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  1. Italy 1-1 Spain (4-2 on pens) Spain gave their Italy their best test of the tournament so far and, if Spain were actually vaguely capable of finishing their dinner, they would probably be in the final at the expense of the Italians. I think Enrique did the right thing starting with a false nine here, for Spain to have any chance in this match they had to really dominate the midfield. The normal Spain 4-3-3 vs the normal Italy 4-3-3 probably wouldn't have allowed them to do that so changing formation made sense. The issue is it exacerbated Spain's issues in front of goal. With a clinical goalscorer in their side this Spain team would have been serious contenders for the title. Italy did seem to suffer a bit offensively as a result of not dominating possession and not having Spinazzola playing. That being said, they adapted to a more counter-attacking and Chiesa took his moment wonderfully when it came. I know that slating Morata is fashionable after his penalty miss but he didn't have THAT bad a tournament. He had his bad moments but he also had his good moments, his finish for the equaliser was excellent to keep Spain in the match. I think Spain edged what turned out to be a high-quality match... but I also think that the right side are in the final. Italy have looked like a high-quality final right from the tournament opener and they have been rewarded with a deserved appearance at the final of a major tournament. Mancini and Enrique are two top-tier international managers. In time, both Italy and Spain should progress further under their stewardship. England 2-1 Denmark (AET) I'll admit that I was too tense and then too drunk to do any highly detailed tactical analysis from this one. Broadly, I think the system worked for England- we pressed a Denmark team who were tired after their (frankly ridiculous) trip to Baku in the previous week of the tournament. Inevitably Denmark tired about halfway through the second-half and then England pinned them back. By the time England's winner came it felt inevitable. Almost the inverse, from an English perspective, of the semi-final against Croatia in 2018. England's perfect defensive record was finally breached by the first goal from a direct free-kick of the tournament. Mikkel Damsgaard had an excellent tournament and is a real player for someone to pick up next season. I'm interested to see if he can push on from an excellent tournament or if he will fall foul of El-Hadji Diouf Syndrome. This Denmark side are very underrated but they do rely on their press to be effective. When their trip to Baku killed their press in the second-half they started to look fairly average fairly quickly. This is an excellent Denmark side but they rely on playing aggressively to make the most of their resources. Take that away from them and they start to struggle a bit. For England, a first final for 55 years! I do not care that the pen was dodgy or that Kane's initial attempt was a bit ****. We're in the final. And we are capable of beating Italy. Final Prediction I think this is a game between the two best sides at a tournament. First time I can say that about a Euros since arguably 2008. Maybe even 2000 to be honest. It always feels a bit special when that happens. Personally I'm backing England. I think the loss of the Italian full-backs is important, particularly with the threat that England possess in wide areas. If we can get our wingers into the right areas we can cause Italy a lot of problems, particularly on the big Wembley pitch where it is pretty easy to stretch the play if you need to. Plus I think home advantage is an important factor here, it gives England an edge. That being said, I think it's about 55-45 in England's favour and I would not remotely be surprised if Italy took this. They do have the slightly better midfield and that should allow them to build a presence in the game
  2. Semi-Final Predictions Italy vs Spain I think Italy are very well-built to beat Spain. They can largely match the Spanish midfield while having a stronger attack and a stronger defence. Unless Spain's midfield have the game of their lives (or unless Morata really brings his shooting boots) I struggle to see how Spain win this. Italy, on paper, seem like a very good anti-Spain at the moment. Prediction: Italy win England vs Denmark England are growing into this tournament and England's record at Wembley is pretty strong. Denmark are a very good side (despite what some would have you believe, this Denmark side are plenty good enough to have reached the semi-finals of a major tournament- they are not the hopeless underdogs some would have you believe they are) and are (as they proved in the autumn) very capable of pulling out a result here and progressing to the final. I think the real decisive factor here though will be Denmark's trip to Baku and back. Denmark's main strength is an effective, high-energy press. Tiredness could be fatal to their chances and I suspect they will at least be a little bit drained after their quarter-final. Both sides looked pretty tired at the end of that one. Plus I think England are able to put someone pacy up against Vestergaard and that could be a key battle here. Prediction: England win
  3. Denmark 2-1 Czech Republic An excellent first-half performance saw Denmark march on to the semi-finals. The Czech Republic had a brief spell on top in the second-half before Hjulmand switched formation to ensure that Denmark's control of the midfield remained intact. The Czechs will be disappointed at the manner of the first goal they conceded. To me, it looks like Boril is at fault- Kalas is pointing at Delaney and, to me, it looks like he's telling Boril to mark him because Kalas is going to have to track the run of Vestergaard. Boril then gets sucked into Vestergaard's run leaving Delaney completely open. Difficult to know with any certainty who is at fault though without knowing what the usual Czech gameplan would have been for defending a set-piece. Hojbjerg, Delaney and Maehle were, once again, stand-out players for the Danes yesterday. If Denmark are to pull off an upset against England, one suspects that Hojbjerg and Delaney's ability to control the midfield will be where the danger lies. Patrik Schick had a very good tournament and may yet win at least a joint Golden Boot depending on what happens in the