Lee Davy explains why he still backs England to win Euro 2016 after Poland, Portugal, Wales, Belgium, Germany and France all booked passage into the quarterfinals.
Germany is the favourite to win Euro 2016 after beating the Slovakians in Lille on Sunday. It’s the first time the French have been ousted from the top spot in the betting markets since the qualifying round ended.
The World Champions struck gold when pitted against a Slovakian side defeated against the Welsh in the opening group game, followed by a convincing win against the Russians, before the bore draw against England.
Nothing in those three games suggested Slovakia would pose much of a threat against Germany, and that included Marek Hamšík – the Napoli star who is always spoken of so highly but has largely failed to deliver – his wonder goal against Russia aside.
Germany came through their group undefeated and without conceding a goal. The one problem Germany had during the group games was a lack of firepower through the middle – that changed against Slovakia. Joachim Löw was brave enough to admit his Mario Götze experiment was a failure, and the old stalwart Mario Gómez was brought in to replace him to commanding effect.
The last time these two teams met, Slovakia came from a goal down to win 3-1, and they had a similar Game of Thrones style wall to climb when Germany took the lead inside 10-minutes. Sami Khedira came close when his close-range header deflected over the bar. Mesut Özil floated in the subsequent corner; the Slovakian defence cleared to the edge of the box, and the giant frame of Jerome Boateng strode forward and buried a volley into the bottom corner of the net. It was his first international goal.
Five minutes later and we should have been tucking the players in at night when Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel conceded a penalty after a push on Gómez. That was until the usually cool, calm, collected, Özil saw his shot saved by Matúš Kozáčik.
Özil had the opportunity to make amends in the 24th minute. He sent his half-volley flashing past the post. Then Gómez provided the wrist slitter when he got on the end of a cross from the impressive Julian Draxler and sent his shot past the Slovakian keeper to send Germany into the half time break with a 2-0 lead.
Slovakia played a little better in the second half, but in truth, the Germans won this game with the handbrake applied. Draxler booking their place in the quarterfinals with a superb volley in the 63rd minute. Next up, the winner of the tie of the round between Italy and Spain in the last eight.
France Survive Early Scare to Progress
The hosts might not be the favourites, but they are in the quarterfinals courtesy of a dominant second half display against plucky Ireland in Lyon.
The Irish spurred on by their late winner against the Italians, came out of the traps the quickest and Robbie Brady put them ahead from the penalty spot in the first 120 seconds after Paul Pogba had sent Shane Long sprawling in the box.
The French had not lost a competitive match in Lyon since 1958 and although the Irish were able to reach half-time with that lead intact you alway felt the French would have too much for the Irish by the end of 90-minutes.
The French had qualified from Group A with a game to spare, giving them the luxury of resting key players in the bore draw against Switzerland. They also had three more days rest than their competitors who had to beat Italy in an energy-sapping last game to qualify.
The French shook the game like a salt shaker in a blistering three-minute flurry of activity in the second half. Bacary Sagna sent a fantastic cross into the box in the 57th minute, and the diminutive Antoine Griezmann found space in the box to head the ball past the outstanding Darren Randolph.
And Olivier Giroud nodded the ball into the path of the Atletico Madrid frontman who finished with aplomb to put France into the lead for the first time in the tie.
The Mission Impossible style fuse was lit for Martin O’Neill’s men four minutes later when Shane Duffy was given his marching orders after bringing down Griezmann on the edge of the box when he seemed sure to take the match ball home.
10-men Ireland couldn’t find the breakthrough they needed to level the tie.
The French will face the winner of the England v Iceland game in the quarterfinals.
Belgium Destroy Hungary
The Belgians finally put in a performance that matched expectations with a 3-0 thrashing of the tournament’s surprise package Hungary. The team ranked #2 in the FIFA World Rankings looked sumptuous going forward with everyone jumping to the beat provided by Chelsea’s conductor Eden Hazard.
