Wednesday, July 6, 2016

EURO 2016: Semifinalists and Their Chances

By Pete Jaison

With France booking the last available seat in the semi-finals, the host nation has joined the tournament virgin Wales, the perennial dark horse Portugal and World Champions Germany and in the process throwing up 2 unbelievable semifinal fixtures. Seasonal Magazine takes a dispassionate look into the respective journeys of each of the semi-finalists and their chances of making the final cut.

WALES: Perhaps the most inspiring tale in this year’s tournament is that of the Gareth Bale inspired Wales side. Placed in a group with England, Slovakia and Russia, only a few would have predicted the progression of the Wales team. However by scoring 10 goals on the road, they have eliminated every iota of doubt in the minds of pundits about their chances of mounting a serious title-challenge, while booking a semi-final date with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in the process. While many fans will be eagerly waiting for the clash of the two talismanic Real Madrid stars, Wales vs Portugal isn’t going to be entirely about them. Suspension to Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies will mean that they will sit out of tomorrow’s clash. While Bale’s influence has inspired his teammates’ performance by many notches, the Portuguese maestro hasn’t been near his personal best. A 2-1 win over Slovakia followed by a last minute loss to rivals, England may have driven many to believe that their Euro campaign is winding up soon. But a 3-0 drubbing of  the Russians has injected fresh confidence into Chris Coleman’s side. A last-16 clash with Northern Ireland was set, and Wales breezed past them with a 1-0 win courtesy of an own goal. Their fiercest clash came in the quarter finals against tournament favorites and the 2nd ranked team in the world,-Belgium, which boasts of a star studded line-up. But Wales defied all odds and came from behind through goals from captain, Ashley Williams, Robson-Kanu and Sam Vokes to clinch a 3-1 victory and send them sailing  into the last four. Wales are dangerous when pushed against the wall and this is exactly the kind of predatory nature champion teams are made of. Wales have all that it takes to beat Portugal and even pip the finalists to clinch their maiden football title. Not minnows anymore, are they?

Road to the semis:

Victory over Slovakia 2-1
Loss to England 2-1
Victory over Russia 3-0
Victory over Northern Ireland 1-0
Victory over Belgium 3-1
Goals scored: 10
Goals conceded: 4
Top scorer: Gareth Bale – 3 goals

PORTUGAL: Portugal’s over-dependence on Cristiano Ronaldo may have driven many to play down their chances in Euro 2016 but the semi-finals are only a day away and here they are. After finishing 3rd in a relatively modest group, Portugal faced giant-killers Croatia but edged them out 1-0 in extra-time. This was followed up with a penalty shoot-out victory over Robert Lewandowski’s Poland. Though they are matched up with Wales in the final four, an unwanted record hangs around their necks. Portugal is the only team ever to progress to the semi-finals without mustering a single win inside normal time. They started their campaign with a 1-1 draw against high-flying Iceland, followed it up with a drab goalless draw against Austria and ended their group stages with a thrilling 3-3 draw against Hungary. Both the former Manchester United men, C. Ronaldo and Nani have scored two goals each but the brightest and most promising star for Portugal is the new Bayern Munich signing, Renato Sanches. The 18-year old has performed at the highest level and has already bagged two man-of-the-match awards in his first ever major tournament. Ronaldo hasn’t reproduced his excellent club form but patches of his genius have helped lift his country’s expectations. A finalist in Euro 2004, Ronaldo will be raring to fire in what is widely considered to be his last realistic chance to win a trophy with his national team. Although they do not head into the semi-finals as firms favorites they have enough quality in their ranks to edge out Wales and maybe cause an upset in the finals too.

Road to the semis:

Drew with Iceland 1-1
Drew with Austria 0-0
Drew with Hungary 3-3
Victory over Croatia 1-0 (ET)
Victory over Poland 1-1(5-3 pen)
Goals scored: 6
Goals conceded: 5
Top scorer: Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani - 2 goals each

GERMANY: As many expected the 2014 FIFA world cup champions progressed to the semi-finals without much hassle but run into hosts and fellow favorites- France, a fixture many tout to be “too premature”. After a bizarre penalty shoot-out victory over Italy, the Germans are set to lock horns with arguably their toughest opponent so far in the tournament. Germany started their campaign with a comfortable 2-0 win over Ukraine but played out a goalless draw with Poland and ended their group stages with a 1-0 victory over N. Ireland. In the round of 16, they swept aside Slovakia scoring three goals, with their incredible sweeper-keeper Neuer claiming a clean sheet. Joachim Loew’s side boasts of the best defensive record amongst all the semi-finalists.Mario Gomez has been their highest goal scorer with two so far in the competition. Germany’s top scorer in World Cups, Thomas Mueller has been a pale shadow of his former self and his country will need him to regain his form if they are to overcome France and advance to the finals. However, influential defender Mats Hummels, will miss out following his suspension earned in the quarter-final victory over Italy while Sami Khedira, Mario Goetze and most likely Bastian Schweinsteiger also slated to miss out owing to injury. Although they haven’t hit the height of performances like they did in their outstanding 2014 World Cup campaign, the Die Mannschaft is marching on, slowly but strongly. The bookies had placed both France and Germany as equal favorites to reach the finals and that is a safecall to take; the action waiting to be witnessed on Thursday night is possibly one of the most impossible to predict.

Road to the semis:

Victory over Ukraine 2-0
Draw against Poland 0-0
Victory over Northern Ireland 1-0
Victory over Slovakia 3-0
Victory over Italy 1-1 (5-6 pen)
Goals scored: 7
Goals conceded: 1
Top scorer: Mario Gomez - 2 goals

FRANCE:  The tournament’ hosts have scored 11 times in this year’s Euros and are on a high after melting Iceland 5-2 in their quarter-final encounter. Antoine Greizmann, Dimitri Payet and Oliver Giroud are in red hot form and will be have to be particularly clinical in Thursday’s clash against Germany. France started their Euro 2016 campaign with a 2-1 win over Romania and scored another two goals in their rout of Albania but was held to a goalless draw against Switzerland in their last group match. France edged out the Republic of Ireland in the round of 16 and followed it up with the latest hammering of Iceland. Giroud produced a sensational centre-forward display scoring two and involving in another two and player of the tournament candidates –West Ham midfielder, Dimitri Payet and Atletico Madrid forward, Antoine Greizmann justifying their nomination. The spine of the team, Paul Pogba has finally hit the ground running after starting the competition rather poorly.  Captain and goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris has been outstanding as well for the French team. Realistically speaking, only their semi-final rivals Germany pose any threat in their quest for the crown. Amid an air of security threat and an era-defining battle over labour laws, this year’s Euros will be the perfect antidote to bring happiness back to France.

Road to the final :

Victory over Romania 2-1
Victory over Albania 2-0
Draw against Switzerland 0-0
Victory over the Republic of Ireland 1-0
Victory over Iceland 5-2
Goals scored: 11
Goals conceded: 4
Top  scorer:  Antoine Greizmann- 4 goals

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