Phew! How do you describe the events of the past week? So much extra time. Teams emerging victorious, others grasping defeat from the jaws of victory. Red cards being totally controversial, well, that at least is normal. But how to sum it all up?
I thought about it and have arrived at three words. Joy, Arrogance and Determination. For each of those teams that made the Semi Finals this week, one of those words was the determining factor. So let us begin.
Wales v Denmark
Determination. Being able to succeed in spite of what is thrown against you. For Wales it was travel. For Denmark it was the horror of a team mate dying, then being revived during the game. Wales was hurt by the travel. Baku, Rome, Amsterdam. However, that was the schedule.
Loosing four nil showed the difference between the teams starkly. You do feel for Welsh captain Gareth Bale. As one commentator suggested Bale comes alive when playing for his nation. However the Dane’s were more determined and they were generously rewarded.
Italy v Austria
As a longtime Socceroo fan I should not be this happy about Italy #neverforget. The Azzuri used to be bullied by Austria, it is in the Italian national anthem. In recent football Italy have the wood on Austria. Italian domestic football may be chaos incarnate at times, but look at the results.
For Mancini’s Italy this was another happy day at the office. Seriously, they look happy. Austria came for regular business and Italy dressed for business casual Friday. The joy on the Italian team is infectious and it shows. Goodbye Austria you can come again, but this is as far as you go.
The Netherlands v Czech Republic
Patrik Schick’s management is going to be very happy, the big payday is coming. But first there is the argument of system over talent. The Dutch praise system over all things when it comes to football. Unfortunately you have to get the players to play to that system. Oh and not deliberately handle the ball.
Despite many wonderful opportunities to score, the Dutch did not. Then deliberate hand ball, red card, player sent off. The Czech team still had to score, which they did, twice. Schick got another goal. Czech belief is high. They go ahead into the Quarter Finals. The Dutch fail on the big stage again.
Winer Czech Republic
Belgium v Portugal
Was this really Cristiano Ronaldo v Belgium? Europe’s most recognised player versus FIFA’s number one rated team. To be honest Belgium were one Hazard down. Portugal looked good early. Perhaps this comes down to defence versus attack?
Analysis is different before and after the event. Thorgan Hazard scored with a brilliant strike from distance. After that both teams tried to score more goals. Goals that did not happen. Is that the result expected? No it is not. Both teams under performed and it showed. Was it Ronaldo’s last time at a European Championship? Time will tell.
June the 28th 2021 may go down as one of the best days of sport, ever. Two great matches in the European Championship and an amazing day at the Tour de France. Both matches went to extra time, with one going to penalties.
Croatia v Spain
How do eight goals get scored in one game and still go to extra time? Answer when you play Croatia. I have said this is not the Croatia that made it to the Final of the previous World Cup. Yet the same dogged determination was still there. Not sure if it is in the water. Perhaps, when you have been to the top, you know just how much more you can give.
We could talk about that goal keeping mistake by Unai Simon, lets not. Spain should have won this game in regular time. Croatia just denied them at almost every turn. Determination and knowing that you can give more will win you games.
Down 3-1 with fifteen minutes left, Croatia hit back. At the 85th minute hope dawned. In added time hope was realised. Three all at the end of regular play. Determination and perhaps a bit of arrogance from Spain. Never think a team that has been as good as Croatia is gone until the final whistle.
In extra time Spain did what was required. Croatian hopes were denied. Two goals were enough to end the match in Spain’s favour. Expectations for Spain to win this tournament are high. This match did nothing to confirm or deny that expectation.
France v Switzerland
Haughty is a bad French stereotype and we should not give into narrative crutches. This game and the actions of this French side made it very hard not to. The French played about twenty minutes of this game. Against any less determined side it would have been enough.
Switzerland took the lead off Seferovic’s guiding header, and never let go of this game. It took a missed Swiss penalty to kick France into gear. Two goals in quick time from Benzema put France in front. Late in the second half, Pogba scores with an almighty strike, France are marching off to win 3-1.
No one told Switzerland that was the end, and to their credit they did not accept it. Seferovic scored by head again and in added time Gavranovic put one past the French keeper. Determination versus Arrogance was on display. Extra time went goalless and the game had no option but a penalty shootout.
Kyllian Mbape should become the successor of Cristiano Ronaldo as best European player. When Mbape stepped up with Switzerland ahead 5-4, he should have levelled it. He was denied by Swiss keeper Sommer. There is a French petition claiming that Sommer had his foot on the line thus cheating Mbape. Stereotypes, yep.
England v Germany
You could have written the score of this game and would have been the same, but England winning? This England team are nice guys. It is so hard to hate them. Gareth Southgate has put together are team that works, together. They defend well, run the ball well, connect up forward well. They do all the right things in a perfunctory manner.
Are they a perfect football machine? No and neither are this German team. Germany under Joachim Löw have attained it all. In retrospect should he have given another a go? What we know is that when we all thought the German comeback was going to happen, Muller missed.
German fans all expected Muller to score. English fans expected it. Even HRH Prince George expected it and he’s only seven. Which makes England winning so remarkable. Prince William broke royal protocol to cheer with passion the first English goal. That is how amazed England is.
Sweden v Ukraine
Goals are important. Ukraine coach Andre Schevchenko knows this in his blood. I totally expected him to go out and play if Ukraine were behind, late in extra time. Sweden are not that good at goal scoring. I saw it as a problem early and it still is.
Defence is important, so is attack. You can win in a tournament without scoring a lot. But at some point you need to score. Especially when the opposition scores more than you. Ukraine have gone beyond my expectations. They have gone further than Russia and that must be a good feeling.
Well that is all for the Semi Finals. This has been a lot of fun for me. Despite my inner Socceroo fan I still cannot stay mad at Italy. I do not understand it.Please stay tuned for the review of the Quarter Finals, Semi Finals and the Final of Euro 2021. While I cannot fathom “Football coming home” I could see Azzuri blue, or, Danish Red and White winning the Final. All in due time. When the final whistle blows.
Phillip Hall has been too long in Melbourne to see AFL in the same light as those back in Fremantle. East Fremantle born and bred, he would love to see the Dockers back in the eight. But would settle for just beating West Coast twice a year.