remaining three matches. He's a talented kid who just hasn't found his feet consistently at club level yet. One feels like the right club at the right time could have a real player on their hands with Schick. And if not then he'll always have this tournament to savour. It was ridiculous that this game was hosted in Baku. There have been positives to the hosting in this tournament... but Baku is a definite negative. It's difficult for fans to get to (even outside of a pandemic) and there is no football atmosphere in the city. This was arguably the biggest game of football ever played in Baku and the stadium was almost empty. The locals only seemed interested in Turkey- other games were really poorly attended. And then you also have to factor in the sheer distance between Baku and the other host cities- both sides looked really tired in the last 20 minutes. The Czech Republic confirmed my pre-tournament suspicion that they have improved as a side in the past year or so. They can look forward to making a strong bid to qualify for Qatar now, particularly if some of their younger players keep improving. Denmark will need to shake off any Baku-related tiredness before they trek back to London to face England on Wednesday. Once again, Baku was an awful choice for a host city. Can UEFA please stop trying to make Baku happen. England 4-0 Ukraine Southgate switched back to a back 4 for this game- clearly intending to press the Ukrainians. It worked pretty well. Ukraine's weak engine room almost cost them against Austria before a tactical switch allowed them to mitigate for it against Sweden. Given that we weren't a rigid 4-4-2 there wasn't really anything Shevchenko could do to mitigate for Ukraine's dodgy defence. Hence you end up with one of the most one-sided quarter-finals I have ever seen at a major tournament. I was talking to a mate pre-game who was trying to convince me that we should drop Kane. I said this was a nonsense suggestion- we just need to get the ball to him more. Plus if he gets into a goalscoring position he'll still put the ball in the net. I enjoy being proven right about things. It was nice to see out strength at set-pieces asserting itself last night. Although I note that Ukraine were not well-built to avoid being bullied by us physically- the Dutch were also able to bully Ukraine in Amsterdam in their tournament opener. Denmark will be a tougher nut to crack. Ukraine really didn't offer much here- I feel like they were a weak quarter-finalist but I also feel that England were a really bad match-up for them. Our strengths meant we were very good at exploiting their weaknesses and they didn't really have anything to frighten us at the other end. England hate sides that sit deep against us. Ukraine aren't really built for that. Sweden would have been a far more challenging opponent as they are more capable of frustrating England. England can march on with optimism. Ukraine can focus on trying to get to Qatar which they are more capable of doing than tonight's result would suggest,
  4. Spain 1-1 Switzerland (3-1 on pens) This felt a little bit harsh on Switzerland. The game was pretty even until Freuler's red card. As for Freuler's red card- I don't think it was a wrong decision from the ref even if I could see how a ref would give a yellow card for it instead of a red. One of those which, either way, is a silly challenge to make when you're level at 1-1 in a huge game for your country's national football team. That being said, the quality of the Swiss penalties was genuinely atrocious. Really awful with the exception of Gavranovic. Spain struggled when Switzerland switched to a back four and actually started trying to press them a little bit. In particular, Spain really just seemed to be trying to contain Switzerland when they were 1-0 up which I think was an error. It allowed the Swiss to come into the game, to start having the ball in Spanish territory and to start winning set-pieces in dangerous areas. The Swiss definitely deserved their equaliser when it came. In extra-time, Spain's inability to finish also came to the fore. Sommer was excellent but too many shots were straight at him or were hit without any real conviction. For all of Spain's flaws, their midfield is tasty. Busquets has been excellent since coming into the side and Pedri has been really, really good all tournament. From a Spanish perspective, I think Italy will eliminate them on current form. I have seen nothing from Spain in this tournament to suggest that they are able to play through the Italian press successfully and that should give Mancini's side the edge. Spain will likely have to play more vertically than they are used to if they're going to get a result against the Italians. Italy 2-1 Belgium Another highly enjoyable match in a tournament that has been full of them so far. Italy were excellent and successfully exploited the weakness in the Belgian defence throughout the match. Italy forced Belgium to give the ball away in dangerous areas enough to outweigh the amount that Belgium were able to play out of the Italian press to get Lukaku and De Bruyne into dangerous positions. When Belgium got forward they often looked dangerous but the Italians created too much at the other end for the Belgian counter-attacks to decisively swing the game in their favour. Insigne's goal was beautiful and caps an excellent tournament for the Napoli man. Spinazzola's injury is a huge blow for Italy moving forward and it may re-open LB as a weak point in the Italy side for the semi-finals and the final. Given that Spain's wingers tend to be pretty dangerous, this is definitely an area to watch for the semi-final. The Belgian penalty was soft. I think responsibility for this one falls on the ref not on VAR- it was within the referee's discretion to give the penalty (there was a slight push on Doku), it just shouldn't have been given as a pen in the first place. For Belgium, this feels like the end for their Golden Generation. They have enough talent coming through that they should remain a good side for a while yet (and Portugal and Holland are good examples of how to maintain the momentum from a Golden Generation to become an established force in European football) so it will be interesting to see how they progress in future tournaments. Italy march on to a semi-final against Spain. On current form, I would be optimistic if I were Italian.
