Euro 2016: Germany and France make history in their own ways amidst no real surprises
After four matches that did not stray far from expectations, Iceland’s dream run comes to an end and Portugal, Germany, Wales and France are through to the semifinals
Sandeep Kumar Delhi
Euro 2016 has reached its penultimate stage. After witnessing a series of extraordinary matches, goals, and setbacks, World Champions Germany, host nation France, Portugal and debutant Wales have made into the final four. The presence of the last two, small teams both, in the final four is surprising for many, but big names Spain and England had only themselves to blame for the draw. Spain’s defeat to Croatia handed them the second position in the group, meaning that they had to face Italy in the knockout round. England were woeful against Iceland and, despite taking a lead in the initial stage, had to settle for an embarrassing exit. A quick recap of the quarter finals:
Poland vs Portugal
The first quarterfinal was billed as a battle between two men, but the Cristiano Ronaldo vs Robert Lewandowski showdown didn’t quite match expectations. Rather, it was the team game which took the match to penalties, where Portugal beat Poland 5-3 after the teams were locked 1-1 at 120 minutes. Lewandowski, who failed to score a single goal in the tournament, ended the seven-match drought with a side-footed shot inside two minutes of the first half. Portugal were unlucky as the referee failed to recognize a clear-cut foul on Ronaldo in the thirtieth minute. However, Renato Sanchez, the eighteen-year-old wunderkind, whacked a pass from Nani into the left corner to bring Portugal level on the scoresheet. In the process Sanchez scored his first goal of the international career. Ronaldo’s struggle for form continued as the Real Madrid striker failed to convert with his left boot on two open occasions in the second half. After three rounds of successful goals in the penalty shootout, Rui Patricio saved Jakub Blaszczykowski’s fourth shot to give Portugal an advantage on which Ricardo Quaresma capitalized to seal the match.
Wales vs Belgium
Despite being ranked the number one team in the tournament, Belgium were very aware of the Welsh threat as they had failed to win against Wales on both occasions in the Euro qualifying rounds. Radja Nainggolan unleashed a 25-yard rocket from an empty space outside the box to give Belgian fans hope of celebrating a possible semifinal spot. Ashley Williams’s firm header off a corner kick cancelled the lead as the teams walked into the dugout for the halftime interval. Belgium pushed for more at the start of the second half and had a couple of chances to score, but the Welsh defence stood firm. In the 55th minute, Aaron Ramsey chipped a swift cross to Robson-Kanu, and he mesmerizingly confused three defenders on a turn before backheeling the ball to look at the position of the goalkeeper and curling a shot into the left corner to put Wales in front. As Belgium pushed for an equalizer, Wales extended their lead with a quick counter attack in the 86th minute. Sam Vokes headed a cross from Chris Gunter and the Welsh progressed into the semifinal of a major tournament for the first time on the strength of a magnificently constructed 3-1 scoreline.
Germany Vs Italy
In a battle of familiar foes, Germany finally managed to sneak past Italy in a knockout round after 8 failures in the past. Fittingly, it took a topsy-turvy penalty shootout for this to happen. Rated as the most tactical turnout of the tournament, the match was always expected to go into extra time. After a slow and shaky start, Antonio Conte’s Azzuris finally found rhythm in the second half. Germans played to their reputation and created more chances near the goal as Mesut Ozil opened the score sheet for Germany in the 68th minute. Italy had their share of luck in the 80th minute, when Boateng in a howling attempt to become Birdman conceded a penalty off a handball violation. Leonardo Bonucci scored from the spot, and the tie was left to be decided by the two most successful goalkeepers of Europe. An aging Buffon failed to match the consistency of Manuel Neuer, his German counterpart. Germany beat Italy 6-5 in the shootout which lasted for nine dramatic rounds. In the first five, Insigne and Barzagli scored for the Italy as Zaza, Pelle and Bonucci missed. For Germany, Draxler and Kroos scored; Muller, Ozil and Schweinsteiger did not. Neuer correctly judged the ninth shot from Darmian and Hector sealed the match for the Joachim Low’s World Cup-winning team.
France Vs Iceland
A controlled explosion was reported before the fourth quarterfinal between the host nation France and the minnows Iceland. The explosion didn’t lower the tempo of the match as fans from both nations stood behind their teams. In the most complete performance of Euro 2016, Didier Deschamps’ side was in voracious form and completely outplayed Iceland. The match was done and dusted in the first half, with goals from Oliver Giroud, Paul Pogba, Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann helping France to make history by producing four goals in the first half of a quarterfinal match. Iceland restored some pride by scoring two goals in the second half but it was too little, too late. Iceland’s fairytale run had ended by then.