So, the semi-finals are behind us. Needless to say I’m heartbroken Wales couldn’t beat Portugal, however the other semi-final was a win-win situation, seeing as there were Gunners involved on either side. Let’s shoot to the analysis of what happened then.
Portugal 2-0 Wales
Without the suspended Ben Davies and Aaron Ramsey Chris Coleman’s side had to make do with Collins at centre-back and Andy King as one of the front three. While the former change hampered Wales’ ability to build from the back and handle the transition from defense to attack more ably, the latter left Bale with too much to do up front in terms of creating chances. Neither fared particularly well, though I’m not sure Davies and Ramsey could have averted the loss.
Portugal managed to solve their own selection problems much better, with Bruno Alves coming in for Pepe and Adrien Silva replacing William Carvalho. And by “better” I mean as dull as they have been during the knockout stages. The only things I vaguely recall from that first half are Bale’s distance shot and Ronaldo throwing his toys out of the pram after Collins dealt with him time and again.
The 2nd half started with a bang: Portugal scored 2 goals inside 3 minutes and effectively sealed the win. For the first Ronaldo powered home a header from a corner, for the 2nd he turned provider for Nani. The game settled back into the absolute drag of a contest after that. Portugal weren’t interested in scoring a 3rd and Wales simply couldn’t conjure up anything up front. Portugal should have probably widened the margin, however Hennessey parried Danilo’s shot and Ronaldo screwed up his chance himself. 2-0 and Wales are going home, albeit with bronze medals, thankfully.
A word here. I absolutely loathe this Portugal side, and not because of the arrogant and self-entitled Ronaldo, not even because of Pepe, though these two are enough to hate any team for. No, the reason is Portugal’s grey style of football. They absolutely frauded their path to the final and the fact they have only won one game in normal time reflects that to an extent. They were lucky to make it out of their group, they weren’t any better than Croatia or Poland, yet they can win the whole thing anyway. In my heart of hearts I hope for a spanking in the final, though I do realise it’s unlikely. But Portugal strongly remind me of Brazil in 2014 and, well, we know Brazil’s demise.
Germany 0-2 France
Now here we have an example of a team which most definitely suffered from missing players. Neither Gomez, nor Khedira recovered in time to start the game, while Hummels was suspended. Late on Boateng sustained, or maybe aggravated, a hip injury and Germany finished the game with Howedes and Mustafi as a centre-back pairing. Schweinsteiger did start, though, and I think many wish he didn’t. France didn’t change a thing, meaning second consecutive outings for Umtiti and Sissoko.
I was a bit surprised also at Germany’s formation, a 4-2-3-1 basically, which was a rather drastic switch from a more adventurous 3-4-3 Low’s side deployed against Italy. Furthermore, against France, Die Mannschaft played 3 players who are basically holding midfielders, only the extent varies a bit: Khedira, Schweinsteiger and Kroos. I was even wondering whether Germany decided to opt for a more guarded approach and cede territory to the hosts with such a set-up.
However, as the match wore on, another explanation occurred to me. On top of Germany showing no signs of playing second fiddle, I thought Low may have moved Ozil to the wing on purpose, the purpose being to target Evra. With Draxler starting on the other wing it would have made sense. Until I found out it was only the left flank Germany targeted, the one where Sagna resides, while their attacks were evenly spread between the centre and right wing. So the only explanation I have is that a 4-2-3-1 is Germany’s usual formation.
Die Mannschaft dominated the proceedings for pretty much the entirety of the 90 minutes, however, contrary to the popular opinion, I don’t think France somehow “mugged” Germany. They stuck to their plan, they executed it superbly, German players only have themselves to blame. Germany were wasteful in front of goal, France weren’t. But if you want the hard numbers, France had 16 shots to Germany’s 18, 6 to 5 on target and were actually credited with creating the game’s only big chance (Griezmann’s penalty).
It looks to me like most think Germany should have won simply because they had more of the ball. I can understand this, most people who think this way are Arsenal fans and have watched us drop points countless times despite dominating the game in terms of territory and possession. They have drawn parallels between the German NT and Arsenal and come away with the conclusion Germany deserved better.
Yet I’m not sure they did. Weren’t we all applauding Simeone’s masterclasses in defensive setups when Atletico has beaten Barcelona and Bayern? Did any of us think Atletico “mugged” Bayern or Barca? Furthermore, I too have drawn parallels between Low’s side and Arsenal, though of a different kind. Simply put, there were large swathes when Germany had the ball and did nothing with it. Sterile possession, pass-pass-pass without moving forward.
Oh, and by the way, the penalty. For me it was a penalty and not because I supported France on the occasion (sorry, Mesut). I don’t know what got into Schweinsteiger when he raised his arm and engaged in an aerial duel with an arm still raised. He looked where the ball was heading, but instead of lowering his arm he just turned his head away at the last moment. You really shouldn’t wave your arms in the box with the ball nearby, I’ve seen penalties given for less. Apparently the incident with Boateng didn’t teach Schweinsteiger anything.
Arsenal watch: Laurent Koscielny, Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil. I’ll start with the German, since there’s only one of him. To me he had one of the quieter games, only creating one shooting opportunity for teammates. However he was very important in keeping the ball in circulation, which is reflected in the number of passes he completed – 76, second only to Kroos (85). A lot of the play went through him, but Ozil didn’t seem as influential in the final third as he can be. Which is perhaps down to France’s able defending and Germany’s ineffectiveness overall for large parts of the game.
Laurent Koscielny was one of the better performers on the team, positively a rock in the heart of Les Blues’ defense, while he also had time to guide Umtiti and sometimes also cover for him. The stat of the day is Koscielny clearing the ball successfully 8 times, all 8 clearances from inside the box.
Finally, Giroud. The Frenchman wasted the only chance (which he created for himself) by taking too long to make a decision, plus also seemingly running even slower than he usually does, but he played a huge part in the 2nd goal by occupying Neuer and the defenders, leaving Griezmann free to poke home. Will deservedly spearhead France in the final.
Phew, that’s it from me for now. Back with review of the final.
Come on you Les Blues.