  5. Quarter-Final Predictions Spain vs Switzerland- Saint Petersburg Spain are in a good position now in this tournament as they have started to settle into their stride a bit. I think they'll win here pretty comfortably. Switzerland's back three is not the right way to approach a game against the Spanish- it will just allow Morata to drop deep to provide the extra number in midfield allowing the Spanish to completely dominate possession while Spain's wingers push on to pin Switzerland's wing-backs back. To have any chance, I feel like the Swiss need to change shape here. Plus the Spanish have a very effective press and, in general, pressing Xhaka tends to lead to a poor Xhaka performance. I think Spain are well-suited to facing the Swiss. Prediction: Spain win Italy vs Belgium- Munich Definitely the tie of the round. Belgium will be without De Bruyne and Hazard,,, but their replacements are Carrasco and Mertens so their offence is still very dangerous. I think Belgium's shape is well-suited to playing Italy- I can see them pushing Meunier and Thorgan Hazard into dangerous areas and I can see Lukaku causing havoc for the Italian backline with his runs into the channel. Italy have been good so far but if Belgium engage their counter-attacking mode I think they're still more than dangerous enough on the break to end the Italian journey. Prediction: Belgium win Denmark vs Czech Republic- Baku What an opportunity for these two sides to reach a semi-final! The Czech Republic will be solid opponents... but I think the Danes are well-equipped to make sure the Czechs don't bully them and the Danes don't look like the type of side to be undone by a Czech set-piece. Plus Denmark's momentum and excellent pressing game.... I think the Danes take this pretty comfortably. Prediction: Denmark win England vs Ukraine- Rome I'll be honest, if we get knocked out by Ukraine here I'll be furious. I think we should simply revert back to 4-3-3 here with the aim of pressing Ukraine to ensure that they can't get their possession game going. Do that and this should be a relatively comfortable England win. Prediction: England win
  6. England 2-0 Germany Firstly, a huge amount of credit goes to Southgate for this victory. He absolutely made the right call, in this case, in switching to 3ATB to counter Kimmich and Gosens. 3ATB is not always the right system but it was the right way to approach this game and it meant that Germany's wide players never really got into the game. Any threat from Germany came down the centre of the pitch and their standard approach to winning a game in this tournament was pretty much cut off at source here. My one issue with the set-up is how slow the build-up play was. I feel there was an opportunity if we could have worked the ball to Sterling and Saka more efficiently early in the match to really test the German defence. But the slower approach worked in the end so who am I to judge and complain? Germany had their moments- I would expect nothing less from a side with their quality- but they never really found any fluency in the game after the first 10 minutes or so. This was largely because Kimmich and Gosens were nullified but they never got going and any fluency to be found at Wembley was from England not from Germany. Walker was excellent today- he was, in my opinion, the main reason why Muller missed that chance. Muller took that chance earlier than he would have wanted to because he knew that Walker would catch up to him if he took an extra touch. Hence Muller took the shot from the edge of the box and screwed the effort just wide. Sterling, Saka and Grealish were all very good during their respective periods on the pitch. A key turning point in the match was when Grealish and Gnabry came on. Gnabry offered less of a threat than Werner had while Grealish came on and provided a couple of moments of quality in the final third to unlock the deadlock and ensure that England progressed to the quarter-finals. England need to do more to get Kane into the game. He should stay in the starting line-up- if nothing else he remains an excellent goalscorer. But I can't help but think that if we played him into the right positions he could offer an extra dimension to this side that it's currently lacking. It's good that we're winning games without our world-class ST playing at his best... but if we could get him to play at his best we would become a truly fearsome side. Both sides have plenty to be optimistic about in the future. England have a very good chance of further progress at this tournament while Germany have an exciting crop of players to develop under a top-class manager in Hansi Flick. Germany on home soil in 2024 could be a truly fearsome prospect indeed. Sweden 1-2 Ukraine (AET) Once again, I feel compelled to credit a manager for his side's success in the knockout stages of this tournament. Shevchenko's switch to a back three was, in my opinion, the main reason why Ukraine won this game and it allowed them to largely limit the influence that Isak and Kulusevski were able to have on the game. Forsberg drifting inside remained a danger but the front two were largely nullified and that made the game significantly tougher for Sweden. I actually really enjoyed the first 60/65 minutes of this match- I felt it was an intriguing tactical battle and both sides were creating a decent amount of chances. Then the game developed into a battle until Danielson's red card (which was a clear red card by the way- his tackle on Besedin was horrible) allowed Ukraine to press again and eventually break Sweden down. Zinchenko was probably man of the match for me- his finish for the first goal and his cross for the second goal were both excellent. He looked really comfortable playing at LWB and was a threat down the left flank all game for the Ukrainians. For Sweden, this was a big missed opportunity. In future tournaments, however effective their 4-4-2 is as a Plan A, I feel they need to be able to deviate from it when required. To succeed in a modern tournament you need to be able to be tactically flexible as a number of sides have demonstrated here. Ukraine won the tactical battle here and Sweden didn't change shape to try to offer a different threat to the Ukrainians. I feel like this was an error from them.
  7. Yeah if Vrsaljko was that unfit then Badelj would have been the right move. I think Orsic over Rebic would have been sensible from the start, although in general I think Rebic was your most dangerous player when he was on the pitch, particularly in the first-half.
