Quarterfinal With Cheese

Poland vs Portugal 1-1 (4-5 pen)

Lewandowski ended his bad NT spell – but it wasn’t enough.

After watching Portugal’s games in this tournament, only one thing can be said about new EURO format: it’s bad. Five matches in, and Fernando Santos’ are still without a win in 90 minutes – and yet, they’ve made the semi-finals. A week ago, against Croatia, they’ve made us wait 117 minute until they hit first shot on target – and, coincidentally, that shot resulted with a deciding goal. Random luck also helped them: seconds before Quaresma’s goal, Perišić has hit the post. Earlier in the game, the Croats have overall managed 17 shots through the game, compared to Portugal’s six. If it wasn’t for the inclusion of powerful Renato Sanches in the second half, the boys in red and green wouldn’t have a single midfielder on the pitch who could break the deadlock. Luckily for them, the new Bayern Munich lad has finally got his chance – and he eventually played a key role later, against Poland.

The game in Marseille started with a thunderbolt. Grosicki picked up the ball down the left, crossed it in and Lewandowski met it with his run, powering a shot in the bottom corner. It was the second fastest goal in EURO’s history! William Carvalho slacked on tracking back, Fonte was to busy marking Milik, Pepe has found himself in a no-man’s land… It was a calamity. Had Poland went for it there and then and pushed for a second goal, we would have the first big tournament semifinal for them since 1986 – but it wasn’t meant to be…

To be fair to the eventual winners – they deserved a stonewall penalty in the 25th minute. That was the moment when, after having an excellent tournament, Michał Pazdan finally broke under pressure and pushed Ronaldo to the ground. Dr Felix Brych never pointed to the spot; not even after Ronaldo’s protests. It had to be Cristiano’s reputation of a diver, which denied him this spot-kick claim – there’s literally no other explanation for this decision by the referee. Overall: another game to forget by CR7 – five shots and only one on target.

 

Late in the first half, Portugal had perhaps the first really decent spell of dominance since the game against Hungary. However, once Sanches equalized through a deflection, neither team was really willing to risk going after the second goal and it all came down to penalties. Sadly for Adam Nawałka and his team, during the shootout, Łukasz Fabiański kept picking the wrong corner to dive in, raising suspicions that something was terribly wrong with Poland’s preparation for the spot-kicks. Rui Patrício eventually (with a little bit of cheating) blocked Błaszczykowski’s feeble shot. Poland went home without losing a single game in 90 minutes – yet another testament to this competition’s weirdness.

 

Belgium vs Wales 1-3

When a free agent scores a crucial goal in the EUROs knockout stage…

It’s been known for months that Belgium national team doesn’t really have any proper full-backs. However, when Thomas Vermaelen picked up a stupid yellow card against Hungary and Jan Vertonghen ended that match with an ankle injury that ruled him out for the next six to eight weeks – it became obvious that Red Devils’ chances have dipped heavily. Friday night in Lille saw Jordan Lukaku (21 years old, 4 caps) and Jason Denayer (21 years old, 6 caps) covering for their older colleagues. One of them is still kicking the ball for K.V. Oostende – only the 4th best club in Belgium. The other, despite being employed by Manchester City, never really came close to breaking into Citizens’ first eleven and spent some time on loans at Celtic and Galatasaray. Well, let’s put it mildly: three days ago, neither of those two has proven that they deserve any better than that.

First goal for Wales: Lukaku jumps to Ramsey’s corner cross but cannot get the head on it and Ashley Williams heads it in instead. Second goal: after letting Ramsey run down the right wing and get a dangerous cross in, Denayer decides he’d rather cover the empty area near Courtois rather than close down Robson-Kanu, who turns two other defenders and powers it in. Third goal: again, Lukaku tries to cut out the aerial cross but finds himself too far forward and the player behind him scores a header. ‘Shambolic’ would be the word.

In the wake of Marc Wilmots’ team collapse, it was Aaron Ramsey who received all praises normally reserved for Eden Hazard or Kevin De Bruyne. The midfielder, who’s been a loose cannon for Arsenal last season, has finally found his second wind, bossing the game on both ends of the pitch. Apart from two assists, he contributed two shots, two won headers, one dribble and misplaced only seven out of 53 passes he attempted. Deciding between him and new signing Granit Xhaka should be Arsène Wenger’s big problem next season.

Thus, Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’ has failed to go through – despite winning more tackles, more corners and having 55% of possession. It all came down to a rather disappointing performance upfront – again, Romelu Lukaku has been utterly taken out of the equation, making everyone wonder why new Chelsea’s signing Michy Batshuayi didn’t get any chance to play from the start. De Bruyne couldn’t hit the target, Hazard tried to replicate the goal against Hungary by cutting inside, but he missed, Carrasco didn’t cut it… As a consolation, Wilmots’ lads are taking home a stunning, long-range goal by Radja Nainggolan – and hopes that their squad will hit it’s prime in two years, during the World Cup.

