The quarter finals start tonight as eight teams remain in what has been an entertaining European Championships. It’s not all over yet, but here’s some things to take away from the tournament so far.
Italy are playing beautiful football.
First of all, this Italian team has completely bucked the traditional trend of the Azzurri in many ways. The four-time world champions usually play defensive, sticking to a disciplined and at times boring, style of play. However, they have managed to keep the discipline with their passionate manager Antonio Conte (the master tactician) whilst playing a passing game and using the whole field in attack. Their link-ups from Florenzi and Giaccherini into their main strikers Eder and Graziano Pelle is second nature, but the telepathic team work goes right back to the defence. De Sciglio has really shown his quality in this tournament with inch-perfect tackling to keep a solid base at the back without having to focus on defending and then there is Gianluigi Buffon who is still one of the best in the world despite being old enough to be my dad (OK he’d be a young dad, but still my point stands). To add to this, they really don’t have star power in their team, just a bunch of players who have so much chemistry – almost like Leicester City minus the 5000/1 tag on their backs. Their performance against Spain was a taste of what the Italians can achieve if they continue to play this beautiful football.
Hodgson is the creator of his own downfall.
As an adopted Scot who frankly cannot stand English pundits telling us how great the team is, I may be biased towards England – plus I had money on an Iceland win. However, there is one thing that is clear, they were poor throughout the tournament and there are a number of factors that could’ve contributed to this, but no more than that of the selection policy.
Although it may be tempting to pick players from traditional big clubs like Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton there were a few faces who didn’t show up this season and instead of looking elsewhere, he stuck with these players. Ross Barkley had an average season, as did Jordan Henderson and Gary Cahill – and Jack Wilshere? Well his season was pretty much non-existent. England fans were screaming out for some of the country’s most in form players – Danny Drinkwater, Mark Noble, Andy Carroll, Michail Antonio and Jesse Lingard, but these were ignored by Hodgson who went for name over form – Pelle is starting up front and Italy seem to be going strong which shows you don’t need to be a big name from a big club.
Within the selected team he continued to make poor decisions. Fraser Forster seemed to be the key to Southampton’s success last season, leaving them on a poor run when he was injured before leading them to a Europa League spot. Joe Hart, who was having a strange season was once again picked ahead of him, with his mistake causing the second goal. But Hart is a strong name in the sticks, so that can be somewhat forgiven, what can’t be is his under-utilisation of youngster Marcus Rashford. Pundit darling Harry Kane didn’t have a strong Euros and didn’t really show up in any match he played in. It’s understandable as to why he was picked in the starting XI, but he brought nothing to the team in the Iceland game and was a waste on the field. Rashford came on for five minutes and already caused unrest as usual, finding himself a useful super sub – but he was given five minutes to change the game. Wilshere was often favoured ahead of more deserving players too, rounding off a disastrous campaign for the Three Lions. Hodgson is gone now and thank God for England’s sake. He is a dinosaur who never got it right, especially with who he picked and how the team played. A lot of pundits are surprised by the result, but it doesn’t surprise me one bit – they struggled to beat a Wales side who were awful on their day. Things can only go up for England.
The 24 team tournament is better.
Some are arguing that it dilutes the competition to give smaller teams a chance, but these teams have only made this more exciting.
No minnow has really been mauled in the group stages as expected, with Albania, Hungary and Iceland all showing that they could be competitive in a major tournament and have added something to the tournament, making teams more ambitious to qualify as there are more spots and creating some true underdog stories. Yes, Hungary will be heartbroken to be knocked out after a strong group display, but Iceland are in the quarter finals of a major tournament – we could have another Greece on our hands.
Finally, on that point, every match meant something. By match two in the old tournament, third could face fourth knowing that regardless of the result, neither team would make it through. However, the fact that third place can go through has only made every match have meaning. It’s a bit of a flawed system that someone can be knocked out on the basis of scoring one less goal, but overall, it has made it a lot more entertaining, especially for the casual viewer.
Whoever makes the final from the top half of the draw should brace themselves for a tough opponent
This might seem like I’m being captain obvious when I say this, but the balance of the draw was unexpected. On the top half one of Poland, Portugal, Wales or Belgium will make the final whereas on the bottom half, Italy, Germany, France and Iceland all have a shot.
This could prove difficult for one of those teams (my prediction is Belgium) who have found themselves fairly fortunate to make the quarters. Poland were decent in the group stages and had a stroke of luck beating Switzerland on penalties; Portugal have been awful throughout the Euros, finally showing up Croatia in extra time which was deemed by most as a shock; Wales had a mix bag where they played well against Russia and Slovakia but struggled against England and Northern Ireland; and finally Belgium were terrible in their first group match, but have shown quality against Hungary and Republic of Ireland even if it has been at times inconsistent.
On the bottom half we have a French team who even in times of trouble have pulled something out the bag thanks to Dmitri Payet; a German side that are unbeaten so far and made quick work of Slovakia; Italy who I mentioned above have played amazing football and humbled current holders Spain; and Iceland, the real underdogs who have shown real grit so far. My prediction is a Belgium/Italy final, but if France or Germany make the final instead, it will be no different for the top half finalist.
Football isn’t fair.
Let’s look at the heartbreaks so far: of the teams knocked out in the groups, only one really got my sympathy – Romania. They failed to win a game and that did not reflect their overall performance after strong performances against France and Switzerland but only one point. In fairness, they couldn’t beat Albania and ultimately paid the price.
But onto the knockout rounds, with the exception of the Iceland win, there was a lot to be sad about. Switzerland looking good against Poland and that fantastic Shaqiri goal had win all over it, but sadly they were not composed when it came to penalties. Wales will also count themselves lucky after a poor display against Northern Ireland, as the luck of the Irish was not in the north. Even Wales manager Chris Coleman admitted his side were second best.
The luck of the Irish was double unlucky as the Republic were knocked out by hosts France after looking like they could win the match following their first minute goal. The class of France managed to break through eventually, but it was hard not to admire those guts. Finally, there was Croatia – the strongest looking team coming out the group stages. Their exciting, dangerous football was nowhere to be seen against Portugal in what seemed like an off day for the likes of Rakitic and Modric. However, you can’t have an off day in this tournament and they paid the price ultimately. In a poor match where there wasn’t a shot on target until the 119th minute goal, you have to feel for a side who looked deadly in their group crash to a team who have yet to win a match in 90 minutes.
This is just some things to take away from the tournament so far. Have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments below and please like and share.