  8. Croatia 3-5 Spain (AET) Wow... to think this wasn't even the game of the day when in most cases it would have been a shoe-in for game of the tournament. Sensational game where both sides really went for the win in a way that often doesn't happen in knock-out games. To be fair, I think the extra subs have helped with that. It allows a losing side to do more to chase a game that is getting away from them hence increasing the likelihood of a comeback or something dramatic happening. Subs are so important in this tournament and it's where I worry England are going to fall down. Southgate's in-game management has long been a weak point and it is extra important here. The first-half was a fairly standard first-half for the Spanish. They dominated possession without having sufficient penetration. They conceded a silly goal to give their opponents the lead before eventually finding a way through to equalise, which one would expect given the amount of possession the Spanish were enjoying. The best thing the Spanish did in the first-half was to largely limit Modric's role in the game- their press worked to render Croatia's best player completely anonymous for the first-half. Spain's full-backs were dangerous throughout the first-half- Croatia never really got to grips with the width of the Spanish attack throughout the match. The Croatian goal was a spectacular error by Unai Simon. Really, really poor goalkeeping at this level. The Croatians then clearly came out with the intention to play a higher line and to press the Spanish in the second-half- presumably with the intention of then allowing them to find Modric higher up the pitch where he could really affect the game. I think this was the right call from Dalic, if the game had continued as it was going in the first-half I think Spain would have broken through Croatia eventually and it would have been difficult to bounce back from that. The issue with it is that it left the Croatian full-backs exposed which was a weakness Spain were able to exploit throughout the second-half and extra-time. In particular, I felt it was an error to leave Brekalo at RB after Croatia had pulled it back to 3-3. At that point Croatia had equalised- it was probably the better option to take off an attacker and to move Brekalo further forward to bring a RB onto the pitch (although by all means let me know if Juranovic was the only fit RB in the squad? I can't see anything suggesting Vrsaljko was unavailable for this one) to try to rebalance the side after you had unbalanced it to go hell for leather at 3-1 down. Mislav Orsic is a very talented player and is clearly the next player to progress from the Croatian talent factory. France 3-3 Switzerland (4-5 Switzerland on penalties) Deschamps has largely been a success since he was appointed to manage France. But he absolutely got his tactics wrong. He made two big misjudgments that cost France here- with both his opening formation and by failing to change shape when France went 3-1 up. Firstly, I have no idea why you would experiment with 3ATB having, in essence, never used it before in the knockout stage of a major tournament. Particularly since a 3ATB clearly doesn't suit a France side who are famous for having defensive full-backs and who rely on being able to bully sides into the midfield before producing a moment or two of pure individual genius in the final third. And particularly when that formation involves moving Adrien Rabiot to LWB. I have no idea what Deschamps was thinking. Surely the better option, given France's normal style of play would have been to simply move a CB across to LB and maybe give Pavard more license to roam forward from RB to provide width. Maybe then drop one of Benzema or Mbappe and bring Coman in to provide width on the left-flank offensively. But you keep the very solid French midfield in place which has generally been one of their strong points during this period of success. Moreover, Kante can play in a midfield two. Pogba is not the type of player who thrives in a midfield two, for all of his offensive talent (which he demonstrated a few times last night) he lacks the defensive discipline to play that role effectively. Switzerland absolutely did the right thing in sensing blood when they saw how the French had lined up. They were brave enough to push their wing-backs high up the pitch and to try to attack the French down the flanks. Only playing a midfield two also allowed Xhaka time and space which, given this was the good Xhaka playing today rather than his evil twin, allowed him to really pull strings for Switzerland. Deschamps then gambled by bringing Coman on for Lenglet and, in essence, switching to a 4-2-4 with Rabiot, a midfielder, at LB. The gamble nearly backfired spectacularly for France with the Swiss counter-attack that led to the penalty but, to be fair, the French needed to gamble and it was a sensible call. Coman provided width, stretching the Swiss defence and providing the room for the front three to do their magic. Hence why France turned the game around and went 3-1 up. Here is where Deschamps made his second fatal blunder. At 3-1 up he stuck with a 4-2-4 with Rabiot at LB. France are, in essence, the main architects of the defensive 4-3-3 which dominated international football for the second half of the last decade. They have used the system successfully for years. So I have no idea why they didn't revert back to it here. Surely the change in formation would have cut off the Swiss attempts to regain more possession by outnumbering them in the midfield thus allowing the French to comfortably see the game out to a fairly tame conclusion. I have no idea why Deschamps didn't take off one of his front three to bring an extra midfielder on (or an extra CB either to play LB or so he could move Kimpembe there while switching Rabiot to CM). And this error proved crucial- the French were a man light in the midfield which created the space where Xhaka played Gavranovic in for the equaliser. And the oddest thing of all is he brought Sissoko on (a player capable of playing CM in a 4-3-3)... who played on the right-flank all game in a 4-2-4? Really, really strange decisions in hindsight. A huge amount of credit to Switzerland. Xhaka, Zuber, Seferovic, Gavranovic and Embolo really stood out but that was one of the greatest games in Euros/tournament history. It's so easy as the underdog in a match to just sit deep and eventually be overcome but a few sides in this tournament are showing the benefits of playing a little bit higher up the pitch against the big boys and trying to really test them. Great to see.
  9. Netherlands 0-2 Czech Republic Holland's vulnerabilities were exposed by a strong Czech performance here. I said pre-game that the Dutch weren't going to able to bully the Czechs as they had Ukraine and North Macedonia and that they would be reliant on a moment of technical magic to win this. If such a moment was not produced then a Czech set-piece could easily undo the Dutch defence and lead to a genuine upset. The turning point in this game was obviously De Ligt's red card (as clear a red card as you'll ever see). A few moments before that, Malen almost produced the moment of magic which would have unlocked the Czech defence. On such moments do major tournaments turn. Once they went down to 10 men, De Boer showed his limitations as a manager by persisting in a back 5 which is completely pointless when you are down to 10 men and simply invites pressure from the opposition. Particularly for a side like the Czech Republic it simply allowed them to put set-pieces into the Dutch area until eventually they broke through. Patrik Schick, who has been fairly average at club level for a number of seasons, is having a very good tournament- the second goal here was another nice finish from him. Surely this was the end for De Boer's Holland- it will be interesting to see where the Dutch go from here. I struggle to see the Czechs getting past Denmark in the next round. I don't really see the Danes being vulnerable to the Czechs' physicality and the Danes have enough energy and talent to eventually find a way through against a disciplined Czech Republic team. Belgium 1-0 Portugal This was far from the thriller that many people were anticipating pre-game. Such is life- it's always the games you're looking forward to the most that end up letting you down! Portugal were a little bit unfortunate not to force extra-time here- they had three or four good chances but didn't take any of them. Belgium didn't really create a clear opening all match but took the win through a stunning Thorgan Hazard strike. Belgium will be hit by injuries to Hazard and De Bruyne but, even so, I think Lukaku could really cause problems for the Italian defence. I have a suspicion that Belgium are well-suited to taking on Italy. I expected Belgium's defence to have a real issue with the Portuguese attack but Portugal never worked themselves into positions where they could counter-attack effectively in the first-half which was surely the way to attack a slow, ageing Belgian defence. Instead Portugal's build-up play was too slow allowing the Belgian defence to set itself which suited Alderweireld, Vermaelen and Vertonghen. Portugal needed to get the ball to their front players more quickly if they wanted to cause Belgium consistent problems in the first-half. I felt like Jota had a poor game and missed two very good openings to score for Portugal, one in each half. I'm still trying to decide whether Hazard's goal was a great strike or poor goalkeeping. I'm somewhere in between the two positions at the moment. This is the first time that Portugal have reached the finals of the Euros but have failed to reach the quarter-finals. A shame as this was a talented Portugal side but they never really gelled cohesively on the field.
