Three more teams went home yesterday, who will be collecting their boarding passes after today?
France v Republic of Ireland – Lyon
An amazing performance by the Irish against Italy has brought them to this point. The spirit shown against, admittedly a weakened, Italy side in their final group match was fantastic. Versus Sweden in their first game they should have won (drawing 1-1 against a team that had no shots on target has got to hurt) then whilst they were second best against Belgium, the non awarding of a blatant penalty seconds before Belgium took the lead (the match ended in a 3-0 defeat) changed the game, who knows what would have happened if Ireland had taken the lead. This brought us on to last Wednesday in Lille, Robbie Brady was the scoring hero, but the whole team were heroes and now they are in Lyon to face the hosts. France have not looked overly convincing this tournament, they clearly have the attacking threat but at the back they are vulnerable, especially down the left where Patrice Evra has struggled. Manager Didier Deschamps has most certainly made good use of his squad and is not afraid to change things around. The concern is that he does not know his best 11 and we are now at the stage where there aren’t any second chances. He needs to settle on who starts and who will come in as necessary. One of the most intriguing aspects of this match is that the last time they met in a competitive game was in 2009 in a World Cup playoff where Thierry Henry cheated by using his hand to divert the ball into the path of one of his team mates. Revenge will most certainly be in the minds of the Irish, however I feel they will find it difficult to keep the French out especially since the hosts have had three extra days preparation and rest. I am going for 3-1 to France
Germany v Slovakia – Lille
Germany have not actually looked that great this tournament but don’t let that fool you, they have a habit of starting slowly but then always being around come the final week of the tournament. To be fair they could have beaten Northern Ireland by 6 or 7 goals if not for the opposition goalkeeper on that day and you had a feeling something is stirring. The issue is goals only one striker has scored (Mario Gomez), but serial competition goal scorer Thomas Muller has been shunted out to the wide areas and maybe this needs to be looked at. Slovakia were delighted to get out of their group. Their backs to the wall performance against England was brilliant back up to their previous two matches where they were unlucky to lose to Wales but were outstanding for the majority of the match versus Russia and held on despite a late rally from the 2018 World Cup hosts and deserved their victory. Unfortunately for them they seemingly are the archetypal one man team. If Marek Hamsik doesn’t perform their attacking prowess suffers markedly. Coincidentally Slovakia played Germany in a friendly last month and won 1-3 in Augsburg. There will be no repeat in Lille today, German efficiency returns. 3-0 to Germany.
Hungary v Belgium – Toulouse
Firstly hats off to Hungary. I personally thought they would be cannon fodder in their group. I feel the opening victory over Austria was the catalyst and gave them huge confidence to think they could get to the knockout stages and here they are. The way they fought back against Iceland was admirable too and as for their performance in the 3-3 versus Portugal – outstanding. The thing to remember is Ronaldo scored two and assisted the other Portuguese goal, but Hungary held their own and deservedly topped the group. Belgium have steadily improved as the tournament has gone on. They were caught cold by Italy, won well against the Republic of Ireland, though they got the fortune you need with the non-reward of a blatant penalty that should have been against them at 0-0, but what has impressed me most was their fight against a Sweden team that threw everything at them. It actually turned out that if the Belgians had lost that game they would have been knocked out, in the end a late Radja Nainggolan goal settled the nerves. They now go into this knockout match as heavy favourites and maybe just maybe finishing second and going into the so called weaker half of the draw is the kind of luck they have got that will help them progress deep into this tournament I’m sure their fans are happy with how things have worked out. Hungary have been a breath of fresh air but the quality of the Belgian side should see them through in my opinion. 1-3 to the Red Devils of Belgium.
There will be daily predictions on Euro 2016 and comment as and when I get the opportunity to pass on my take on the goings on in the tournament – enjoy – let me know your thoughts.
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