 

Germany vs Italy 1-1 (6-5 pen)

“- And if it goes to penalties, what you’re going to do, Mesut? – Fuck it up again, mate.”

Forget the extra-time epicness of 2006 or Balotelli’s muscular celebration of 2012 – those moments are not coming back. It 2016, a game between two most decorated European sides simply had to be boring – and it was. With Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio at home, with Daniele De Rossi and Antonio Candreva haunted by the injuries, with both Italian and German defences being rock-solid – it had to end up like this. Azzurri and Die Manschaft have a history of just three goals out of 18 scored between them in the first halves of competitive games against each other – and once again, they’ve have pretty much skipped on that part of the game. Even the final stats confirmed the deadlock: twelve shots each ; three shots on target each; corners 7-5 for Germany; headers won 10-12 for Italy… Also, each team scored with their first accurate attempt. Funny – but also boring to watch.

The single highlight of the first 60 minutes at Matmut Atlantique in Bordeaux was Florenzi’s brilliant goal line clearance of Müller’s shot. Only after an hour, things actually started to happen. First, almost entire Italian lineup has picked up their customary yellow cards, confirming the reputation of a ‘dirtiest team in France this summer’. Shortly after that, a loose, bouncing ball in Italian penalty area has been scooped up by arriving Mesut Özil and he fired his team into the lead. Arguably – the only big blooper by the BBC backline out there.

Gomez and Pellè had to waste one chance each before Boateng basically gifted Italy an equaliser by handling the ball deflected from Florenzi’s cross. It was quite silly: the German surely wanted to show the referee that he’s not pulling Chiellni’s shirt and not conceding a penalty that way – but instead, he gave it away regardless. Bonucci has managed to keep his composure and it all came out level – again. Italy have had the upper hand for a couple more minutes and in the extra time, but it ended up with a whimper – and another penalty contest.

 

So this is where it all went in an unexpected direction. For some reason, after playing a reasonable game, both sides decided it was about time for easily the biggest comedy of errors of the entire tournament. First, Simone Zaza came up with a hilarious, delayed run to his spot-kick – and missed it horribly. Soon enough, Müller fed Buffon with the ball, Bonucci did the same to Neuer, Özil rattled the post and Pellè has let the ball fly well wide. Even the ultra-experienced captain, Bastian Schweinsteiger missed in a position, where one good shot would’ve pulled Germany through to the semifinals. They eventually did anyway, following Darmian’s horrible strike – but this was definitely the worst penalty shootout in EURO history.

 

France vs Iceland 5-2

Giroud opened the score and it was easy from there.

The result says it all – it was nothing short of demolition. Despite having N’Golo Kanté and Adil Rami serving yellow-card suspensions, France has ran riot at Saint-Denis last night. In a span of just 33 minutes, they’ve put just as many goals past Halldórsson as Portugal, Hungary, Austria and England combined. Two of the first-half goals came from long runs from the deep followed by equally long, through balls: one to Giroud, one to Griezmann. Those were exactly the assets England desperately lacked in their encounter against Lars Lagerbäck’s team – quick, decisive players and midfielders with an eye for making that key pass and releasing their striker. Unfortunately for Iceland, France had that and more – Payet has scored yet another goal from the outside of the penalty area and Pogba finally bagged his first EURO goal following a corner kick.

In other news: France didn’t manage to keep a clean sheet again. In fact, they were rather poor at the back – out of three dangerous chances Iceland has created, two ended with goals and the third one has been cleared by a last-ditch challenge from FFP’s freshman, Samuel Umtiti. The new Barcelona centre-back has completed 100% of his 75 passes, but it was plain to see that his partnership with Laurent Koscielny requires a lot of work to be successful. And when Mangala was thrown into the fray to partner Umtiti – French backline got even worse.

Of course that itself doesn’t mean much. During the second half, Didier Deschamps had the luxury of saving his players’ legs at his leisure, so he subbed off those, who were at risk of picking up second yellow cards. Also, France was still very much in control of the game regardless of their lineup. But it makes one think what kind of starting eleven they will field against Germany, if players like Umtiti or Sissoko have had such great entry to the team. On a Sunday evening, everything clicked, so… No changes to the winning squad?

As for Iceland – they’ve done their job and more. A country with five times less population than the number of registered association footballers in England has knocked out Albion from the competition and had a rather brilliant group stage. Unfortunately, due to the shortage of options in their squad, they had to play the same eleven lads every game, which eventually led to tiredness and mistakes. Other than that, their playstyle was pretty much doomed against the first team that would counter it with plenty of pace – just remember what Marcus Rashford has been doing during his short stint in the Round of 16. Still, it was an amazing story for a small nation; a true proof how far sheer spirit and determination can take you. And it ended up positively even in their final, lost game: after all, Icelanders have won the second half 2-1!

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