  10. Wales 0-4 Denmark This was a game too far for Wales- the issue any side who rely on a couple of big players to compete at a higher level faces is figuring out what to do when those big players are nullified. Once Denmark got to grips with Ramsey's movements after the game's early stages, Wales lacked an alternative weapon to launch at the Danish defence. Wales' fate was probably sealed from that moment. Denmark were excellent and should be used as a template for mid-sized European nations to follow in the future. Their pressing game as a side is really well-drilled and it is evidence that a side can successfully develop a well co-ordinated press at international level. Hopefully this will be used by more sides in the future as it makes for a lot of entertaining football. Simon Kjaer and Andreas Christensen were excellent yesterday and the defensive solidity they offer really provides the base for this Danish side offensively, particularly with two very solid CMs in Thomas Delaney and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg providing an effective shield in front of them. Maehle has been one of the breakout stars of the tournament for me so far- he looks so effective when he gets forward that it really adds a lot to the Danish attack. Wales can still look back on a good tournament- their aim before the tournament began would have been to get out of the group and they did that pretty comfortably and their victory over Turkey in Baku can be added to the list of great Welsh performances at recent European Championships. This was a lesson though from a better side. Denmark should fancy themselves in a quarter-final against either the Netherlands or the Czech Republic- there is definitely still life in this Denmark side. Italy 2-1 Austria (AET) When making for my predictions for this game I said this could be a closer game than people think it might be and that Austria will provide a different test for the Italians compared to any of Italy's group stage opponents. I think that largely proved to be the case as Italy looked uncomfortable whenever the Austrians pressed them. I think the key here was Mancini's coaching. His subs changed the game- he sensed that Austria were growing into the game and made subs to ensure that Italy retook control of the game for the last 15/20 minutes of extra-time and for the extra-time period itself. Foda didn't sense momentum swinging back towards the Italians until Chiesa had scored. By then it was too late. Foda deserves credit, in general, for the Austrian performance at this tournament. He moved Alaba against Macedonia which won them the game and his change of shape allowed Austria to effectively press both Ukraine and Italy. But he waited too long to make subs here- his first tactical change was only made after Chiesa had scored. Now that managers have 5 subs it is important that they use them decisively- sitting on them just allows your opponents to bring fresh legs on at a decisive stage of the game. If a side can press Italy, it is definitely possible for a side to get some joy against the Italian defence. It will be interesting to see how that plot thread progresses when Italy face Portugal or Belgium in the next round. Italy still look good but they will need to raise their game if they want to progress any further. Austria had a very solid tournament and, combined with their promotion to the Nations League A and with the continued conveyer belt of Austrian talent that comes through a relatively strong Bundesliga at the moment, things look pretty good for Austrian football in the near future.
  11. Last 16 Predictions Wales vs Denmark- Amsterdam Wales have been impressive so far- they have been defensively very solid for most of the tournament and Bale and Ramsey have reverted back to their 2016 form when needed to pose a threat at the other end. Dan James adds a extra dimension to their attack which they didn't have 5 years ago and Kieffer Moore is an effective nuisance up front. Danny Ward has also had an excellent tournament in goal. They are capable of winning this game, Denmark are vulnerable to an effective counter-attack and Wales' counter-attacking play is generally pretty good. That being said, I think I would go for a Denmark win here. They will have more of the ball, more of the territory and more of the chances. The issue is whether one of their forward players can take the right chance when it falls to them. I suspect they will find a way through the Welsh defence eventually, particularly given the momentum they should have after an excellent performance against Russia. Prediction: Denmark win Italy vs Austria- London Italy are a better side and should have too much quality for the Austrians, who have a solid tournament but will do well to progress any further. That being said, I will sound one note of caution for the Italians here. Italy have not yet faced a side who are capable of pressing them. For all of their flaws, as they proved against Ukraine, the Austrians are capable of operating an effective press. I think the extent to which this game will test Italy will depend on how Foda approaches it. Austria have very little pace in their side so sitting back will just invite pressure and Austria will be overwhelmed in the same way that Italy's group-stage opponents were. If Austria actually try to press against the Italians and try to test their defence then it could be a more interesting game and a surprisingly tricky one for Italy. Prediction: Italy win Holland vs Czech Republic- Budapest This should be another win for the Dutch and I expect the technical ability of De Jong and Depay to make the difference here. I doubt the Czech Republic are going to be bullied by the Dutch in the way that some of their group-stage opponents were but I also can't see the Czechs bullying Holland either which tends to be when the Czechs do well. Overall I think a Dutch moment of quality to win the game is more likely to be the difference than a Czech set-piece although if I were De Boer I would spend a reasonable amount of time working on set-pieces to prepare for this one. Prediction: Holland win Belgium vs Portugal- Seville This should be a really entertaining game between two high-quality sides. Both sides have been scoring a lot of goals in this tournament (both sides are averaging more than two goals a game currently) and I expect both sides' offences to continue clicking here. Thus, I think the difference here will likely be which side can effectively stop the opposition attack. I think I rate the Portuguese defence more than I rate the Belgian defence. Belgium's defensive players look very vulnerable (Denmark exploited this in the group stage) and I struggle to see how they will effectively stop a talented Portuguese attack from getting into their stride. Portugal are probably more capable of limiting opportunities for Belgium's offensive players. Prediction: Portugal win Croatia vs Spain- Copenhagen This is going to be a tricky one to call. Both sides, after a shaky start, have grown into the tournament and have started to show more