Once again it took me longer to get back here than I originally thought it would. However a combination of pretty dull football during the weekend and the fact very few our players were involved then restricted me from writing earlier. Now we finally have something to chew on. Hence, without further ado…
Switzerland 0-0 France
Deschamps made a lot of changes to the side of his choice. The keeper and the back four stayed put, but further upfield we Les Blues sported a midfield of Pogba, Cabaye and Sissoko (none of whom started against Albania, with Pogba the only guy with any minutes under his belt) and a front three of Griezmann, Coman and Gignac. The latter did nothing all game, but played the match in its entirety nonetheless. I’m not sure what’s the point of Gignac at all, however that’s not what I’m here to discuss.
France were more or less on top during the first half, but the only real threat they posed emanated from Pogba, who struck the bar twice, but that was pretty much all Deschamps men had to offer.
The second half was probably even worse in terms of actual value. Switzerland had more of the ball, but could do nothing with it. Neither Embolo, nor Sepherovic were able to make something happen. Les Blues had a couple of chances to break the deadlock only for Payet (who came on for Coman) to smash his shot against the bar and then see another float agonisingly close to the post. 0-0 it ended and France could consider themselves lucky to top the group for two reasons at least: they haven’t demonstrated a swashbuckling style, mostly depending on Payet to bail them out and Switzerland were utterly toothless against the French.
Arsenal watch: Granit Xhaka and Laurent Koscielny. I have finally been able to watch our new acquisition for a prolonged period of time (some minutes against Romania don’t really count) and I have to say I was impressed. Granit comes across as a tough and composed midfielder with a good passing range. He completed the most passes of any man on the field (he is also top in this regard after group stages – Granit made more passes than Kroos!) at a 91% rate and it’s good to know Xhaka can also do it against the big teams as well. As for Koscielny, he looked solid once again, played a huge part of why Embolo was invisible and basically dealt with everything thrown his way, however little it was. One of the best centre-backs on show so far.
Slovakia 0-0 England
As the Three Lions were playing at the same time Chris Coleman’s men did, I had to make a choice. I picked England, expecting (not without grounds) a more competitive game, plus I wanted to see Jack from the first minutes. I made the wrong choice.
The game itself was a borefest, owing to the fact Slovakia were hell-bent on getting a draw and completely refused to come out and play. I think this also affected how certain English players fared – Wilshere and Vardy most of all, maybe Sturridge to a lesser extent. These quick players, who are very good in transition because of the speed and space that come with one, were rendered useless when forced to break through a static defense. As a result, Vardy went into hiding soon after the opening exchanges, while Wilshere, Sturridge and Lallana were hauled off sooner or later. However none of Alli, Rooney or Kane were able to make a tangible impact.
Did Hodgson’s men only deserve a draw? Probably not. They had their good moments: Vardy could have scored from one-on-one, Sturridge spurned some chances, Lallana and Clyne hit the keeper from promising positions. However they left a general impression of a team struggling to find its groove. Their only win came against Wales deep into injury time. I think what should concern Hodgson most is that his preferred starting XI really isn’t working out how he would have liked. He should so something about it, and quickly.
Arsenal watch: Jack Wilshere. Jack was really poor. I don’t know the reason for this. Maybe he is still struggling to shake off the effects of his injury (whether physical or psychological), maybe it’s the lack of game time affecting his performance, maybe the midfield colleagues (Henderson and Dier). However the fact remains: Jack was incredibly wasteful on the ball and ineffective overall. Moreover, he looked like a man playing with any desire or conviction and that’s a symptom I worry about much more than a couple of misplaced passes. Hope Wilsh overcomes what problems he has in next round.
Croatia 2-1 Spain
It was a game I was truly looking forward to and it didn’t disappoint. Spain predictably seized control of the ball and started passing it around, which displeased large sections of the fanbase later in the game. However the crisp passing was a joy to watch for me.
La Roja’s intricate passing patterns bore fruit in the 7th minute already. Silva’s through ball to a darting Cesc found the receiver and the snake’s low cross/shot was converted by Alvaro Morata, who made it 3 goals in 3 games.
However Croatia’s sensible decision not to fight a midfield battle with Spain without Modric also had its merits. The individual high level From Perisic, Kalinic Srna and, naturally, Rakitic, made Cacic’s men a potent force on the break and Rakitic really should have equalised after De Gea lost the ball, but his chip hit the bar and rebounded back into play. But seconds before the break Croatia found their equaliser. Perisic turned Juanfran inside out, Rakitic took away the defender and Kalinic sidefooted the ball past De Gea on the volley. A brilliant combination and a deserved goal.
On the hour Croatia should have been in front. Srna’s cross was only just cleared by De Gea, the rebound was parried by United’s keeper again, but the rebound number 2 fell to Pjaca, whose overhead kick went just wide.
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The game calmed down for a while after that, but only for the referee to light it up again by making three mistakes in the space of two minutes. First he didn’t give a foul and a penalty to Croatia after Pjaca was brought down, then he gave a penalty to Spain for pretty much nothing. Silva dived in the box after the slightest of contacts from Vrsaljko and finally, Subasic was miles off the line to parry Ramos’ (!) shot from the spot, but basically I hate Ramos, so well done the ref on that last one.
Croatia just had to win after the injustice of it all and Cacic’s men duly obliged. Ten minutes from time they’ve carved open Spain’s defense in a couple of passes and Perisic fired a shot into the bottom corner to give Croatia the lead. Spain could have equalised in the dying seconds, but as it was the diving Silva whose shot was cleared off the line, I had few complaints. Spain finished 2nd as a result and will now face Italy in the last 16. For me Croatia are a dark horse for the championships and I am sure there odds will have fallen which you can check at Euro 2016 at thats’s a goal.
The last word
I haven’t mentioned Ramsey and Ozil at all and I really should have. Rambo had a blinder against Russia, scoring one with a dink over Akinfeev and then setting up another for Bale, while Ozil ooof… He put in a master-class of a performance against Northern Ireland and on another day would have left the field with a hat-trick of assists. Incredibly wasteful Gomez, Muller and Gotze made sure Mesut only clocked a pre-assist. However his overall polished performance won’t be forgotten in a hurry, as the German created 6 chances (all 6 resulting shots were taken from inside the box) and completed a crazy 67 of his 68 attempted passes, making his the most accurate Euro passer (50+ passes in a single game) since 1980. Make sure you find and watch at least the compilations of Ramsey’s and Ozil’s games (I have both on my Twitter page – @The_Tsar_Cannon).
That’s it from me for now. I’ll most likely be back when the knock out rounds start.