So the quarter-finals of the European championship in France are behind us and I find myself at something of a crossroads, as only 2 out of 4 were actually entertaining. Poland vs Portugal was a complete drag, while the much-anticipated Germany vs Italy may have a tactical masterclass from Lowe, Conte, or both, but it was hardly bearable for the less tactically-astute observers (like myself). Oh well. Let’s plunge into the interesting stuff first and then see how it goes.
Wales 3-1 Belgium
It was a game I enjoyed immensely for the sheer fact Wales, much less star-studded than their opponents, nevertheless came out on top and did so convincingly and deservedly. Oh yes, and because Ramsey had another great game, but more on the Father of Dragons, First of his Name later.
Belgium came into the match with huge defensive deficiencies. On top of a suspended Vermaelen, Vertonghen sustained an ankle injury (I think) and left Wilmots with a hard task of replacing both. The Belgian manager handed Lukaku junior a debut on the right and paired Alderweireld with Denayer in the centre. It’s fair to say neither have covered themselves in glory. Their awareness (or rather lack of thereof) stuck out, as Wales continuously threatened from crosses and corners.
However the Red Devils started brightly. Their first moment of danger came in the 7th minute already, after all of Carrasco, Witzel and Hazard failed to open the scoring. 6 minutes later Nainggolan rectified that by unleashing a rocket of a strike from 30 yards into the top corner.
Just when it looked like Wales might crumble, Coleman’s men actually started to assert themselves in the game. They carved up Belgium’s mismatched defense repeatedly, mostly using flanks for this and, after Taylor’s shot was parried by Cortois, the Dragons found their equaliser some 5 minutes later when Williams powered a header past Chelsea’s keeper following Ramsey’s cross from a corner.
Belgium started the 2nd half strongly, as Lukaku, De Breyne and Hazard all missed from good positions, however Wilmots made a grave mistake during the break by subbing off Carrasco for Fellaini. I assume he did this to neutralize Williams from set-pieces, but this switch added little in the final 3rd. Barring that one moment Marouane completely wasted, I can’t remember him being any good or, indeed, representing an upgrade on a quite brilliant Carrasco.
So when Wales scored, having survived an early second half onslaught, it somehow looked…logical. There was some poetic justice about it. It took Coleman’s men just two passes and a moment of brilliance from Robson-Kanu to give Dragons the lead, but from there Wales looked in control. When they added a third, substitute Vokes nodding home Gunter’s cross there was an air of finality about the whole thing. A vastly inferior (going by the players) Wales side is into the semi-finals and it’s the least Coleman’s men deserve after demonstrating how solidity and organization can prevail over talent.
Arsenal watch: Aaron Ramsey. Aaron had a most brilliant performance. He has once again coupled his engine with end product and this made our Welsh number 8 a joy to watch. He didn’t hold onto the ball for long, he demonstrated exquisite technique on a couple of occasions (most notably in the build-up to the 2nd goal) and he created 6 chances for teammates, providing 2 assists. Aaron was voted MoM of course and it’s a tremendous shame he picked up a 2nd yellow which rules him out of the semi-final clash against Portugal. Kicking the ball after the whistle and an unintentional handball on the halfway line cost Wales’ key player an opportunity to play in the semi-final. Absurd. However, it’s exciting to see Rambo in such form which I hope he carries into the new season for Arsenal.
France 5-2 Iceland
The Icelandic fairytale has come to an end and it’s sad that it did. They have been the surprise package of the tournament, they used their strong points cleverly even against France, however the simple fact was that France outclassed Iceland on the occasion. Deschamps’ men took their opponents more than seriously and Les Blues’ attitude, coupled with them finally clicking, resulted in a demolition.
France scored an early goal through a certain Olivier Giroud, Matuidi’s weighed pass finding Ollie down the left and it became clear the hosts were serious about their intentions. 7 minutes later Pogba finally did something useful by nodding home Griezmann’s corner and it was a blow Iceland never recovered from.
Which is a bit shame really. Lagerback’s men looked very good from set-pieces and, generally, from crosses into the box. They have indeed scored both their goals from crosses and were unlucky not to score more. France’s defense looked even more disjointed than it usually does, maybe owing to Rami’s absence. Rami is no rock himself, when it comes right down to it, however France got away with it for now, seeing as they are yet to play a more experienced opponent. Germany will no doubt provide the centre-back pairing with a much sterner test than Iceland did, and this should cause Deschamps some sleep, as his defense line looked far from invincible in the quarter-final.
However it is fair to say France found the right formula in attack. Iceland’s demolition took their goal tally to 11, one better than Wales. Moving Griezmann closer to Giroud was an especially useful tweak, one which saw France score 7 in 1,5 games, 5 of these coming from the striker duo. I think they’ll cause Germany all kinds of problems. I’ll probably even go as far as to suggest France are favourites in this semifinal, not the least because Low’s men lost three pretty important players to injury against Italy: Gomez, Khedira and Schweinsteiger. Gotze has been far from convincing up front and Germany struggled in the first two games because of that. Think Low may try Draxler, Schurrle or even our old pal Podolski in the forward role.
Arsenal watch: Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud. How many times did I write Kos wasn’t sufficiently tested? He wasn’t sufficiently tested again. Laurent has been moved to Rami’s position to make way for a left-footed Umtiti and was subbed off to stave off the danger of missing the semis due to a suspension with 20 minutes to spare.
It was Olivier Giroud who stole the show. The Frenchman scored two goals, provided a neat assist for Griezmann and was vital in the build-up to Payet’s goal, knocking the ball down for Griezmann. So he only didn’t take active part in Pogba’s goal from a corner.
Ollie was naturally voted MoM after such a performance and shut up a healthy portion of France’s fanbase. I also like the fact he developed a dangerous understanding with Griezmann, which should give Arsene food for thought. Not for buying Griezmann, naturally, but for switching to a 4-3-1-2 and pairing Giroud with Sanchez.
The last word
Finally, I’d like to congratulate Mesut Ozil on making the semis. The German played a pivotal part in Germany’s win over Italy by giving Die Mannschaft the lead on the hour with a timed run and a quality strike. He also came close to tilting the scales Germany’s way in normal time, but Gomez’ shot, following Ozil’s pass, was brilliantly parried away by Buffon.
However Ozil failed to score another penalty (this time in the shootout), which, once again, should make Wenger think, this time about making sure there’s a penalty taker better than Ozil on the pitch at all times. I suggest buying Draxler.
Phew, that’s it from me for now. Back with the semis review.
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