quality as the tournament has progressed. This could also be the first game where a side seriously challenges Spain for possession of the ball rather than simply trying to contain the Spanish attack after having allowed Spain to dominate the midfield. I think overall though I narrowly give the win to Spain. I think Croatia are relying too much on an ageing Modric and I think Spain are capable of pressing Modric in a way to limit his influence on the match. If Modric is nullified then things start to look more straightforward for Spain- I suspect they will find a way through a slightly shaky Croatian defence eventually. Prediction: Spain win (possibly after extra-time) France vs Switzerland- Bucharest Switzerland did what Switzerland do in the group stages and they progressed to the second round. Switzerland will now do what Switzerland do in the second round and will be knocked out. Rinse and repeat. Ad infinitum. Prediction: France win England vs Germany- London This may come back to bite me later... but I'm actually pretty optimistic about this one from an English perspective. I think we have enough pace in the side, and I think we're defensively strong enough, that we're well-suited to exploiting the vulnerabilities in Germany's high-line while being capable of containing the German offence at the other end of the pitch. We should also be capable of effectively competing with the German midfield to ensure we have plenty of spells of possession and we're not just camped on the edge of our own 18-yard line for 90 minutes. Germany's route to success here will involve dominating the midfield battle to such an extent that England has no outlet. I suspect we're not going to fall into that trap which should make life very difficult for Germany. Plus England have home advantage. Which helps. Prediction: England win Sweden vs Ukraine- Glasgow Ukraine's defence is dodgy while Sweden's is very strong. Sweden have more than enough in their attacking players (Isak, Forsberg and presumably Kulusevski are all dangerous players) to exploit a shaky Ukrainian backline. The Swedes should progress. Prediction: Sweden win
  12. Slovakia 0-5 Spain Spain finally got it together and showed how dangerous they can be when they click as a team- some of their football here was of a really high-quality once they went in front. However, I feel like the issue with this Spain side is their lack of a top-quality goalscorer in the final third. Morata isn't a bad player but he's not performing at his best in this tournament and he is missing far too many chances. This has already cost Spain by ensuring they finish second in the group behind Sweden (Spain should have taken the lead against Sweden given the volume of chances created in the first-half) and I think it is likely to cost them again in the knockout stages- particularly when they face a side who are actually capable of pressing them to disrupt their possession game which nobody in this group was able to do. Slovakia were awful- after a good start against Poland they offered nothing in their remaining two games. They deserved to go out and, to be honest, as a side I feel like they are in need of a rebuilding phase. I suspect we may not see them back at a major tournament for a little while, their next generation of players are not particularly impressive. Dubravka's own goal surely goes down as goalkeeping howler of a tournament which has had a few good ones. For a keeper who is generally very competent it was a really, really poor error bordering on amateurish. Poland 2-3 Sweden To be honest I still don't really understand what Paulo Sousa's plan was for Poland at this tournament. The hybrid 4/5ATB formation never really looked like working and only really seemed to leave Poland in a position where they had a reasonable amount of possession but limited penetration while they were very vulnerable to an effective opposition counter-attack. At least this time none of the blame for Poland's fate can be laid at Lewandowski's feet- he got 3 goals in 3 games so he more than did his job, it's just the supporting cast really weren't up to the required standard. It's a shame, it would have been nice to see an in-form Lewandowski in the knockout stages of this tournament. I also think people need to stop underestimating Sweden as a side. They are rock-solid defensively and they are dangerous on the break with players like Isak, Forsberg and Kulusevski (who should be fit now for the knockout stages). These Swedes are not a side to be taken lightly. I also always find it remarkable how well Olsen plays for Sweden and how hapless he is at club level. It is a remarkable transformation. Although, in Sweden's shape, a goalkeeper only really needs to focus on being a good shot-stopper. It's like the inverse to why Pope probably wouldn't fit for England as a goalkeeper. Poland yet again disappoint at a major tournament- it feels like they need to sort themselves out as a footballing nation. If they get it right they could form a very solid side but they consistently fail to put the pieces together at international level. Germany 2-2 Hungary Germany progressed through to the knockout stages but their defensive frailties were exposed by a solid Hungarian performance and Germany really could have been knocked out yesterday. There has been a lot of debate about where Kimmich should play in the Germany side. Personally, I think RWB is the right place for him and I think that system worked really well for Germany against Portugal (which is the performance they should be trying to replicate). Germany have plenty of talented technical midfielders but Kimmich is, in my opinion, the only real player they have who is capable of doing both the defensive and offensive side of being a wing-back. Germany could play Kimmich in a central role but then they would likely be playing a winger at wing-back on the right which would leave them exposed defensively. Hungary are a solid side who deserve a lot of credit for putting up a real fight in the group of death even without Szoboszlai. They could run Poland close for second place in World Cup qualifying. Germany need to improve defensively if they are going to have a serious impact on this tournament. France 2-2 Portugal Another highly (and in this case a surprisingly) entertaining game. Portugal had the better of the first-half and France had the better of the second-half as two relatively evenly-matched sides competed. Both sides are very similar in terms of style in a defensive 4-3-3 but Portugal, in particular, have been more offensive in general in this tournament. The French, last night aside, generally seem to be maintaining their more cautious style of play. It will be interesting to see which side progresses further in the knockout stages. Ronaldo is now the joint-top international goalscorer of all time, he should overtake the longstanding Ali Daei record at some point in the near future. Another record for a truly exceptional footballer. France haven't really moved into top gear yet but I expect to see them starting to get into gear before too long.
