The end is nigh! At least for this year’s EUROS as we approach the semifinals. So far the tournament has been a mixed bag, some feel good stories like Iceland, Wales and Northern Ireland, some depressing stories (England is probably the only team that managed to lose without even playing in the QF) and overall a lot of bad football. 120mins of boredom were very common and I believe that Portugal has totally forgotten that football matches only go for 90mins.
So what are we looking forward to in the semis? Wales v Portugal and France v Germany… Who would have thought that we might get to see Wales v Germany in the final? (Yes, I actually predicted that and people made fun of me for that. To be honest, I probably was drunk when I predicted that)
So, who is the hottest team right now?
It could be considered a shame that Portugal might end up playing in the final. They finished 3rd in their group, behind Hungary (who got annihilated by Belgium, who then got defeated by Wales…) and Iceland (poor blokes got demolished by France) and played far from dominant football. Both their playoff games had to go into overtime and were far from pretty to look at. It was just plain boring and at this point I assume Fernando Santos’ main goal is to bore his opponents to death, resulting in avoidable mistakes.
But even though they are the least entertaining squad left, they still somehow play very disciplined defense and make life tough for opposing offenses, so it will be interesting to see how Wales will try to get through them. Portugal has the better talent, but it is time for Portugal to rise up to the occasion and not hide behind Christiano Ronaldo, as they have done in the past.
Semifinal 1 will feature probably the two best players squaring off against each other: Gareth Bale vs Christiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid vs Real Madrid, Man bun vs hair gel. But it won’t be decided by these two. It will be the supporting cast that needs to rise up. And there’s no denying that Wales probably has the lesser talent in their squad. But that had been the case against Belgium and England as well (even though they lost the England game). The Welsh gain their strength from playing disciplined and passionate, a dangerous combination. Especially if you combine it with creative corner formations (kudos to Chris Coleman for trying out something new in an important QF).
So as we have already established, Wales is still the underdog in the semi, so why do I rank them above Portugal? Well, because Wales has played the better football, beating Belgium (who some considered title contenders) 3-1 and looking extremely motivated. Portugal just hasn’t played well enough to show that they deserve a spot in the title game.
So, here we are with the most exciting game of the semifinal (and probably the entire tournament). The host France versus the reigning World Champions Germany. It’s probably going to be one heck of a game since France has become hot at the right time and Germany just edged out their biggest rival in the QF. And deciding who is the better team is actually really difficult.
Germany definitely features the better squad, but they have lost Mario Gomez and Sami Khedira for the tournament and central defender Mats Hummels suspended for the semi. France on the other hand just dismantled a feisty Iceland team 5-2 and seems to feature the strongest attack of the tournament.
The loss of Sami Khedira will hurt, but Germany has a loaded midfield and Bastian Schweinsteiger has proven that he still can play good enough to keep the ship afloat. What could become a problem though, will be the loss of Hummels and Gomez. Germany has played a lot goal-oriented with a true striker like Gomez in the lineup. Without him, the germans tended to go for the pretty goal instead of taking a shot when the opportunity arrives. There is no other “real” striker in the squad, so it will be interesting to see who Joachim Löw throws in to replace Gomez. My money is on Mario Götze, who has been benched during the tournament and doesn’t look like he has the self-confidence to compete at a world-class level at the moment.
A weakened attack could become an issue for Germany, but what could be an even bigger problem is the suspension of Mats Hummels. Germany’s defense has been one of the biggest surprises of the tournament, I honestly didn’t expect them to play that well defensively, but defense has been their best asset so far. Without Hummels though, that could become their weakness against Giroud, Griezmann and Pogba. Jerome Boateng is still balling and might be the best defender of the tournament and Joshua Kimmich has been a great revelation so far. But the gap between a Skrodran Mustafi or Benedikt Höwedes to a Mats Hummels is still a big one.
Ultimately, this game will be decided by how well Germany can compensate these losses.
France might be the hottest team right now. A host nation that picks up steam is tough to beat, having an entire nation on their back can become their biggest strength. It also helps that they kicked the highly motivated icelandic Vikings out of the tournament with 5-2, displaying an extremely dangerous attack. Of course, the Iceland game might have been a mirage. While Iceland has played incredible football over the course of this tournament, it could still be possible that they simply were too tired to compete at a high level. Still, Griezmann and Giroud showed that they can carry this team and they will have to if they want to beat Germany. While weakened, Germany still plays excellent football and knows how to win football games.
The real test will be how well France’s defense plays against the weakened Germany attack. They never really had to play strong defense to win games because they had never faced an opponent with a strong enough attack. That will change against Germany. Also, keep in mind, that Iceland scored 2 goals against France, and yes, the goals were in garbage time, but still: 2 goals are 2 goals.
France definitely has the momentum needed to defeat Germany and while it definitely will be a close game, France is the hotter team right now and thereby deserving the No1 spot in the rankings, even though I still expect Germany to win somehow.