Woy and praising him.

With 45 minutes left to save his European adventure, Hodgson had no choice but to go for broke with Daniel Sturridge and the main man himself Jamie Vardy. Obviously what happened after that was pure escasty for any patriotic Englishman.

But why did it have to get to this stage before a change was made? So there I was enduring Half Time with a rather smug Welshman next to me, crying into a Carlton Dry. (recommend!) Wondering where it all went wrong. ‘But we were undefeated in qualifying’ springs to mind. Quickly followed by ‘Why the chuffing hell isn’t Jamie Vardy on the pitch!!’

After scanning the Beeb (BBC) tonight, I see Roy is supposedly planning on making up to 6 changes to the team that started against Wales. Vardy has to start, and yes through the middle too.

In my opinion, Wilshere should have started against Wales, in the first half unfortunately Alli received a bit of a lesson at the hands of Ramsey. I think Jack, *touch wood * fully fit would have dominated that midfield which included a 50% fit Joe Ledley.

I must admit I was critical of Walker starting ahead of Clyne, but it’s worked superbly in the first 2 games so far. What an outlet. Kyle is becoming a key player for England purely for his gizelle like speed and acceleration. Although he is still the type of player on FIFA or FM that you would be putting on ‘Intense Training’ for crossing…
In all realistic terms England should breeze through tonight’s game against Slovakia and guarantee themselves Top of The Group, but then again this is England we are talking about.

Heart Says 3-1 to ENG

Head says 2-1 (Vardy Winner)

Yeah that’s right let’s all get on the Jamie Vardy bandwagon.

Thanks for reading,

Tom