  13. Czech Republic 0-1 England This was probably England's best performance of the group stage (although the defensive side of the performance against Croatia was exceptional) as we created a lot of chances and managed to maintain a solid defensive base- the Czech offence was effectively completely nullified here. England still haven't figured out how to get the best out of their attacking options- too often our best moments seem to come from moments of individual inspiration from one of our forwards rather than the consistent output of a high-functioning offensive trio. This is part of the issue with Kane- if you put him in a functioning attack he's one of the best strikers in the world but he rarely, for example, beats five defenders and puts the ball in the net. That being said- England's defensive base is very strong and we haven't conceded a goal yet. Scotland had a couple of chances against us but neither Croatia nor the Czech Republic really created anything against us. I think this game showed some of the limitations of the Czech squad despite their recent improvement- they are defensively very solid and are capable of beating many sides in a physical battle but, if a side can compete with them physically, there is a lack of flair and creativity in their side which is probably what they need to work on over the next couple of years. Both sides progress to the last 16 after a solid yet unspectacular start to their respective campaigns. Both sides have definitely improved on their pitiful showings in 2016. Croatia 3-1 Scotland When predicting a Croatian win here- I noted that I simply expected Croatia to have too much class for Scotland. That largely proved to be the case as Luka Modric took control of the game and the Scots couldn't find a way to control him and stop him creating/scoring chances. Scotland shouldn't be too disheartened with their performance here- this was a tough group and they were by no means outclassed. They are still improving and I would expect to see this Scottish generation reach another major tournament where they may have a more favourable path through to the knockout stages. Croatia could easily progress through to the quarters here but I struggle to see them getting much further unless they improve. Admittedly, Dalic is starting to find the right system I think so they could keep improving as the tournament progresses.
  14. Austria 1-0 Ukraine I felt the change of shape really suited Austria- they looked far more solid than they did against the Dutch and it allowed them both to press Ukraine aggressively when they lost the ball and to get David Alaba into the game regularly when they were in possession. Alaba was excellent and his delivery for Baumgartner's opener was superb. I felt Sabitzer was busy throughout today- he was a bit unlucky that he didn't get a goal or an assist at any point. Ukraine may yet sneak through (I think it's pretty touch-and-go for them- they need to keep an eye on Croatia-Scotland and Poland-Sweden I think) but if they do I can't see them going far. Yarmolenko and Malinovskyi are effective attacking players and, to be fair, this is probably the best Ukraine side I've seen since 2006 at a major tournament in terms of the style play. However, they are shaky defensively and they look really vulnerable the moment the opposition wins the ball back- Ukraine could not cope with the Austrian press here and every time Austria won the ball back they looked vulnerable. Their defence is fairly inexperienced and I think it's showing. If they do go through they need to find a way to tighten up at the back if they want to progress any further. Yarmolenko was pretty anonymous today and Malinovskyi was taken off at half-time. Even when the Ukrainians did get past the Austrian press, they struggled to get their dangermen on the ball in dangerous areas. Both players were pretty ineffective in the final third. For Austria, I think this is probably the end of the road. Italy should have too much quality in the last-16. That being said, if Foda is willing to be the first coach in the tournament to actually try to press the Italians and to win the ball back high up the pitch- which the Austrians did pretty effectively here- they could be the first side in the tournament who manages to seriously test the Italian defence. One fears that Foda will try to sit back and contain the Italians and I think that would probably be fatal to the Austrians. They aren't a side who are particularly dangerous on the break- their players are used to playing in the Bundesliga so a high pressing game with the aim to get Alaba on the ball in dangerous areas is probably their best hope for progressing any further. Netherlands 3-0 North Macedonia The Dutch were unlikely to ever face any serious problems against the North Macedonians and that largely proved to be true after the Dutch took the lead, although North Macedonia did start the game brightly and Trajkovski was only narrowly offside for their disallowed goal. Holland are a side with a lot of pace and a good pressing game. It's difficult to know whether they are capable of going far into the tournament- many sides won't allow their wing-backs to push as high as they have been able to do in this group and many sides will have the pace to (presumably) begin aiming into the flank which Blind and Van Aanholt are usually meant to marshal. I feel like we need to see the Dutch against stronger opposition before we can really pass judgment on them. A huge amount of respect to North Macedonia for how they have approached their first major tournament. A lot of sides in their position would have sat back and tried to contain their opponents and the North Macedonians have really tried to attack throughout. 8 goals conceded in 3 games is too many though- if they appear in another major tournament that's what they will need to work on. Denmark 4-1 Russia This was a special night and it is great to see Denmark get through after the horror of their opener. To Cherchesov's credit, I actually think he approached tonight with the right game-plan. Well, frankly, he approached the game in the only way Russia could afford to. Sit deep and look to release Golovin and Miranchuk on the break to find space in between the Danish midfield and defence, hope you get the first goal and get the result you need to go through. The issue tonight says more about the squad's limitations than anything else. This generation of Russian talent has a, frankly, awful crop of defenders. Particularly against a side with an effective press like Denmark, once Russia went 1-0 down they had to play out from the back which inevitably allowed Denmark to win the ball high-up the pitch and then allowed them to attack Russia's vulnerable defensive unit. And Denmark were largely contained in the first-half- it took a moment of magic from Damsgaard to break through. The second-half was pitiful and shows the limitations of this group