It’s been a torrid 12-months for the former PFA Player of the Year, but the responsibility that comes with captaining his country seems to have given him a new lease of life. Hazard set up the Belgian wonderkid Michy Batshuayi to score Belgium’s second goal of the afternoon after Toby Alderweireld had them into an early lead. Hazard made it 3-0 with an excellent solo goal before Atletico Madrid’s Yannick Carrasco came off the bench to make it four as the match wandered into injury time.
Belgium’s domination spelt the end for Hungary’s involvement in Euro 2016. It was the most impressive display from a Hungarian side for decades, and we will miss them.
Dismal, Dismal, and Dismal
It’s safe to say that the football at Euro 2016 has not been at its sparkling best, leaving me with little to say about the final three matches.
Switzerland and Poland played out a dull 1-1 draw in Saint-Étienne before the Poles went through to the quarterfinals winning the penalty shootout 5-4.
Poland dominated the first half and deservedly went in at half time 1-0 courtesy of Jakub Blaszcykowski’s 39th-minute strike.
Switzerland was woeful in that first half, but they came out in the second with a bit of bite to them, and yet it was still a dull affair until Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri scored the goal of the tournament in the 82nd minute.
The magician created something out of nothing when his audacious scissor kick from the edge of the box ensured both YouTube virality and 30 additional minutes of football. It was a goal straight out of the playbook of Stoke City’s manager, Mark Hughes.
Rather predictably, the game ended up heading to penalties, with Switzerland finishing the stronger of the two sides.
Only one person missed a penalty, and what a miss it was. Switzerland’s Granit Xhaka striking the ball closer to the corner flag than the goal that stood ahead of him, and it was Poland who advanced after Grzegorz Krychowiak finished five perfect penalties for the Poles.
Poland will now face Portugal after Cristiano Ronaldo’s side managed to sneak past Croatia in a game that made the Switzerland v Poland match feel like porn.
On paper, it looked like a classic. It was anything but. Neither side mustered a single shot on target until the Portugal substitute Ricardo Quaresma scored deep into extra time to send the Croatians to their knees in floods of tears wondering why they never got out of first gear?
Wales v Northern Ireland was another game to send you to sleep. It was a perfect tie for both teams, and it was not a great advert for footballing prowess in the British Isles. Wales were dreadful. Northern Ireland wasn’t much better. Ultimately, Wales had just a tad more class in the shape of Gareth Bale, and it was his inch perfect cross that saw Gareth McAuley bundle the ball into the back of the net for the games only goal. The Welsh dragon marches on to face Belgium in the quarterfinals hoping they have some fire left in their belly.
There is nothing to stop Belgium heading to the final of this competition. Gareth Bale will cause them problems in the back, but the Welsh backline won’t be able to stop the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, and Romelu Lukaku.
It’s best we forget about Poland and Portugal. One of them will advance in what I imagine being a boring game and eventually, lose to Belgium in the semi-finals.
It’s the other half of the draw that contains all of the drama. The media are trying to build up the Italy v Spain encounter as something special, but I am not buying it. The Italians will camp out on the edge of the box, and Spain will eventually find a way through to face Germany in the quarterfinals. You can flip a coin on who will advance from those two giants of world football.
Germany or Spain will face England. France once again showed against the Republic of Ireland that they are all over the place at the back. One saving grace for the French is that Rami will be missing through suspension. What a train wreck that lad is.
France will also be without N’Golo Kante, and he will be a huge miss for the hosts. England will score, and the result will hinge on Roy Hodgson finding a plan to keep Dmitri Payet and Paul Pogba quiet. If he can do that, and I am sure he will, England will face Germany or Spain in the semi-finals, and it’s time to start tossing that coin again.
Belgium will not win Euro 2016. They don’t have enough discipline in midfield, and they give away too many chances that the better teams will put away. That means the winners of Euro 2016 will be Germany, Spain or England, and I see nothing that makes me want to shift my allegiance away from the English, who look solid at the back, have creativity and crunch in midfield, and goals galore when the spaces open up against the more creative sides.
Current Odds Courtesy of Bodog