of players. Russia need to rebuild with a new generation of talent- in particular they need some more effective defensive players to come through the system. Denmark were magnificent. They pressed like a pack of hungry lions and, when they won the ball back, they found the gaps in the Russian defence constantly. Although to be fair I think a blind man could have seen the gaps in the Russian defence tonight. Andreas Christensen- what a pop! Denmark are probably favourites to take out the Welsh next. I think the Danish press will stifle Wales' attacking plan and I think the Danes are capable of finding a way through the Welsh defence. Plus I feel that momentum will be with Denmark at this point. That being said, Wales could take this if Bale and Ramsey play like they did against the Turks. I just can't see Hojbjerg and Delaney allowing the Welsh to find gaps in front of the Danish defence in the way that the Welsh were able to against Turkey. Belgium 2-0 Finland Nice to see a 96 year old Thomas Vermaelen popping up to score. This largely looked like a game where Belgium had a lot of the ball and were just waiting for the right moment to break Finland down. I think the second Belgian goal has killed Finland although, to be honest, even at 1-0 down they were behind the Ukrainians. If you're bottom after three groups have finished you're probably destined to exit the tournament and that is the position that Finland are now in. Permutations Three sides have mathematically been eliminated- North Macedonia, Turkey and Russia Eleven sides are through to the Second Round- Italy, Wales, Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Austria, England, Czech Republic, Sweden and France There are five places left to be fought over between the following sides- Ukraine, Finland, Croatia, Scotland, Slovakia, Spain, Poland, Germany, Portugal and Hungary Current Permutations- It looks likely that Finland won't go through as a third place side and we know the Swiss will go through as a third place side. I think it's pretty unlikely that Portugal will be pushed below Ukraine even if they lose (I think they'd need to be properly thrashed by France now to go out) and I can't see Germany losing to Hungary in Munich (and frankly even if they do Portugal would still need to be thrashed to finish below either Ukraine or Finland) so I reckon Group F will have a best third place slot. So I reckon we're either going to end up with: A/C/D/F A/D/E/F A/C/E/F I suspect it's going to come down to Ukraine or either Poland or Slovakia both aiming to just about sneak through (both Croatia and Scotland need to win so you have to suspect one of them will and they'll both go for it). I think a lot depends on whether Poland can penetrate the Yellow Wall of Sweden in their last match- if I were Ukrainian that's the game I would be focusing on. On balance, I think our most likely ending will be A/D/E/F as the groups to go through. Which probably leads to a tough game for either Belgium or Holland with the third-placed Group F sides (trying to game out where the third-placed sides would end up and that's what I think we end up with?)
  15. Friday/Saturday/Sunday Matches Friday I won't quite be able to go into my usual level of detail for these games- I had a lot of fun things on this weekend so my attention was patchy but just a few thoughts. Slovakia against Sweden was, in my opinion, a bit of a stinker. Slovakia played for a draw and Sweden are usually among a tournament's more defensive sides. Still, Sweden's second-half performance definitely earned them the win and, overall, they were the more enterprising of the two sides. Alexander Isak is a highly talented young player who will go on to big things. This is known. He was excellent against Slovakia and was the only real standout player. The Czech Republic are a decent side who more than held their own against a Croatia side with plenty of talent. Another goal for Patrik Schick ensuring that he is currently near the top of the goalscoring charts. I always find Dalic to a bit of an enigma as a coach. Croatia often seem to start slowly in games and he often seems to lose the initial tactical battle in games. However, he has a good track record of being able to make decisive changes in games at key moments. It was Dalic's tweaking that played a big role in beating England in the 2018 semi-final and his half-time subs were crucial in allowing Croatia to snatch a point here- Petkovic allowed Croatia to have a more solid focal point than they had in the first-half and allowing Perisic to switch wings proved decisive as it allowed him to cut inside and fire home the equaliser. That being said, I can certainly understand why many Croatia fans would like Croatia to starting games like that rather than waiting until half-time! England against Scotland- Scotland absolutely deserved a point as, despite all of England's attacking talent, England reverted to the boring yet functional style of play that is England's tradition. Because it's worked SO well for us for the past 60 years. Saturday Hungary did a phenomenal job in frustrating France. Given that their last game is in Munich, it's a real shame that they weren't able to hold on to make the group really interesting. The French showed that they can be frustrated by a side playing a deeper defensive block. With Mbappe's pace I'm not sure that a high line is the best way to try to take on the French. Germany were phenomenal against Portugal. Gosens and Kimmich, who had looked so weak against France, were excellent here and made life extremely difficult for Portugal on both flanks. I was surprised at how open Portugal were defensively. I know they're trying to play more expansively in this tournament but their defence has long been one of their strong points and it was worrying to see it sliced through so comfortably here by the Germans. Spain have issues taking their chances, for all the territory they create. It was also nice to see Lewandowski opening his account for the tournament. Sunday Italy are a very solid side. Defensively, given how high they play, it is incredible how solid they are defensively and the efficiency of their pressing. Given the limited time teams have at international level it is really impressive. Wales won't be too disheartened by this- they did the job in the first two games and get the (in theory) more favourable draw by coming second in the group. I always feel like the Swiss will find their way into the knockouts and their performances in the group show they have maintained their traditional role as a solid side without the capacity to shock the big fish in the tournament. Turkey need to sort out their midfield, they gave their defence no protection all tournament and left Turkey far too vulnerable in all their games. Really poor from a side whose reputation was built on their defence heading into the tournament.
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